Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2012

Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2012
Our reviewers are out and about catching a taste of the MICF 2012

Felicity Ward - The Hedgehog Dilemna

Vic’s Bar, Victoria Hotel

29 March - 22 April

In “The Hedgehog Dilemma”, Felicity Ward tells the story of calling off her wedding and her alcoholism, moving back into her mother’s house and becoming whole.  The title is a metaphor about the dangers of intimacy versus loneliness.

Ward is hilarious and heartfelt; honest but a storyteller.  She is energetic, expressive, warm and inclusive – especially with the audience, who took much delight in being a part of the show.  Energy is consistent, as are stagecraft elements to progress the story (such as costumes, lights, music and graphics).

No one is safe: Ward skilfully (and affectionately) describes her mother, her shrink, the men she’s dated and herself. Her acting abilities are strong, and it’s easy to see why she’s one of Australia’s most successful comedians.  She controls the mood, and isn’t afraid to show her vulnerability.

Side notes, whilst witty get to be a little too much.  There’s not much time for digestion as we hurtle through the sometimes gimmicky gags.  Ward’s bubbly personality pushes us through though, and the result is an uplifting ending to the tumultuous story.

An hilarious show with heart, “The Hedgehog Dilemmais on during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival until April 22.

Tammy Shmerling

The Pajama Men - In the Middle of No One

Princess Theatre

17 - 21 April

The most bizarre slumber party is being held at the Princes Theatre for five days only.  “In the Middle of No One” is a plot twisting, shape-shifting, Barry award winning show (2009). 

The chameleonic Pajama Men, Mark Chavez and Shenoah Allen, are equally good in their grotesque but hilarious caricatures of aliens, astronauts, Marie Antoinettes, South American birds and uber breasted women.  Jokes are not forced; laughs come from delivery and absurdity of situations.    

Nothing is too much or too hard for the pair, who take it in turns to shine.  Characters are well developed and differ greatly from scene to scene.  The audience isn’t treated like idiots either; scenes move quickly for momentum, and you get rewarded for paying attention.

Two chairs are the only props utilised, as well as an unobtrusive musician (stage left), who adds the odd witty touch of Hollywood melodrama or montage music.  Costumes consist of pyjamas; the only relief from this undoubtedly exhausting show.  

“In the Middle of No One” is pure joy, pure hilarity, and so worth finding a scalper (*ahem) for tonight’s show; its last of only five. 

Tammy Shmerling       

Blown by a Fan – Craig Hill

Chapel off Chapel (MICF)

April 17-22 – then Sydney.

“You’re off to see a Scottish gay comic in a white kilt, in a show called Blown by a Fan?! How offensive is that?” Well, actually, not that offensive at all. The title is a clever double entendre and homage to Marilyn Monroe in her white dress on the subway grate – though it has to be said that Marilyn’s legs were better, but Craig wasn’t wearing heels.

Yes, he’s gay (how clever of you to notice!) and proud of it; Likewise he’s a Scot (which some would find a second strike against him); and yes he’s offensive (if you’re uptight and thin – skinned) but the bottom line is he’s also bloody funny. Add to that his high energy performance, his absolute love of what he’s doing, his real connection with his audience, and his natural charm and good nature, and you have the complete package.

Craig hectors his audience, but chooses his marks carefully, and there’s no malice in his remarks, no aggression in the humour. He’s far more self-deprecating than most current comics, and that’s one more reason to love him. It’s as if he’s decided that people are going to throw crap at him, so he’ll throw it first and then disarm them with charm.

The humour is observational, but the observations of a flamboyantly gay man are very different to those of most of us. His story about a Chinese woman commenting on his pink kilt is hilarious, and it couldn’t happen to anyone else.

With a packed house in what is normally the Mezzanine Gallery at Chapel of Chapel (they’re very entrepreneurial down there), the audience was split 50/50 between gays and straights, and there was a strong sense of us all being the same…people who like to laugh at good comedy. Craig Hill certainly gave us that.

Coral Drouyn

An Unexpected Variety Show

By Jenny Wynter

Butterfly Club

10  – 22 April

In this great little ‘autobiographical musical stand-up’ Jenny Wynter displays much promise and significant potential.  It is comprised of anecdotes from her life, loads of music and songs and is part tribute to her mother who literally has the voice of an Angel. 

An Unexpected Variety Showis unexpected - it sneaks up on one.  Well it certainly snuck up on me and my plus one who was serenaded with an improvised song about her enduring marriage after, most unpredictably, being heartily interrogated about her relationship and how she and her husband (unexpectedly) met.   

As with much comedy, throughout is a slight milieu of risk. Some aspects of the performance hold together better than others. There is a ventriloquist/puppet segment that could do with some tweaking or be pruned. A more personalized puppet, something made to order as a special tribute to Wynter’s nine-year-old daughter that it, kind of, represents could be cool. And it would be awesome to see what a costume designer and make-up artist could do to show Wynter off.  However, in a sense, her almost unadorned comeliness is a big part of her genuine and disarming appeal.

I was reminded of the intimacy and courage witnessed in the early work of Denise Scott – in a very hazy way that is, it was a long time ago.

The mostly 20 to 30 something audience, in the small performance space at the Butterfly Club, really seemed to be connecting with and enjoying this authentic and candid work.

Sincerely entertaining – worth catching.

Suzanne Sandow

Ali McGregor’s Western Lullabies

The Substation, Newport

Ali McGregor (artist wrangler)

April 9

Ali McGregor (International cabaret and opera singer, and the festival’s own ‘Variety-Nite’ host) brought together a motley crew of comedians “who secretly want to be rock stars” and rock stars “who secretly want to be comedians” in this low tech evening of songs, performed in a converted substation on a dark and freezing Melbourne night.

Theme for the night was “Lullabies and Fables” and contributors were 

Wes Snelling, Benn Bennett, Scott Edgar (Tripod), DeAnne Smith, Greg Fleet, Geraldine Quinn, Casey Bennetto, Dave Graney (“Cryptic Rock Voyager”), Mike McLeish and Ali McGregor.

They performed solo, or duets, or small groups and song contributions ranged from Elvis Costello, the Doors, Rufus Wainwright to a Bobby Gentry classic. The evening wound up with an all in version of “From little things, big things grow”.

The space at the Substation lends itself well to this informal performance, with armchairs and tables in cabaret arrangement and a cash bar at the back to quench the thirst of the travellers who had made the journey over the West Gate Bridge. Staging was simple – red curtain, white lights on stage, and mics on stands. The audio was clear and sympathetic to the performances.

The night was a fundraiser for Western Chances who provide scholarships and opportunities to youth in Melbourne’s West.

Shirley Jensen

Sammy J and Randy

Forum Theatre

March 29 to April 22, 2012.

It’s Sammy J and Randy meets Hammer Horror movies in this rollicking, rapid-fire new show from the popular man-and-puppet duo. At the heart of The Inheritance is a question about the true nature of the relationship between these two characters: are they friends or acquaintances, or is there something else going on? Why do we ask these questions about a skinny guy and his purple puppet? It’s because comedian and writer Sammy J and Heath McIvor (the voice and puppeteer of Randy) have honed these two characters into deliciously sparring songbirds who could be the guys next door.

The Inheritancestarts with the pair filling out the Census – through song – and taking stock of what they’ve got and who they are. When Randy’s relative in Scunthorpe dies, he is called to England to hear the reading of the will and sort out his relative’s “affairs”. This allows the two to get up to all sorts of shenanigans on the way to Randy’s rickety old ancestral home, “Feltface Manor”, where he inherits a fortune. Sammy strives to solve the mystery of the manor, or risk spending the rest of his life as Randy’s manservant.

Feel-good fun ensues, with Sammy J and McIvor introducing new characters, including a severed head. Who can resist a ghost story in a dusty old manor, especially one overseen by a puppet in a cravat? Not me. Sammy J and Randy are a charismatic pairing with terrific toe-tapping songs. It's also great to see McIvor pushing the boundaries of his puppeteer role to comical effect in this show. The result is a world-class piece of theatre and one of the best tickets at this year’s MICF.

Sara Bannister

Dead Cat Bounce

Trades Hall, New Ballroom

Demian Fox (drums), Shane O'Brien (bass) and Jim Walmsley (guitar and lead vocals)

29 March to 22 April,

“Dead Cat Bounce is a Dublin based comedy rock supergroup…” according to their website. And they certainly lived up to that description in their current season at the Trades Hall as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

From the first chord the audience were entertained with superb musicianship and witty lyrics, with the first song being inspired by Australian Border Patrol! The anticipation built with each song – where would they take us? What twist would there be?

They pull inspiration from the most unexpected topics and styles, Johnny Cash, Penguin documentaries, Farmyard Animals, Rugby, Christians and Kayaking to list a few. 

Staging at venues in the Comedy Festival is basic – basic blacks, basic colour wash on stage and audio, so your attention is on the work rather than the production tat. And in the Audio department this performance was excellent – the focus was on making the lyrics heard and the balance was perfect, helped by the very clear diction of the performers themselves.

