Friday, 30 April 2010

Copy and Pasty

In their magnum opus Give Him a Ball and a Yard of Grass, noted philosophers Sultans of Ping FC once observed that ‘man can have no greater love than give 90 minutes to his friends.’ They were wrong of course, as proved this week by my friend K who responded to my plaintive pleas in the cyber wilderness for a Gregg’s Cheese and Onion pasty BY FRICKIN’ MAKING ME SOME…

Yes, in quite literally amazing scenes I have been feasting like a king/drunken Northerner on hot melty cheese pasty goodness right here in Melbourne village (see above). And whilst there is nothing quite like the taste of a fresh Gregg’s pasty, I have to say that even if I wasn't faced with absurdly rigorous quarantine laws and the absence of some kind of matter transporter, these were damn fine pasties.

My sincere thanks to Ms K for turning my homesickness into overeating-of-cheese-pasties-in-one-sitting sickness, one of the nicest medical conditions on Earth (second only to that little understood affliction, Toomuchcurry…)

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Sing Hi! for the New Romantic

Spare a thought for the new romantic, as he crimps his fringe till dawn
Using a sandwich maker to the sound of a flugal horn
Sing Hi! for the new romantic and the peacock feather in his cap
Silver buckles rattling, frilly shirts flapping in the breeze
Sing Hi! The New Romantic, Vic Reeves, 1991

As Philip Larkin once
noted, they fuck you up your mum and dad... they may not mean to but they do... There is no escaping that I have my mum's love of Tony Hadley and Spandau Ballet's 1984 album Parade to thank for me being at the Rod Laver Arena this week. Still, at least childhood trauma explains my unexpected appreciation for Spandau. I'd be interested to know the reason the notoriously earnest Tears for Fears had for sharing a stage with the frilly shirted fops of the Ballet more than twenty years after all their primes – filthy reformation lucre aside.

OK, first some facts: 1) a tennis arena is an awful place to enjoy live music 2) just about everyone feels a bit funny about being here – apart from two women in their forties dancing in our aisle who could easily have been transported in time from a 1983
Countdown crowd 3) tonight is uniformly about nostalgia and singing along unashamedly to pop songs 4) no one ever wants to hear “a new song we just wrote”, no matter how much it means to the band, or how bored they might be of playing the same stuff for a quarter of a century 5) if you don’t like Spandau Ballet or Tears for Fears nothing I’m about to say will change your mind. You probably despise them. Clever you, well done, gold star. On that understanding let us proceed…
Erm, other way Tony mate... other way...

The lights went down for the ‘Fears just in time to spare me from having to watch a sweaty lady in front stuffing a Rod Laver chicken burger into her mouth, so for that reason at least I was delighted to see them. As for the rest, well, it wasn’t bad but once they’d played the marvellously pompous Sowing the Seeds of Love (how they must resent Noel Gallagher’s luck) and an underwhelming rock-opera karaoke version of Mad World I lost interest. On the plus side Roland Orzabol’s voice was fantastic (ditto that of a scarily feminine-sounding male backing singer) and the inevitable Shout was impressively relentless but overall there were a few too many fillers for a once-in-25-years set.

Not so the Ballet who took to the stage with a hilariously overblown intro culminating in the words STEVE… GARY… JOHN… TONY… MARTIN flashing on a big sheet, with accompanying screams from the crowd (especially for Martin, more famous of late for his stint on Eastenders). Looking through a Greatest Hits compilation before the gig Mrs Custard and I picked out a possible fourteen Spandau winners, every one of which was exuberantly played.

The band themselves have been affected by time in different ways. Drummer John Keeble and guitarist/songwriter Gary Kemp looked like they’d been left out in the sun too long, the once svelte Hadley has suffered from Al Gore/Alec Baldwin syndrome and Martin’s serious ‘sucking-on-a-wasp’ pout is now permanently etched on his face. Only saxomophonist Steve Norman has aged well, although quite why he was sporting some kind of Victorian-urchin velvet waistcoat was beyond everyone.

Spandau now, recreating Cher's If I Could Turn Back Time video
Speaking of Norman (who once said "Hi to all our fans in Ethiopia, sorry we won't be able to make it over there this year, but we're going to try for next year" in a sound bite for the b-side of Do They Know It’s Christmas) a word of advice for future gigs, STOP RUINING EVERY SONG. Everybody hates saxophone… everybody. It’s the worst instrument in music (apart from Auto-Tune…) I accept that some Spandau songs have a bit of saxophone on them, but don’t add bits where there aren’t any (the three minute extension of I’ll Fly For You especially). You look like a dick, and it sounds shite. And whilst we’re at it Martin Kemp, when is a sleeveless leather waistcoat ever acceptable? Answer: never (ever).

As well as my inevitable leaning towards songs from Parade (I’ll Fly for You, Only When You Leave, Highly Strung, a reworked With The Pride and Round and Round cutely illustrated with some old Super-8 cine footage of the band) the stand outs were the very early (saxophone free) songs including The Freeze and To Cut a Long Story Short. If all you know is True and Gold (that’s you Patrick Donovan from
the Age) then these little new wave numbers might explain why Spandau were once on the cover of NME – even if they did end up in cheesy ballad land.

