I totally smashed the 2015 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, going to over 30 shows during the 3 weeks I camped out in the Melbourne Central Youth Hostel, and then Nomads All Nations after the YHA kicked me out for overstaying my visa welcome.
I take my hat off to all the comedians who showed up and strutted their stuff for my amusement. It's hard to rank all the shows I saw, or compare them on any sensible basis as there was so much variety and talent on show and they were almost all highly entertaining.
But nevertheless, here's my best attempt starting with my most favourites:
Measured by sheer quantity of my own laughter, Rich Hall was my highlight of the festival. I laughed so much, I lost it completely many times. At one point I thought the rather conservative-looking woman next to me was going to have a go at me for enjoying myself too much. Rich's acerbic wit, cynicism and rapid-fire delivery made me laugh so hard that muscles in my head which I didn't even know I had went into spasm. It was just extraordinary. And if I thought his bit about Target was hilarious, that was nothing compared to his song about Bob Dylan which was just hysterical.
Thank you, thank you, thank you Rich, you are an inspiration.
Arj Barker is one of my all-time comedy heroes. Not only did I love his character Dave in the Flight Of The Conchords HBO series, I think his music video The Sickest Buddhist is hilarious, and he never fails to deliver live.
This festival I had a bonus treat when I bumped into him on the street corner outside Town Hall. I was a little star-struck and the conversation went something like this:
“Hey Arj!”, I said suddenly upon noticing my comedy idol right in front of me while crossing the street.
“Oh, Hi”, said Arj, appearing slightly startled.
“I'm Graham. I saw your show last week. Love your work.”, as I extended my hand.
“Hello Graham”, replied Arj as we shook hands.
Quick Graham, think of something intelligent to say: “I really like how you weave spiritual themes into your stand-up routine.”
“Well you've got to talk about something”, Arj replied.
“I'm a comedian too; but I've only just got into it. Where do you find your inspiration?”
“Just everyday things, you know”, my spiritual comedy leader opined.
“Like, personal experience hey”, I agreed naively.
“Yeah... At first, everything that happens to you, you're like 'how can I make a joke out of this'? Then after a while it gets a bit more difficult.”
“Right... like first album syndrome!”, I empathised misguidedly.
“Mmm... more like fourth or fifth album syndrome.”, he replied.
“Well great to meet you Arj!”
“Thanks Graham... nice to meet you too”
Top bloke; even remembered my name.
Where to begin with this one? Well, the title A Little Less Conversation 2: A Little More Less Conversation made me laugh even before I turned up. It was an extension of Dave's previous show titled A Little Less Conversation, where much of the talking was replaced with contemporary dancing. Not the dicky interpretive style, but the music video type. Then after explaining that there would be no silly dancing in this show, Dave Callan and four hot young dancers led us through a hilarious music video dance journey backwards through the alphabet.
The weird thing is Dave is actually remarkably flexible and despite what you'd guess from his appearance, he can dance. Beat It took on a new meaning, his pole routine was extraordinary, there was an awkwardly funny male wardrobe malfunction, and I'll never be able to listen to Taylor Swift's Shake It Off again without just hearing that the bakers are gonna bake, bake, bake, bake, bake.
Puddles Pity Party
I first heard about Puddles Pity Party when an excited group of people got on the tram while on my way home on night, and kept raving about what a great night they'd had at some show they'd just seen. I couldn't help but ask "What have you been up to?", and they replied: “Puddles Pity Party... you've got to go see it!”
And so I did. Puddles is called “The Sad Clown With The Golden Voice”, and rightly so. It's hard to put into words just how entertaining he is, from the way he sings to the way he interacts with the audience; the whole thing is just magic, especially considering that he never really speaks during the whole show. I'll never hear Dancing Queen the same way again, nor the hostile audience refrain from Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again? Just amazing.
Even just the publicity photo and title of the Ronny Chieng's show You Don't Know What You're Talking About made me laugh, and that was before I'd even booked the tickets. I can just imagine him leaning back on that seat telling me off for speaking before my brain was engaged. His acerbic wit is hilarious live and he seems to have risen to prominence quite quickly; although I have a hunch it might not have seemed quite so quick to him.
