This would now be my fifth year in Melbourne and after seeing four comedy festivals come and go (and only seeing John Cleese and Eric Idle at the last one) I thought it might be an idea to start participating in some of the events. Well, in participating I simply meant going and seeing some shows, and there certainly was a huge selection to choose from. In fact there was a magazine sized program that listed everything that was on, and I spent some time browsing through seeing if there was anything that jumped out at me. Mind you, I eventually went and saw a lot more than what I had picked out in the program, but half of the reason was because by the end of it I realised that there were a couple of other shows that I had seen around the place that I wanted to see, and also searching by the website ended up being much easier.
Like the Adelaide Fringe, basically anybody can sign up to do a show at the comedy festival, though when I say anybody I actually mean anybody that happens to be an Australian citizen. Sure, they do have international performers, but they tend to be the big name acts (such as Jimoen), or are specifically invited. However, there is a catch because while anybody (who is Australian) can participate, you are required to arrange everything yourself – they will add you to the program and that is basically it. The other thing that I noticed is that unlike the Adelaide Fringe, the Melbourne Fringe (which occurs around September) tends to be a lot smaller, and a lot quieter, but I suspect a part of that has to do with the Comedy Festival basically stealing all of the thunder.
However, the thing with comedy is that it can be pretty hit or miss – if I go to a show and discover that I really don’t find the person funny then I can feel a little ripped off. A friend of mine solved that problem for me by suggesting that I watch a performance on Youtube and decide whether I like the artist or not, and if I do then go and see them. The other thing is, especially when they are starting out, I don’t actually feel comfortable calling the artist rubbish because, well, I actually do like to encourage people to have a go. Mind you, there is a massive difference between having a go and basically devoting your entire life doing something that you basically suck at, and honestly, if you aren’t funny then unfortunately you aren’t funny.
Anyway, what I’ll do is explore the shows that I went to, and if available, include a youtube video of the performer as well. However, another thing that I did end up doing was going to each of the major performance houses at least once, though I didn’t get to go to all of them (such as the Arts Centre – I did that last year). Also, there were some other acts that, unfortunately, when I realised that I might just want to go an see them, it ended up being a little too late.
Dave Hughes seems to be one of the mainstays of the Melbourne Comedy Festival, namely because he is advertised far and wide at almost every one that has passed me by. Okay, he wasn’t the first act that I saw – that was Trainspotting Live, but since I have written about that elsewhere I’ll skip over that. Anyway, like many of the major performers, Dave Hughes is a radio presenter who also makes an appearance at both the comedy festival and the Adelaide Fringe (and I suspect he will appear elsewhere as well). He certainly is popular because not only does he perform in quite a large theatre at the Atheneaum, which was packed when I was there, but he was also able to command a pretty high price.
As for his show, well, I sometimes wonder what is actually different about the shows year after year. Sure, the content might be different, but I suspect that if I went next year I’d probably find that it would be pretty much the same as this year’s. The interesting thing was that he seemed to be making a lot of the stuff up off the fly, namely because he would occassionally stand back and mumble about how great and wonderful the audience was before going back and doing it all over again. Still, it was enjoyable, and it was also pretty cool that after the show he invited everybody to meet him out on Little Collins Street behind the theater to say hello.
Anyway, as for his performance, I’ll let you decide for yourself.
The next show was basically a show in the upstairs of a pub, and like a lot of the shows, was originally performed in the Edinburgh Fringe. What the organisers do is invite some comedians to join in a debate (usually four at a time) over who the best superhero is. They chose one, and then each give a spiel on why they believe their hero is the best, and the second half has the audience throw questions at them. The winner is basically determined by the loudest cheer from the audience. The winners then go into semi-finals, and then a grand-final at the end of the festival. In a way as well as being a show in and of itself, it also serves as a way for comedians to promote their own show.
The German Funnyman
I wonder whether there is actually a word for comedian in German, and to be honest not matter how hard I try I cannot think of what it actually is (I believe the word Lustig is German for funny, so lets use the word Lustiger). Anyway, Paco Erhard is a German, though he makes it pretty clear right from the beginning that he has basically lost his German accent because of his jet setting ways. As a comedian he was actually quite funny, and as a German, well, he was funny. Okay, this whole thing about Germans not having a sense of humouris a bit of a mock up of the people as a whole because I have been to Germany, and I have even lived with Germans, and I can assure you that they know how to laugh, and they certainly have a sense of humour.
