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...


Rani said...

There's a show on BBC3 called We Need Answers and Tim Key is on it along with the lovely Mark Watson. Key is clearly a poet, and proves that comedy is or at least can be poetry, in that it is all about the music of language.

Mint Custard said...

He was great, I really enjoyed his show and would definitely like to see some more. Australian telly is better now digital has properly arrived (welcome to the 21st century) but we still don't get the variety of things like BBC 3. Even popular UK comedy like Peep Show get buried away here on UKTV or ABC2 so Mr Key is unlikely to be on our screens any time soon.

Rani said...

What's big out there then, Brit-wise? I know they love Top Gear, but do they love Gavin & Stacey? We just had the alternative election coverage on Channel 4 with David Mitchell (stunningly in his element) Jimmy Carr (suitably off-colour) and Charlie Brooker (like a big, angry, highly articulate bear). It were brilliant.

Mint Custard said...

To be honest it's hard to tell. Most of the best stuff gets buried on ABC 2 (a free to air digital channel) or UKTV (Foxtel). Very little UK comedy, if any, is ever on Channels 7, 9 or 10. The ABC has a Wednesday night comedy evening built around Spicks and Specks (a mild local version of Never Mind the Buzzcocks) and then with a local or UK show afterwards. Psychoville has just started in that slot now interestingly. That Mitchell and Webb Look got a run there too, but I have no idea if it was popular. The Thick of It was stuck out on Friday nights with no real exposure...

I can't think of many genuinely popular UK comedy shows apart from the Vicar of Dibley. I guess Little Britain and The Office were huge and Catherine Tate got a lot of people watching... but to answer your question, Gavin and Stacey are hidden away on UKTV (though they seem to be on permanent loop there)