Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2012

Funny boned: going hard then going home when you’re in the MICF trenches.

Back at it. I saw 19 acts last year and did as best I could to catalogue them all. Now out of a determination to beat said record, I counted down the days until the festival started and kicked things off on day one. I’m thinking that this could be a really good way to spend lots of money.

Day One
1. Comedy Pick ‘n’ Mix (3 Degrees)
There are many benefits to living where I live, in that I live above a bar. It’s a cider bar, I’ll give you that, but they do sell beer and have $5 pints on Wednesdays. What else could you ask for? Well, apparently it’s a Comedy Festival venue. Nightly (or, should I say, late afternoonly – a 5.30pm start) is a selection of four comics who have shows on during the festival, who in this space give a 7-8-ish minute taste of their shows. Kicking things off on the Wednesday arvo (and yes, the nerd in me would like to point out it was the first event on the first day of the festival, and as it turns out I bought the first ticket…) were snippets from Australian acts Werzel, Matthew Kenneally, and Bobby Macumber, and Canadian Byron Bertram. The most promising of the bunch was Kenneally, who is part of a Fridays-only show called Political Asylum, which has content altered each week according to the dictates of the week in politics. He was sharp and funny. Werzel did some solid material, which was promising, but his show is a character piece (from what I can gather), so what I saw is probably not indicative of what’s in his show. Bobby Macumber tried in earnest to win over the small crowd, but it was a tough room and her bits about having a mother from a foreign country with an accent didn’t hit (bafflingly continuing my apparent tradition of unintentionally stumbling onto lesbian comics). Her act in full (at the Fad Gallery) would doubtlessly have a lot more on offer and it’s hard to judge by a seven minute set – I’m encouraged even though she didn’t hit. Byron Bertram also looks the goods; his act is one of those which turns the focus of his work inward, analysing his own mind and thoughts and apparently entrenched self-doubt. Probably worth a guernsey. But the crowd was early, it was 5.30pm and everyone in attendance was sober. Tough room. It’s a good idea and value for money: $10 to get a sampler of four Festival acts. And when it was done I got in the elevator and went back to my apartment. Can’t ask for more than that.

2. Jay Sullivan – I Am The Drunk Monk (3 Degrees)
Hailing from the nation’s capital, Jay Sullivan’s show I Am the Drunk Monk catalogues the man’s journey of self discovery during a nervous breakdown and a desire to achieve self-fulfilment without giving up sex and booze. Dressed in full Dalai Lama regalia, Sullivan is quite laid back and laissez faire about the whole process, and in illustrating his desire to find mental equilibrium while still holding onto his vices, he consumed half a bottle of something (scotch, perhaps) and was quite shickered by the time the show wrapped up. A lot of his bits were strong and he hit the mark any number of times. But he was saved by his notebook, guiding him through his set (is it me, or shouldn’t he really have his lines down by the time he’s on stage?); and at one point he checked the time on his phone. Can’t really fault the material, it was quite strong, albeit laddish. The room was mostly made up of his chums. But I paid full price to see the show, and what was well-honed and tight to start off with unravelled as the set wore on and the BAC doubtlessly reached double figures. I might think that if he wants to be a bigger hit at the festival he might want to drink iced tea and just pretend to get wasted. Johnny Vegas can pull it off…

Day Two
Through a series of unique circumstances, I managed to see three gigs in one night and ended up not paying for any of them. It’s the kind of deal you look for when you’re fighting a comedy addiction. Turns out I am a bit of a junkie. I saw Greg Fleet and Bob Franklin at the Peter Cook Bar, which was nice, and Felicity Ward was loitering outside among the flyerers. Good times.

3. Sammy Harrison – Trail and Error: Couch to 100k (3 Degrees)
Sammy Harrison is what you might call a ‘cleanskin’ in comedy circles; having emerged from doing short support/opening acts for various comics, he has ventured into the 2012 MICF with a show of his own. Trail and Error represents his long-form debut, and it revolves around the theme of long distance running, health and fitness, while making a few asides to growing up in the country, vs. city life. The boy is Aussie-as, mate. In between jibes at Chadstone and Dandenong, Sammy’s work strikes as being that of the likeable everyman. As a comic, he works the room well, is light on his feet and the small (roughly 18 people) but enthusiastic crowd seemed to genuinely like him (his material is mostly strong: a solid crack and Bear Grylls made up for a bit about black and white runners which fell flat). His enthusiasm is palpable. His is a nice guy act, which on closer examination seems to be more ‘nice guy’ than ‘act’. It’s clear he’s quite new to this game, and with time, with moderation and work on his pacing – incorporating a more natural, eased delivery – he’s in all likelihood got a solid career ahead of him. Support your local gunfighter, I says.