Still, cheesy is as cheesy does and a bit of arch pop camp is always welcome in our house, especially sung well. Hadley’s voice was very much up to the job and even covered up some occasionally patchy playing from the rest of the band - not something that could be said of Simon le Bon when I saw Spandau’s arch-rivals Duran Duran on their reformation tour (Yes… I did. And I enjoyed it more than the recent Pavement reunion. Suck it up).

So in sum, mostly ace with just a few wobbly moments, notably a breaking of rule 4 as listed above (no really, no one ever wants new songs’). This still wasn’t enough to upset the 10,000 plus who cheered deliriously at the idea of another show in two years. I don’t think I’ll be there for that one, but I’m glad I finally got to wave my seaside arms in the air with Spandau. My mum would be proud.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Circus is Leaving Town

I know that no-one reads yesterday's papers but unlike Morrissey I would like to finish something that I've started and bring you up to date with the shows I saw in the final week of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. In a firesale clearance sale of a posting I've also included some souvenir photos I took during the festival to gaze wistfully at for the next eleven and a half months...

Felicity Ward reads from the Book of Moron, Melbourne Town Hall

I suppose it had to happen at some point but Felicity Ward reads from the Book of Moron was the only show I saw at the festival that I didn’t enjoy.

Based around a slightly incongruous notion that the well-spoken and professional Ms Ward is the worst kind of incompetent, much of the night was spent listening to our host reading stories of alleged social ineptitude from a big book. Sadly the tales – whilst amusing enough - didn’t pack much comedy punch, nor did they convince that Felicity is any more moronic than the rest of us. Losing your bikini top or getting stoned at drama class might make amusing dinner party anecdotes, but they aren’t enough to base a show on.

Her cause wasn’t helped by a decision to adopt a hammy theatrical approach - perhaps influenced by her television work on the Ronnie Johns Half Hour. What we were left with was a slightly self-congratulatory performance that had been rehearsed and polished to within an inch of its life, stripping it of any personality. This was reinforced when she handed out glossy copies of the Book of Moron after the show, the stories reprinted word for word including all the improvised exchanges with the audience.

If theatrical comedy is your thing then there are pleasures to be had. Felicity is clearly a talented performer but for me this show would have benefitted if she’d turned down the acting and let herself shine through more.

Felicty Ward is current performing at the Basement in Auckland as part of the 2010 New Zealand Comedy Festival...

Jamie Kilstein - Revenge of the Serfs, Victoria Hotel

I hadn’t heard of him before but motivated by a wonderful interview on Alan Brough’s ABC 774 show I turned up at the Victoria Hotel to see New Yorker Jamie Kilstein for some perspective on post-Obama America. I was duly served, but what I didn’t anticipate was being a front row witness to feats of extreme physical endeavour.

Kilstein has justly been labelled as the heir apparent to Bill Hicks’s throne of polemic. His conservative baiting, hypocrisy deflating, anti-religious themes are highly informed and articulately delivered with the right amount of intelligence, contempt and humour which is hard not to like. What the Hicks comparisons miss are Jamie’s impressive outpourings of physical and mental energy which see him transform from politicised stoner kid into a veins-throbbing-megaphone-wielding-stream-of-consciousness modern day Gil Scott Heron.

Kilstein’s performance is akin to watching a rapper in full flow; a deep intake of breath and then out it comes, a raging torrent of information and explanation and inspiration, no rhymes but perfect rhythm, breathing as controlled as an Olympic swimmer. Imagine The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart possessed by the spirit of Abdominal (check out his
Vicious Battle Raps with DJ Format for a taste), the articulacy of John Cooper Clarke and the neck veins of Henry Rollins and you’re getting there.

If this sounds a little too political for you then a) you’re probably exactly the kind of person that should go and see his shows and b) don’t panic because Kilstein is first and foremost a very funny guy. His anti-religion soap-boxing was delivered using Eddie Izzard-levels of absurdity whilst a lengthy but rewarding piece about his changing relationship with his dad might have drifted from the show’s theme but it showed great self-awareness and added a bit of the personal to his political.

Revenge of the Serfs was one of the big highlights of my festival. I’d urge anyone to see Jamie Kilstein perform – not just to channel some of your grumbling into something more interesting and productive but to be impressed and, if I may get all NYC on y’all - laugh your frickin’ ass off.

Visit Jamie’s
MySpace page here. Alternatively check out the We Are Citizen Radio site which he runs with Allison Kilkenny (“it’s like CNN with more swearing”)

Phil Nicol - Bobby Spade, a Deadpan Poet sings Quiet Songs Quietly, Bosco Tent

For the first five minutes of Phil Nicol’s performance as psychotic Rat Pack wannabe Bobby Spade I thought I’d made a terrible error of judgement. Bobby’s ego was uncomfortably big, his self-aggrandising disproportionate to the quality of his lines and the sound of his two-piece band drowned out any subtleties that might have been present. What was I doing here? Yet by the end I was convinced I’d seen a comic genius deliver a brilliantly inventive idea with infectious energy, wild enthusiasm and a delicious smack of what the fuck?

