2012 Melbourne International Comedy Festival:
• Tommy Dassalo in Pipsqueak

Posted on 16 April 2012

Certain subjects make audiences squeamish. Doesn’t mean you should avoid these subjects or that people won’t enjoy the exploration once they are sitting comfortably in the audience. However, you will have a challenging time getting past their discomfort.

A couple years ago Jason Chong produced a show about the value in donating blood. The show was both funny and heartfelt. Sadly, the thought of blood was too uncomfortable for many people. Chong didn’t get the audiences he deserved at that time.

Tommy Dassalo’s show Pipsqueak explores his childhood bout with cancer and how it still affects him to this day. If you read his marketing blurb, you would be forgiven in thinking that the show contains only a few passing jokes about the subject.

This is Dassalo’s entry in the comedy festival guide: “Your little buddy Dassalo has got some ripsnorting tales from packing up his childhood home. Join him as he goes to Bali with his parents, finds love over Skype, and beats cancer. The disease not the star sign.”

Dassalo could have bypassed mentioning cancer altogether by emphasizing the house move. He shows bravery in even making a joke about his past illness. Still, he has padded things out to keep the show sounding safe and upbeat.

I honestly don’t know that he could or should have done anything differently. It’s worth thinking about his conundrum, if you are also planning on putting something challenging out into the public eye.

I find it funny how “edgy” some comedians think they are being by using foul language, exploring violent fantasies, and telling deeply sexist jokes. They will laud themselves for “breaking taboos”. I can name a number of things which are so taboo that people carefully put them at the edge of their awareness. These things are not even spoken about by those who enjoy calling attention to themselves through taking offense.

These taboo topics include: what bullying and abuse does to both victim and perpetrator, what the poor and people living on the edges of our society have to live with, what living with impending death is really like… Dramas will use these issues for a bit of temporary emotional manipulation, but without depth or consequence. Sometimes documentaries will hold up a red flag, but people still tend to look away. Comedy can often be more honest about such topics while capturing people’s attention, because it includes a spoon full of sugar.

Dassalo is an excellent storyteller. His show has a beautiful truthfulness about it. He talks about how at nine years old, going to the hospital meant a day off from school and a meal at MacDonald’s. At that age he was unable to understand the seriousness of the event. However, he could see how it was affecting his parents. His story about the day he and two friends at the hospital emptied the gift shop of PlayDoh had the audience in gasping stitches.

You can tell Dassalo had an intense apprenticeship in writing comedy for others, because his work is so well crafted, from pacing to word choice. He recognises the beauty in moments of simple humanity. Moments such as thank you letters to and from people who had it in them to show a little kindness.

My only concern with Dassalo’s performance is that he seems to be acting under a cloud. Certainly some comedians have made it their trademark to take on the persona of a put-upon or deadpan character. Even so, I think Dassalo would benefit from smiling once in awhile and perhaps enjoying his own show more.

I would like to congratulate Tommy Dassalo for choosing such a delicate subject and exposing himself to the public. How else are we all going to better understand one another and the ups and downs of life? I hope this show was nominated for a Golden Gibbo, because it deserves it.

Peace and kindness,



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