The Laugh Out Loud Big Gay Comedy Night

By Peter Newling 

For most of the year, Vau d’Vile in Fitzroy serves as a drag cabaret and restaurant venue. And what a fantastic venue it is. It has a lovely big stage, a wall covered in a rainbow flag made entirely of feather boas, and another wall covered entirely in Barbie Dolls – which is playful and creepy in equal measure. But for a few nights during the Midsumma Festival, the wigs and sequins take a break and the space is handed over to the Laugh Out Loud Big Gay Comedy team. Unlike most comedy nights, this one comes without a host, which adds a level of complexity to the start of the evening. First of all, there’s no-one there to set the scene and to get the audience excited about the night ahead. Instead it was up to the first act to come on and get the crowd in the mood. I’m not sure that’s such a great set-up, especially for the first performer who I’m sure would prefer to come on to an already warmed-up audience.

Fortunately, our first performer was Laura Davis who ran a very successful comedy room in Perth before moving to Melbourne. Laura is a very accomplished comic, having won the Golden Gibbo award at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival back in 2015, amongst a string of other accolades. And rightly so – she’s very good at what she does. Her style is charming, down to earth and girl-next-doorish, a little reminiscent of Josie Long. You find yourself drawn in to her sweetness until the first c-bomb drops – and then you see that the raw honesty and disenchantment lie just millimetres beneath the surface. Laura shares a lot of herself with her audiences, which really helps cement the relationship. Her delivery is well paced, and her choice of words is perfect. You really should add Laura to your list of Aussie comics to see.

One thing I’ve really enjoyed in the comedy landscape over the past decade or so is the recapturing of old performance art-forms. Many will be familiar with the work of Nina Conti and others in reinventing ventriloquism. Some will be familiar with Sam Wills and his mime work – one of the few performers I’ve seen get a standing ovation at the Edinburgh Fringe. Our second act tonight is doing her bit to reclaim the arts of magic and mind-reading as a comedic form. Cath Jamison is billed as Australia’s leading female magician, but her set sits neatly in a night of comedy. Her rapport with the audience is excellent, and there are laughs-aplenty as she baffles and bamboozles her willing crowd. Testimony to the comfortable relationship she establishes early in her set, people are actually willing, if not eager, to volunteer when asked. The tricks vary in complexity, but there’s no doubting her showmanship, confidence and love of what she does. She has certainly put the fun back into an art-form that, for a while, was favouring ego over talent.

Our third and final comic of the evening was the experienced Bev Killick. Bev’s style is bold, brash and abrasive. There’s nothing demure or understated about this comic – she’s very upfront and not afraid to offend. Her on-stage persona is like the fun-but-vulgar aunt at the Christmas gathering that family members either adore or are scared to death of. Her material covered the well trodden paths of modern child-raising methods, and how she went about traumatising her own kids. It wasn’t until half way through her set that she realised that absolutely no-one in the audience had kids, so the material had no particular relevance. In an attempt to change track, she went to audience interaction. This led her into a discussion with a shy young man who revealed that he had not come out to his parents for cultural reasons – the comedy dried up, and a tangible awkwardness engulfed the room. But she soldiered on with more material about raising kids and the perils of having teenage boys. Whilst many in the audience really enjoyed the middle-class-bogan patter, I came away wondering if this comic had put enough thought into what people coming to a Big Gay Comedy Night might actually relate to.

It’s great that the organisers of the Big Gay Comedy Night were able to put together such an eclectic mix of acts for the evening, I’m sure there will be a lot more fabulous performers to look forward to. If you’re in the market for some stand-up during the Midsumma Festival, make your way down to the Vau d’vile. There’ll be something for everyone!

The Laugh Out Loud Big Gay Comedy Night is playing every Sunday and Thursday evening from Jan 14 to Feb 4 at Vau d’Vile, 62-70 Johnston Street Fitzroy.

It Takes Two by Polly Filla and Felicity Frockaccino

By Peter Newling 

Walking into the small, intimate 86 Cabaret Bar on Smith Street in Fitzroy is rather like walking into an old-school comedy room. The room is small, dark, smoky (but from the occasional wisps from a smoke machine, not tobacco), atmospheric. There’s a well stocked bar to the right. There are small, candlelit tables at the front for those who arrive early enough to secure one, and behind them fold-out chairs in theatre-style layout for those who don’t. There’s a thick red velvet curtain with gold edgings shielding the stage, and pre-show music playing. The only thing that was missing? The comedy.

It Takes Two is not a traditional comedy of the type that Squirrel readers would be accustomed to. The two vastly talented performers are not comedians. They don’t do stand-up or impro or musical comedy. It’s a drag show, and it’s a drag show with some funny moments, but the comedy plays second fiddle to the elements that make a drag show great.

