Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Laughs Ahoy: Melbourne Comedy Festival Log (Part 2)


Sensory Lab, the cafe located on the Little Collins Street side of David Jones, is a godsend to the tired comedy reviewer.

Because it keeps department store hours rather than standard cafe hours, it's usually open to 7pm and thus perfectly placed to provide one last jolt of caffeine before the laughs begin.

So I'm standing outside Sensory Lab, sipping meditatively while admiring a big new piece of art which has appeared in nearby Union Lane (see above).

Down the rabbit hole

Then it's off to see Simon Munnery - Fylm Makker at the Victoria Hotel.

You need to be in the right mood for this surreal British comedian, who strings together stream-of-consciousness, non-sequiturs and odd pieces of deliberately crappy animation in order to provoke laughs.

Strangely, it works, even if the laughs are frequently of the bemused kind.

In this show Munnery is taking even more risks than usual, as he doesn't appear live on stage at all. Instead he's hidden behind a pillar near the bar, his face projected onto a screen onstage as if he's a leftover Doctor Who villain from the 1970s.

This setup allows him to play around with fades and other simple though amateurish special effects, highlighting the silliness of his delivery.

It's the type of show about which you struggle to remember any of the material (I'm struggling right now), yet know you thoroughly enjoyed. A fine mental palate cleanser.

[Find details and buy tix for Simon Munnery - Fylm Makker here]

History and dance

The following night, I'm off to Trades Hall for Dave Callan - The Psychology of Laughter.

The beardy comedian, often mistaken for Billy Connolly, has decided on a cerebral basis for this year's show: an examination of the 1913 book The Psychology of Laughter.

They did things differently back then, and their sense of humour decidedly varied from ours in many ways. Callan draws neatly on the discrepancies by projecting extracts from the book on an onstage screen and entertainingly dissecting them.

There are a few flaws with the show. For one thing the screen is difficult to see if you're seated on the left of the room.

Callan also seems surprisingly serious when discussing the shortcomings of our forebears' sense of humour at points when you expect a bit of mischief. It's as if the necessity of acknowledging their racism and sexism has made him a little over-cautious about condemning it rather than making fun of it.

He's always a dynamic figure on stage, however, in a warm rapport with the audience; and the more bookish segments are leavened by short intense dance sequences which fire up the energy of the show.

[Find details and buy tix for Dave Callan - The Psychology of Laughter here]

Trivial pursuit

Anyone who saw the surreal sketch show Problems on ABC TV last year has had a taste of the character Sam Simmons inhabits in Sam Simmons - Shitty Trivia.

The Hi-Fi, a dingy music venue below the city streets, seems the perfect stand-in for a suburban RSL club at which Simmons is the less than genial host, barking out a series of odd questions which have no logical answers.

Sometimes the replies are the punchline, sometimes the questions provoke laughs on their own. After ten minutes or so of this nonsensical fun, I wonder how this is going to sustain an hour, but Simmons then raises the stakes.

Punctuating the trivia are appearances by a talking meat tray, ludicrous costume changes, a variety of odd props pulled out of a wheelie bin, and a prolonged uncomfortable turn on stage by an audience member.

It's all funny stuff, but Simmons' real genius comes in the tone of the show. In the lines, accents and cadences he adopts, he's precisely caught the atmosphere of Australian suburbia, and his odd character is all the stronger for it.

The only problem is the amplification in the Hi-Fi, which is set too high and sometimes distorts Simmons' lines. But maybe that fits neatly with the dodgy sound system of an old RSL club anyway. It's a funny show, much recommended.

[Find details and buy tix for Sam Simmons - Shitty Trivia here]

And you can read Part 1 of my Comedy Festival log by clicking here; and Part 3 by clicking here.