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Words by Michelle See-Tho

 

If you watch Sammy J perform solo for long enough, it’s easy to forget how crass his puppet counterpart, Randy (puppetry by Heath McIvor), can be.

It’s been more than a year since the two collaborated on home soil. They’ve used their time apart to separately perform live solo acts. Sammy J has also hosted the ABC’s Wednesday Night Fever.

But this year, they’ve reunited for ‘Sammy J and Randy’s Difficult First Album Tour’ at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

The show describes the duo’s tour of their first album, providing an element of meta-humour that adds depth to the story. They kick things off with a song about how they met—Sammy was a pole dancer, Randy an overzealous customer. The show moves on to cover the things the pair saw and did while promoting their album—including a disturbing number about being Swiss lovers in their past lives.

Back in the days of solo Sammy J, numbers like ‘Delete’ and the ‘Backward Song’ were typical of the baby-faced comedian, with little to no swearing as he sipped from a juice box at his piano. But there’s none of that virginal innocence in the ‘Difficult First Album Tour’. (Well, the juice box is still there, but it’s little more than a remnant of Sammy J’s Randy-less performances.)

Instead, Randy brings with him a whole lot of dirtiness. It works for the most part, especially because homophobic jokes are simple but funny, as the duo points out with a song.

However, it remains to be seen whether that song itself is just for cheap laughs or is satirical social commentary on the comedy industry.

All in all, it’s a fun show, and the contrast between sweet, boyish Sammy J and politically incorrect Randy is beyond entertaining. But anyone expecting Sammy J to maintain his innocence is sure to be disappointed.

Words by Michelle See-Tho

 

Seussical will rouse a sense of nostalgia in anyone who loves Dr Seuss, or ever participated in musicals at school.

The musical, which debuted on Broadway in 2000, isn’t really a comedy show, though it does provide humour in parts. At MICF, it’s performed by the Old Carey Performing Arts Club.

Seussical is a clever intertwining of several different Dr Seuss stories: Horton Hears a Who!, Horton Hatches the Egg, and Gertrude McFuzz. It also features the Cat in the Hat, as narrator and various other roles.

Much of Seussical’s charm lies in its amateur feel. Some of the acting is exaggerated and transitions between scenes aren’t always seamless (the Cat in the Hat pointed out that intermission was timed so they could clean up the fake snow on stage). A giant box of props is wheeled around on stage, just like Year 9 Drama class.

That said, there are some outstanding performances. Sam McPartlan, who plays Horton, has a great singing voice. Not to mention, he’s adorable as the “faithful” elephant dedicated to saving the Whos and hatching an egg. Nicholas Renfree-Marks is fabulous as the flamboyant Sour Kangaroo – I only wish we’d seen more of him. Other special mentions should go to Mark Yeates (the Cat in the Hat) and Elise Cavallo (Mayzie LaBird) – both are very talented and have promising futures in theatre ahead of them. Yeates’ interaction with the audience was engaging and particularly appealing for children.

There’s plenty in the show for adults to enjoy too. Themes of unplanned pregnancy, drugs, body image, oppression, bullying and prejudice are all present. But they’re all addressed in a humorous and light-hearted way – the kids probably didn’t even notice.

One last thing: if you’re planning on seeing Seussical, be aware that it’s currently school holidays. The theatre will likely be packed with screaming children, and you may well be the oldest non-parent there.

 

The Old Carey Performing Arts Club is performing Seussical at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from 7 April to 19 April. 

Words by Declan Mulcahy

Paul Foot is undeniably a very silly man. His unique brand of humour is a manically spurted blend of surreal anecdotes and pertinent wit. Not to mention his downright bizarre haircut. In his current show, Words, he spends around an hour taking an entranced audience on an entertaining, and sometimes uncomfortable, journey through a cavalcade of offbeat observations. Scarcely stopping for breath, he details scenes of social absurdity, blurts out seemingly random word pairings and dictates some of his famous ‘disturbances’.

Admittedly, this cocktail of English sardonicism and otherworldly mannerisms won’t be enjoyed by everyone, particularly those seeking traditional setup-punchline comedy. But despite his unorthodox approach to humour, the master of the absurd manages to achieve something few other comics can—a sense of spontaneity and a strong connection with his audience. Regardless of how much of Words is actually scripted, every outlandish remark feels entirely off the cuff, as if the whole show is really just a direct insight into the comedian’s unusual mind.

Combined with his genuinely improvised responses to the audience, Paul Foot’s honest delivery style makes it feel like you’re not really watching a performance at all—instead, you’re simply spending the evening with a very funny (albeit somewhat insane) old friend.

