31 Questions—A Few Answers

Posted on 23 April 2014 | No responses

For the most part I like staying focused on live performance. So much movie and television comedy is in the world, and many people are already reviewing it. The areas that don’t get as much love are comedy radio shows, podcasts, vodcasts, and community television. These are sometimes seen as lesser forms to their larger budget cousins. When they are considered, it’s usually as a stepping stone into film and tv.

When you care about being a full-time artist, it’s easy to dismiss grassroots media, because it’s so hard to make a living there. Nevertheless, their existence is vital to a healthy culture and a healthy democracy. Large media conglomerates narrow people’s tastes and present them with a self-serving view of the world. We need artists creating exciting new media that goes right off the edge of mainstream productions. We need creators exposing the populace to hidden realities and asking tough questions. Not everything has to be dark and/or political, but experimentation and exploration are a must.

Writer and producer Dean Watson had been prodding me for some time to take a peek at 31 Questions, a tv show on community television Channel 31. I finally had a spare moment last week and was provided a ticket to see the last show of the season. It was a nice moment to be with the 31 Questions cast and crew. It was their thirty-first show and may well have been their finale. The celebratory atmosphere as the studio audience packed out all the seating space to wish the show a fond farewell was a delight.

After seeing that night’s show I hope they go on. They were doing some very interesting things with the genre.

Ostensibly 31 Questions is a trivia show. They have two contestants from the public, several rounds of questions, a host, a scorekeeper, and a moderator. But they didn’t leave things there. Comedy and storytelling were clearly important to all those who collaborated in putting the show together. So the regular performers don’t simply have roles, they also have characters. These characters are developed through scripted interactions and continuing storylines throughout the seasons. It’s a simple enough concept, and we’ve had tastes of this sort of show in television sketch programs like That Mitchell and Webb Look. Dedicating an entire show to the idea gives some room to creatively reconnoitre.

Steve Coogan made a name for himself sending up news shows and talk show hosts as Alan Partridge using a similar format to 31 Questions. I like the fact this is more of an ensemble work. David M. Green plays a self-absorbed, egotistical nitwit and game presenter. Anthony McCormack (of The Naughty Rude Show) plays a jovial curmudgeon. Sophie Loughran plays a put-upon scorekeeper. I enjoyed seeing them send up the sexual politics of the usual gameshow format. Their timing was good and their performances engaging.

31 Questions only touched on the possibility of more nuanced social commentary and overt stories. Their sense of fun was spot on. I would really like to see them do another season, only give themselves the space to go nuts with their own structure. Go ahead and fill out the characters and let us know about their lives as they intersect with the show. If they do not continue with 31 Questions, congratulations everyone on a terrific show! I would be interested to know about your future endeavours.

See episodes: www.youtube.com/user/31questions


Peace and kindness,


2014 Melbourne Comedy Festival:
• Liam Ryan—The Hedge

Posted on 17 April 2014 | No responses

One of my great pleasures in reviewing over the years is watching certain comedians grow as performers. My first glimpse of Liam Ryan was a year and a half ago at Melbourne Fringe. He split the stage time with another younger comedian and gave us a thirty minutes of what he could do. It was a promising glimpse.

This year at the comedy festival he is performing a solo show, The Hedge. It’s a little bit about his hedge of curly hair, but mostly it’s about how he hedges his bets and is indecisive. This is the sort of material that plays very well in animated cartoons. He tells us about being mugged in Paris, he reads his many opening lines for novels that will never get written, he delves into the drama that is Trubloff: the mouse who wanted to play the balalaika. These stories are made delicious with his all too human inability to act. Hamlet and Ryan would get along like a house on fire.

Ryan’s performance is effortless. He leaves himself room to interact with the audience. He combines intelligent and witty humour with a sympathetic and accessible persona. You really don’t have to play down to your audience. You do need to find your common humanity, because that’s from where great comedy comes. Ryan is a sophisticated performer who is more cuddly than edgy, and I like that.

