2011 Melbourne Comedy Festival Reviews, Part 2
* Michael Workman
* Storytellers’ Club
* Blue Grassy Knoll
* The List Operators

Posted on 13 April 2011

Michael Workman—Humans Are Beautiful

I’m not even half way through the festival and I’m already betting that Workman will at least be nominated for this year’s Barry Award, if not win it. This is the stand-out show of the season.

Most comedy venues are awash with observational humour. The Comedy Festival is also dominated by this style. And when done by the right people, it speaks to all of our experience and brings humour into the everyday. I’m also interested in seeing more variety. Humans Are Beautiful uses some observational humour, but first and foremost it is a parable.

Workman tells a story about travelling through a fictional countryside to a wartorn city in the companionship of a talking enlightened dog. Sometimes he tells jokes, sometimes he weaves in simple observations about life. Mostly we learn about the relationships he forms with the dog and a girl named Penny.

Michael Workman’s show is vibrant, original, whimsical, creative, funny, and deeply compassionate. His delivery is genuine, not steeped in irony. The audience cares about what he has to say, because he cares about the characters and situations he is presenting. A tour de force.


Sarah Bennetto Presents—Storytellers’ Club

Sarah Bennetto’s Storytellers’ Club is a real delight. It’s shame we only get to see it once a year at the festival. Bennetto is an Aussie girl living in London. When she comes home for a visit, she brings some of her friends with her, mixing them with local favourites, and baking up a delightful night of adventures.

The night I went she featured James Dowdeswell, Tommy Dassalo, Courtney Hocking, and Zoe Lyons. The subject she set her comedians was “brushes with authority.” This of course led to several stories about the law: Dowdeswell being pulled over for being a “dazzler”, Dassalo finding a girlfriend’s father is a police officer, and Zoe Lyons getting past customs officials. Courteney Hocking chose to speak about her brushes with “The Boss”…Springsteen that is. Bennetto’s own story was about dealing with staying out of trouble with the teacher.

Given this show sells people on seeing the solo shows of many of its artists, the comedians felt the pressure to be funny. And this they certainly were. However, humour is not required at a storytelling club, just interesting stories. It would be fun to see this show outside of the Comedy Festival context. I would also love to see Bennetto turn up at our local storytelling club: Willow Tales.

Live storytelling is an exciting artform when in the right hands. Bennetto has done much to ensure her audience gets the flavour of how much more thrilling than tv it can be when a real, vulnerable, and fallible human being puts themselves in front of an audience. It’s worthwhile taking a dip into the Storytellers’ Club. The likeability factor goes through the roof.


Blue Grassy Knoll—Three Short Comedies

It’s a little odd reviewing Blue Grassy Knoll because they are a band and not a troupe of comedians. They compose original bluegrass style music to accompany old silent comedies, in particular the comedies of Buster Keaton.

Blue Grassy Knoll’s compositions are beautifully constructed to match the tone, pacing, and events on the screen. Their musical quotes and sound effects are certainly very funny. But mostly, I would encourage comedians and writers of comedy to go-go-go and see Buster Keaton. The man was a comic genius whose comedy has withstood the test of time. And to give Blue Grassy Knoll their due, silent movies were never truly silent, they rely on the music to keep the storytelling engaging and buouyant.

Buster Keaton began his career as a child performing with his parents in vaudeville. So early on he was refining his skills in physical comedy, comic delivery, and timing. At twenty-two he began his career in film-making as co-star and gagman to Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Soon he was directing and starring in his own films.

Keaton never studied film theory. Nor would his films pass muster with today’s producers who look for “two turning points” and “the hero’s journey” in each screen play (how I wish it were a job requirement that these people take an overview course in the novel, they might come unstuck from their formulas).

Nevertheless, Keaton’s films are tightly constructed with every scene having a purpose and ending with a joke. You will note that like much observational and anecdotal comedy, his stories need not be grand nor climactic to work. Following the natural sequences of events, he finds what’s endearing and humorous about our day to day lives.

If you get the chance, go see Buster in his element: on a big screen with a laughing audience. You’ll be glad you did.


The List Operators for Kids Do Compooters: Wig-i-pedia

I know far too many people who think they can break into an arts career by creating material for children. It’s just not that simple. Children don’t do “polite applause” or “kind laughter”. They respond solely to what they like. The List Operators for Kids clearly know what they are doing and had their audience of children in the palm of their hands.

Certainly the List Operators rely heavily on poo, widdle, and fart jokes to carry their show, but gently and interwoven with some real information about computers. Particularly effective was how they engaged with the children through games such as throwing beach balls around or asking them to choose directions in a story.

Matt and Richard have developed a well-tuned comic rapport. Richard plays the slightly authoritarian straight man to Matt’s anarchic childlike fool. This is a very old comic tradition and you will have seen it in places such as I Love Lucy and Bugs Bunny. Nevertheless, it only works when comedians learn how to give and take from one another all comic offers. In live theatre this requires both lightning quick skill, and trust that the other performer will always be there for you to follow through.

One point I would make, especially after watching a children’s author once die on stage when speaking to his audience, make sure you are absolutely fair in your representation and dealings with both genders. Kids are deeply into fair and if the numbers don’t add up on either side, you start sowing the seeds of discontent. In an adult show people will understand that for the purposes of a story you might have three women and two men or one woman and two men. Kids don’t have that sort of meta-understanding.

The moment in this show which was a bit shaky was when they represented the game Pong using a boy and a dad. I could feel the air going out of the little girls when they weren’t chosen for the second spot. I saw that Matt and Richard were trying to make it a kid vs adult thing. And making it a girl vs boy thing would have been disastrous. The only answer I can think of is that perhaps they should have had one round girls vs moms and another boys vs dads.

The List Operators Do Compooters was a lot of fun. I look forward to seeing more from Richard and Matt.


Peace and kindness,


Responses are closed for this post.

Recent Posts

Tag Cloud

constitution environment human rights united nations


Katherine Phelps is proudly powered by WordPress and the SubtleFlux theme.

Copyright © Katherine Phelps