Aside from his comedy, Ronny had by far the best neon sign of the festival. I also bumped into (that's a synonym for accosted) him crossing the street in Melbourne, and said a quick “Hi”. Seemed like a decent guy who appeared to be going somewhere that didn't involve hanging around chatting to a random stranger like me for too long.
Earmarked as one of the leading emerging comedy talents of the country, I think I'll claim Steen Raskopoulos as a friend of mine since I've been to several Improv classes taught by him, and I reckon by now he probably even knows my name. I saw Steen's preview show back in Sydney when he was road-testing material for this festival, and it was a real treat to see the final work on stage in Character Assassin.
Steen really takes his audience on an emotional journey which includes involving audience members with no Improv background up on stage. He has a way of making you feel safe. I did laugh though when he said “I wouldn't ask you to do anything that I wouldn't do myself”. I know he's sincere, but as a seasoned Improv guru, I'm pretty sure the scope of what he would be prepared to do himself is probably broader than most of his audience.
Nevertheless I'm sure his participants went away grateful for the experience. He also ties the various themes, characters and stories in his show together brilliantly. The whole set-up, execution and finale to the Old Man And The Ducks story was a work of art. Pure genius.
Another highlight for me was Steen and Susie Youssef's Bus Stop Romance at the Festival Club mime night. Funny thing is, I think I'd seen it before, yet it still works. Or are they just such likable performers that it feels familiar even first time around?
Stephen K Amos
Another one of my favourite comedians is Stephen K Amos, whose voice and persona just make me laugh right from the word “go”. I got the feeling he'd only just stepped off the plane when I saw his preview show. He just hilarious though and the fun he's clearly having on stage is infectious. I was particularly impressed with the way he handled a heckler about 40 minutes into the show, when a guy down the back yelled out:
“First one mate!”, implying that he'd only just found something funny.
Mr Amos smiled broadly and said proudly, “I know how to handle this”... and then proceeded to demolish the guy. Can't remember what he said, but it was awesome to witness. I wish I'd videoed it... but I get the feeling Stephen really hates that.
Sammy J & Randy
Everyone's favourite wildly successful man-puppet musical comedy duo (we've all been there!), An Evening With Sammy J & Randy is always entertaining, with their bizarre absurdist musical comedy storytelling.
I got laid after the last time I saw their show, so I had high hopes this year. That's all I'll say about that.
I passed up a unique opportunity during the Upstaging bit in their show, when Randy lept from the stage in a full-body puppet outfit and clamoured all over me in the audience in an attempt to upstage Sammy J, who was delivering a monologue from his drama studies thesis about the perils of upstaging. It suddenly occurred to me to pull Randy's mask off, thus upstaging them both. Who is the guy playing the purple puppet anyway? Sadly, I chose to let them have their moment and watch passively instead. I'll endeavour to be more pro-active next time.
Randy's lip-sync battle at The Festival Club was also had me seeing double for a while. #YOUJUSTHADTOBETHERE.
Nina Conti has perfected the art of externalising the monkey-mind of her inner critic for our amusement, and she does it brilliantly. Then she takes ventriloquism to a whole new level when she gets members of the audience up on stage, straps a remote-controlled mask with huge lips on them, and says “Don't worry, I'll do the talking for you.” All they have to do is stand there for the most part, and the result is hilarious. She either knows intuitively what they're really thinking, or lives in a fantasy world that's even funnier.
In one part of the show, Nina's alter-ego monkey put her in a hypnotic trance, took control of the show and then proceeded to ask for questions from the audience. Feeling like a smart-arse, I yelled out: “What's the meaning of life?” This led to a fun, engaging and somewhat nihilistic dialogue, which worked even better given that I was down the back of the room where Nina, being in a hypnotic trance, clearly couldn't see where I was and had to ask which direction to point the puppet in. Surreal and hilarious. Monkey asked “Are you a seeker?” and “What do you do?”, to which I replied “I'm a comedian”. Judging by its curtly cynical and amusing answer, pursuing comedy won't lead me to enlightenment... but I'm still willing to fail trying.