Anyhow, as I mentioned, he was pretty funny, and he certainly knew how to laugh at himself, and his nationality, though of course with the election of Donald Trump he no longer feels as if the Germans are the black sheep of the European world anymore. As for the venue, it was at this place called the Tuxedo Cat, which used to be a pub but the pub closed down a while back and has now been turned into a performance space. I suspect that this is only temporary though because the pub was bought by a developer and I suspect that sooner rather than later the pub will be knocked down and a new high rise apartment built in its place.
Here is some Paco for you to enjoy:
Back to the 80s
Dave O’Neil was one of those acts that kept staring me in the face, and I was planning on seeing him on Saturday but it turned out that his show had sold out. Well, since he does happen to be a rather well known radio personality, and the room he was performing in in the town hall was rather small, I’m not surprised. So, instead, I decided to buy some tickets beforehand, which I ended up doing on Saturday. As it turned out he was actually pretty good, and the fact that his entire routine revolved around one particular summer back in the eighties brought back quite a lot of memories.
I probably should say a few things about audience participation though because a good comedian really does do this well. Dave Hughes would pick on all the late comers, while Dave O’Neil, through some rather targeted questions, would pick out a couple of audience members (usually near the front, and since they always fill the studio up from the front the best thing to do to avoid this is to make sure you are further back in the line) and then bounce jokes off of them for the rest of the evening. Obviously, since the entire show was reminiscing the 80s, he picked the youngest person in the audience to remind them that they have no idea what it was like to live at a time when the only phone that you had in the house was hard wired to the kitchen wall.
Oh, and this was also back in the days when you learn how to make bombs simply by watching the evening news as opposed to going to some Jihadist, or Anarchist, website.
They say that there is nothing better than something that is free, but the older I grow the more than I realise that that is not necessarily true. Sure, a coffee table that has been thrown out and is sitting on the side of the road might be a bargain, as is a visit to the National Gallery or the Tate in London, but when it comes to comedy – well, personally, I don’t think so. Okay, the advertisement did say ‘just because it is free doesn’t mean that it is bad’ but unfortunately I am going to have to disagree because the comedy that they showed us was pretty bad. Then again it was only two performances that I saw before I decided to bid the free comedy goodbye and head back down the road for another beer and to continue reading my book.
Look, I probably shouldn’t be too hard on them because, as I said earlier, they are giving it a go, and I am always supportive of giving people a go. The problem was that I wasn’t really all that familiar on how the concept worked. Basically, it is another system that was borrowed from Edinburgh, and a way of giving up and coming comedians a platform. Mind you, it isn’t an open mike situation where anybody can get up and perform, and I suspect that you do have to audition, which means that if you do get a spot then you obviously have impressed somebody. However, the way it worked is that they perform their piece, and then they stand at the door, cap in hand, and you pay them what you think they are worth. Personally, I wish I knew that beforehand because I honestly didn’t think he was worth $20.00.
The next show was a trip down to Trades Hall for a bit of improv. I was planning on going to another improv show earlier on, but it turned out that they had changed the times on me, and I wasn’t going to hang around the city for another hour and a half. In part it was a shame that I didn’t get to see more improv, but this was at least a start. The idea is that everything is made up on the spot, but having seen Whose Line Is It Anyway (and absolutely loving every episode) this simply doesn’t seem to come close. In fact, a part of me suspected that only parts of it were improvised and most of it was pre-rehearsed. The other thing was that they seemed to expect people to only come once, so it would have been interesting to come the next night to see if it was actually all improvised.
What I might do though is post something from Whose Line is it Anyway.
Just across the road from Federation Square there is is gorgeous building called The Forum. While it isn’t one of Melbourne’s major theatres, it still hosts a few productions, at least during the comedy festival. Since it was a theatre that I hadn’t been to I decided to pick a random comedian, and this time a woman, so I decided to pick Alex Ward. Mind you, I’m not all that familiar with her, and she certainly doesn’t appear on Wikipedia, though she does appear in Youtube (with one entire video). However, I did find her quite funny, and like the others, here is that one video of her below.
Star Wars and Shakespeare
And to finish it off here is something that a friend of mine would have loved – the Return of the Jedi done using Shakespearian language. Honestly, it was really, really good. In fact they also gave us each a teddy bear to throw at the stage at a predetermined signal. The story itself was basically Return of the Jedi, and not only did they successfully turn it into a stage play using only a handful of actors, but they also completely rewrote the dialogue to turn it into Shakespearian English. While it wasn’t a standout production, the skill of the creators in being able to produce something like this clearly makes it the best show of the festival.