Polly Filla and Felicity Frockaccino are two of the best credentialed, and most popular drag artists in the country. Both hailing from Wellington in New Zealand, they have bought their two highly successful individual careers together for the Midsumma Festival. And given that they now live in different states of Australia, it can’t have been easy to get the show together.

There are certain elements that make most drag shows special, but make this one remarkable. Firstly, the lip-syncing is spot on. Songs are lip-synced amongst beautifully rehearsed and energetic dance routines, and often whilst impersonating the original purveyor of the song. From Adele to Bassey, the impersonations were excellent, and generated many of the smiles in the audience. The other element of comedy comes from the performers lip-syncing comedy routines. Now whilst this isn’t what your usual comedy audience would be used to, it’s really impressive to watch. The hours of rehearsal must be enormous. And it was great to be reacquainted with some classic comedy routines from days gone by – from the likes of Fast Forward, The Comedy Company and Bette Midler.

The other elements worth mentioning about this show are the design features. The costumes, wigs and make-up are simply phenomenal. Colourful, flamboyant and magnificently OTT. The sound track was well constructed and kept the show moving along at a reasonable clip. Lighting and stage effects were effective and added to the professionalism.
So in short, if you’re looking for a night of original comedy in the Midsumma Festival, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a fun hour with great music and two polished performances, you should give this one some consideration.

It Takes Two is playing at the 86 Cabaret Bar in Fitzroy from the 18th to the 20th January.

Bookings and info: https://midsumma.org.au/program/ittake18

Michael and Philip are Getting Married in the Morning

By Lisa Clark 

A wedding play comedy, but not quite Dimboola (the 70s Aussie classic by Jack Hibberd that celebrated and lampooned the mundane and traditional wedding). Michael and Philip are Getting Married in the Morning is about as far from that little country wedding as you can get. Michael and Philip wake up the day before their wedding, nervous and excited, without the baggage of warring families, invitation lists, table placements etc. But of course there is baggage, and drama, that gradually reveals itself as the day moves on.

When this play was first contemplated same sex marriage was yet to be made legal. The play when created was a bit of a ‘What if..” exercise and this is still an interesting exploration of a brand new thing in Australian society.  Many parts of the play can be read as somewhat symbolic with characters who represent the forces that have kept same sex people from marrying, and one who carries the heavy weight of gay history with him on to the stage. Some of the themes around gay men and their galpals have been played out in a much gentler way on Will and Grace, but they are explored here in a much darker and down and dirty way. The ideas have not been cleaned up to suit a free to air TV sitcom audience, thus it can be a bit jawdropping at times, and even push things over the edge, but still compelling and believable.

The happy couple are a beautifully played by Bayne Bradsaw (Michael) and Ryan Stewart (Phillip), and Anna Reardon is astonishing believable as the monstrously self-centred Tally. The company all work together as team. The play overshoots it’s ending somewhat (we only really need one surprise family reunion at the end and the toxic friend needs to be given the boot rather than an unnecessary reconciliation chat about stuff we’ve already worked out), but is generally a lot of fun and the audience warms to the characters who develop interestingly throughout.

From what I can gather from the less than informative programme and an only slightly more informative website, the play has been created from scratch by the Fred the Alien theatre company rather than by a single playwright. This is pretty impressive considering the interesting ideas and the  hilarious and witty banter in some of the scenes, though it might explain the occasional patchy bit of dialogue.

Originally created for Melbourne Fringe 2017, this encore season benefits from having had a previous run to iron out many of the usual kinks. There are still a few pacing issues, with a farcical aspect to some of scenes and ideas – so it would benefit from a bit tightening to pull this off. Most comedy is about rhythm and there are some great scenes with good laughs here, it would not take much tweaking to really get the laughs rolling throughout.

The Bluestone Church is a neat little Arts Venue and perfect for a wedding play. Dimboola embraces the audience as part of the play whereas Michael & Phillip are Getting Married in the Morning is not really an immersive performance, though we get to be included as wedding guests in a few small moments. The stage is set in two main ways, Michael’s stylish apartment with books and photos from his vast social life and Phillip’s place which is decorated with Star Wars memorabilia. Eventually the space becomes the church where there is not much scene setting required in this venue. Dropping the scene changes and just using the halves of the large performance space to denote the different apartments, like each wedding party’s side in a wedding, would help sharpen the action. More energy and voice projection from the actors would do a lot to improve things too, though they can be forgiven on a sweltering night in a space with no air-conditioning (I recommend bringing a fan along, like most of us smartly did & buy a drink in the foyer).