Paul Foot’s Words is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Hi-fi Bar until 20 April.

Words by Kevin Hawkins

If there’s one thing to take away from Ronny Chieng’s show Chieng Reaction, it’s that the University of Melbourne is the fifth best law school in the world. Throughout his set, Chieng feels no hesitation in labouring this point, eager to remind the audience of his academic credentials.

Chieng’s unashamed arrogance is part of his comic appeal. He presents himself as far smarter than the average person, and sets out to belittle those who can’t match his wisdom. That said, you don’t need to be a genius to enjoy Chieng’s material. His rants about Asian parents, feminism going too far, public transport etiquette, and poor customer service manage to tap into universal attitudes and everyday situations. The only people who might feel a little peeved by Chieng’s offensive are under 25s, a demographic Chieng dismisses for knowing nothing.

Inevitably, some won’t be able to stand Chieng’s self-righteous demeanour, or his overtly blunt delivery. He even acknowledges this himself by drawing an imaginary bell curve for his crowd (which incidentally draws more attention to his learned nature). But Chieng’s show is hardly about pleasing everybody; indeed, Chieng clearly derives personal pleasure from gloating and complaining in front of a large crowd, and that alone is enjoyable to watch.

Ronny Chieng’s Chieng Reaction is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Hifi Bar until 20 April.

Words by Kevin Hawkins

The only other time I’ve seen Lehmo speak at a live event was on 23 February, at the Reza Berati #lightthedark vigil. That evening, the breakfast morning radio presenter and refugee rights advocate gave an impassioned and thought-provoking speech, defending people seeking asylum. It was a breath of fresh air to hear an Australian personality uninhibited by the commercial or political pressures of television or radio, and just speaking their mind.

While Lehmo wasn’t particularly funny that evening, his speech that night gave me the impression that he would be one person worth seeing at the upcoming Melbourne International Comedy Festival. I didn’t expect him to preach his political values at his audience (only Tom Gleeson can get away with that), but I expected him to bring intelligence – or a sharp wit, at the very least – to his performance.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but LEHMOOOO!!! (Get Involved) failed to deliver. While his set was amusing, one gets the impression Lehmo didn’t work particularly hard on writing his material. He took aim primarily at the low-hanging fruit*: the Corby family, the Southern Star, his nagging girlfriend, cheap airlines, and bogans. I’d be lying to say I didn’t laugh at anything, but there wasn’t much in Lehmo’s repertoire that I hadn’t heard before. Perhaps the best way to sum it up is that Lehmo’s best material was a running gag about cats, and a joke about MH370*.

Lehmo’s formulaic routine certainly doesn’t compromise the great work he does as an ambassador for Welcome to Australia, Make It Possible, and Live Below the Line – among other initiatives. But those hoping for something more intelligent than your typical stand up routine might be better off waiting around for the next asylum seekers rally.

LEHMOOOO!!! (Get Involved) is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Melbourne Town Hall on 14 April.

Words by Kevin Hawkins

If you voted for either the Coalition or the Greens in the last federal election, chances are that you won’t appreciate all of Tom Gleeson’s comic material. With mic in hand and audience at his feet, Gleeson’s one-hour show Quality is an opportunity for him to speak about his political beliefs (and specifically his hate for Tony Abbott). And there’s nothing the audience can do about it.

Two things save Gleeson from crowd heckling and mid-show walkouts. The first is that his show is part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, a cultural event in arguably Australia’s most progressive left city. The second is that Gleeson is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Even if you’re ideologically opposed to some of his rants, it’s difficult not to appreciate his clever critiques of the government’s demand for a surplus or their lack of action on climate change, not to mention his caricature of Tony Abbott as a bumbling idiot.

While politics is a prominent theme of his set, Gleeson is smart enough not to limit himself to that arena. Gleeson speaks in depth about his experiences as a parent, and is brutally honest about his struggles with alcoholism and his sessions with his counsellor. Gleeson’s confessions may make some audience members a little uncomfortable; laughing at Gleeson’s expense has more than a little bit of schadenfreude to it. But Gleeson’s self-deprecating style and ability to read the audience means the show is more than just a sad AA meeting.

While converting his crowd into Labor supporters probably isn’t Gleeson’s intention, it wouldn’t be surprising if a few audience members leave the show with a few reservations about Tony Abbott, or a few question marks over the Greens. In doing so, Gleeson demonstrates how powerful comedy is as a persuasive tool. While my personal allegiance to Sir Tony was not shaken by Gleeson’s repertoire*, the quick-witted comedian nevertheless convinced me of his natural comedic talent. And for this reason I’d implore you to give him your vote.