4. Stephen K Amos – Laughter is My Agenda (Town Hall)
It made me stop and contemplate the vastness of the chasm between the headlining acts at the festival, and the small up-and-comers. Because when you see one show in a room the size of a broom cupboard, and about 20 minutes later see an international act in a cavernous auditorium with 500 others… the scope of it gives pause for thought. At the end of the day, both comics are there to make a room full of strangers laugh; Stephen K Amos needed to make 28 times the number of people laugh as Sammy Harrison did. A seasoned veteran, Amos’ show is one of a consummate professional. Well honed, provocative and quite often very funny, Amos worked the crowd well on this preview night (for “cheap bastards”) and interacted with many of the audience, including a woman in the front row prone to Tourette’s-like exclamations about a bug flying near his ear. He was trying out some new material on the night (which I can’t help but admire him for), some of which worked, other bits didn’t… this is the nature of the beast. Fast on his feet and a very quick wit (you’d hope so, it’s his bloody job after all), there were numerous laugh-out-loud moments throughout his set. His material is quite provocative, and edgy (which is great to see) and I could feel an undercurrent of tension around me as he addressed racial issues in Australia – asked for applause for those who supported the Rudd apology; I applauded, and many around me didn’t. I hadn’t been as much of a fan of his work before, having not really known it that well. But as far as the headlining acts are concerned, I was impressed, surprised, and would not hesitate to recommend this show to someone looking for a name act, a ‘one-off’ to enjoy during the season.

5. Gordon Southern – A Brief History of History (Forum Theatre)
Credit the Comedy Festival organisers for making the most of every opportunity when it comes to filling spaces to house so many comedians. I’ve seen some small gigs in small rooms before, but Gordon Southern’s gig at the Forum Theatre is held in a room called The Ladies Lounge. There’s not much more to it than that – in old theatres (like the Forum) there tends to be small entrance foyers, lobbies, or anterooms before you enter the restrooms proper. The Forum has decked out the lounge for the upstairs women’s’ room with three rows of seats and a microphone. I’ve joked before that some gigs are in a room the size of a broom closet, but seriously… Gordon Southern noted the size of the room, and with its gold paint, likened it to being inside Lady Gaga’s vagina. As his exuberant and energetic performance continued, the air conditioning-free venue became hot and humid, so its resemblance to the Gaga cooter became even more pronounced. Gynaecological comparisons aside, I really, genuinely liked this show. Out of the UK, Southern’s show covers the history of human events, with jokes. A show with multimedia, visuals, fleeting moments of rap and straight-up stand-up, his is a performance of infectious energy. This show is one which he has worked on at the Adelaide Fringe (and in all likelihood numerous others) and basically covers everything from the Stone Age to the fall of the Berlin Wall. An ambitious gambit, but he’s making jokes here. A humourless old fucker in the crowd seemed to take exception to a few historical inaccuracies/oversights, but as Gordon pointed out to him – whose name was Robert Smith – we’re here for a comedy show, not a history lesson. Needless to say it wasn’t the first time I’ve wanted to punch someone named Robert Smith in the face. Running off the cuff while sweating like a madman (he noted that the conditions converted the whole scenario into Bikram comedy), Southern showed his well-honed comedic chops, his engaging rapport with the audience and a lightning-quit wit. It’s a superbly funny show. Engaging, well-written and wonderfully performed. The lifeblood of a festival like this is the shows that don’t get the most attention, so it’s me and (funnily enough) Stephen K Amos doing shout outs to Gordon Southern to keep the flavour up. See it, because it’s terrific. But dress lightly and bring a fan, then re-hydrate afterwards.

Day Three
Odd experience – only ended up seeing one show tonight. Could have something to do with daylight savings ending, and everything on Sundays being an hour early. Having said that, the one show I saw was an absolute cracker.

6. Smart Casual – Broken Dreams (Arthur’s Bar at Rosati)
This probably is one of the funniest shows I have seen at the Comedy Festival in years. I kid you not. From start to finish I laughed and was smiling ear-to-ear. It’s a brilliant show. Last year I had my first encounter with musical comedy duo Smart Casual (a duo with members ‘Roger David’ and ‘Fletcher Jones’) when I caught the tail end of a Festival Club set they played at the HiFi Bar. They seemed confident, off-kilter and funny – so when the cards dealt me on the Sunday evening suggested that I take in a show at around 8.30pm, Smart Casual stood out from the rest of the crowd. Tucked downstairs below a ‘hip, and I know it’ restaurant/bar Rosati, in what the duo referred to as ‘the retard dungeon’, Smart Casual are an act cut from the same cloth as Flight of the Conchords (and I do ask for forgiveness if this comparison has been made before, and they might object to same). The act differs from the NZ incarnation by the boys’ sense of broad self-confidence, albeit delusional. Songs covering a braod range of subjects, with multi-media components and audience interaction are all worked into the show, which somehow emerges after 50 minutes has a plot (of sorts). My theory about the show is this: somehow they came into contact with a pointedly bizarre clip from a Polish variety show from the 70s. They reverse-engineered their act from that particular, and particularly strange clip to come up with their 2012 show. It’s thrilling to see it unfold. One of their songs was improvised on the spot, which I can only imagine is a task nigh-on impossible to get done well, let alone successfully. They do it here, and it’s a marvel to experience. The end result is already the highlight of MICF 2012 for me. It’s a show without a lull in the proceedings; not one bit falls flat or didn’t hit.
Brilliant. I don’t give ratings out of ten or ‘star’ reviews, but take my word for it, this is gold. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Day Four

Tightarse Tuesday: a financial godsend for the Comedy Festival junkie looking for a hit that doesn’t make as big a hit on the hip pocket.

