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.

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