Whenever I see a show by Akmal Saleh, I never really know what it is about. I don't think he knows what it's about either. But hey, the guy is funny so who's complaining? Rockhampton, apparently.
I was a late bloomer: I got into Breaking Bad late in life, when season 5 had just come out on DVD. Thanks to my local library's phenomenal DVD collection, I had a month-long Breaking Bad festival where I barely left the house except to hunt for food, and the next instalment. It was rather heavy-going. So imagine my delight to find Miles Allen had packed all 5 seasons into a single hour of One Man Breaking Bad. This was a really fun way to revisit the show without having to spend another month, nor wind up with a crystal meth addiction. Bitches!
What a welcome treat to have a comedian including vital lessons on evolutionary psychology, sociology and human sexuality in her act. I've also read Sperm Wars (or perhaps it was Sex At Dawn, which covers similar ground), and appreciated the in-depth analysis of why modern relationships don't work as well as we expect, as much as the comedy. Apparently Sara Pascoe's partner is also a comedian, and they use each other in their respective routines. If that's not symbiosis, I don't know what is.
Kitty Flanagan is funny, sexy, sassy... and single? How can this be, or is it just a comedy ruse so that she can do routines about her ex-partner? Well, it was funny. I can't help noticing that the audience was about 90% female, which improved my odds of hooking up significantly. I'd say more, but I'm afraid that she'll see it as use the material against me in a future show.
One of the funniest things I've ever seen on TV was Tom Gleeson's iPhone rant from Good News Week. The great thing about seeing him live is that you get the adult version, not the PG-rated one that we usually see on TV. With years of experience making people laugh, he can even make stories about his kids entertaining to other people. As he said in his act: “I nail this, every time”. Cocky, yes; but also engaging and funny.
What do you get when you take a musical comedienne with a strained arm and put her on-stage with a piano and a busted electric guitar? No, it's not a joke; it was the plight of Gen Fricker the evening I saw her at the festival. An unfortunate incident helping her father move furniture (you'll know not to do that again) had left her arm in a sling, and although the guitar issue turned out to be a problem with the speakers, she only found that out later. Ms Fricker handled the situation like a pro, using it all for comic value. Definitely one of the most likeable performers at the festival, she's also great value when you run into her off-stage.
What are you to do on a quiet Monday night at the festival, when most other comedians are recovering from their weekend hangovers? Check out Jeff Green, that's what. What is it with UK comedians coming to Australia to steal our women though? Surely it's not just for residency in Australia, is it?
Another recently-claimed friend of mine from Sydney, it was great to see Susie Youssef doing her own show at the festival. I've seen Susie do Improv before many times, but not stand-up... so what a treat!
My mate Ray Badran was Dazed & Confused after pulling the PR coup of the festival with a brilliantly mis-executed audience interaction during a pre-festival show that got his name into papers as far away as the U.K. All publicity is good publicity, Ray. Nothing like a little controversy to get the word out there.
Took a random punt on Joel Ozborn, who I'd never heard of before. He was funny, and he did it without putting anybody else down. My head was pretty much spinning by this point in the festival so I can't recall much else about his show except that it included a little guitar, a little less keyboard, a shoe, and that it was held in the kitchen.
Luke Heggie has finely honed cynicism into an art form. If I ever have another BBQ, he's invited. His bit about gentleman's clubs had me falling off my seat, and although he says he isn't special, I'm not so sure. He has a show at the Melbourne International Comedy festival, and that's pretty special. I also chatted to him after the show and he seemed pretty cool.
I took a punt on Stuart Daulman because the title of his show Stuart Daulman Is An Absolute Credit reminded me of the hilarious (to me, anyway) airline food reference from The Castle. I really wasn't quite sure what was going on during most of this show, but by the end I reckon I almost got it. It's a performance, not just a dude telling stories. I also learned how to use for dead birds for the art of seduction. I hope the beautiful Haaaaannah gets to see his show one day.
