Sunday 2 April 2017

Reviews: Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2017 (Part 1)

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is one of Australia's biggest cultural events, and 2017 is its 31st year of operation.

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.

Several of this year's festival shows will be covered here by myself and Narrelle Harris (who's just had a new story published in the adventure anthology And Then...)

Here's our first set of reviews.

1. The Cat Show
Reviewed by Narrelle Harris

Justin Heazlewood sets the tone for The Cat Show by crawling onto the stage in white shorts, spats, a furry bib and cat ears, and inspecting the stage. He gets onto his feet soon enough, but throughout the show he reverts to a dedicated cat-ness in which he gets audience members to dangle cat toys for him to play with, and chases scrunched up paper.

Other very recognisable cat behaviours come and go in between Heazlewood’s trademark comic songs, ranging from diagnoses of the mental health states of our feline friends and the perils of share houses, to more surreal topics.

Heazlewood’s fey charm, musical talent and occasional inspired bit of observation – his analysis of 'Missing' posters for lost cats springs to mind – keep this show going in spite of weak structure and some spots of sloppy execution. When he points out partway through that he really needs a director, you can’t help thinking he’s right.

But then there’s another strange and wistful song about life, and he head-butts a bit of furniture before inspecting the litter tray, and it seems that, like cats, The Bedroom Philosopher gets away with a lot because he’s so engaging.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

2. Something Better
Reviewed by Tim Richards

I should've known that seeing a British comedian in the week Brexit was finally triggered would result in hearing material on that fateful blow to the EU. I just didn't expect it from Josie Long. Last time I saw her onstage, years ago, she was the quintessential "nice guy comedian" full of whimsical humour. This time, however, she's political - though still charming and sweet and endearingly gormless in her application to activism.

The impetus for her rambling but funny act might have been Brexit and Trump, but its subject is more herself than any outside force. Trying to figure out how things went so horribly wrong, she references To Kill a Mockingbird and the Daily Mail, while explaining why wishes always backfire. In the end, it seems, the trouble we're in is all her fault. But at least she can make you laugh about it.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

New Order

3. New Order
Reviewed by Tim Richards

Shows comprising several comedians doing individual sets can be like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get, except one will probably be a blokey young guy doing dick jokes.

Happily, New Order defies this tradition by giving us four up-and-coming British comedians who are funny, sharp and innovative. Brennan Reece, leading the set, does good-natured stand-up which revolves around family, particularly the nightmare son of his girlfriend.

He's succeeded by Ahir Shah, or "Shit Shag" (you'll have to attend to understand why). This beautifully spoken Brit of Indian heritage makes fun of his posh accent, then twists it to address racism and stereotypes. Brexit gets a run here too, as he works his way up to an eloquent near-rant which remains entertaining.

Third on the bill is Emma Sidi, who performs a large chunk of her set in pseudo-Spanish, as she plays out the scandalous betrayal of her character by her lover, Pablo. Switching to English, she drags a hapless audience member up on stage to harangue him, then reveals her terrible past as an addict of such drugs as Vicks Vaporub, Gaviscon and Paracetamol. She's an energetic breath of fresh air.

The final performer, Steve Bugeja, is a Class-A geek who gets mileage from his awkward love life. He recounts his failed attempts to fit in with the lads, and the horror of his failed attempt to spark a round of "Hip hip hooray". He's a likeable nerd and a funny final act.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

4. How to be a Middle-Aged Woman (Without Going Insane)
Reviewed by Narrelle Harris

As a woman of a certain age, I knew I'd spend this show either laughing or crying. In the end I did both.

There's undeniable hilarity in a brazen, frank woman sharing, brazenly and frankly, the physical, hormonal and emotional experiences of being middle-aged. As someone still new to the hazards of peri-menopause, there's also some tear-inducing relief that I'm not actually going nuts. (Or, as my husband puts it, I am a bit, but there's a reason for it.)

I last saw Jenny Eclair 16 years ago, where she was breathtakingly hilarious about the perils of having turned 40. At 57, she remains earthy, forthright, uproariously inappropriate and gloriously honest about not giving a damn if her bra and knickers match; sudden bouts of incandescent rage; ideas on how to harness the power of the hot flush; and the teeth-grating irritation that is Gwyneth Paltrow.

The audience is largely made up of middle-aged women (laughing so hard they possibly wee a little), and some younger women gaining unwelcome insights into the years to come. A smattering of men laugh just as hard.

And it is a very funny show. This isn't some cosily humorous look at menopause, and despite the title it contains almost no tips on how to survive it. Jenny Eclair is ribald, laugh-till-you-wheeze funny and also, as it happens, hotter than Beyonce (body temperature-wise).

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

More reviews next week. Enjoy the festival!

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