This was a great night – go see them live if you can.

Shirley Jensen 

Bob Downe – 20 Golden Greats


29 March – 22 April

From go-to-woe this show is an abundantly funny, syrupy ride.  Yep it’s the same old synthetically charismatic Bob we know and love, yet somehow he seems more comfortable (and a bit like Sue from Glee) in his new wig and polyester track-suit, and truly at ease with his hometown audience – many of whom are adoring fans. 

Tune after catchy tune is sung with sparkling energy, exuberant confidence and just the right touch of irony. There are CDs to be won amongst unflagging repartee, much of which is spontaneous, as is Bob’s considerable interaction with the audience.

I particularly enjoyed the picture he painted of attending Melbourne Theatre Company first nights with a beautiful young man he calls his nephew, wearing matching velvet bow-ties.

He achieves costume changes with the speed of lightning and yes we do get to see him in a safari suit. There is a Barry Manilow moment and we are encouraged to sing along from time to time!

Special guest Pastel Vesper charms in duet of California Dreamin’ and her beautiful young daughter stars for a moment as ‘the assistant stage manager’.

Bob presents a moving tribute to Davey Jones in a very stylish suit with velour lapels.

He’s a legend, twenty five years! – Go Bob!

Most enjoyable – five stars!

Suzanne Sandow

Die Roten Punkte – Eurosmash!

Clare Bartholomew and Daniel Tobias

The Spiegeltent - 29 March – 8 April

Great music, wacky lyrics - a fabulous gutsy character driven show, Die Roten Punkte is the creation of Clare Bartholomew and Daniel Tobais who play Astrid and Otto Rot, a ‘hot’ Indie Rock duet. Astrid and Otto, sister and brother, flirt with audience members, compete on a number of levels and ruthlessly spar with each other.  There is something very damaged, dark and incestuous in their relationship that fuels this ‘in your face’ entrancing and highly amusing sixty minutes.

The first time I caught Die Roten Punkte was in Kyneton a couple years ago, where it was presented with more subtlety in an intimate setting.  I was ‘blown away’ and even moved to buy merchandise. In its present form it is possibly suffering from time restrictions – but still solid.

Overall it is an extremely skillful, highly charged show, delivered with sharp spontaneity that could really ‘go off’ if Claire as Astrid, in particular, stopped playing for laughs and regained trust in her outstanding material and the affirming atmosphere of the magically organic Spiegeltent, that is nightly filled with, the urbane and comedy savvy.

Inspired and inspiring.

Suzanne Sandow

Sam Simmons- About the Weather

Supper Room, Melbourne Town Hall.

March 29 to April 22.

About the Weatheris Sam Simmons' 9th consecutive show at the MICF, and it will have you wishing you'd been there to see every single one of those gigs. Simmons is often described as embracing the absurd and surreal in his shows but there is method in this funnyman's madness.

Simmons has an incredibly funny presence on stage and the laughter begins from the moment he appears in a yellow t-shirt, with 80s style spectacles and carrying a box from Ikea. More than just stand-up or a collection of whimsical insights stitched together, this is a blistering one-man show about suburban loneliness and small talk.

Simmons' plays up his own geeky/cool appearance in the persona of a lonely guy who may very well have peaked in high school. His penchant for unfashionable 80s r n' b, and cringe worthy attempts to smooth talk a random girl on the bus suggest he may never have been cool. And he knows it. Simmons shows us a character both utterly sad and creepy but completely recognizable and worthy of our empathy. No mean feat.

To describe the show any further would be to rob you of the intricacies and discoveries and lunacies that Simmons has laid for you. With shades of John Cleese and even Andy Kaufman, Simmons is a deeply funny, weird and wonderful performer. This show is worth seeing twice.

Sara Bannister

Running the Risqué - Wes Snelling

Order of Melbourne. 28 March – 8 April, 2012

Running the Risquéis thoroughly enjoyable cabaret, with a gay twist, presented in a comfortable and relaxed manner.  It opens with Wes Snelling’s drag Auntie Carol welcoming the audience and introducing a recalcitrant Wes.  The whole is staged with little artifice and is ridiculous - good fun. 

Also included in the fifty-five or so minutes is a new character, Wes’s cousin Carl Snelling, a convincingly rugged sort of bloke - almost the antithesis of Wes.  Carl is an interesting addition to the Snelling repertoire.

Snelling is supported by the multi-talented Stephen Weir as techie, guitarist and general foil.