7. Sarah Quinn – Weird Lonely Strangers (Tuxedo Cat)
The Tuxedo Cat, it seems, is a moveable feast. Last year I saw the awesomely funny Jen Brister in a venue tucked away down Flinders Lane that was an experience akin to seeing a stand-up gig in Hitler’s bunker (I reckon Mrs Goebbels would have been piss-funny). The venue has been moved to an upstairs location closer to the centre of the Town Hall action, replete with Astroturf on the ground and eclectic tunes on the stereo. Publicity must be the itchy bugbear for non-marquee acts at an event like MICF, with posters for all the Tuxedo Cat acts adorning the walls, advertising shows I had not been aware of – and I’ve been paying pretty close attention. Sarah Quinn’s show Weird Lonely Strangers is billed as theatre, and quite rightly so (it’s not stand-up). It’s a series of sketches, vignettes portraying certain characterisations, in a similar vein to her 2011 show, Other People’s Problems. Where that show portrayed three different female archetypes, this show expands that to roughly 10 of them, in scenes heavily reminiscent of Tracey Ullman’s character pieces. The first, a deep south beauty pageant organiser kicks the show off strongly, with a beautifully rendered character – a scary one at that – with a dead-on-balls *perfect* South Carolina accent. Other segments also hit all the right notes, particularly a sketch centred around commitment-phobic speed dating, which is strong enough an idea that it could make an entire show. Her piece about a ‘reformed’ ex-lesbian talking about the virtues of those obscene ‘pray the gay away’ courses is equally harsh, bleakly comic and sad. To accommodate a costume change, there was a long pre-recorded piece about getting engaged, which was funny and biting, but could use some visuals (even stock images in a PowerPoint presentation of roses, wedding rings and stuff would make it more engaging … ergh, pun). Her abilities as a physical performer come to the fore in a sequence about a wallflower type at a 50s-era dance, and a sketch set in a burlesque venue for the uptight was another example of one of her ideas which, with enough workshopping, could sustain an entire show. She’s endlessly talented and has an acting range which is enviable, to say the least. As a performer, she would be perfectly suited to TV sketch comedy or stage comedy revue. Cut from a different cloth than much of what you’d expect to see at something like MICF, let Weird Lonely Strangers be your festival sorbet, showcasing a performer of boundless energy, talent and stage presence. Highly recommended.

8. Celia Pacquola – Delayed (Melbourne Town Hall)
‘Local girl done good.’ I kept on having this thought, this rancid cliché running through my head as I was watching Celia Pacquola’s show Delayed at the Portico Room at Melbourne Town Hall. I’d been used to seeing international acts like Paul F Tompkins and Tig Notaro in rooms like this, so to see a local girl, a Melbourne girl up on stage talking about her life and times instilled me with a sense of civic pride, and apparently also a desire to speak only in hyperbole. Celia’s act is a traditional piece of anecdotal stand-up, delivered in a rapid-fire manner with tremendous enthusiasm. She starts the gig by explaining how she’s going to attempt the impossible, and make stories of her travels sound interesting (she succeeds). In the show, she details her moving to London, and the struggles she experienced maintaining a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend in Melbourne, as well as the experiences of ex-pat Aussies in London and her own self-image issues. She attacks the material with a contagious enthusiasm in a manner which could best be described as a fearless self-deprecating style. Her fun and up-tempo disposition is quite contagious; the material isn’t exactly cutting edge – it’s safe, but in no way bland. I often struggle with these kind of descriptors – how do you say something is ‘simple’ without inferring that it’s ‘stupid’? I don’t want to talk down her act – it’s very good, straight-forward, I suppose ‘traditional’ stand-up. She’s having lots of fun on stage and is full of life and character and vivid expression. I have to say, I’ve never heard a toilet paper bit before, nor have I heard of the phrase ‘wristy’, but appreciate it and now have it permanently set as part of my vernacular… So that’s something right there. Her show is being advertised with a quote that says she is “Adam Hills with ovaries!”, which I find baffling, in that I would (a) personally not want my act (if I had one) compared to his, and (b) I have yet to be convinced that he doesn’t actually have ovaries to begin with.

9. Paul Foot – Still Life (Melbourne Town Hall)
This brilliantly bizarre and absurdist act essentially presents himself as being stand up comedy’s answer to Tristram Shandy. It’s a solid 30 minutes before he starts his ‘act’ proper, having spent the last half hour wandering through the audience, stretching his legs and distractedly explaining to the audience what it is he is going to do in his act, once it starts. Most of the show doesn’t seem to be planned. Foot wanders through the audience speaking in a kind of stream of consciousness rant, about the audience, the show he’s about to perform, and how various levels of applause should be generated (on this night, he suggested that at one level, the applause should be like reading that they had reinstated Prussia; second level would be like finding out Pierce Brosnan had opened a cockerel sanctuary… that kind of oddness). Between his strange mannerisms and possibly The Worst Haircut In The History Of The World™, Paul Foot’s show is cut from the same absurdist cloth as Sam Simmons, Andy Kaufman, Tom Green, The Mighty Boosh and (to a lesser extent) Ross Noble. No jokes are being told; there are no witty anecdotes… it’s just a free-flowing, free-form series of non-sequiturs that amuse with their bizarreness and the fact that they are the antithesis of what you might consider to be ‘stand up comedy’. Lauded as a comedy genius, Paul Foot is one of those people who you’ll either get right off the cuff, or just never be on the same page. I’m on board. Side note: Yumi Stynes was in the audience. Surprisingly, there were no vitriolic placard-bearing protesters following her, denouncing everything about her because of a dopey off-the-cuff remark she once made on morning television. Now I’ve seen it all.

Day Five
10. Sam Simmons – About the Weather (Melbourne Town Hall)
This was the third occasion I had seen Sam Simmons as part of the Comedy Festival, and it turns out it was the first time I had seen him perform his show as a “play”, with something of a “plot”. Formal dramatic structure was never a significant card in Simmons’ deck, so it was almost unnerving to see the man play out a story – albeit a loose one interspersed with music, dance and Simmons’ own powerful rendition of the 1980s Gillette ad jingle (‘… the best a man can get!’) I mean, a story? This is the man who yelled “Fantastic Noodles in a wig!” before hurtling said items at unsuspecting audience members… About the Weather has a thin structure, and Simmons uses his odd persona and character quirks not only as the basis for his self-deprecating humour, but as a vehicle to address common social faux pas, constructs and awkward situations. He creates, as his central character/alter ego, a man, whose unfortunate appearance and social limitations present him as something of a pariah – unable to talk to his ‘bus crush’, halting and frustrated by small talk, or platitude-spouting morons at work. Aided, and sometimes sabotaged by the looming voice over narrator, we see him respond to many things in life, and in turn how people respond to him. The very notion of this show being a play, albeit one bound by a significantly unconventional plot, partially robs Simmons of the anarchistic spirit which informed so much of the insane humour of his previous shows. But there remains a whole host of the disparate left-field stuff you’d expect from an absurdist like him. Shoes are hurled, dances spontaneously exhibited, jingles belted out and profanity flies.  I can’t imagine a time when I won’t be seeing Sam Simmons as part of MICF. About the Weather brings his distant, anarchic galaxy ever so slightly closer to Earth – but at the same time, he is the sole occupant. As a show, and a performer, it’s unique, insane and completely splendid.
Day Six
Good Friday; Bad Comedy
OK. Just words for thew wise, I saw two shows tonight that weren’t good. They were both performed by women. This confirms nothing, except the fact that some women aren’t funny. Some women are funny. Some men aren’t funny, some are. Some llamas are funny, but more funny looking. Anyway, I saw two shows tonight, and they were not good, for different reasons. Let us observe.

11. Zoe Coombs Marr – Gone Off (Melbourne Town Hall)
I saw Zoe Coombs Marr last year in her show And That Was the Summer That Changed My Life, and it was great — part character piece, part stand up, all very enjoyable and revealing and funny. The show ended with a big, beautiful musical surprise and it was all very good and surprising and charming, and occasionally filthy. Wonderful combo. Her show this year, Gone Off, is just a long, winding story. A story about how she once went to Coober Pedy when she lost focus and direction in her life. Basically, she went to Coober Pedy, got drunk with the locals, didn’t date a cop, and then went home. I tell you this now, people — that’s all there is to it. Not a lot more. Now, while she approaches the material with a kind of confidence and a Judith Lucy-like swagger to her, there is nowhere near enough substance in her material to sustain a whole show. I mean, it’s fine, like an arrowroot biscuit is fine. Her persona as a storyteller is engaging and likeable, but the show doesn’t do more than amuse. It’s amusing, witty and clever. But it’s not funny. She’s an effective storyteller, but there’s nowhere near enough content that worked, or hit. Some of her silences were actually funnier than her ‘jokes’. She made a comment that she wasn’t about to present a show that was going to go anywhere, contain catharsis or have big lessons learnt at the end of it. Lord-a-mercy she wasn’t kidding. This was her Good Friday show, and a couple of times she made mention of how Jesus was dead, and I could feel these daggers going into her from the eyes of the woman sitting in front of me, who was wearing a big, fuck-off crucifix ring. No real reason to mention that, bar the fact that it amused me more than the show did. Zoe Coombs Marr is a fine performer and a talented comic presence, but this show just didn’t work. Can’t recommend it.

12. Cal Wilson – All Ears (Melbourne Town Hall)
Deep breath… Some context. I had never seen Cal Wilson perform before, exept on things like Thank God You’re Here and as someone who is a witty presence on chatty radio. And that’s pretty much what this was — she’s got these topics on the wall behind her, a few jokes to throw out there, some stories which fall under he thematic umbrella of, say, ‘childbirth’, ‘sex’ or ‘pets’or whatever… and then she’d go to the audience. Has anyone got any pets? Yes. Now get on with the chuckles, thanks. I think she said “Show of hands…” about 15 times, and kept on trying to vaidate her bits with prompts of applause. At a certain point, I started to get annoyed. Stop asking me to give you content, I paid money for you to perform. It was slowly evolving as being one of “those” shows. And the audience, as it was, was lapping it up. Loving it. It was like getting to be on someone’s radio show without having to go to the laborious effort of dialing the call-in number. But I can only say what I think, and I was, after a spell, pissed off. I’m not sure what it was I found more objectionable — the safe, pedestrian middle aged lady jokes, that they were not even a tiny bit amusing to me, or that this was the most expensive show I had seen. This was the kind of easy, non-threatening back-and-forth chit-chat that would find a comfortable middle class home on FM drive time radio. “Call us up and tell us about a near-death experience…” or “…how much you love cats” or “…what your siblings did to you as a child”, or some other kind of easy time filling crap that makes me press the ‘seek’ button on my car stereo. Fact: this was one of the first times I ever wanted to walk out on a comedy gig. It was all I could do to not actually do it. I was frustrated, then annoyed that she was using me and my fellow audience members as the source of ‘springboard’ material. I paid more than $30 for the ticket, and she’s not doing her job. The whole theme was she’s a good listener and likes to hear people’s stories. But the audience was lapping it up. I may have been the youngest person there. But I don’t care. It wasn’t funny. And it was expensive, and it just felt lazy and dull and middle of the road and annoying. It actually made me angry, and that’s the opposite of the kind of feeling good comedy is supposed to instill in you. So much so that I just went home, not in the mood for comedy after that. I’ll get back into it tomorrow, but I’ve now scratched one name off the list of people I will ever pay to see again. And she recommended we all see Damian Callinan, who I saw once a few years back, and he was easily the worst gig I ever saw at a Comedy Festival event — ever. Bad day at the races, I’m afraid. Bound to happen.

Day Seven
Trades Hall of famers
After a rough night of it on Good Friday (and, true enough, Jesus had a worse Friday), I took in a pair of shows at Trades Hall and found myself having a WAY better time at it. Maybe it’s the almighty smiting me for not keeping his whatever holy. Pshh.
13. Tom Binns as Ian D Montfort : Spirit Comedium (Trades Hall)
There’s an air of skepticism directed at acts like this, for me. But given an open mind about trying new comedy things like this and some time up my sleeve before my act du jour (see below), I took the punt. UK comic Tom Binns plays the part of one of those communicate with the dead charlatans you see on TV (think John Edward and hs fraudulent ilk), and plays the sleight of hand trickery and smoke & mirrors for laughs. He identifies what he does as a pseudo science, which apparently is way better and more authoritative than actual science. Spirit Comedium is a kind of magic show with the ‘crossing over’ theme woven in, one which parodies the snake oil salesmen by taking what they do and making jokes out of it. The key to Binns’ success is that he’s exceedingly good at it. When he’s doing the whole ‘getting messages from beyond’ bit, he brings out the humour in it by having fun with his getting it wrong. When he gets it right, it’s very clever and very funny. I’m not at all sure how it’s done, but the show would delight the true believers in this voodoo, as well as the skeptics. It makes fun of that sleight-of-hand short cons these professional frauds employ to extort money from emotionally bruised and vulnerable people, and to see him do it so well, for the purpose of comedy rather than false prophecy, to see a comic out fraud John Edward for shits & giggles is a thrill in and of itself. I was part of the act. One of the volunteers from the audience. He asked four of us to draw something on a small white board that symbolised who we were, then successfully guessed who did what. I drew a pint of beer. He got it right. Very impressive, and I was not a plant, I think it’s a con, there’s no such thing as ESP. Only ESPN. To see someone so successfully replicate the obscenity of the flase medium for laughs is fantastic (he also points out the absurdity of homeopathy by pointing out that “…water has a memory”). At the very least, he is extremely clever at what he does. You can *try* to figure out how he does what he does, or you can just go along for the ride. It’s a funny, illuminating, entertaining ride. Exceptionally good fun.
14. DeAnne Smith – Livin’ the Sweet Life (Trades Hall)
Without a doubt, DeAnne Smith is one of my, if not my very favourite stand up. She’s two-for-two as far as MICF shows are concerned, having seen her Barry-nominated show It’s About Freakin’ Time last year and I became an instant fan then. I just marvelled at her timing, her stage presence and the perfectly-honed routine she called her own. Benefitting from a beter venue this year (she’s graduated from the bowels of the Victoria Hotel to the more ornate and roomy Trades Hall meeting room), her 2012 show Livin’ the Sweet Life errs towards stand up perfection. Here is a comic in control of her environment, in her element, with a super-strong act, conveying a wide gamut of topics and styles that combines to creates something that is simply so very, very funny. Her approach is often rapid-fire, and beautifully nuanced. She’s razor sharp when interacting with the audience, and her wit is among the quickest I’ve seen. Her material stems from her own experiences, her insecurities, her sexuality (FYI, I take notes during these shows, and I wrote here, “Lots of ladies with interesting haircuts and piercings…”), smug middle class white luxuries and problems, and a couple of beautifully written ukulele songs thrown in for good measure. It’s an art, this stand-up business. What makes one person laugh may make someone else open their wrists in a bathtub (news from Hollywood — Grown Ups 2 is coming soon). The process and appreciation of it is subjective at best. But DeAnne Smith is brilliant, simple as that. Her act checks every one of the right boxes in my comedy book (I may actually have one of those) and she just speaks to well to my comedic world view. It’s as close to ‘perfect’ as you could probably find at MICF, or any comedy arena. I know that at least some people read these posts and take my reviews as a guide for what to see, so I would implore you to see this show. It’s awesome.
Day Eight
Half time report
We’re about half way through the festival, and I’m tired. I can’t imagine how the performers are feeling, or those going for the Funny Tonne — my bank balance is suffering and I’m only at 15. To get to 100 seems to me to be a really good way to spend a couple of thousand dollars very easily. Phew.
15. Glenn Wool No Land’s Man (Town Hall)
An 18-year comedy veteran, Canadian comic Glenn Wool parades the stage like a stoner with his buzz being perpetually harshed, as he espouses his amused-to-vitriolic reactions to the weird and funny things that happen to him, with a narrative thread leading up to an Indonesian airport cavity search. Quite a lot to take on board, but Wool holds his own with an impressive confidence, comfort and swagger that’s a world of fun to watch. His routine is more of the ‘classic’ stand up style that seems to be more of a rarity these days — his set is solid and very funny. His laid-back delivery, coupled with his occasionally manic bursts into vehement outrage (illustrating his point with an underscoring dose of abrasive indignation), gives him a commanding stage presence, while at the same time rendering him entirely relatable. I’ve never heard a ‘rape’ joke that was funny, yet inoffensive before. You have to be there. Good work, Glenn Wool. Apparently his last Festival show was all about how much he likes moustaches. I really am quite good with this idea. His style is one of commensurate ease and comedy professionalism. He reacts to the crowd, but doesn’t resort to asking the crowd for pointers. There is a set to get through, and he powers his way through it with the kind of presence and confidence you’d expect of a veteran of his experience. No Land’s Man is a first class show and a festival highlight.
Day Nine
The Return of Tightarse Tuesday.
I was in conversation with a comic post-gig and told him that I was thinking how exhausting this festival must be for him, considering I’m half wasted and all I’ve been doing is watching. He said that he knew the feeling, and that the day after the second Tightarse Tuesday – the half way point – is referred to as ‘Suicide Wednesday’: without the adrenaline of the start or the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ impetus of the final days; a kind of meek desperation finds its way into the collective comedic cortex. Can’t wait to see what happens on stage on that day.