*Disclaimer: Don’t worry. I didn’t actually vote for Tony Abbott.

Tom Gleeson’s Quality is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Melbourne Town Hall from April 10-20.

Words by Georgia Pryce

When I spoke to rapper-turned-comedian Doc Brown, he was enjoying the success of his first preview show at the Comedy Festival on the previous night. His show, Of Mic and Men, takes a look at hip-hop culture through a mix of rap and stand-up.

“I had a ball, man,” he says. “The crowd was amazing”.

I ask how he discusses hip-hop in his show, wondering how he feels about it now that he’s older.

“I talk about it in relation to my life, you know, it’s something I grew up with, so I treat it with equal [parts] contempt and respect,” he says.

I ask Doc about when and how he reached the decision to become a comedian, but he contends: “Well I didn’t, and I still haven’t. I was working for the BBC as a script consultant on a series of comedy and I realised, not that I was funny, but that I knew what wasn’t funny, you know?… How to make it funnier… Then, one thing just led to another. I didn’t choose this as a job, it became one for a few years and now I’m still not a comedian. I do it part time. When I do it, I enjoy it. I don’t think I could do it as a living. I do it for fun”.

Doc tells me about the importance of keeping comedy balanced with his personal life. His insights into the world of a professional comedian reveal that it may not be all it’s cracked up to be, and that there are definitely two sides to the life of a stand-up.

“I’d say it’s a great career for the right person. You’ve got to be suited to it; you’ve got to be prepared to live your life alone. You’ve got to be prepared to sacrifice a part of yourself for complete strangers and you’ve got to be prepared for those strangers to either love you or hate you, in equal measure. So you know, there are a lot of personal decisions you have to make and, if that’s for you, you know you can do that and you’ve got skin that’s thick enough, then go for it. But if you want to like, have some friends, or if you want to have a relationship, if you ever want to fall in love, or if you ever want to speak to normal people rather than just up on a stage, then I wouldn’t advise it”.

Doc Brown’s career has been exceptionally varied and has seen him work with some extremely talented comedians and artists. I asked if he could identify any moments that were particularly memorable. Again, his response was honest and open.

“I think maybe the first time I rehearsed with Amy Winehouse”, he recalls, speaking of a time back in 2005. “The first time I met her and sat in her rehearsal studio watching her up close. It was an unforgettable moment, you know? Just seeing the raw power and talent,” he notes. “The vulnerability, the heart. Then getting to know the person [behind the voice]”.

I move the conversation to some more serious questions: what his choices would be if he were to survive on only three types of food for the rest of his life. I recommend something more exciting than a menu that is sadly quite suggestive of my own at the moment, of two-minute noodles, eggs, and free sausages. We deliberate about the versatility of marshmallows and the incredible creation of lasagne for a while. Then Doc reveals his third consideration: “And then, I guess anything I could sneak a recreational drug into, in order to take the edge off the depressing scenario of only having three types of food”.

So, Doc Brown may not have completely settled down just yet, after all.

Doc Brown is performing Of Mic and Men at the Banquet Room of the Victoria Hotel, from Tuesdays to Sundays until 20 April. 

Words by Ashleigh Penhall

Seeing Tegan perform is like listening to a close friend telling you a story. Her stage presence is so sweet, that as an audience member, you cannot help but be engaged by her performance. The intimate venue exudes a friendly atmosphere, which only grows stronger through the various f bombs dropped throughout the night. If you are a sports fan, nerd, or enjoy the occasional clever dirty joke, this show is definitely for you. Tegan does take a serious note before the end however, which personally, I found to be really emotive. But all in all, the show is very high energy, well rehearsed and well delivered.

Tegan Higginbotham is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Portlan Hotel from 27 March to the 20 April.

Words by Ash Qama

We’ve all had awful experiences dealing with Centrelink. Between the hour-long phone queues, seemingly random payment stoppages and absurdly long lines, there’s a lot to complain about. Centrelink the Musical attempts to transform the despair we all face at Centrelink into a fun, whimsical show.

Centrelink the Musical has been performed at comedy and fringe festivals since 2009. Sadly, the musical was let down by one key facet—the script. Whilst the characters were performed wonderfully and the musical numbers sung very well, the plot was baffling at times, especially with the inclusion of a Broadway-style number for no apparent reason. The songs were often repetitive and verses should have been cut after the choruses.

I really wanted to like Centrelink the Musical. It encompasses a very stereotypical but accurate representation of the people you might find yourself standing next to in line at your local Centrelink, and is well performed by the actors. But, much like the hold music you face when you call Centrelink, the musical numbers were dated and became tedious.

Centrelink the Musical is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Metanoia Theatre until 12 April.