Alexander (Sandy) Jacob Gutman was born in New York and moved to Sydney at the age of one, he is the son of an Hasidic Holocaust survivor, and grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home. At 15, he participated in the International Bible Contest for Jewish Youth and took part in the finals in Israel; finishing in the top five, later he spent several months at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, then returned to Israel as a volunteer during the Yom Kippur War.
He took the stage name Austen Tayshus which is an aptronym based on the word ostentatious, and first gained public recognition in 1983 performing his comedy single, Australiana, written by fellow comedian Billy Birmingham, who was also his manager at the time. Birmingham would become famous as the Twelfth Man, a monologist who specialized in profane impersonations of Channel Nine cricket commentators, over no less than eight #1 albums, in the period 1987-2006.
Australiana was a spoken word comedy monologue recorded in front of a live audience at the Sydney Comedy Store. An Aussie barbecue is the location for a series of relentless, outrageous, irreverent and at times confronting puns on Australian place names, cultural icons, flora and fauna – “I’m hangin’ round till Gum leaves. Besides, I don’t wanna leave Jack around a party on his own. Have you seen him? I think he’s trying to crack on to Woomba, he’s already tried to mount Isa, and he’ll definitely try to lead you astray Liana.
The punning gags were by today’s standards often rude, crude, sexist, homophobic and politically incorrect, but given the era in which it was released, when such risqué performers as Billy Birmingham, Kevin “Bloody” Wilson and Rodney Rude plumbed the depths of insensitivity and bad taste, Australiana slotted neatly into the standup comedy genre of the time. It was a #1 hit, occupied the charts for 35 weeks and for eight of those was at #1, sold over 300,000 copies and was easily the biggest record of the year, outselling Michael Jackson, Culture Club, The Police and many others.
The video features guest appearances by Vince Sorrenti, a kangaroo, a cockatoo, an emu and a koala, and we are unreliably informed that none were injured in the making of the clip.
The comedian branched out into highly political, more controversial humor, often drawing on his Jewish background, he is a tall man (6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m)), appears on stage wearing a black suit and dark sunglasses, and is characterized by a resonant deep voice, a moody temperament, and has been known to taunt his audiences and venue staff at performances.
Since Australiana, he has performed over 10,000 shows, and produced films, documentaries and records, mostly dealing with social issues.
In 1999, he released a comedy piece in the style of Australiana, entitled Footyana which included such lines as “Is Stephen Tingay or something?” (gay) and “We passed Liam the Burger Rings. Come on Liam, pick a ring.” (Liam Pickering), which soared to #91 then disappeared.
In 2010 and 2011 he unsuccessfully ran for Federal and State seats as a candidate for variously the Australian Sex Party, and the Outdoor Recreation Party, but was unsuccessful on each occasion, he was heard to remark at the time “how much can a koala bear”.