The 2001 Melbourne Comedy Festival
I've started the Melbourne Comedy Festival with a bang, with two shows last Saturday night and three more booked for next Saturday (and others over the next few weeks as finances permit).
Ross Noble (UK) was an excellent improvisational comedian whose mind latched onto the strangest ideas and just ran with them. Whales catapulting across car-parks, Bon Jovi in a pony costume stealing cushions from cars, imaginary banjo-playing, a plan to set fire to a small child at the end of the show, and a wonderful way of handling late-comers. Good stuff.
Adam Hills (Aus) had some good jokes about being Aussie and about English reserve ('I'm so angry I could redecorate!'), but spent a little too long labouring the explanation for his show's title—'Go You Big Red Fire Engine'—and talking about what had happened at previous gigs. But he did have some of the funniest audience participation I've ever seen, featuring the 'half-cut' Shane. On the whole, good, but not quite as mind-blowing as hamsters dressed as whippets chasing sunflower seeds dressed as rabbits (Noble, again).
Next week: the Boosh (UK), Peter Helliar (Aus) and Greg Fleet (Aus). I love the Comedy Festival.
More fun at the Melbourne Comedy Festival...
Auto Boosh is the latest by last year's Barry Award/best-of-the-festival winners, the Boosh. Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt have developed a strong pair of characters—one the slightly dippy trippy-hippy Londoner, the other the bossy brainy Northerner—and set them in a world of weird, where dancers in parkas and cockney nutjobs run up against smoothie-making demonstrations and Russian theatre about pies. As a long-time fan of weird I loved it, and the scene with Big Leg gave me my first uncontrollable ouch-my-spleen-hurts laugh of the festival. Highly recommended.
Peter Helliar is a resident comic on Rove Live, which should be recommendation enough for his one-man stand-up show, 'Autumn Catalogue'. Should be, but isn't. Helliar turned out to be a touch too shambolic in his delivery, and there were one too many rabbit-caught-in-headlights moments as he searched desperately for his next joke. Which is a shame, because he'd sometimes latch onto a good one. His delivery was reminiscent of Eddie Izzard at times, but his humour was more conventional—and two days later I can't remember much of it. (Smoking animals. There were a lot of smoking animals.)
Greg Fleet gave us the tightly scripted 'I Wish You Were D
Yesterday I also caught the second half of the Big Laugh Out, the free show staged at Southgate shopping centre—despite the rain washing out half of the half-open seating space. It was MC'd by Adam Hills, who had some great material for the links—better than some of the stuff in his show last week. Also appearing were Tripod, who go from strength to strength, and Dave Hughes, who's an absolute legend (and only recycled one joke from his 1999 show; but it was such a good one that I didn't mind). 'Bought a packet of Snakes Alive the other day,' he told us; 'Opened up the packet and they were all dead! Must have suffocated.' The only flat spot was the Compacts, four country-beauty-queen impersonators—a low-key style of humour that doesn't do a lot for me.
Still two weeks to go, and so many shows to see; I may yet succumb to further temptation.
More Melbourne Comedy Festival. Last night I went to see Tripod telling the tale of Tosswinkle the Pirate (Not Very Well). This trio have mastered the art of musical comedy interspersed with character-based tomfoolery perfectly, and reminds one of nothing so much as an Australian version of the Goodies. As a generation-X's-worth of Australians raised on the Goodies will tell you, that's high praise indeed. Like Tim, Bill and Graeme, Tripod features the pretty one (Gatesy), the brainy one (Scod), and the weird one (Yon), and their characters are now so well-formed that the laughs flow from their slightest interaction. They also play some damn fine and funny music along the way.
Their previous shows were collections of disparate songs linked together by random gags and larks, all amounting to nothing in particular but always fun. In 'Tosswinkle' Tripod experiment with narrative, but as the subtitle says, Not Very Well, and the results are hilarious. Tosswinkle the pirate comes face to face with a romantic Ghost Ship, a duck sailing a robot dog, a wooden Enid, and cutlass duels fought with wickets. Along the way we get songs about bubble helicopters and how everyone's a tosser, along with some rousing pirate fare and phat dance-floor beats. It's the English panto tradition subverted and twisted to Tripod's own nefarious ends, and it's great stuff.
On Sunday I saw the Raw Comedy Grand Final. Over five hundred competitors had been culled to fifteen through a series of state-based heats, winning the right to parade onstage in the cavernous Town Hall and suffer stage-fright to end all stage-fright.
Not all of the past winners have gone on to comic greatness. Last year's winner, Drew Rokos, has a show in this year's Melbourne Comedy Festival, as does a previous finalist, Sarah Kendall. Chris Franklin had a hit with '(I'm a) Bloke' a couple of years after he won Raw Comedy with it. And then there's Australia's favourite maths-babbling DJ, Adam Spencer, and Anh Do, two more previous finalists. Who else? None that I've noticed.
So Raw Comedy isn't quite the ticket to stardom that it's cut out to be: as in any field of endeavour, the promise and potential revealed by those few minutes onstage have to be accompanied by a hefty dose of drive and determination for them to lead anywhere.
Whether this year's finalists have that drive, only the butts of their merciless schoolyard taunts can say. But most of them had what it took to keep a large audience laughing, and showed the potential for greater things. Particularly noteworthy were Michael Chamberlin, Ross Janetzki, Penny Tangey and Yianni Agisilaou, although the last flew dangerously close to the wind by suggesting that anyone could write a Fawlty Towers script in ten minutes: mock Scooby Doo if you must, but mock not the high priest of sitcom scriptwriting, ye mortal!
The most natural and comfortable performer was the one who won, Emily O'Loughlin of Adelaide, and on that basis she certainly deserved the prize, but I wondered whether her 'fat and proud of it' humour showed the same potential for future development as, say, Michael Chamberlin's fast and physical free-associating on the different jobs he was considering applying for. Which is only to say that it's bloody hard to pick a single winner out of fifteen.
It wasn't all polish and professionalism, though; the final also had moments when you felt like you were watching a car-crash in slow motion, as a couple of performers faltered at the sight of thousands of people and several TV cameras. That sort of crowd is a whole different proposition to a state heat in a Sydney pub, and that sort of pressure must be scary indeed. It's hard enough performing stand-up in front of fifty people, let alone a thousand; at the best of times it's a naked bungy jump of the soul, with everyone watching. So in my eyes they were all winners, even if the laughs weren't always there.
Which leads to the final show I've seen (last night) at the 2001 Melbourne Comedy Festival: Are You Dave Gorman?
This was, without question, the funniest show I've seen at the Festival this year. The premise is simple: English comedian Dave Gorman embarks on an obsessive quest to meet as many other people called Dave Gorman as he can. The delivery is something else again: this is the only comedy show I've seen that uses slides, overhead projectors and graphs—certainly to such hilarious effect; and, conversely, is the only slides-and-overheads-based presentation I've seen that was in any way funny, let alone this funny.
With this show Gorman has said something definitive about the trainspotter in us all. When he asked at the end if there was a Dave Gorman in the audience tonight, every one of us was hoping there would be; and when he said 'You disappoint me; but even more, you disappoint yourselves,' we all knew he was right.
I haven't laughed so much in ages. Which is why, even with five nights still to go, this will be my final Festival show this year. I can't imagine another one topping it.