On opening night the first special guest was Em Rusciano (as seen on TV in The Project and The Circle).  Talk about risqué, some of the anecdotes she tells about experiences of bourgeoning sexuality are fascinatingly unsettlingly and salacious (requiring an R rating). She sings beautifully and shines as a potential cabaret performer.  Likewise Bart Freeman, as second special guest, is engaging and funny.

The evening is capped off with an excellent and surprising little drag number by Tina Del Twist.

There are a variety of special guests scheduled for the next week and it would be worth checking the website: to consult the list, if planning to attend.

A show well worth catching in its short season!

Suzanne Sandow

Asher Treleaven - Troubadour

Cloak Room, Melbourne Town Hall

29 March - 22 April

Six different coloured hats, set on poles downstage, greet the audience in the Cloak Room at the Melbourne Town Hall.  They’re fun to identify too: Hogwart’s sorting hat, Princess Beatrice’s royal wedding disaster, a German military hat (no doubt borrowed from his other Comedy Festival show, “Tie Her to the Tracks”), a yellow bumblebee beanie, and two more.

Local comedian Asher Treleaven then graces us with his presence.  He’s tall, gangly… reminds me of Steve Buscemi actually.  Which is ironic as he shortly tells us that his dad is a dead ringer for Steve Buscemi. 

Treleaven introduces the props as Edward de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats”, which will serve as his way of organising and telling the story of his life.  He skips over the blue ‘controlling’ hat, and recites a stylistic vignette to sum himself up for the white ‘information’ hat.  For the red ‘emotional’ hat, Treleaven recalls growing up and his dysfunctional relationship with his father.  In green ‘creativity’ hat territory, Treleaven recalls leaving his home town to study Circus at NICA.  Treleaven then speaks at length about a benign bodily growth (yellow ‘positive thinking’ hat), and asks us to assess his performance for the final black ‘critical thinking’ hat.

The hats are a clever idea in shaping and structuring the show.  Chronologically they work too.  However there isn’t much deviation from talking about himself, and this may or may not have isolated audience members.  Perhaps a break from the content to witty discussions about… well, anything… would’ve provided more laughs.

Not that there weren’t laughs.  Treleaven’s comedy comes from his expressive skills.  His background in circus, burlesque, street performance and comedy have taught him well.  His arms, legs and face don’t get much of a break as he hops, skips and dances around the stage - impressive at any time but mostly on this night as the air con was out.  But there were opportunities for bigger and more frequent laughs. 

The highlight of the performance is no doubt the showcase of his circus skills.  In this display of coordination and stamina, Treleaven proves that he has a well-developed performance style and indeed has, “something to prove, nothing to lose”.   That something is pride – to himself, of himself.  For the show is a revealing expose of his life, and, whilst he treads carefully, he leaves himself open to judgment.  Not only about his comedy talents, but about whether or not his life is worth talking about for an hour.

Tammy Shmerling

Delayed - Celia Pacquola

Portico Room, Melbourne Town Hall

29 March - 22 April

In the Portico Room at the Melbourne Town Hall, Celia Pacquola is a delight.  A local girl who, two years ago, moved to the UK, Celia’s show is a self-proclaimed attempt to share interesting travel and living-abroad stories. 

Not the most original idea, but it’s the execution that matters. And, as it works out, it’s more flexible than that.  The show is more like a platform to share relateable observations (like feeling arrogant at the start of the toilet roll), and hilarious and surprising true stories (like getting engaged out of necessity).  Some of the observations and stories are set overseas, some require no setting.

A writer before a comedian, Celia takes her audience on a journey. Jokes are re-visited for effect with less effort.  The result is greater audience satisfaction, as they are able to make links and thus feel included. 

A well-developed performer obviously comfortable in her body, Celia looks good – when she stands, when she talks, when she dances (which the audience is privy to on more than one occasion).  Her face is animated, she’s energetic and she never stumbles.  Amazing for an act that is so wordy.

She definitely writes more material than she needs to. She speeds through jokes, as is her style, but could probably push jokes a bit further.  Otherwise it feels like a Friends episode, with timed 30 second guffaws.

But then there are the moments. Celia is not afraid to share her life, even when it’s not a bed of roses.  Like feeling that she’d let her boyfriend down when he became an uncle and she was in London.  These moments are honest and balance the triviality of other moments.

Music is always a feature in Celia’s shows.  This one is no different.  Music, lighting, sound effects and one prop are used to great effect in one memorable scene; the stand out moment of the show (you’ll know it when you see it).  This scene highlights Celia’s point of difference as a comedian: her strong acting abilities. 

