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.

No comments: