‘Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2014’

I didn’t commit much to paper last year at MICF2013 – after reviewing 20 separate shows in 2012 (and a handful in 2011) I figured my take on these things could use a reprieve. Or you, gentle reader, could. I’ve had a mini-frenzy this year: I’ve seen 12 shows with a week to go and have a fairly strong overview of what’s been happening. One year, I swear I’ll do the funny tonne. 100 shows in a month. I’ll take out a loan or take a leave of absence or something. Anyhow. On with the evening’s business (and I don’t give ‘star’ ratings. Just read the review, you lazy bastards).

Paul Foot – Words (HiFi Bar)
Paul Foot is an act that defies description. I’ve reviewed him before, and I keep coming back. There’s little that can be said that fully describes what he gets up to on stage. He’s essentially the master of the non-sequitur, and somehow takes absurd, random thoughts and delivers them in a way to render them comedy golden. On this particular night, he triumphed over a bad vibe merchant in the audience who wasn’t enjoying himself, and as a consequence of an improvised rant about the very nature of humour being subjective, enjoyed the spectacle of said patron walking out to thunderous applause from the crowd.

Susie Youssef – Sketchual Chocolate (Forum Theatre)
One-woman sketch comedy and stand-up act from a former group improv member. Susie’s doing a selection of sketches and character bits, intermingled with stand up. It’s done in one of the smaller rooms at the Forum, this one was called ‘The Pizza Room’ for some reason; one might presume it’s where they heat pizzas when there’s no room in the kitchen. It’s the size of a broom cupboard, but the talent on show is pretty phenomenal. She has a natural presence, is quick to adapt (hence the improvisation), involves her audience and is entirely engaging. The life blood of MICF and the like are shows like this – out of the way, small, fringe-ish, but coming from a place of raw talent, honesty and a desire to make people laugh. Nobler things there are few.

Best of the Edinburgh Fest (Capitol Theatre)
Tom Stade, Carl Donnely, Kai Humphries
This is a pretty easy sell – a trio of well-honed stand-up acts doing mid-sized sets in front of a usually full room. Solid stuff, mainstream, enjoyable. Risk-free, but still a good bet any night of the week. Tom Stade was probably the best of them.

Sarah Kendall – Touchdown (Town Hall)
I need to get out more. During a story in this show, the story being someone getting a hand shandie during Jaws The Revenge, I noted the disconnect between this show being set in 1992 and that shark movie coming out in 1987. I need to get out more. I’ve been meaning to catch Sarah Kendall’s live act for years and years, ever since I saw her do a great set on the Comedy Channel maybe 10 years ago or so. Touchdown is one of those shows that has her tell a story from her spotty youth, obviously having taken a true-to-life series of events and embellished for the sake of the comedy (or the drama, give or take). She’s great, has a fantastic presence (and magnificent, beautiful teeth as it happens, fun fact) and tells a comi-tragic story with beautiful pace and character; it’s evocative, funny and brilliantly done.

Gordon Southern – Your New Favourite Comedian (Gin Palace)
This is the second time I’ve seen Gordon Southern, the first time was a couple of years ago when he was performing in one of the Forum’s nooks and they hadn’t got the aircon right. So it was a struggle. Now that he’s in the Gin Palace (‘The Swamp’, or ‘The Fingerbang Dungeon’ as it’s called) he’s got a marginally larger but altogether better venue to ply his wares – he’s an enthusiastic, vivacious stand-up performer hailing from England who has a strong connection to Australia having been here many times over the years and married one of its citizenry. His show starts off as a kind of pitch to make him your new favourite comedian, but that premise is diluted eventually for his new set reflecting the parallels between his life and the debut album of The Vines. He’s a pro, this one, I’d see him every time he was in town… and I wound up seeing him when he sat down in front of me at…

Titty Bar Ha-Ha (Tony Starr’s)
Another great find courtesy of a pair of expert flyer-ers. On the third floor of this Little Collins Street bar, Hope and Gloria, midway through the London Blitz, are hosting an evening of bawdy, upper-crust filth. Which I’m all in favour of. A cabaret-comedy-variety show that spends much of its time floating around burlesque and jettisoning the parameters of its setting to modernise the musical content, it’s a brave, engaging, very original show performed by an exceptionally talented duo (Nai Bowen, Boo Dwyer) who look to be having as much fun as the audience. It’s unconventional and out of the way, but worth it. Fucking vintage, in fact.

Angus Brown – Get Ready, Get Set, Ahhh F*%k It (Gin Palace)
Yeah, this one didn’t hit me. It seemed as though it was an awfully well-rehearsed monologue that needed editing down, because in order that Angus got through all of it he raced through the bulk of it. It didn’t sound like a story being told, or a solid piece of stand-up, but a monologue. And one that needed honing to allow for modulation, pacing, allow the audience to keep up. The ever-present theme of ‘not following through with your plans’ kind of went by the wayside, with the final bit of it being a long story devoted to an acting gig during Mardi Gras that had my mind wandering. I credit anyone, ANYONE who is willing to get up on stage and do this kind of act, but this time, I was just not sold.

Karl Chandler’s Got Talent (Portland Hotel)
This one I dug. Going along the narrative thread of having been reduced in his comedy career to auditioning for a national talent show and being judged by a Spice Girl who didn’t like jokes, the fat idiot from the radio and a handful of other choades, he managed to spin gold out of variety TV straw and through selling this story of being compared unfavourably to a one-legged dancer. His material is well honed, his delivery has great pace and flow to it and he’s funny. Sure, the whole thing was being delivered in a room the size of a laundry, but that’s how the road to comedy gold is paved.

The Festival Club (HiFi Bar)
Always best value for money in terms of the Festival. You get five or six top acts doing sharp 10 minute bits. Great venue, great crowd, and it’s $20 to get in. Really smashing stuff. I went the night they announced the Barry nominees, so that was something. The MC was Joel Creasy (he’s funny, un-PC, gay as a bag of butterflies and made a joke about MH370 – too soon? Nope); Zoe Coombs Marr as ‘Dave’, who is OUT THERE and disturbing, but great; Wil Sylvince out of Haiti via New York, he did a great set that absolutely destroyed; Tim Key, esoteric, natural, hilarious; Simon Keck, great, funny. There might have been someone else, but it was late and I was tired and I’m old. They were good too, as everyone was that night.

Bob Franklin, Roz Hammond, Steven Gates – The Writers (Town Hall)
This was an unexpected thrill. Not that it’s unexpected that anyone involved would be good, but that the concept, the format (kind of live theatre, kind of absurdist sketch comedy, kind of stand-up) would gel together to make such an impressive, different work. Bob Franklin’s been a personal favourite of mine since I started watching him on Jimeoin all those years ago. Roz Hammond, I think, is doing some of the best work out there – Mad as Hell, and I swear that cameo she had in the Graham Kennedy TV movie was quietly devastating. Funny story: I was buying a book and she behind the counter made me think, She looks like Roz Hammond. And then I was going over it thinking, Could it have been? And it was because on the receipt it said “You were served by Roz”. And I thought it funny, and concurrently an indictment of the Australian film and TV industry that someone as talented as she is working in a bookstore (it may have been a one-off). The book was Lights Out in Wonderland by DBC Pierre, and it was very good. This show was funny and weird and acerbic. I somehow got involved and got laughs through suggesting that Bob Franklin once did porn. And I hi-fived Steven Gates at another pertinent moment, and that got laughs too. So it’s really all about me.

Sam Simmons – Death of a Sails-Man (Spiegeltent, Fed Square)
Ever since I saw Sam Simmons for the first time at MICF back in – I think – 2008, I’ve been on board. There’s no way to get past what he does – perhaps he’s a tortured soul, wrestling with inner demons, a crippling self-doubt, or he just goes out there and thinks differently to close to every other person on the planet. I don’t know. I’m just in. He’s incredibly strange, thinks entirely outside the box, and in Death of a Sails-Man, assumes the role of a corporate high flyer in the muesli bar business who finds himself lost at sea and in constant conversation with his inner voice. There are songs, there are cut out puppets and a windsurfing board. It’s weird, it’s brilliant.

Ronny Chieng – Chieng Reaction (HiFi Bar)

A few years ago I was happily being flyered at the Town Hall, and was accepting recommendations for who I should see. One guy doing some flyering said, “There’s this new act, Ronny Chieng, it’s his first show and he’s getting great reviews.” Then, again, last year, I got told similar thing. Because I’m not someone who’s generally insightful enough to get in on the ground floor with these things, I have waited until he’s basically a headliner and selling out the Hi-Fi every single night. And I can tell you, people, the hype is worth it. Ronny’s stand-up is beautifully nuanced, insightful, funny, aggressive, smart and on the night I saw him, he absolutely KILLED. He probably does every night. I have to tell you, it’s a thrill to see someone who’s been at it for only five years become a pro so quickly. It’s as good a fit as I’ve ever seen – some people try to be stand-up comedians, some people work at it for years and basically get the knack. Ronny Chieng is different. It’s like he was destined for it. Born to do it. As natural a comedic presence as there ever was. The guy’s a fucking superstar.

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