Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Comedy Fest review: Hannah Gadsby - The Cliff Young Shuffle


You can't read a review of Hannah Gadsby that doesn't contain the words 'dry', 'droll' and/or 'deadpan'. These are fair enough descriptors but they don't really do her justice, bringing to mind as they do a Speak 'N' Spell intoning “AM I RIGHT OR AM I RIGHT” or just Elliot Goblet. Gadsby's actually a generous and engaging performer, and for evidence I put forward nothing less than the strong fanbase of genteel white-haired folk who make up a sizeable chunk of her audience. See, despite her fresh-faced visage she's a bit like your favourite auntie who can always be guaranteed to punctuate any family gathering with a stream of ironic lines that highlight the absurdities underlying our conversation and hint at the insane contradictions that form the fundament of civilised existence. You also like her because she gets away with swearing in front of the grandparents.

I didn't really dig her MICF outing last year as much as most, but I've been converted this time around. The Cliff Young Shuffle is a rich, provocative and intelligent hour that uses a real story – Gadsby's ill-advised attempt to walk across England on foot – as the launching board for a thoughtful narrative that touches on depression and despair, quixotic acts of heroism fuelled by self-destructive instincts, and the empowering human connections that can be forged by mutual hatred of a third party. If none of these sound particularly funny, they're actually the basis for much comedy. And in Gadsby's hands they do generate laughs, though there's an undercurrent of discomfort which stems mostly from the fact that we're rarely asked to look at the ugly nature of laughter so directly.

So Gadsby had this stupid idea that it might be fun to walk across England, and given that she's the least sporty person she could imagine (the list of injuries she's done herself during the most ordinary of tasks is hilarious), and that she's also one of the world's slowest walkers (“if I walked any slower I'd be busking”) you can't help but think things are going to end badly. They kind of do, but that's kind of the point. She faceplants three times in the first hour of the trek. It's not giving too much away to note that more than a handful of bones are shattered before the journey reaches its somewhat unexpected conclusion.

By the show's end I sort of understood why a lot of older people love her. She talks about stuff that a lot of younger comics don't really want to face – mortality, failure, sensible footwear – but does so with a sailor's mouth and a biting wit. It's a bit like dark chocolate: a slightly bitter, heady flavour that can seem an acquired taste but packs more punch than most of the cheapo milkfat rivals out there.

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