2010 Melbourne Fringe Festival Reviews Part 1:
Kate and Tegan Are Two in a Million

Posted on 23 September 2010

This was the first night of the first full standup comedy show either Kate O’Neill or Tegan Higginbotham have done themselves. They have both performed in other people’s shows, but nothing solely their creation. This was a great start to promising careers.

Together they kicked off by engaging the audience with scratchies (I think you could have saved your money on that one girls, but it was fun) and asking someone to flip a coin. Both were easy calls, since no one was being asked to make a fool of themselves, but it did bring people in so that they would have a personal stake in the show. Of course this isn’t just one-way. Finding your audience is ready to play along helps give the performers more confidence. They have a greater stake in being funny.

Once the show started in earnest Kate and Tegan took it in turns doing their routines.

Tegan began her set by demonstrating how shaky she was from nerves and thereby enlisted audience sympathy. With comedy it’s always worthwhile naming the obvious: “I’m nervous, I have a giant zit on my forehead, notice how my eyebrows waggle around like two mating caterpillars?” People are willing to be generous, if you are willing to be honest and vulnerable.

Tegan spoke about her adventures in London and Paris. So, she set herself up as a young woman of the world, then quickly painted a picture of how ordinary things can get where ever you are. The formula is one of shifting status: here’s something really interesting about me which may give me greater status, here’s a situation that shows I’m still just as human as you. I loved her story about feeding the cute little squirrels in London and how that turned into a nightmare when a sewer rat decided to join the party. Though, I think her prize story was about auditioning for a tampon advertisement.

Her anecdotes were witty and her delivery showed real charm. More self-confidence might have given her the personal strength to make larger gestures and more comic imitations of the characters within her stories, but really these things were sufficient for a polished and laugh-worthy performance. Night two will be wonderful and better than night one, night three will be wonderful and better than night two, and so on. This is the natural progression of all shows, including those by seasoned veterans.

Kate’s set was also largely anecdotal. However, it had a greater sense of storytelling, due to a focused theme in what life was like for her growing up in Torrumbarry population 21. I think she would do well to spend time listening to routines by Bill Cosby and Garrison Keillor. Her anecdotes had a lot of laughs, she might have also engineered a big laugh near the end by using an over-arching story. I believe she has the ability to achieve success in this even more complicated approach.

It’s worth noting how Kate’s stories had a different direction to Tegan’s in terms of status development. She would tell you something ordinary about her little town or her life in that town, then add a twist that showed how even the ordinary could be interesting. That sort of storytelling has an easy longevity, because we can all understand the little moments in life. Her anecdotes about getting her tongue stuck in the freezer or about accidentally suffering from a concussion could have been told fifty years ago and could be told again fifty years hence.

Kate’s comic strength is in her absolutely ingenuous delivery. Many comedians trade in humorous cynicism. It’s refreshing to hear unaffected yarns about life. The real skill is in maintaining an artless approach and not descending into pessimism, and doing it in a way that seems real and accessible, not twee.

As an observation (not a criticism) I found it interesting how unselfconscious this show was. Kate and Tegan are clearly still finding themselves as comedians: developing their styles, understanding from where their strongest laughs are coming. Few other arts are in such intense dialogue with their audience. You find out a lot about what people like about you and what things they will respond to from you. And you only learn it by doing it. One of the things that made this show memorable was the contrast between the city girl and the country girl. This could have been developed further for more laughs had the comedians been more conscious of the direction their material was taking.

What Kate and Tegan have done with this show is admirable. They found the courage to just charge in and make their own event. I would strongly suggest other new comedians follow a similar formula: team up with others, start with directly engaging your audience, interact with one another on stage, then find a theme you can all address in your set. Go watch their show and see how it’s done.


Peace and kindness,


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