Ryan is playing at The Duke of Wellington Pub which has recently had a facelift. I say this because if you are put off by remembering what the place used to be like, don’t. It’s very swish these days. It does ensure you can have a delightful evening out with a meal, a drink, and a charming show. Definitely worthwhile!

Tickets: www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/the-hedge-liam-ryan


Peace and kindness,


2014 Melbourne Comedy Festival:
• Michael Workman—War

Posted on 16 April 2014 | No responses

Michael Workman is an artist and a comedian. Snobs may like some artists, but that doesn’t mean those artists are snobs. Workman has a magical ability to create vivid and intricate worlds with his words, drawings, and music. These worlds are rich in human emotion and compassion. If you enjoy being moved, as I do, you go to a Workman show. I also enjoy a laugh, because laughter is an important part of being human. If you enjoy a laugh, it’s also worth going to a Workman show. Snobs aren’t good at recognising that joy has value too.

Workman’s shows Humans Are Beautiful, Mercy, and Ave Loretta were all deeply poignant. Creating intense works isn’t as easy as just watching them for an hour or two. Artists have to live with the pain of their characters for however long it takes to create and perform them. That’s hard work. This year Workman chose to perform a show called War, which could have potentially been his darkest outing yet.

War is about a morphine addicted journalist who is reporting on a very strange war without obvious victims. A bomb has gone off which obliterated everyone’s dreams. While Workman is weaving this story he meanders into a number of asides about his life. Despite the heavy concept, this is one of Workman’s lighter shows. He reminds us that he is indeed a standup comic as well, and is a deft hand at absurd humour.

We don’t get as much character development in War. Nevertheless, Workman is hammering home some very good points about how atomised we have become, how we no longer trust one another, and how we let others do our dreaming for us. There’s a difference between sadness and despair, and the subjects he covers could easily lend themselves to despair. As such I believe he was right in choosing a light touch.

I would have liked a little more story to back up the journalist’s adventures. This was still a wonderful evening. I was pleased to see more of Michael Workman’s creative explorations. I really wish our government had a national treasure award, where certain people are just given a living wage in gratitude for their contributions and thereby make more of their art possible. Michael Workman would be one of the people deserving of this award.

Tickets: www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/war-michael-workman


Peace and kindness,


2014 Melbourne Comedy Festival:
• JMAC—Disco Fanny

Posted on 14 April 2014 | No responses

So many issues still need to be addressed when it comes to flattening our hierarchical culture and ensuring females are treated fairly and respectfully. Any number of comedians have sought to dig into this field of concern during the festival, both male and female.

Justine “JMAC” McInerney’s show Disco Fanny does so much for women, without being a call to arms. Rather, it is a richly humorous celebration of womanhood. I hesitate to use the words “girl power”, because for all its silliness, this is a show about mature confidence, self-acceptance, and self-assurance.

I have seen shows where women flaunt their bits for easy attention and easy laughs. Yes, McInerney does some flaunting as well, but she brings so much more to the mix, demonstrating exceptional comedic and musical skill.

Disco Fanny is not a show for the prudish or the squeamish. Personally, I think it ought to be toured to secondary schools where teenage girls can get a taste of what it’s like to completely embrace their bodies. McInerney calls herself a “slut”, but that’s as much of a misnomer as “tomboy”. Females have a right to be active, empowered, and enjoy their sexuality to the same degree as men.

McInerney gives her show shape by taking on characters such as a party girl, school girl, and new age guru. The jokes are goofy and delightfully off-centre. Her performance is high energy. Her original music is upbeat, sweeping her audience away with its laugh out loud lilt.

Disco Fanny is a show that speeds through its hour in flashes of rainbow coloured sequins. People left on a disco high. Good stuff.

Tickets: http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/disco-fanny-jmac


Peace and kindness,


2014 Melbourne Comedy Festival:
• Jason Chong—Stay Puft

Posted on 11 April 2014 | No responses

Jason Chong should be making television. He’s just this side of being a household name and should be in the ABC’s Warehouse Comedy Festival sometime in the near future. He’s certainly on my dream team list should I ever get a crack at a tv show.