What happened in that hour would be unfair to relate in full, after all a nice twist is a nice twist. Still I think it’s OK to say that Bobby was an unexpected step up (and one to the side) from other white-suited lounge singers (that includes you
Tony Ferrino). The central premise may be familiar but there is nothing old hat about Bobby. Coming across like a be-suited Ian Dury equipped with Rik Mayall’s glaring eyes, Nicol’s portrayal of the mental and physical disintegration of Bobby Spade is something to behold; as unnerving as it is hilarious.

Assisted by his band The Ghosts (Banquo and Casper, naturally) Bobby delivers songs and poems in a range of styles including an ode to deaf-blind Helen Keller’s husband (‘his tastebuds didn’t work; theirs was a senseless relationship’), a country ballad comparing albino cowboys with giant hairless rabbits and an ancient Scottish hymn about piss-flaps. Things mostly degenerate from there, with tales of degenerate monkeys ‘jizzing on my windscreen’ and primitive sexual awakenings (ahem) fingering his mother.

Along the way Spade takes to stopping mid-sentence to verbally attack or hug people in the audience, rant incomprehensibly or just start crying. As momentum builds you get the sense that it might be heading somewhere but even when you finally figure it out it’s still immensely satisfying.

After my Felicity Ward experience I wasn’t sure if theatrical comedy was for me. Thankfully A Deadpan Poet sings Quiet Songs Quietly was one of those rare shows that are so good they force you to change your mind about what it is that makes you laugh – and after three weeks of festival that’s no mean feat.

Sadly there’s no official Phil Nicol website but take a peak at his profile site

Tim Key - the Slutcracker, Melbourne Town Hall

So to the end, and my last show was one of the first on my list way back when; Tim Key’s highly decorated Edinburgh success, the Slutcracker. And what a lovely ghost to leave wandering about my mind until next year…

Slutcracker (if there was a reason behind the name I totally missed it, sorry) was a beautifully understated piece that sucked me in from the get-go. From the moment the doors closed then reopened again to reveal a slightly bewildered, carrier-bag laden Key in a tracksuit top it was clear that we were going to be a slightly different hour. As far from the manic energy of Messrs Kilstein and Nicol as it is possible to be, Key’s performance was so subtle some in the audience seemed to struggle with the idea that he really did know what was going on.

After changing offstage into an ill-fitting second hand suit (and making us wait whilst he did so) Key seemingly remembered to talk to the audience. Serving up haikus and short poems covering African savannah carnage, self-Googling and several uncomplimentary examples of Mr Key Snr’s ability to deal with technology or the modern world (‘what a dick…’) much of the show was delivered conversationally, as if he’d only just thought of it or was making up ways to fill the silence. As if to emphasise that there could be a point to it all, the show’s ‘structure’ (a page of overhead projector paper filled at random with hundreds of unrelated words) was shared. Words were then crossed out one by one as he ticked them off as done.

We were treated to several short films of increasing pointlessness involving a bearded Tim in mysterious outdoor locations (if you’ve seen any of the Smell of Reeves and Mortimer you’ll know the type). This was balanced by a generous amount of audience participation - the most I saw during the festival and yet the least cheesy. One man was nominated to hold Tim’s pint of bitter all evening, whilst people in the front ten rows were asked to assist Key cross the room back to the stage without touching the floor. This involved him standing barefoot in a Sara Lee cake and then putting his shoes back on whilst another member of the audience deposited him on a large antique fridge whilst we all cheered. Obviously.

Imagine going to the hairdressers and having someone wash your hair only to find out they were using trifle instead of shampoo. If the idea makes you smile more than it makes you angry then you'll probably like Tim Key. To describe anymore would be to risk spoiling something beautiful so like Key I'll gather my things in a carrier bag and nick off before anyone realises what's going on. For more Tim Key visit his marvellous website here.

Anyway, that's it. Bye for now Comedy Festival, you were ace. Miss you aready...

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Bedroom Philosopher, Songs from the 86 Tram, Victoria Hotel

Warning: this review contains genuine sincerity that might cause distress in some readers. Sorry about that... I was a bit moved. It won’t happen again.

Several times over the past few weeks I’ve heard comedians speak about what it means to them to do the job they do. There have been tales of personal sacrifice, promising careers abandoned, doting parents alarmed, heckles, empty rooms, relentless and often fruitless promotion. Despite all this people are drawn to perform, to get up on stage and try and make people laugh. Or at least smile. Or maybe just not hate them. Too much.

Yet at his recent show New Yorker Jamie Kilstein remarked that no one in America becomes a comedian in order to be a comedian. It’s just a means to an end; a stepping stone to television or Hollywood, rarely a job in itself. It would be understandable if this was the case in Australia too. Not only is there an obvious lack of opportunities to springboard from the appreciating bosom of events like MICF and the Sydney Arts Festival but sometimes just getting a bit of appreciation for what you do can be hard.

Take Melbourne’s own Bedroom Philosopher for example and his show, Songs from the 86 Tram. It’s based around a deceptively simple idea – describing the journey of the (real) 86 tram from Bundoora in Melbourne’s north to Docklands and the microcosm of society that travels together along its length every day. Yet rather than being an hour of cheap gags and condescending impressions of fellow travellers, Songs from the 86 Tram is a curiously poignant celebration of Melbourne life.

The show itself is a mixture of theatre, music and performance held together by a seen-it-all-done-it-all tram driver who talks to the audience through the onboard tannoy. He leads stop-by-stop through Melbourne’s inner north, with mounting passengers brought to life through song. Confused pensioners, disillusioned backpackers, clueless hipsters, over-sexed ticket inspectors, egotistical office workers, African immigrants and bourbon-and-coke addled bogans all share the journey and the spotlight – some more sympathetically than others.

If this all sounds a bit serious don’t worry - it’s also very, very funny. Clueless hipsters, mums with prams and new media workers all cop it good and there is a memorable appearance by an unflattering singlet. It’s just that rather than playing everything for easy laughs the Philosopher (Justin Hazelwood to him mum and friends) looks deeper into the motives of his fellow travellers and comes up with something far richer and altogether more special.

Perhaps it’s because the Melbourne described by the Philosopher is already changing thanks to the insanity of the property bubble, or simply because the 86 was my tram when I first moved here. Either way, Songs from the 86 Tram feels as important as something like John Brack’s famous painting of Melbourne commuter life,
Collins Street 5pm.

It’s nice to think that Songs from the 86 Tram might be appreciated half a century from now with a similar kind of enthusiasm to Mr Bracks’ snapshot of Melbourne on the move, although sadly somehow I doubt it. Not only because stand-up comedy’s will'o the wisp ephemeral qualities deny it the same appreciation as other art forms, but because even when placed in context of the 2010 Melbourne International Comedy Festival the critics preferred a show about a penis-shaped puppet and the popular vote went for someone they knew off the telly.

I didn’t see either of those shows, so maybe they were better (whatever that means). Still I doubt that either of them really meant anything. Intended or not with Songs from the 86 Tram Justin Hazelwood not only made us laugh (that is after all why we are here) but in doing so he captured a moment – this moment – with a snapshot of how wonderful and strange and diverse and funny this city can be in 2010. Bedroom philosophy maybe, but at this year’s festival there was none so true.

Visit the excellent Bedroom Philosopher website
here and buy the music of Songs from the 86 Tram here.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Josie Long's Supper Club Bake-Off

Just some pictures to share with you from a highly pleasant Saturday afternoon in the Bosco Tent for Josie Long’s Supper Club Bake-Off. Mostly an excuse to make, talk about, joke about and eat cakes of all colours, ethnic backgrounds, sexual persuasions and dietary requirements it was also a nice chance to meet some of the folks who’ve been making us laugh these past few weeks.

The rules of attendence were simple; bake cake, bring cake, get in cheap, share cake with cake-loving strangers and comedians. Mrs Custard knocked up her world-beating brownies, Ms K made her trademark lime and coconut cake whilst I brought a particularly luminescent batch of mint custard. Not cake admittedly but it got me past the guards.

Ms Josie Long, gluten intolerant comedian extraordinaire

Josie’s enthusiastic hosting duties (‘just look at that fucking cake!’) were punctuated by some cake-themed routines from guest comedians including Maeve Higgins, Josh Earl and the gorgeous Sarah Millican who signed my illegally imported cheese and onion pasty paper bag with the legend ‘I miss Gregg’s too’.

Mr Josh Earl being berated by a disgruntled pirate

Cake judging was undertaken by a mystery-celebrity panel that included a surprise appearance from Mint Custard favourite Isy Suttie (who was completely lovely afterwards and also signed my pasty bag) and possibly included Claudia O’Doherty and Nick Coyle. I may be wrong though – they were disguised with elaborate yellow cardboard crowns.

the Mayor of Cake holds court

Looking back it was perhaps inevitable that the awards would be dominated by young ladies in cardigans and vintage dresses and too much time for craft on their hands. Still I will say that judging processes based on looks rather than taste set dangerous precedents for progressive ideologically-orientated comedians. It’s what we are on the inside that counts isn’t it? Of course it is (although personally speaking what I was on the inside, at least a few hours on Saturday evening, was full of cake).

the winner - muffin/brownie burger treats!

