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’être 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.
Click 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.