An engaging show that never loses energy, Celia will remind you that women – attractive women at that – can be witty, sharp, clever and insightful.  She isn’t mean, doesn’t swear, respects herself, and isn’t too big for her britches too… you can catch her helping the ushers before the show starts.

Tammy Shmerling

Tie Her to the Tracks

Andrew McClelland, Asher Treleaven, Celia Pacquola. Audience Manager: Adam McKenzie. Music: Sammy J.

Regent Room, Melbourne Town Hall

Silent films seem to be the flavour of the moment, due to the advent of Oscar winning “The Artist”.  But a live silent film on stage?  How does that work?

Hilariously, when you combine the comedic efforts of Andrew McClelland, Asher Treleaven, Celia Pacquola and Adam McKenzie, with music by Sammy J.

In Tie Her to the Tracks, audience members are greeted by 20s music. The on-stage screen is littered with propaganda (asthma cigarettes anyone?), and brightly-dressed ushers coach the audience for the required responses for the next 25 minutes (for the record, we were to boo the villain and clap the hero. Ground-breaking, no; fun, yes).

The screen is well utilised.  Images provide context for the setting, narration advances the storyline, and dialogue is punchy.  Humour comes through irony (like referencing ‘standard definition’), and through recognition (such as a graphic of our Metlink map).

The storyline is simple and contains only clichés: a bumbling hero, a damsel in distress, and a furtive villain.  Its predictable nature allows the performers to find comedic opportunities.  This they do and, coupled with their animated performances, results in side-splitting laughs.    

Technology and music are well coordinated with the storyline.  Original music by Sammy J is conducive to the 1917 backdrop, and compliments the mood.  Props and sets are used to great effect and for the purposes of humour.

The team also found a way to include product placement (side note, it’s growing impossible to go to the movies, or even the fake movies, without being subjected to advertising).  But again, every detail is for the purposes of humour.

Tie Her to the Tracks is short, but appropriately timed. Its original and innovative concept is absolutely worth checking out.  But only until 8 April.  And probably followed by another show, as it otherwise won’t feel like a night out.

Tammy Shmerling

The Bad Boys of Music Theatre – Not Quite Right In The Head

Director Casey Gould, Accompanist; Loclan Mackenzie-Spencer

Chapel off Chapel – as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

28th March - 1st April

They’re funny, they’re clever, they’re super talented with great voices and they may not be DDG (Drop Dead Gorgeous) but they’re definitely PDC (Pretty Darn Cute - not poor, deluded and crappy). They are the Bad Boys of Music Theatre, John Frankland and Andrew Strano….er….Andrew and….you figure it out.

Their new offering is based around psychiatry – though the premise of Andrew’s angst over losing John’s friendship is a recurring theme in all their shows. This show, Not Quite Right In The Head, explores the multiple neuroses fuelled by need and sexual repression – and what could be funnier in a world where insanity is the norm?

Aided by some brilliant video back-up by Ben McCullough, which runs the gamut from taking the piss out of a Justin Bieber clip, to a psychiatrist’s soap –“The Jung and the Restless”, and with lighting by Peter Darby (who may get snarky if I don’t mention him), the Boys hold court brilliantly on stage for an hour. Not all the jokes work, some are a little too smart for the audience, and some…like the OCD gag…have been doing the rounds on Facebook for months. The dialogue needs tightening in places as well – but that’s just nit-picking – and it’s bad manners to pick your nits in public. All in all this is a gem of a show from two terrific talents.

This is comedy for those who have not left their brains at home in front of the telly. It doesn’t talk down to its audience, nor does it resort to expletives to get a laugh. Instead, the bad boys assume we are intelligent…why else would they regale their audience with a great number like Schadenfreude – sung in perfect harmony? There’s great support on piano and vocal harmony by Loclan Mackenzie – Spencer, whose name is more intimidating and less enjoyable than his musical prowess. When the laughs subside for the beautiful Kandor-Ebb ballad “I don’t remember you”, which is beautifully sung and a genuinely moving moment, Loclan shows how valuable a sensitive accompanist can be.

In such a huge festival as MICF, there’s a danger that the smaller shows like this will be overlooked in favour of the imported comics. Don’t let that be the case. See the Bad Boys now because I suspect that, like Tim Minchin, you’ll be paying a fortune to see them in a year or two. There are only two shows left on Sunday 1st April….but if you don’t make it down there, more fool you.

Ps….Chapel off Chapel is a great venue for both drama and comedy. We Melburnians are lucky to have it and perhaps don’t value it as we should. The staff are great, the coffee is greater, and the parking is easier. So what’s stopping you?

Coral Drouyn

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