Go and see this quirky, entertaining, original play at Midsumma, for the laughs and for the celebration of love in many weird and wonderful ways.

Michael and Philip are Getting Married in the Morning is playing at the Bluestone Church Arts Space, Footscray, until January 21

Bookings: https://midsumma.org.au/program/michel18

Larry and The Dame – Magnum Opus

By Peter Newling  

Walking into the urbane and cultured foyer of the Gasworks Theatre in Albert Park, I was greeted by an equally urbane and cultured crowd who had gathered to enjoy the work of Carita Farrer Spencer as part of the Midsumma Festival. As Blondie’s Rapture played softly in the background, I knew this was no grungy comedy venue, and that this was going to be no grungy comedy show. What it was, was an hour of top shelf laughs.

Larry and The Dame: Magnum Opus is billed as an ‘hilarious double bill (with herself)’ – and that’s exactly what it is. Over the course of the evening, Farrer Spencer introduces us to two characters – both played by herself.

Audience enters the auditorium to find the stage replete with grand piano adorned with a huge floral arrangement, and a velvet covered table holding a frighteningly large martini. A pianist (the very talented and unflappable Steve Russell) enters and begins to play “There is nothing like a dame” and act one is under way.

In the first half we meet The Dame – a fading cabaret star whose life disappointments have led her to hit the bottle, and hit it hard. Over the course of her set, she manages to consume an unhealthy quantity of alcohol, leading to some wonderful business with her costume, the mic stand and the hapless pianist. The song choices are excellent, ranging from musical theatre standards to Bassey and Eric Carmen – with one of the more unusual interpretations of La Vie En Rose you’re ever likely to see. And goodness, can she sing! The Dame’s tendency to forget lyrics, or indeed which song comes next, sets up some wonderful interplay with the pianist, who remains deadpan and stoic throughout. As the dignity of her character drops away, we see periods of high farce interspersed with moments of poignant introspection. It’s a remarkable performance.

At the half way point, after the diva’s unedifying exit, Steve is left alone with the audience. His version of the well chosen “Stuck in the middle with you” gives Farrer Spencer time to find her second character, Larry Paradiseo.

Larry is a chronically unfit lothario cabaret singer, convinced that he is utterly irresistible to the ladies. He is sleazy, sweaty, and has a dancing style all of his own. But it’s in this character that Farrer Spencer’s talents in audience engagement come to the fore. Accompanied by more well chosen songs from the likes of Marvin Gaye, Tom Jones and John Farnham, Larry inflicts himself on pretty much every female in the audience. The one liners are fun, and have obviously served this character well over the years. It’s delightfully cringe-inducing stuff.

The finale is something that needs to be seen to be believed. It’s a triumph of excellent song choice, a mighty voice, and some costuming brilliance.

The secret to the success of this show is Farrer Spencer’s total commitment to both characters. The physicality of both are spot on, and, as you would expect of someone of Farrer Spencer’s experience, she never drops character for a second. This skill for characterisation, coupled with a wonderful voice and great timing, make this a show you’ll remember for a long time.

The laughter throughout the show was rich and constant. At the end of the hour, the buzz in the audience was palpable and the applause was sustained and enthusiastic. Farrer Spencer obviously knows her stuff, and knows her demographic. If you like walking the line between comedy and cabaret, you’ll find this a worthy contribution to the 2018 Midsumma Festival.

Larry and The Dame – Magnum Opus is playing at Gaswork Theatre, 21 Graham Street Albert Park, from Wednesday 17 to Saturday 20 January.

Bookings: https://midsumma.org.au/program/larry18

Lemon Comedy Queer Showcase

By Peter Newling 

A sell-out crowd packed into the warm and welcoming Hares & Hyena’s bookshop in Fitzroy for Lemon Comedy’s only foray into the Midsumma Festival for 2018. A small stage has been erected in the corner of the store, surrounded by chandelier, regency wallpaper and thousands of books. Complete with friendly bar service, who could ask for a better venue?

Lemon Comedy bills itself on its website as a “new global stand-up showcase that aims to promote diverse, sharp voices in comedy”. Younger performers get the chance to strut their stuff in front of a large and supportive crowd, while more seasoned performers can try out new material in a safe space. And, on this balmy Tuesday evening in Melbourne, they didn’t disappoint. The organisers brought together an eclectic mix of performers and performance styles for this one-night-only show. In fact, the audience was treated to seven classy acts across two hours of joy.