Scrabble cake and Josie-inspired Hallmark card message cake

'best effort' winner - note spectacular bean juice

Josie Long's Be Honourable is on at the Bosco Tent until Sunday. Read her Melbourne Comedy Festival Blog here

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Ivan Brackenbury's Hospital Radio Roadshow, Elephant and Wheelbarrow, Melbourne

I’m sure I’m not the first festival virgin to ask myself what it is that makes me laugh. Many years back Mrs Custard and I watched Jam, the television adaptation of Chris Morris’ late-nineties graveyard shift radio show, Blue Jam. Disturbing themes (child abuse, murder, incest, corrupt medical practitioners, sexual deviance), inventive use of sound, distorted lenses and uncomfortable camera angles and amazing performances by some of the best comic actors in television (including Amelia Bullmore, Julia Davis, Kevin Eldon and Mark Heap) created something fiercely intelligent that was as frightening as it was funny; more horrific than hilarious. I loved it... but I didn’t laugh much.

The same week we watched
Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere, Peter Kay’s mostly average spin-off from Phoenix Nights about a couple of bouncers touring the UK in a campervan. Big but not clever, Max and Paddy take the all the lowest common denominators from its parent show (porn, drinking, shagging, going on the pull… more porn) and proudly project them on their giant knock-off plasma screen telly. One episode featured a farting pig, which – and I’m not proud of myself here – killed me. In a heap on the floor with tears streaming from my eyes I was left wondering why a badly-squeezed whoopee cushion and the line ‘how dare you, this is our mobile home’ could paralyse me in a way that three hours of immaculately crafted cutting edge comedy could not.

I left the Elephant and Wheelbarrow last night in a similar state after seeing
Ivan Brackenbury's Hospital Radio Roadshow. In three week’s of MICF shows I’ve seen clever, inspired and inspiring, witty, well-observed, surreal, original, sharp, occasionally flat, lots of funny, and a fair bit of hilarious - but nothing that left me with tears drying on my face from an hour’s worth of laughing my bottom off. Nothing that is, until dear Ivan.

Moulded in the same factory as the Wiggles and Eighties UK children’s television star Timmy Mallet, hospital radio DJ Ivan Brackenbury is an over-enthusiastic camp man-child with a microphone, a laptop full of jingles and chart hits and a few community service announcements to get through. Dressed in dirty tracksuit pants (pulled up too high), baseball cap and grubby self-promoting t-shirt, Ivan broadcasts his show from behind his temporary console, alternately dancing, playing pocket billiards and picking his nose during songs.

Gags mostly revolve around song dedications with Ivan playing Kenny Loggin’s Footloose to someone with a dislocated ankle or cheering up a self-harmer with The First Cut is the Deepest. Throughout the evening the patients’ back-stories become increasingly more elaborate (‘contrived?’ Ivan innocently asks the audience at one point) but surprisingly the inevitable corny pay-offs still hit home 99% of the time.

It’s crude and brash and it’s all been done before to different degrees, notably by
Alan Partridge, Smashie and Nicy, and even in a hospital by the League of Gentlemen’s Mike King, but never quite so relentlessly (I lost count of the number of song snippets) or with so much infectious energy. Helped by the intimacy of the venue Ivan’s child-like naivety allows him to interact with and enthuse the audience in ways that a regular stand-up show might not - although his creator Tom Binns is occasionally present such as when Ivan admits that he’s not real, poignantly wiggling his fingers through his empty glasses frames to prove his point. Such moments - and there are many of them amongst the rapid-fire gags - add beautiful depth to the performance; turning a 2D cartoon into a 3D person.

There are a
few videos of Ivan on You Tube if you’re interested, but I’d recommend avoiding them and getting yourself a ticket to see him in the podgy flesh. To the casual observer Ivan Brackenbury's Hospital Radio Roadshow may seem to have all the subtlety of a farting pig (and if that’s your thing then you’ll be fine) but Ivan has something for everyone in the room and you’d be a big daft ‘apeth not to find out what it is. Why do we laugh? Because it’s funny, you silly billy.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Pi in the Sky

Calling all scientists. I need your help in a quest of utmost importance that could change life in the antipodes forever. Come Bunsen, come Beaker, Come Doc Emmet Brown. Come Spock, Professor Frink and your pal, Doctor Nick. Come Doctor David Banner, but don’t get angry – for it is your scientific brain and not your enormous green hands that I need.*

For what purpose do I hear you cry? What is my sudden urgent need for the way of the petri dish and test tube after years of wanton neglect? Science, my needs are simple but they are magnificent; I need you to clone a cheese pasty. But wait. Hold on. Don’t turn away with a tut and a swirl of your pristine white lab coat (for one it’s dangerous in a lab with so many open flames and glass equipment). This is no ordinary fromage-filled baked savoury product – this is a
Gregg’s three cheese and onion pasty.

Hold on there Mint Custard my dear chap’, I hear you say, ‘cloning of a pasty? Why don’t you just buy one?’ 'Well, like, duh, I eloquently retort – they don’t sell Gregg’s pasties in Australia do they? If they did I’d be happier about 17% more of the time and an equivalent amount wider in the waist. If they did I wouldn’t pine for them like a newborn puppy separated from its mother. If they did I wouldn’t beg overseas visitors to try and smuggle them back in their hand luggage – because even a 24-hour old cold Gregg’s cheese and onion pasty that’s been squashed under a mountain of duty free plonk and used travel stockings is still better than any pasty in Australia.

