Aussie comedian Rove McManus is the first to make fun of the fact that nobody in America has ever heard of him.
“Nobody in the States knows who I am,” he says with an affable laugh. “It’s such a small amount of people that it’s not even worth counting.”
But as McManus parades on stage to deliver the opening monologue for “Rove LA,” a weekly talkshow that plays to substantial audiences in Australia and the U.K. (its premiere hooked the No. 1 spot the week it aired), it’s hard to imagine why he’s not a star in the States as well.
“When Jay Leno first invited me to do ‘The Tonight Show’ in 2007, people thought I was from England,” quips the Perth-born comic, who as a teen dreamt of becoming the next Johnny Carson. “Americans were not quite ready to hear foreigners; Aussies mumble and talk far too quickly. Now there are more Australian actors — Sam Worthington, Simon Baker — and they’ve paved the way for other performers.”
Melbourne hosts the world’s third-largest comedy festival, providing an ideal showcase for Down Under talent. But despite the common language, Americans have been slow to embrace Aussie funnymen. There are exceptions: Cabaret comic Tim Minchin sold out theaters on his 2011 tour of more than 20 U.S. cities, while Axis of Awesome (the band behind the “Four Chords” song) has become one of the top U.S. college touring acts.
“There’s a very interesting brand of comedy coming from (Australia),” says ICM head of international television and media Greg Lipstone, who negotiated the deal with FX to adapt “Wilfred,” the Aussie comedy starring Jason Gann, for the U.S. “The Australian formats are attracting buyers looking for fresh approaches to comedy.”
“Now everyone on the features side wants to meet with him,” says Kevin Crotty, who reps Gann for the agency.
Though she earned an Oz following for creating the sitcom “Bogan Pride,” Rebel Wilson saw her Stateside market value take off after appearing in “Bridemaids” this year. That bit part scored the sassy comedienne roles in seven films due out over the next year.
“Stylistically, in terms of vocabulary and timing, Australian comedy, which is loose and naturalistic, is very different from the American genre,” says Wilson, shooting “Pitch Perfect” for Universal. “My style is a mixture of American and Australian comedy.”
In most of Wilson’s movies, she’s playing an American, following a path paved by the likes of Mel Gibson.
“Before it was the real glamorous actresses like Nicole Kidman or the tough guys, but now lots of comedians want to break through,” says Wilson. “I can’t wait for people to see more of my stuff.”