The quality of any gala often rests largely with the ability of the host – and in this role, Alistair Baldwin excelled. He kept the audience’s energy up between comics with warm repartee and generous introductions. His own material is terrific, managing to cover off topics ranging from Australia Post to cuttlefish in his mild-mannered, seemingly good natured shtick.

Space does not allow a full run down of all performers – so let me instead tell you about some acts to keep an eye out for in the future.

Melbourne comic Kit Richards was a stand out, giving the audience a sneak preview into the new musical that she is writing – which explores elements of early white Australian history and the difficulties of English folk adapting to Australian conditions. The songs were cleverly constructed, hilarious, and lovingly delivered. If that musical ever gets made, I’ll be first in line to buy a ticket.

Comedic trio Hit By A Blimp (aka Caitlyn Staples, Tiana Hogben and Jayden Masciulli) gave us an energetic mixture of sketch, song and interpretive dance in their Coldplay inspired portrayal of the pros and cons of Uber Eats. Well regarded improviser Nikki Spunde made a welcome return to stand-up and proved to be an audience favourite with her languid homage to sleep and haunting things.
Headlining the evening was the evergreen Geraldine Hickey. Whilst her choice of material – a set based on common fears – wasn’t the most imaginative of the evening, she won over the crowd with her trademark dry, laconic delivery, astute observations and easy-going nature. It was great for the younger comics to be able to enjoy a masterclass from such an experienced and assured performer, and provided the audience with a worthy pinnacle to their night’s entertainment.

Other performers rounding out this excellent, varied bill included Pat McCaffrie, Gamze Kirik and Liv Hewson.

Congratulations to Lemon Comedy on bringing together a great night out, and for giving us the gift of an inspiring celebration of diverse comedy. If you missed Lemon Comedy’s Midsumma gala, never fear. Their next gig will be on Valentine’s Day, and will celebrate, appropriately enough, the joys of singledom. Sounds like fun to me.

Lemon Comedy Queer Showcase was a One Off performance on 16 January 2018 at Hares & Hyena’s bookshop in Fitzroy

A BIG YEAR’S ROUND UP AND 5 VERY GOOD SHOWS OF 2017

By Lisa Clark

In 2017 I decided to set a challenge for myself to write up every show that I saw in my Lisa’s Live Comedy Big Year Blog. Well. As you can see, it became harder to keep up with in the second half of the year, even though it seems that is when things are usually quieter, I was wrong and life stayed pretty busy and when it was not it was because I was ill. I still kept other records of my gigs and so was able to list them all, but not reviews sadly, so I don’t have reviews of a lot of my comedy experiences for the last part of the year. I also wanted to keep a pictorial record of gigs, but it’s not always possible to take photos and even in the regular comedy rooms, I was not good at taking subtle photos and got caught out and commented upon/told off. Then my flash went off by mistake. Arrrggghhh! So I gave up on my own photos and got some much better ones from room runners or friends with more experience.

Of course I spent a lot of time at my regular comedy haunt Local Laughs, but managed to visit several other rooms as well. I have had a lot of wonderful comedy experiences this year, especially during the trip to the UK which included seeing Daniel Kitson’s Something Other Than Everything at the Roundhouse in London and two weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where highlights included seeing The Doug Anthony Allstars still making jaws drop in their home away from home, new discovery Jayde Adams just blowing the room away at The Pleasance media showcase with her surprising vocal talent and the hilarious story that goes with it, seeing Yianni do his best work in some time because it came from his life and his heart, Adam Vincent slaying packed rooms with deep dark tales of suburbia and playing interactive Wifi Wars at midnight.

Other highlights of the year include the final shows of the debauched boutique comedy legend that was The Shelf and in particular the performance of Fringe Wives Club who brought the house down and made everyone rush out to see their show.  Andy Zaltzman did the searing political comedy, Plan Z, that everyone had expected from  Ex Bugler John Oliver when he last toured and finally and I enjoyed Sammy J’s Magnum Opus – Hero Compex for a 2nd time, to find it had evolved, as the story had in real life and it was joyful to watch everyone’s jaw dropping and howling with laughter as the story unfolded, knowing where it was going. Under the radar: Not enough people were talking about UK comedian Kieran Hodgson at MICF but my goodness Maestro was a gorgeous show and the joyful weirdness of Aussie duo The Lioness who’s show  Peggy Babcock, Peggy Babcock, Peggy Babcock had a much too short run in an out of the way venue.

Its always hard sorting out a shortlist of the best comedy shows. I have picked out 5 outstanding experiences and they are set down in the order that I saw them.