16. Asher Treleaven – Troubadour (Melbourne Town Hall)
Nothing about this act seemed conventional to me, right off the bat you’ve got a dude with that name (a point he raises early on in the show), and the only time I’ve seen the name ‘Asher’ before is associated with Asher Keddie, and she’s no dude. This review is courtesy of the scribbling of one Helen Razer (of all people), who wrote in The Age a glowing review of the show Troubadour, coupled with the fact that I like to go on the road less travelled when it comes to these shows (I am culturally superior to you in this way). I like to be taken by surprise, like seeing a film when you’ve not seen a single second of publicity or even know what the basic plot of the piece is. Because I’m a bit of a nerd in this regard, it rarely if ever happens. Troubadour is a show which couples Treleaven’s  autobiographical story within the framework of Edward De Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’. It’s quite a unique way to go about things, and in a festival with literally hundreds of shows to choose from, standing out from the crowd requires a unique spin. Treleaven has that. Dressed like a comical dandy in clothes that would have made him a fine addition to a Greenwich Village jazz quintet circa-1958, he prances about the stage like he was a marionette – a 6’4″ marionette – telling his story within the framework of the six different coloured hats (categorised according to certain principles De Bono can speak of in more depth, as can Treleaven, but really probably shouldn’t). His show opening, a kind of preface, where he explains how the show is to run, is reminiscent of Paul Foot’s Still Life opening, minus the unbridled insanity. I was a trifle concerned at the start; he really wasn’t gripping me with this preamble, but his act moved on swiftly and hit a solid note early on when he performed a beat poem about his life – very successfully. While going into detail about his life, he explained how he left a strange upbringing behind to join a circus academy in his pursuit of his dreams of being a performer. It’s kind of standard, but enjoyable; charming and off-kilter. Once he brings his well-honed circus skills to the fore, he has the audience eating out of his hand, and the show takes a serious, yet still richly amusing turn where he tells of his finding the dreaded ‘lump’. Some of the links implanted in his narrative seem a might tenuous, but it’s his story to tell. This nimble bodied pan-sexual imp (a brilliant turn of phrase from Community, completely inappropriate here, but I scarcely get to use it) flails about the stage like a gibbon on a trapeze, with a crowd-pleasing manner garnered from years of busking and undoubtedly ‘tough rooms’. Most of the show has more of a likeable and amusing bent to it than it does out-and-out laughs. His performance suggests to me that outside of the seemingly restrictive ‘six hats’ premise there is a lot more on offer. He seems like a man-boy itching to cut loose and go wild in the comedy arena, and if anything it’s his own structuring holding him back. But it’s a different kind of experience to be had, and one most certainly worth experiencing.
17. Justin Hamilton – The Goodbye Guy (Victoria Hotel)
I’ve not experienced Justin Hamilton’s stand up before, having not watched enough Good News Week, or not paying close enough attention to comedy websites, blogs or Podcasts. So again, I enter into this show a noob, a cleanskin and willing to take on anything. But it kind of highlights me as something of a rank amateur at this, as the show is his ninth for MICF. What exactly have I been doing with my time here? Perhaps it is too hard to sift through the comedic miasma. Perhaps I’m relying too heavily on marquee names and imports. Perhaps… What you get with The Goodbye Guy is a one-man show (semi-theatrical) about a comic’s turning a page in his life – moving on from a certain way of thinking; moving on from a break up, from death, from childish things. Interspersed with (excellent) anecdotal stand up is a narrative which finds Hamilton at a laptop computer, in the dark, illuminated by its light blue glow. He pens a column for a fictitious comedy website and is faced with repetitive rejections from the monstrous douchebag site owner – who it seems to climbing the ladder of success by being mainstream and mediocre. This is a show about personal struggles, low self-image (is this a mandatory among the comedy scene? Does one need to have low self-opinion or come from a broken home to be funny?), death, love, moving on.  The show is funny, quite profound, and successfully traverses that line between being insightful and being self-indulgent. The strength lies in the writing, and Hamilton’s timing. While it covers serious topics and a man of a comparatively serious mindset and crossroads, it retains a good heart and humour – it’s a comedy festival, after all. But The Goodbye Guy is moving in a way you would not expect a comedy festival show to be, but it contains everything you would hope it would: wit, insight, actual jokes (with punchlines), with the bonus of there being a window into the very real soul of this man on stage. A notion covered in the show is that old chestnut: you become a man, and put away childish things. In a world of sameness, and a festival which seems to be infiltrated by imitators, Justin Hamilton seems to have stumbled onto something with The Goodbye Guy that is quite unique and very real.
Day Ten
Suicide Wednesday
Nothing so dramatic, I’m happy to report. Perhaps I was feeling lazy, or a need to support my local gunfighters, but I didn’t leave the comfy confines of the Three Degrees encampment. They had what worked out to be a 2-for-1 deal (essentially), so the hip pocket rejoiced, the pints were $5 a piece and there was a good time had by all.
18. Tracey Cosgrove – Half A Wake (Three Degrees)
