Friday, 6 May 2011

MICF - Did I Miss My Deadline?

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is, in my humble opinion, the very best thing about living in this fair city. Coming at the start of autumn it provides the perfect distraction to the fact that Victoria is about to be plunged into six months of dark and reliably bad weather. It offers opportunities for four weeks of wildly varied nights out in the company of all comedians great and small, from 20 seat cupboards to the glittering stages of some of Melbourne's most beautiful theatres.

Despite this, 2011 passed me by somewhat. Bereft of cash, busy at work and lacking real insight into who were the must-sees of a relatively superstar-free roster I only got to six shows this year, which is pitiful really. Comedians of the world, I'm sorry. I promise to do better next year. That said, the six shows I did see only reinforced how lucky we are to have MICF on our door step, starting with...

Josh Earl's Love Songs and Dedications. For a man who did his entire run at the Trades Hall in the knowledge that that his heavily pregnant wife could deliver their first child at any second, Josh Earl's seventh year at MICF was remarkably entertaining. Loosely themed around late night radio sensation the Love God's Love Song Dedications - in which slightly deranged callers try and impress/win back the loves of their lives by requesting Mariah Carey songs and Bon Jovi ballads - the source material alone was a comedy gold mine.

Thankfully there is much more to Josh Earl than easy parody and the Love God's show was just a springboard to a dissection of some of the less celebrated aspects of modern romance. If I tell you these include digital prostate stimulation or toilet tag-teaming during a bout of mutual gastro, you'll know what i mean. As he proved with last year's highly popular Josh Earl versus the Australian Women's Weekly Childrens Birthday Cake Book part of Josh's appeal is his every (indie) man personality and boy-next-door charm. Despite some scatological subject matter, songs comparing sex with baking, and admitting to your partner that the pinnacle of romance is to be merely content, everyone I went with still wanted to give him a hug at the end. For more info on Josh check out @mrjoshearl on Tw*tter or

Sanderson Jones - Taking Liberties. After being spruiked in the street I made a solemn promise to Sanderson Jones' face last year that I would attend his show. Then I got sick and didn't go. On that basis alone I was pleased that the English comedian came back this year for another run at the Bull and Bear in Flinders Lane.

Mr Jones is known to some in the UK from a series of IKEA adverts and to others for the controversy about his 2010 Edinburgh show in which he talked about the morals of censorship using a picture of a naked 12 year old Brooke Shields. I'm not sure if we got exactly the same show here - the Shields picture played only a small part in the show - but the themes of freedom of speech were represented in ways that those present will likely never forget. Certainly my innocent eyes were opened to the horrors of the 21st century through exposure to chat roulette, a seemingly consensual peeping tom for online onanists. To reveal more would risk spoiling a shocking yet genuinely funny routine, with Sanderson gleefully egging everyone on like some deranged Gene Wilder; a modern day Willy Wanka.

Constantly juggling being edgy with not alienating the crowd is a difficult ask, and one that wasn't always successful. Still, fair play to him for not playing safe at any point - especially as this was a pay-as-you-leave show. There is intelligence and subtlety to Sanderson Jones' comedy, from the PowerPoint presentations to the small video montages, and whilst some of it was lost in the mania of presentation, there is more than enough to suggest a bright future for Mr Jones.

Lisa Fineberg - Mermaids Can't Ride Bikes. I knew nothing about Lisa Fineberg before her show started other than that she used to be a professional mermaid and that, despite being 29, she can't ride a bike. This seemed like a reasonable premise to me, so I sat in a relatively full Loop Bar back room and waited to hear the tale of her tail.

Sadly Lisa never seemed quite sure what she wanted her 45 minute show to be. It wasn't clear whether her bright and beaming toothpaste smile and giggling into space was part of a carefully constructed ditzy mermaid routine or (as suggested by a PowerPoint presentation of Lisa and family playing dress ups over the years and a proudly displayed collection of turquoise clothes, bedroom, toys, and a rather-too-swish car) if her message was simply 'I'm a bit kooky aren't I?'

Whatever the truth it was hard to get an angle on what was real and what was being played for laughs. There was some genuine laughs when the starstruck Ariel act was dropped to talk about working as a supply teacher, but they were quickly forgotten. It didn't help Lisa's cause that the biggest laughs came from people helping her with her show - including celebrity friend John Safran who was present both in a pre-recorded video and in the audience.

I've since learned that this was Lisa's first MICF show, so due credit for giving something a go. Hopefully there will be a little more of the real Lisa next time around.

Michael Williams - Our Princess is in Another Castle As another relative comedy newcomer, Warrnambool's Michael Williams has no such identity problems. Michael is, unapologetically, a pizza munching, chip crunching couch-dwelling gamer. Not that there's anything wrong with that because his 20 years of console addiction has led to this Pac-Man power-pellet of a show.

Williams' mission for the evening is to show us that if you scratch the surface of life, everything's a game really. He illustrates his point by walking us through his own arcade version of the Life of Michael, detailing his attempts to get a job, score a girlfriend and leave Warrnambool to become a successful comedian. This is all done by - you guessed it - a PowerPoint presentation. Fortunately a combination of personalised Atari and Nintendo-style graphics presented on a huge old television and some dry self-depreciation mean the story is delivered with some genuine down-to-earth charm. It's likely that some more energy in the delivery might have been required without the television to rely on, but for the purposes of tonight's show it's mostly spot on.

I read a criticism online that Our Princess is in Another Castle (a reference to early video game quests to rescus damsels in distress) show wasn't nerdy enough, with too many references to games that are broadly known by the general public. That misses the point somewhat as I suspect a show directed squarely at gamers would have had an audience of three. Williams gift, despite a youth spent behind closed curtains with only a glowing cathode ray and a game controller for company, was to engage gamers and non-gamers alike in a story that everyone could relate to. For that alone he deserves a power-up and an eccy man.