 

5 VERY GOOD SHOWS OF 2017

Wil Anderson Fire at Wil at The Comedy Theatre, Melbourne. January 22

Lineup: Wil Anderson, Supported by Justin Hamilton

Wil Anderson

January’s highlight was definitely seeing Wil Anderson and Justin Hamilton in a theatre full of excited fans. Both consummate comedians at the top of their game.  Am determined to see Wil’s solo show this year and looking forward to it. I’ve been missing seeing Justin around the traps since he moved to Sydney but am hoping to see more of Wil Anderson, now he’s taken a job in Melbourne breakfast radio.

Hannah Gadsby: Nanette April 6 

Hannah Gadsby

Hannah’s final festival show was indeed a showstopper. It was a show about the Zeitgeist, about equal rights, about truth – in life and in comedy, about standing up and being listened to. It was powerful, moving and of course funny. A masterpiece of Standup. During her interview on Comedian’s Comedian at MICF, Stuart Goldsmith shrewdly asked what would happen if this amazing show won all the awards, like The Barry and even the Edinburgh Fringe Best Comedy award?

Would she still quit comedy? Well all of those predictions have come to pass (including a Helpmann Award along the way) and Hannah is still going strong. Having sold out many shows at the Victorian Arts Centre and The Sydney Opera House she is adding further shows this month to the Opera House, followed by Perth and then a month from February in London at the Soho Theatre. They are selling out.

All comedians should go out on this sort of high. The world is her oyster and she’s certainly making the most of it all. Whatever she chooses to do next, I wish her all the happiness.

My review: http://www.squirrelcomedy.com/?p=11198

Craig Ferguson

Craig Ferguson – The Craig Ferguson Show, Gilded Balloon @ Rose Theatre, Edinburgh. August 7 

Craig Ferguson’s quirky tonight show was a staple in our house and I’m missing his Peabody Award winning interviewing style on late night TV. I’ve been hoping he might at least tour his standup comedy here in Australia, as he has happy memories of performing here in the 80s (as do I), but sadly there is no sign of this, especially as he is now busily hosting a successful drive time radio show. Craig decided to record some of his radio shows live from Edinburgh, taking advantage of all of the gathered performers from around the world to appear as guests, and all of the Squirrels were lucky enough to attend in the wee hours of the Festival. The Rose is a lovely old theatre in the New Town with a great atmosphere and the packed audience had an awesome time.  The live radio broadcast lasted for 2 hours and consisted of two very entertaining in-depth chats with performers who were often old friends of Craig. In our case an old close friend impressionist/comedian Jan Ravens and Scottish writer Iain Rankin. Ron later saw the show with guests Daniel Sloss and Tommy Tiernan and Craig had Aunty Donna on the show towards the end of the run. Its a pity there is no podcasts of these recordings and that the radio show is not broadcast outside of the Americas.

Childproof the Podcast Recording at The Bella Union Bar, Carlton. September 20-22 

Tony Martin, Cristina Laria, Damian Cowel, Roz Hammond, Gerraldine Quinn

Episodes 1 to 6 over three nights – written by Tony Martin & Serina Rowell

Performed by Tony Martin, Geraldine Quinn, Roz Hammond, Andrew McClelland, Damian Cowell, Lachy Hulme, Djovan Caro, Simon Rogers, Casey Bennetto, Serina Rowell, Cristina Laria, Sam Petersen and Jay Mueller as the Narrator.

A brilliant sitcom in 6 episodes about a couple who chooses to be childless while they navigate the changing, diminishing, modern workplace in radio and book publishing and their changing, diminishing friendships as their friends succumb to parenthood and all that entails. The episodes are easily as entertaining & funny as other recent Australian ABC comedies, so it’s surprising that they were knocked back for Television broadcast. The talented performers were all having a ball playing the various characters and Jay Mueller made a brilliant honey tongued Narrator. This was a unique and special experience this year.

These shows were recorded for podcasting and so you can listen to them all here.

Tessa Waters and Laura Davis

Frocking Hilarious at The Comedy Theatre, Melbourne. November 17th 

Denise Scott, Cal Wilson, Fiona O’Loughlin, Anne Edmonds, Celia Pacquoa, Demi Ladner, Tessa Waters, Laura Davis, Kelly Fastuca, Geraldine Quinn, Double Denim.

A fundraiser for Action Aid curated by the inimitable comedy goddess Janet A Mcleod. All of the performers brought their A Game and there was not a weak spot on the night. It really felt like a Comedy Gala and we were all pretty privileged to be there laughing our arses off. Great to have a majority of women in the audience too. It wasn’t just some of the best Australian women in comedy it was some of the best Australian comedy on stage.

 

LISA’S LIVE COMEDY BIG YEAR 2017 – http://www.squirrelcomedy.com/?page_id=10666