Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Comedy Fest: Things Missed Along the Way

Golly gumbucks, it's over. There were craploads of shows I didn't get time to mention here so here's a quick purge of half-baked things that accreted along the way. There are another ten or so that don't get a mention (including some brilliant stuff) but hey, Capital Idea doesn't pay by the word and let's face it: more ill-thought-through commentary by me written for the sake of completeness isn't enriching anyone's life. If you do care to read on, knock yourself out.


Regular Mighty Boosh collaborator Rich Fulcher here provided a one-joke character show in which he played an aging queen of the groupies. You can pretty much work out the character from that description, and it didn't go much further than that. Intermittently funny, often self-indulgent, occasionally dipping its toes into inspired surreal territory. Pretty much what you expect from the Boosh and all that you get here too.


Davis' comes across like your gushy little sister after an all-night Twilight binge, except her obsession is animals and the obscure facts you can dig up on them. Her knowledge is encyclopaedic – and I mean actual books, not wikis – and for a good length of her show she invites audience members to throw her animals so she can respond with rare tidbits of information you won't already know. This won me over given that esoteric zoological trivia is my idea of a good night out, but not everyone would find this particularly compelling. Her demeanour of unbridled enthusiasm also overshadows her more mature skills at working a room and playing off the audience in an unexpectedly confident manner. Everyone did get a bookmark, on the other hand, and mine tells me that the SE Asian fishing cat “uses its partially webbed forefeet to scoop prey from the water as it crouches on a rock or overhanging bank, or stands at the water's edge. It does not mind entering the water, and is a good swimmer.”


It took me a while to warm to Edmonds' act but I walked away very impressed and still recall her as one of the more distinctive presences in the festival overall. This was her first show and it's a great debut – she treads the same self-deprecating terrain as Celia Pacquola or Felicity Ward or even Judith Lucy but in place of the dry wit and confidence that characterises those performers Edmonds actually comes across as someone whose failings have been real disappointments to her. She's not a cool kid making sport of her own dorkiness, but a dork whose honesty makes her all the more endearing. Plus you get plenty of banjo action, some superb character work (especially playing the bitchy old neighbour who used to put her down) and a closing number about having to do a shit in a nightclub that offers some first-class cringe.


Daniel Burt is the only Aussie ever to write for David Letterman (as an intern) and I believe he may be Catherine Deveny's protege. Whatever his writing skills, he's still got a way to go as a live performer if his first outing is anything to go by (which, obviously, being his first outing, it may as well be). It's push-your-buttons did-he-just-go-there comedy that, when delivered by someone like Deveny, can work terrifically, but when served up by a less-confident white dude in his late twenties doesn't stand out as particularly daring or different. Early in the show we're treated to a gigantic projected photo of a pair of shaved testicles which sets the tone of the evening pretty low; the rest of the hour hovers around that same kind of low-level smuttiness and vaguely reactionary confirmation-of-prejudice-through-laughter that fuels so much MOR Aussie comedy.


One thing that struck me this year was just how many comedians want to be musicians. Often this leads them to become musical comedians, and in cases like Tripod's this pays off. At other times I end up wishing they'd put down the guitar and just get on with what they're good at, and there were times in this show where I felt exactly that. Anyone for Tennis? are a tight duo and there are some big laughs in this show, but the intermittent musical numbers are far looser and less interesting than the character comedy and sketches that come off most winningly. Then again, Anyone for Tennis? are musical comedians, so it's pretty damning for me to complain that their straight-up comedy is better than their music. I guess bands just need a lot more time gigging to get things as sharp as my unforgiving music critic's ear will allow for. This is perhaps also why I am not and never will be a music critic.


Gadzooks, where do I start with this one. I can't think of a more challenging show in this year's festival, though I use that term to mean 'troubling' as well as 'provocative' in all kinds of ways. Still figuring out my response so feel free to ask me in the flesh. Until then, you can read my varying responses by googling other people's reviews of the show. I tend to agree with all of them, however contradictory they may be.


Wil Anderson is a left-thinking vegetarian with strong opinions on politics and war and all that stuff. So why does he cloak himself in the guise of a blokey ocker larrikin who wouldn't set off alarms if he walked past security at MTR? His MICF show began in the same model of giggly conservatism that you can expect from too much stand-up – suggesting that a woman in the audience was a prostitute by strenuously denying the possibility; confronting a teenaged boy with questions about his wanking habits while his dad sat nearby. That kind of stuff. So when he ends his show by turning on homophobes and violent racists and the like, I wondered if he was in reality the perfect stealth delivery system for introducing more progressive thought to a complacent Australian mainstream. Nah. Even at his most ranty his big point turned out to be “just let people be who they are and chill the fuck out”. Not that I want Anderson to be Bill Hicks or anything, but he pales in comparison to...


… and wasn't it just? Thomas is pretty brilliant for a 22-year-old and gave his audience what most of them didn't expect – graphic and hilarious dissections of his sex life, uncompromising discussions of gay and straight relationships and a spot-on section explaining why he's an atheist and why he's right for being so. If Anderson gives the audience the show they want with a bit of a twist, Thomas just gives the show that he wants and good on you if you sign up for the ride. It's the positive side of self-indulgent comedy – when the comedian doing the indulging is actually really, really funny, everyone's a winner. Also featured a live dog on stage.

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