I was stunned by Rob Lloyd's show Rob Lloyd vs The Monsters, based on his childhood anxieties. I was hoping for some helpful insights into my adult anxieties, which I suspect go back to my own childhood. But mainly I was just stunned. You can take that however you like. It was, nevertheless, an impressive performance piece; if you're into that sort of thing.
The Festival Club
After realising that returning to my hostel to sleep any time before about 1 or 2 am was completely pointless given the two trams and a suburban train line right outside the window, I abandoned the idea of getting a decent nights sleep altogether and ended almost every night late at The Festival Club. Some of these nights were recorded by the ABC for Comedy Up Late, which was cool because it meant I got to relive them on iview after getting home.
Acts I remember include:
- Mark Watson had my favourite line from the festival: “I would do that religiously. And by religiously I mean: without really thinking it through in detail”.
- John Kearns had impressive teeth.
- Kano Mami was hard to describe, but fun to watch.
- Djuki Mala got their dance moves on.
- Rhys Nicholson reminded me why I'm straight.
- Lawrence Mooney made me laugh.
- DeAnne Smith had a sweet song with helpful pick-up lines in it.
- Die Roten Punkte at Haus Party were either a really silly duo of German musicians, or taking the piss.
- It was nice for Mike Wilmot to be here.
- So You Think You Can Mime. I think they can.
- The guy who won the Lip Sync Battle with an unforgettable rendition of What A Feeling from Flashdance.
Let's face it: we like seeing other people suffer. It's funny, because we know the pain is happening to someone else. And comedians are funny for a living... So what could be funnier than a comedian suffering on stage? That's the dark side of Set List. The light side is that it can inspire comic genius by assisting with the free flow of streams of consciousness as topics that the comedian has never seen before appear on the screen.
The highlight here for me was Sara Pascoe's improvised four walls to the prison of the mind; and the guy who literally ran off-stage mid-way through the “set” after freaking out. He made me feel a lot better about myself.
Shaggers, the show where comics talk about sex, became a regular feature of my festival calendar after first seeing it 2 years ago on the suggestion of my mate Peter. On that night, one of the comedians went totally ballistic riffing on the audience, and it was absolutely hilarious.
This time around, most of the comics talked about how they hadn't been laid in ages; so it was more of a show about not shagging. Desperation isn't attractive; and maybe it was a bad omen because I totally failed to hook up with any of the cute girls in the audience that night too.
A few other random highlights were:
- Seeing Simon Taylor totally own a room full of screaming drunk idiots in a pub.
- I'm the kind of person who sees Bob Downe in Big Top Bob.
- If I wasn't in a bad mood, Greg Fleet was probably funny.
- Rebecca De Unamuno did some remarkable improvised characters.
- Reliving Becky Lucas's bestest childhood best friendship.
- 59 Free Comedy inspired a pleasant tram ride to Richmond.
I also saw plenty of outdoor performers in Federation Square and just across the road from the Town Hall. The most memorable ones were:
- Mr Moriyasu: I'm still not clear if he's actually Japanese, or taking the piss. But he's funny, and he really does go inside that balloon. I'm hungry!
- Trash Test Dummies: Who knew wheelie bins could be such fun?
- Jessica Arpin nicked some girl's boyfriend on a Swiss bicycle.
Another fun highlight of the festival was bumping into or seeing famous people from TV. They're a little different in person; for one thing, you can talk back to them:
- Julia Zemiro was friendly, engaging, and even helped me with my social skills.
- Andrew Hansen was also really friendly and even gave me a helpful response to my silly question: “How can I get on TV?”
- Lawrence Leung was busy filming something outside the town hall when I saw him, so I didn't interrupt.
- Claire Hooper looks pretty much the same in real life as she does on TV. Fancy that.
- David Collins questioned my judgement for seeing Bob Downe's show Big Top Bob, asking “What kind of person goes to see that?”, which I thought was a bit mean... so I decided not to mention him here.