Adolescent humour: Broden Kelly, Mark Samuel Bonanno and Zachary Ruane perform as Aunty Donna at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer
If this year's Comedy Festival sees a big bump in image-conscious teenage boys, it will be in no small part due to comedy troupe Aunty Donna.
The Melbourne-based crew have attracted almost 1 million hits online for their Bikie Wars skit and claim young people who have never seen live theatre as their main demographic.
On top of being a YouTube phenomenon, the Melbourne group has notched up sell-out performances at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe, the world's biggest arts festival.
They can now announce their selection as one of five groups to make a pilot through ABC TV's Fresh Blood comedy initiative.
Aunty Donna has been an unlikely success story of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which kicks off on Wednesday, harking back to sketch comedy, which had fallen out of favour in recent years.
"Australia has had different times where sketch comedy has been big, from Working Dog to Full Frontal and Shaun Micallef, but five years ago it was virtually dead, " says Aunty Donna co-founder and performer Broden Kelly.
"For us, the challenge is tricking people into thinking they're not watching sketch. The Fresh Blood pilot tells the story of our fourth member, Adrian, leaving the group."
Since they met in the cold climes of Ballarat's performing arts school, Kelly and his co-performers Zachary Ruane and Mark Samual Bonanno, together with Tom Armstrong (composer), Sam Lingham (stage director and co-writer) and Max Miller (film director) recognised they probably weren't going to make it as actors.
"We realised the acting industry in Australia is pretty small, and that what we really wanted to do was comedy anyway, " Kelly says.
Sending in what they now call "a joke of a showreel" to thecomedy festival in 2011, they were surprised to find out they were included on the bill for 2012. "The festival took a gamble on us, an gave us a venue, " Kelly says.
"From there we thought maybe we should make some YouTube videos for our friends and family to watch when they get home.