And of course it’s illegal (no, thank you over-zealous Australian quarantine laws) which means that no one ever tried – until now. Kind of. Because one kind soul at my work who happens to hail from the North East took pity on me and, doing the best she could, successfully smuggled her used pasty bag on the plane after indulging in some last minute snackage at the 24-hour Gregg’s at Newcastle airport. But the news, dear science, is that the bag WAS NOT EMPTY. Buried in its depths was a luxuriant amount of slightly crusty illegal pasty crumbs. In short, pasty DNA.

Now I may have no idea how science works, but I have been
Questacon and more importantly I have seen the important bits of Jurassic Park (though not the whole film because I got scared of the velociraptors). If Richard Attenborough can clone a walking crunching biting dinosaur then surely science, surely, I can indulge my baked-turophilia down under?

Science, I may have shunned you aged 16 for the allure of the language lab and the promise of attractive mademoiselles but now I recognise the error of my ways and come crawling to you cap in hand begging for your nerdy expertise. Help me. Scientists of the world, hear my plea. Join with me and together we can share melty cheesy pasty goodness.

* I did try and think of some famous fictional lady scientists but as already explored by
Astrodyke there aren’t any really… are there? Boo..

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Josh Earl, the Swiss Club

My mother is a terrible cook. I love her dearly, but even she’d admit she shouldn’t be allowed in the kitchen. As a child my favourite meals were cooked by my Grandma or (despite what Jamie Oliver says) lovely dinner ladies called Maureen and Dot with friendly soft faces and bingo wings. When my Grandpa died I made the long pilgrimage home to Yorkshire only to be served up a welcome-home meal of microwave chips (another UK culinary triumph of technology over taste) that made look back on 24 hours of aeroplane food with unexpected fondness.

Josh Earl loves his mum too, but whilst mine was burning carrots, his was busy in her Tasmanian kitchen working her way through the 100 plus cakes detailed in the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book. Equipped with a scary combination of enthusiasm and talent it would seem her raison (and indeed the occasional raisin) d’ĂȘtre was to ensure no significant Earl family milestone passed without an accompanying novelty cake.

Tapping into the excitement that people normally reserve for that drunken conversation recalling kids-television-programs-from-when-they-was-little, our evening is spent basking in a shared warm glow of cakey nostalgia as Mr Earl pays homage to the lo-fi and gloriously naff joys of every single cake through song.

Using slides and actual photos of his mum’s creations we see confectionary-laden swimming pools, castles, football pitches, primitive PCs, old school calculators, trains, trucks, ducks and - as Josh politely describes them ‘enormous black wangs’. Said wangs didn’t feature in the official Women’s Weekly range - they were the product of his mother’s entrepreneurial ventures into hen’s party catering – but they clearly left an equally deep impression on the young Josh.

Particular delights are had deconstructing some of the book’s stranger decorating tips including the rights and wrongs of combining chips (as in crisps) with icing sugar and in one case – for a cricket oval cake – the dangers of Maltesers given an inedible coated of red nail varnish.

Elsewhere Josh gets distracted by a phone call with his parents about their neighbour’s digestive system and writes letters (on a typewriter cake, naturally) to the publishers of a recently updated version of cake bible to complain that the designs are too elaborate. He’s trying to mobilise a campaign to have the original book republished, including enlisting the help of Ita Buttrose, the former editor of the Women’s Weekly. It doesn’t seem to matter to the crowd that he’s had no success at all and the crowd are just happy to have a chance to talk about cake.

I’m not a big fan of musical comedy but I enjoyed Josh’s songs which didn’t smack of ‘I-wish-I-was-a-pop-star-instead.’ My favourite was a moment of beautifully controlled chaos in which Josh traded insults with a disgruntled pirate rendered in cake form with a solitary ear, mismatched hair and an eye with two eyebrows (‘garr! the only time you need two eyebrows on one eye is to express your surprise at having two eyebrows on one eye… arrr!’) Overall the balance between songs and stand-up was just right and there was even room for some Lime Champions-style audio trickery which was a nice treat for folks such as I.

Given my liking for Lime Champions it was always on the cards that I was going to enjoy tonight. What was nice was sharing that enjoyment with a room full of strangers who were all happily digesting what Josh had to say. Of all the shows I’ve seen at the festival this year Josh Earl versus the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book is the one which has elicited the most love from the crowd – proving that – for Josh Earl at least, you can have your cake and eat it.

here for my pre-festival interview with Josh. He will also be bringing his cakey expertise to Josie Long's Supperclub Bake Off tomorrow at 3.30 in City Square.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Shaun Micallef and Steven Curry in Good Evening, Melbourne Comedy Theatre

I’m a reasonably honest chap, so in the interests of disclosure I feel compelled to admit something upfront that might otherwise lead to accusations of impartiality re this, my tuppence-worth of thoughts about Good Evening. Without further delay, here it is: I, dear people, am addicted to Cooper Black font. Shocking form I know, but I’d rather you knew.

