2010 Melbourne International Comedy Festival Reviews, Part 1

Posted on 04 April 2010

Josh Earl vs. the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book

Josh is another Gen Y charmer who has given cynicism the boot. His relationship with the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book is one of pure joy: joy at the anticipation of having a cool cake for his birthday, joy at the hilarious family events surrounding making said cakes. He moves smoothly from story to original songs to multimedia presentations, keeping the pace light and breezy. At no moment does the energy in his show lag.

I was especially impressed with Josh’s effective use of technology. I have seen a number of comedians working multimedia elements into their shows with varying results. Often the show loses its warmth, its focus, and has a choppy feeling to it. I also feel that if I wanted that much multimedia, I would have stayed at home in front of my TV or computer. When I pay money for a live show, I expect to connect with a real human being.

At one point in the show Josh creates a situation where he is apparently calling his mother live in order to talk about her cakes. Scripting and execution are so seamless, you could almost swear this is a real event. This is when technology is used as it should be for a theatrical performance.

I hope I will continue to see live performances from Josh Earl in the future. I also believe TV producers should take note of this young talent and get him on as a writer. He understands the realities of telling a story that is both warm and full of spectacle.

Sarah Bennetto in The King and I

Sarah Bennetto is a storyteller par excellence. She does not impress one as the stereotypical storyteller, but she keeps her audiences on the edge of their seats. Last night she regaled us with her story about actually being invited to a party held by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace.

Her adventures and misadventures were hilarious, but I would say her sense of wonder, character, and drama were what kept everyone keen to find out what happens next. It was lovely meeting through Sarah’s words the Welsh gentleman who regularly wrote in to her little show on SkyTV. I loved the palace butler who did his best to calm her nerves and introduce her into the party. And our wildcard gentleman who worked at the Australian Consulate provided some of the best punchlines.

When I took a course in standup in Adelaide, the instructor explicitly forbade us to tell stories, because he said they didn’t work as comedy: people only want one-liners. At the time I was flabbergasted. What about Bill Cosby or Garrison Keillor? Storytelling may indeed have fallen out of fashion for a time and certainly doesn’t work as well at comedy theatres that specialise in hens and bucks nights. However, it is coming back. London has storytelling clubs now and in Melbourne we have Willow Tales at Willow Bar (one of my very favourite venues).

I first met Sarah at Jeez Louise women’s comedy conference last year. Because of that meeting I returned to comedy with a story. I was overjoyed to finally see her perform this year. She is an active proponent of this art form and deserves respect for her support of others as well as her own fine performances.

Kent Valentine in Fablemonger

Kent Valentine is another storyteller. Though, rather than a single sustained story, he tells a string of inter-related stories that are made cohesive by a strong theme.

This sort of storytelling can be a lot of fun because you can weave in sub-plots, running gags, even use your mosaic of tales to develop your own or others characters. In this case we get a series of snapshots of what it’s like to be an Australian family man in London.

Kent’s performance is smooth and professional. We get a sense from his very first words that we are in safe hands. Part of this comes from learning early on that he is quite a humane character. I find nothing wrong with a comedian venting some spleen, but that spleen can become outright misanthropic and unpleasant in the wrong hands. Kent can blow some steam and we all just appreciatively nod. I would say, he should probably re-think his computer game story, since the ending doesn’t lead to the usual Kent wisdom. But overall here’s someone I would have a cup of tea with any old time.

Andy Muirhead in Saturday Night at the Library

I am a great fan of Andy Muirhead’s The Collectors on ABC. It’s such a jovial way to end the week. His Saturday Night at the Library wasn’t what I expected, but was nonetheless another delightfully jovial end to the week.

I have to admit I was expecting to be led on a tour of the amazing collections at the State Library. He would tell us something fascinating about various objects while throwing in several jokes. Evidentally, he is doing this for the museum tours and brought some of the jokes from that event over to our own.

What we were treated to was a year in the life of Andy Muirhead, and it was an endearingly intimate journey. He brings amiability, ingenuousness, and vulnerability to his comedy. Those are qualities that remain fresh with audiences. We could all feel the hurt when he spoke about breaking up with his girlfriend, and sympathise largely because he’s generous enough to not vilify the woman, but simply bemoans the vicissitudes of life. His presentation was clean and unforced. At no point did he seem to skip a beat. This was a very polished performance.

After the show I hung around because my friend Janet just happened to be there. Andy bemoaned the fact that he had accidentally missed bits. It’s delightful to hear these sorts of things, because it just points out how at times we are too hard on ourselves as comedians. Perfection in memory and perfection in performance are not the same thing. If you forget a bit, but flow on with what’s working, no one but you ever notices, and you can still bring down the house.

Peace and kindness,


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