Chong has a winning personality and a goofy sense of humour that’s accessible to a broad audience. He gets away with fart jokes by flashing a conspiratorial grin. He engages the big kid in all of us. These should be more than enough to put him in the A-team of comedy.

His show Stay Puft is about his struggles with losing weight, something most people can relate to. His adventures are delightfully cringe-worthy. He attributes his difficulties to personality traits he shares with different characters in the movie Ghostbusters. His homemade Ghostbuster gear, such as the ghost trap made out of Lite n’ Easy containers, were a brilliant piece of visual humour.

The show is without a doubt a great night out with plenty of laughs. I would like to have had more Ghostbuster jokes, go ahead and play that nerd humour card for all it’s worth. I would like to have had the two story streams better integrated and would like to have seen more of the Stay Puft suit.

Go see Jason Chong, so you can say you were a fan before he became cool. Because honestly, he’s cool right now.

Tickets: www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/stay-puft-jason-chong


Peace and kindness,


2014 Melbourne Comedy Festival:
• 5 for 5 at 5

Posted on 11 April 2014 | No responses

Let’s talk about audiences. This year there are around 480 shows all competing for audiences. Everyone is feeling how thinly spread those punters are. Even when the competition is less fierce among comedians, you still have to compete with television, film, and computer games.

So how do you convince people to turn up at your show? You could play tag with passersby at Melbourne Town Hall. Stuffing flyers into people’s hands willy-nilly. More satisfying and perhaps more effective is participating in a taster show.

A taster show is an affair where a collection of comedians showcase their skills to an audience, giving them the flavour of their individual styles. 5 for 5 at 5 is well placed to encourage people to explore the comedy festival even deeper. For a small investment of five dollars at five o-clock, people can dip their toe into the possibilities without much risk of time or money.

The performance I went to had a solid line-up of comedians with well-honed skills and enjoyable material. Mick Davies does a smooth job as the MC, providing plenty of his own material. His turn as a radio presenter served him well in this role. Stuart Dolman of Wizard Sandwiches shows us what he can do on his own. He has a topnotch stage presence and charismatic delivery. His comic strengths would make him ideal for raconteur style comedy. Michael Hing is sharp and funny, incisively dissecting cultural stereotypes. Adam Knox oozes geeky charm. Sonio di Lorio is the surprise gem with television quality skill and professionalism. Matt Burton’s cuddly Eeyore type persona has a lovely alternative comedy edge to it.

I can highly recommend these sorts of shows as an inexpensive way to promote yourself, if you’re a comedian. I can highly recommend these sorts of shows if you want to dive into comedy as an audience member, but don’t know where to start.

Tickets: www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/5-for-5-at-5


Peace and kindness,


2014 Melbourne Comedy Festival:
• CJ Delling—Reality Bandit

Posted on 10 April 2014 | No responses

If Jerry Seinfeld were a young German woman with glasses, he would be CJ Delling. She has a similar uncomplicated, good-natured, and laid back style.

Comedy gold is found when a performer is both personable and intelligent. You don’t sit there thinking, isn’t Delling clever. Instead you are eager to enjoy the laughs from a fully formed and detailed comic world, made possible by a playful mind.

Reality Bandit is about how we all manipulate our realities and how others manipulate our realities as well. From the way we disguise the existence of farts to people making themselves ill because they dislike wind-powered electrical generators.

Reality manipulation gets particularly fraught when it comes to our love lives. Delling gets big laughs from that amorous awkwardness that causes us to think things such as, if I just had the right exercise shoes then he would notice me.

CJ Delling is such a bright, giggle-worthy spark. Reality Bandit is a great way to start an evening out.

Tickets: www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/reality-bandit-cj-delling


Peace and kindness,


2014 Melbourne Comedy Festival:
• Jeez Louise at Wheeler Centre

Posted on 10 April 2014 | No responses

Well, I took all the notes and was ready to write up a summary, then Crikey beat me to it. That’s fine. Gives me more time to write up reviews. Here’s their coverage of the event.