I find it cute and clever and slightly cuddly and sexy and a bit 1920s and a lot 1960s. Cooper Black makes the most mundane words seem fun and cool and stylish all at the same time. If I had my way I would introduce rules to bring about its greater use, especially in government documents, religious texts and telegrams from the army about missing loved ones. It is no over-exaggeration to say I love Cooper Black.

In this context it is possible that you might disbelieve anything I have to say about
Good Evening - Shaun Micallef and Steven Curry’s tribute to the sketches of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. It is after all a show which is not shy in its use of Cooper Black to promote its joys on flyers, posters, buses and websites and I am obviously susceptible. Still hear me out, because there are some things you need to know.

Firstly Shaun Micallef is ace. I’ve said this before and having finally seen him live I only feel this more keenly. If you don’t like him you probably don’t deserve to (and probably aren’t reading this anyway). There are few people who can make me laugh just by walking into a room. Micallef he do dat (something that no amount of series of Talkin’ Bout My Generation will change).

Secondly Steven Curry is wonderful in this show. A gifted character actor, he captures Dudley Moore’s slightly subservient relationship with Cook without resorting to pastiche or crass impressions. Good Evening nicely updates this imbalance with digs at Micallef’s ego and Curry’s (relative) obscurity, some of which raise bigger laughs than the sketches themselves.

Thirdly, not knowing many Cook/Moore sketches was actually a blessing. I only knew two and of those I thought one didn’t quite match to expectation. Like with the American version of The Office it was far more rewarding to forget all about the originals and just enjoy what was going on.

Fourthly the set was beautiful. I liked the feel of the Comedy Theatre (though we were very near the front) and the stage - a cross between an MGM musical set and a Morecambe and Wise show, with giant art deco letters spelling out the word GOOD - was perfectly suited to the content of show.

Finally, there is no denying that the production was a class above many of the shows at this year’s festival. This is not to suggest that it was funnier or that I’d want all shows to be like this, but given the $40 plus price of the tickets you definitely get your money’s worth. You do have to share the room with lots of older snobbier folks though who clearly won’t be going to any other shows this month.

Anyway, in summary Good Evening = a good evening, and that’s not just me putting on a brave font.

Important Choc Top Update: following my dissing of the choc tops at the Astor in Saint Kilda it’s worth noting that the choc tops at the Comedy Theatre were high class. Crunchy waffle cones, creamy vanilla and a thick layer of chocolate made for happy little Custards. Bravo Comedy Theatre (though $4 for a 250ml bottle of water is fucking preposterous…)

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Jon Richardson, This Guy at Night, Powder Room, Melbourne Town Hall

Fittingly for an event with venues scattered through Melbourne’s Chinatown picking out what to see at the Melbourne Comedy Festival is a bit like going out for Yum Cha. Most shows are relatively cheap and come in pleasant bite-sized lengths, meaning you can sample two or three a night before you're full. The names on the comedy menu outside the Melbourne Town Hall can be as strange and unrecognisable as the fare served up from the restaurant trolley, and sometimes it’s easier to just fill up your plate and hope you find something tasty.

One delicious dim-sim of a show is Jon Richardson's
This Guy at Night which we took a punt on despite its terrible pun of a name. A former BBC Radio 6 DJ and winner of the Best Breakthrough Act at the 2008 Chortle Awards I hadn’t heard of him prior to the festival but overseas reviews tempted me in.

Continuing the Chinese food allegory far longer than is necessary or pleasant, Richardson in the flesh is sweetly sour. He may describe himself as a grumpy perfectionist misanthrope but in truth he comes across as anything but. Whilst unquestionably funny I initially found it hard to reconcile the glass-mostly-empty OCD-like behaviours being related with the smartly dressed, friendly young man on stage. I wasn’t alone, and even Jon noticed the reaction in the room, admitting that he had never felt so out of control a crowd in his entire life. True or not it didn’t bother him for long and as the hour progressed the crowd clicked with his self-depreciating style.

Using an increasingly messed up world as a backdrop This Guy at Night turns the mirror back on Richardson, drawing laughs from his recognised lack of coping skills. Irrational anger at situations he can’t change, punishing himself for other people’s behaviours, hiding away from the world with only satellite TV and a dart board for company – this is Jon’s world, but one that by the end is strangely attractive and logical. Always interesting and mostly very funny (a few unadvised attempts at Australian accents aside - what is it with comedians and accents?) This Guy At Night proved well worth a stab of our chopsticks and despite what he may think (and unlike the dumplings I had for tea) Jon Richardson leaves a nice aftertaste.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Laura Davis, Ants Don't Sleep, Trades Hall

Ah Good Friday - the absolute worst of the public holidays because you feel guilty for having fun. Thank goodness then for Laura Davis for giving me an excuse not to sit in front of my television screen for 17 hours straight, get out the house and smile for a bit.