Daniel Kitson - The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church As subjective as comedy is, there are still some facts out there. Farts are always funny; being unnecessarily mean to people is not; gender does not affect how funny people are; comedians who do it for fame and money should give up now. This last point brings me to my own personal number one comedy fact: no one is better at standing on a stage and making people laugh than Daniel Kitson.

As a man who avoids appearing on television, turns down the majority of interviews and mostly advertises his shows through a mailing list and word of mouth it would be hard to accuse Kitson of being in the comedy game for anything other than love of what he does. He has genuine pride in and affection for each show he does, as displayed by his methodological approach to bringing each new creation around the world for people to see. It may take time (Gregory Church was first aired at Edinburgh in 2009) but better to wait til the show can be performed to its very best than agreeing to a promoter-driven soul-sapping endless run.

It should come as no surprise that the Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church is superb. Although firmly promoted as another of Kitson's one-man-show theatre pieces rather than stand-up, Kitson is now so adept at his craft that the lines are being erased. A five-minute rambling intro piece about the show segues so seamlessly into the show itself that it's hard to remember where fact and fiction became separated.

The story itself revolves around Kitson's (alledged) discovery of several boxes of letters in a loft, all written by the eponymous hero over many years, including a series of suicide notes addressed to various acquaintances. Through these letters and the ones that follow, Kitson takes us on a Time Team-like journey of discovery - digging deeper into Gregory's life. Kitson uses his own absorbtion with the unfolding story that he read to tell the tale in flashbacks, effortlessly weaving real facts, invented facts and Gregory's facts into a perfect picture. It's even more impressive that after performing countless runs of the show he still seems excited when we collectively reach the Poirot-moment of dedection and realisation about the true nature of Gregory Church's fate.

According to a 2009 interview with the ABC's Jon Faine, Daniel has a collection of recorded material from all his shows, including this one. The problem is he can't be arsed sorting through them all to do anything with them, preferring to concentrate his efforts on the here and now. For those who missed this latest masterpiece, start hoping he decides to take some time off to do some editing. And don't let anyone spoil it for you; it's more than worth the wait.

Get On With It...

This is the last song I will ever sing...
No I've changed my mind again. Goodnight and thank you.
Morrissey, Disappointed - Bona Drag, 1990

Goodness me, has it really been a month? I have been neglectful. A whole month. It's almost enough for me to trot out the Blogger's Apology. You know the one... where Tumblrs and Wordpressers and Bloggerers start their latest offerings with a profound and painfully sincere mea culpa to their apparently distraught readers about why they have had to fend for themselves in the world for the past day/week/month/year(s) without any insight or learned counsel from the oracle that is they. There will then follow a lengthy attempt to justify being MIA, most of which can be summed up by the word 'life.'

I was going to have a look for some choice examples from the internet for you, but I was worried it might seem mean. Fortunately someone with far less scruples has saved me the job, having created the excellent blog 'Sorry I Haven't Posted - Inspiring Apologies from Today's World Wide Web.' Have a look, it's very funny.

That said, being absent for a while has made me think maybe its time to wrap it all up on here. There are no financial rewards, nor are there people queuing up to offer writing jobs in the media (I believe there are things called journalists who do years of training to do that kind of thing, and failing that, celebrities). More dispiritingly, the most popular post on Mint Custard remains what I thought was a cute story about why bears don't wear underpants. I would be happy if this was due to an appreciation of creative writing or a love of bears or somesuch but according to Statcounter the main reason people visit that page is because they have typed 'gay bears' or 'Bear Grylls nude' into Google.

Fortunately I know that my reasons for writing are mostly selfish. Parents and people in the military will be familiar with the concept of sharing information on a 'need to know' basis. I have long suspected that Mint Custard and countless other blogs operate from the opposite, a 'need to tell' basis. Whether people want to know or not, we are not capable of keeping our opinions to ourselves. It churns inside of us and we cannot keep our traps shut. You may cover our typing fingers with over-sized children's mittens, but we will find a way to proffer our tuppenceworths on the interwebs. We must, because that is who we are.

What makes each individual blogger like this will be unique to them. Perhaps they are those loud, opinionated people in the real world; brash, confident, convinced of their innate rightness on any topic before them. Maybe they are the complete opposite; tiny mice whose blogs give them the courage and a voice to talk about things that matter to them, and where someone, anyone, might listen for the first time in their quiet lives.

Whilst I am under no illusions that I am a 'need to share' person, I know I also write because it makes me happy. I'm no great wordsmith - in fact, and though its a painful truth, its still true, I'm not even Miranda Devine - but it still makes me happy to try (try to write, not to be Miranda Devine, though I bet I look better than she does in a skirt suit).

I've spent the past month continuing my Tw*tter experiment (@mintcustard for those who wish to know), connecting with people in different ways, and finding new ways to make pithy remarks in 140 characters. The problem is whilst I quite like using Tw*tter, it does make me feel like a crazy old man shouting through the cracks in the window of an abandoned house at passers-by. Yes I'm still sharing, and the internet still does the same collective shrug it gives blog posts, it's less rewarding because the process of writing is removed.

Clearly those 140 characters are enough for many people, but I've come to realise - or perhaps to affirm - that it's not quite enough for me. I have missed being here, bashing away at the keyboard trying to string sentences together about stuff that excites me and things that I want to talk about. Look over to the right in the subject cloud. There's a lot of them.

To the collective shrug, keep on shrugging. But to those that do listen and respond and comment and contact, thank you - you bring me great happiness. And to those that did notice I was gone so long, a quiet but sincere 'sorry.' Please know that I'm listening when you mutter under your collective breaths, 'get on with it...'