There’s something about the airs and graces found in the comedy of Tracey Cosgrove that made me fit her into a certain sociological archetype: You know that girl in the office who’s always so up-tempo and funny? That one who’s always saying the funny stuff all the time? The one with all the one-liners, who’s always got those funny stories to tell, and we always say to her, you should give stand-up a go! That’s her. Tracey Cosgrove gave it a go. She is that girl. There’s a sweetness and innocence to her show, Half A Wake, an air of the flights of fancy which made an interesting parallel to the darkness of the subject matter – this is a show mostly about death and dying, and how she might foresee her own funeral unfolding. Dressed in a home-made ’50s housewife frock (made in a fabric she described as ‘soft gay fireman porn’), Half A Wake shows a comic at the very genesis of her career – a Raw Comedy finalist in 2009, I saw her crowd-pleasing ‘nice girl’ act on what I think was her second night at it. She came across as kind of ‘on edge’, filled with nervous energy and almost rushing through her set. She has in her tool belt a couple of very solid bits – one where she compares and contrasts the death of her beloved uncle with that of her budgie was a hit, as were a handful of others. There was a lot of laughter, and a whole lot of it was coming from the stage; Tracey herself was having a good ol’ time. She has some quality material – her timing and delivery need some work – honing and finessing – but there is a lot for her to work with. What surprised was how the show ended. A character piece emerges (as if from nowhere), and represented the show’s comic high point. Disguised as a fairly repugnant bogan archetype, Tracey emerged from the back of the room after quick change during a pre-recorded interlude and delivered this brilliantly rendered character, cross-dressing to play the part of someone she clearly must have spent an awful and frightful amount of time around. It was a fearless and pitch-perfect character piece. This coda was what elevated the show beyond the pale and highlighted what could be seen as unlimited potential for character-based performance in the future. Watch this space…
19. Gavin Baskerville – Hanging In There (Three Degrees)
In a show marking 10 years since his first Comedy Festival show, Gavin Baskerville stands as the living embodiment of the hard edges and harsh realities of a career in stand up comedy. Ten years into his career, he’s still ‘hanging in there’, doing small rooms in the comedy circuit with simple bits and jokes – while lesser comedians with puppets and instruments and PowerPoint presentations go on to acclaim and greater financial success. It gave me pause for thought – if Gavin, as solid, polished and nuanced a comic as he is, is playing to half and quarter full houses after going at it for a decade, what hope is there for others, myself included? I don’t even have any material yet, or a desire to perform for that matter. Little silver linings on that cloud, right there. Sobering notion. Gavin Baskerville’s performance style occasionally verges on the hyperkinetic; the verve and gusto with which he approaches topics (as unlikely as Al Qaeda being the inspiration for Star Wars or the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games) is something to see. He covers other subjects, from Jesus’ fondness of the drink and Bear Grylls – and he’s not the first person I’ve seen during MICF2012 to go after that naturist survivalist nut job. I think by this stage, Bear Grylls is low-hanging fruit, but knowing Bear he’d probably have sifted said fruit from elephant shit and eaten it. Hanging In There is a story of endurance, and like several shows I’ve seen this year, has elements of the autobiography to it. I suppose it’s part-and-parcel for the comedian to talk about themselves; the old adage goes that you write what you know. He then takes his show 20 years into the future to deliver a kind of soothsaying retrospective of his life then; perhaps in the same room, delivering the same kind of show. I admire his tenacity, his passion and his abilities as a performer. Gavin Baskerville is a great stand up, a man driven by a desire to make a room full of strangers laugh. There is, to me, a nobility in that, and whatever else it is that keeps him going (it is, perhaps, lonely at the middle). Philosophy aside, at the end of the day, it’s a great show in and of itself.
Day Eleven
That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.
20 tops my number from last year, so that’ll do it for detailed reviews. I’ve set a new record, achieved what I set out to, and rendered myself financially destitute and overweight as a result. I’m happy to start doling out awards, and give my ‘best of the fest’ award (which manifests itself as a hearty handshake) to DeAnne Smith for her show Livin’ the Sweet Life (“She slapped me on the vulva! On the vulva!”), and the excellent Smart Casual for Broken Dreams (“Notice the dick-to-ball ratio.”). Great shows, highly recommended for the remaining week of the festival. I’ll mention any further shows I see in passing briefly, but after a couple of weeks of this, I’m pretty sure I’m fresh out of things to say about comedians and comedy shows. For those out there doing the Funny Tonne, I have nothing but admiration for you. You’re at least four times better at this than me, and also apparently get into most stuff for free.
20. Dave Gorman’s Powerpoint Presentation
A few years back I had tickets to see Dave Gorman’s last show, the Googlewhack Adventure. This is back in 2004 or so. His MO is to tell stories of the wacky adventures he has and back them up with impeccably timed visual aids projected onto a screen behind him. Very good, funny stuff. I was looking forward to seeing Sarah Kendall after Gorman ended, but despite the fact that he was supposed to end at 8pm, 9:20 rolled around and he was still going. Maybe this had something to do with the fact that it was the last night of the festival and Dave just wanted to rabbit on. But by the time my companion and I left, he was still talking. We rushed over from the Capitol Theatre to the Town Hall, only to be barred from entry to Sarah Kendall’s show. It had started. Too late. Frowny face.
The tale in itself is the kind of adventure Dave Gorman could build a show around (clearly, I couldn’t), and it’s the more free-wheeling Powerpoint Presentation which allows him to explore many and varied topics – advertising, marketing, Twitter, Facebook, online journalism, feedback forums and Gorman’s own (incorrectly) assumed Judaism. It’s a fast, funny, superb show. AND decidedly shorter than his last act! Gorman’s timing is immaculate and his presentation is flawless. His keen eye for the absurdities of marketing, ego, celebrity and the various timewasting adventures that the internet can take you on makes up this show, and it’s an absolute joy to be part of it. He’s a consummate professional, a genuinely great marquee performer and stellar stand-up. Of MICF2012, this is a top three gig, easily.
* Addendum: Mr Gorman informs me that his show could not have run that far over time, as the 2004 show was 105 minutes long and advertised as such. I remain to this day as yet privy to the talents of Ms Kendall. He did run overtime, but not by as much as I noted. I stand corrected, albeit whilst sitting.

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