They all agreed that every time they walk out onto a stage (unless it’s in their own show) there’s immediate judgement on the basis of the gender, but Pascoe said that it’s a problem in comedy that extends even beyond sexism.

“There’s an archetypal image of what a comedian is – a middle-aged man, fat belly and a stupid face – anybody who walks out and doesn’t fit that gets that reaction,” she said.

Funny ladies: women stand up” by Ben Neutze

Peace and kindness,


2014 Melbourne Comedy Festival:
• Rod Quantock—Peak-A-Boo

Posted on 9 April 2014 | No responses

Currently in Australia, mainstream media, corporations, and the government are in step with one another. As such it is very hard to hear alternative views or get a complete picture on what is being done to our country. We need subversive voices. Only we need more than people sitting around (or standing up) saying “ain’t it awful”.

Comedy is one of the most effective means to communicate experience, engage people’s empathy, and inspire concern, if not action. It can be used to lull people into inactivity, as with cynical humour. Cynicism breeds apathy: why bother when everything is going to hell in a handbasket anyway. But then you have people like US peace activist Wavy Gravy, US social activist Patch Adams, and Australia’s own Rod Quantock.

These are people who for decades have been brave enough to see past the illusions our societies perpetuate, raise the alarm, and then do something to create change. We aren’t living in a complete on/off situation. Things are going bad, and are going to get worse, when it comes to the economy and the environment. However, it is up to us as far as how bad. How much suffering can we avert for ourselves and others.

Quantock’s show Peak-A-Boo is beautifully structured to make an effective argument for action. He begins by telling stories from his days doing the Bus shows. These shows involved Quantock randomly leading a group of people wearing Groucho Marx masks around Melbourne. The show would regularly gatecrash weddings, graduations, and corporate affairs. These comical experiences would break down the barriers we normally put between ourselves and others, and make it possible to discover more humanity and sometimes more kindness than we realised was in the world.

These experiences are then put in stark contrast to the behaviour governments and corporations feel necessary to take when hand fulls of people simply want to be heard and end up broken and hospitalised by the use of overwhelming force. Suddenly you realise how much you care. That maybe those hand fulls of people, who are just like you, have a point and maybe we should do something.

Peak-A-Boo is an insightful show, a compassionate show, a show of exceptional relevence that young people should be crowding into, because Quantock is talking about their future. And here is a gentle voice of experience that can help them make a difference. After all these years Rod Quantock is still sharp, funny, and a man of acute social vision. Invest in your future and his show.

Tickets: www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/peak-a-boo-rod-quantock


Peace and kindness,


2014 Melbourne Comedy Festival:
• Alexis Simmonds—0-9 Tales of a Straight, Single Cat Lady

Posted on 9 April 2014 | No responses

After seeing a top comedian’s show my partner commented to me, I can see why you prefer shows by newer comedians. Some comedians over time will rely on a sure set of comic bits, rather than taking chances. They invest less of themselves and the performance can become lifeless.

Performers just starting their careers, like Alexis Simmonds, wear their hearts on their sleeves and their jester’s cap at a rakish tilt. Simmond’s show is rough around the edges, but it is full of life. Her endearing performance has soul because we are seeing a real person give everything she has to please her audience.

0-9 Tales of a Straight, Single Cat Lady is a series of stories about love (both furry and human) and creativity. Simmonds’s dating adventures are punctuated by stories of her love of cats, dogs, knitting, and indie music. The strongest moment in her performance is the show-and-tell section where she passes around her upcycled knit creations. They were quirky, colourful, and original, much like their creator. Her pleasure in sharing these items communicated well to her audience. Her talking, knit, dream-catcher cat was pure genius and provided a lot of laughs.

I would suggest to Simmonds that she find the confidence to look more often into the eyes of the people in front of her. Every time she had a minor glitch, Simmonds would glance around and give everyone one of the most winning smiles I’ve seen. It almost made me hope for more glitches.

0-9 Tales is a real charmer. Simmonds has a unique style that needs to be encouraged and nurtured into full bloom.

Tickets: www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/0-9-tales-of-a-straight-single-cat-lady-alexis-simmonds


Peace and kindness,


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