Saturday, 26 March 2016

Reviews: Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2016 (Part 1)

The Athenaeum, a venue for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is one of Australia's biggest cultural events, and this year sees its 30th incarnation.

Every autumn it takes over the city centre, with numerous performance spaces sited within the grand Melbourne Town Hall, along with many others in nearby theatres, pubs and bars.

I'm reviewing for The Age newspaper again this year, but several other festival shows will be covered here by myself and Narrelle Harris (who has a new Holmes and Watson book out!).

Here are our first three reviews.

1. Tom Green Live
Reviewed by Tim Richards

This Canadian comedian's one-man show starts at 9.30pm and is supposed to finish at 10.30pm, but it's past 11 when we finally leave the theatre. This could be either a) value for money, or b) annoying, depending on whether you have another show to get to and whether you're enjoying the act.

Luckily Green is very funny, with a drawling self-deprecating charm and an inability to be thrown by gags that fall short. He has the experienced comedian's skill of getting the audience to laugh at mishaps as much as at sure-fire lines; such as his exploratory attempts at crowd work that fizzle out.

In his mid-40s, Green has lots to say about the difference between today's world and that of his youth. He's not a fan of social media, as a prolonged funny sequence involving the effect of Facebook on a married couple in the audience demonstrates. He also performs an entertaining song about Instagram and its over-sharing imperative.

About an hour in, the comedian detours into the past, referencing material from his days on MTV and his infamous movie Freddy Got Fingered. The audience loves it, shouting lines from the movie for him to perform; not having seen it, I feel a bit lost. Still, he's a funny guy and a strong performer.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here] 

2. Michael Burgos - The Eulogy
Reviewed by Narrelle Harris

If The Eulogy was part of the Fringe Festival, I'd cheerfully label it as quirky theatre; but this is the Comedy Festival, so it's harder to pin it down. It's not a laugh-a-palooza. It's not a wryly observed take on death. It's not a pitch-black deconstruction of death either.

The Eulogy, when it comes down to it, is a strange and surreal show where one man plays all the pall bearers at the funeral of an unloved man, plus the unlamented Tomas himself, using odd voices, weird flashbacks, and sections of what seem to be interpretive dance.

Michael Burgos twists his body and his voice to inhabit various roles and interact with the audience. It is funny, and often funny-peculiar, an unsettling humour by way of Edward Gorey. 

Whatever else it is, it's mesmerising and even weirdly heartwarming. Well, except for all the death jokes. And as long as you aren't that fond of the late and very flammable Tomas.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

3. Rob Caruana - Silent Comedy
Reviewed by Tim Richards

If there's something funnier than a slapstick comedian, it's an inept slapstick comedian. Even better, Rob Caruana is an inept silent slapstick comedian.

Arriving on a black and white stage dressed in black and white, Caruana proceeds to manipulate a vast and strange range of objects - sausages, talcum powder, cat food - in a rambling physical comedy routine with no speech at all.

In such a cramped venue with little room to move, this shouldn't really work (and in fact the sightlines are difficult if you're not seated in the first two rows).

However, Caruana makes the tiny stage work to his advantage, adding a slight hint of danger to his awkward antics as he dares audience members to spray water while he defends himself with a flimsy umbrella, or fills a balloon with shaving foam with predictably messy consequences.

Of the various odd and nauseating things he places in his mouth, we shall say no more. Suffice it to say that Silent Comedy is a funny night of well-meaning slapstick with an endearingly lunatic edge.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

More reviews next week. Enjoy the festival!