Winner of the Triple JJJ Raw Recruit Comedy Prize in 2008, Laura is a comedian from Western Australia currently performing her latest show Ants Don't Sleep at the Trades Hall in Carlton. Described as an opportunity to see Laura 'introduce science to surrealism and take them both out for ice cream' the shock news was that Ants Don't Sleep is surprisingly light on ants. This is a shame because as you'll see from our pre-show interview below, I got a little carried away with ant-related questions. Sorry about that...

Anyway, the nocturnal habits of ants are just some of a veritable menagerie of fauna-related facts related throughout an evening dedicated to the natural world. Clearly equipped with a special cupboard in her head used solely for storing small animal factoids, Laura peppers Ants Don’t Sleep with Ripley's Believe it Or Not moments from the animal kingdom and practical tips for humans such as how to stare down a duck.

She gamely puts these skills to the test by instigating a game in which the audience are challenged to name random creatures so she can big up their particulars too. This brave piece of audience participation was a charming but a bit hit and miss; the facts were impressively recalled but not always funny and the Good Friday crowd was a little shy. Still, our host had enough one-liners and lo-fi charm to mostly pull it off.

She may still be a little raw around the edges but there is much to like about Laura Davis. Her enthusiasm for her topics - including inter-state aquarium espionage, an irrational dislike of iguanas and why cows need stairlifts – and a nicely awkward delivery meant that the calendar year's dullest public holiday finished a little bit brighter for some of us.

Hi Laura, thanks for talking to Mint Custard. How the hell are you? I am very well, thank you Mint Custard.

What in a word is your show about?

What in a foreign word is your show about?

How many people are involved in putting on your show each night?
Well….Mostly me. But there’s also my flyerer ladies, my tech lady, my door lady and publicist lady. There wouldn’t be a show without all those ladies.

You’ve been a regular on the comedy circuit for a couple of years now – are comedians a supportive, warm and cuddly bunch or ruthless ego-driven narcissists?
I think it really depends on what mood you catch them in. I have a lot of friends that are comedians who are very cuddly and supportive. There are ruthless ego-driven narcissists but it’s less common than you might expect and even then they are almost always highly insecure ruthless ego-driven narcissists.

Your show is called Ants Don’t Sleep. Bad news for ant manchester manufacturers and hammock makers?
Terrible news. That and the GFC has practically sent them under.

Apparently there are a few hundred ants for every human. Clearly they can take us when they want. What are they waiting for?
I really think that you are underestimating yourself, Mint Custard. And the human race. Yes there are more of them than there are of us, but I still reckon we’ve got the upper hand (with an opposable thumb on it). Watch the movie Marabunta if you can find it. It is hilarious but it's not meant to be - it is a serious horror film. Ants drive a helicopter into the side of a mountain. Terrible... and I am pretty sure that they use plastic spiders instead of ants in the shots. If you can find a copy of it please send it to me. I would love to watch it again.

Are you just sucking up to the ants in case they do decide to attack?
No. Even if they did attack they don’t speak English or come to small independent comedy shows. I say some pretty disparaging stuff about them in the show as well, so if they do take over the world I will be the first to go.

Unnerved by the ability of bees to make honey, Eddie Izzard once asked if spiders could make gravy or earwigs make chutney. Can ants whip up any conserves or condiments?
Some of them grow fungus extremely well. So I guess it just depends on whether you consider fungus to be a condiment. Or Aphid jizz…they farm that as well.

Who is your favourite Aunt from the following: Aunt Sally from Worzel Gummidge, Aunt Em from the Wizard of Oz, Aunty Jack or Aunt Fanny from the Famous Five?
Probably Aunt Em. Yeah. Aunt Em.

Antz or A Bug’s Life?
A Bug's Life. I don’t like the movie Antz. I don’t like anything that is spelled with a ‘z’ instead of an ‘s’ to be cool. I’m glad it’s not called ‘A Bugz Life’ cos then I’d really be stuck.

Do you have any ant-related merchandise on offer for fans? Deely-boppers?
I have some freebies that you can have if you come to the show. Just little prizes for games. They’re animal bookmarks. I made them myself.

What international act would you bring out to perform at the Melbourne Comedy Festival if you had the chance?
Oh, there are so many. Demetri Martin and Eddie Izzard would be great to see live.

Are there any shows that you’d recommend at this year’s festival or ones that you’re looking forward to seeing?
I would highly recommend seeing Josie Long, Claudia O’ Doherty, Xavier Micheledes, Josh Makinda, Joel Creasey, Justin Hamilton, Four Minute Warning, Smart Casual, Felicity Ward, David O’Doherty, Andrew McClelland and Josh Earl.

Finally, Adam Ant once declared that ‘ridicule is nothing to be scared of’. Good advice for a comedian?
I think so. Good advice for anyone really. I mean it probably does depend on the kind of ridicule but ultimately ridicule can’t hurt you. Not like ants. They hurt.

Laura Davis is performing Ants Don’t Sleep at the Trades Hall, corner of Lygon and Victoria Street in Carlton from 25 March – 4 April everyday but Mondays (Tue-Sat 7pm, Sun 6pm)