The Joy of Working with Children and Other Lies

By Peter Newling

I don’t know about you, but when I was going through school, I never thought about my teachers having a life out of school. In fact, I’m not really sure I recognised them as humans. Imagine what a shock it would be to find out that your teacher was a stand-up comedian in their spare time – and what’s more – a very good stand-up comedian.

Josh Webb, Billie Duncan and Nick O’Connell are all exciting new voices in their respective comedy scenes – in fact, they’re all award winning comedians in their own right. And they’re all teachers. It makes perfect sense, then, for them to join forces to present a very entertaining hour of anecdotes and horror stories about the challenges they face on a daily basis.

Despite all coming from different parts of the education system, several common themes emerge. First and foremost, teachers are undervalued in our society. This is reflected in how people perceive (and treat) teachers, and how dreadfully they’re remunerated compared with less taxing professions. Secondly, there was consensus that working with the kids is infinitely more enjoyable and rewarding than interacting with the students’ parents……

A bit about each performer:

Nick O’Connell kicked proceedings off, and set a fantastic pace and rhythm for the evening. Originally from Adelaide, O’Connell shifted across to Melbourne and landed work in a school on the suburban fringe. Much of Nick’s routine is based on the very difficult circumstances faced by schools in these outer suburban areas. The fact that he looks like a private school lad doesn’t work in his favour amongst his more streetwise charges.

Nick’s style oozes confidence. Some of the lines come out sounding a bit plastic or clinical, but his observations are sharp, and there’s just enough self deprecation in there to win the audience over. His rhythm was thrown out once he found out there was a school-aged child in the audience. I’m sure it was his teacherly instincts that kicked in, with his primary concern turning to whether his material might be damaging to the child’s wellbeing. Thankfully, he soldiered on and everyone was better for the experience.

Up next was Billie Duncan. Billie is also from Adelaide now working in Melbourne (does Melbourne import all its teachers?). But as a fantastic counter-point to Nick, Billie works in the private school sector, so was able to relate a very different set of experiences and challenges.

I wonder if it is her work as a teacher that makes Billie so comfortable with crowd work? She brings to the stage a confident and brashness that I’m sure would make many in the private school system wince. I came away convinced that her life in comedy provides much needed catharsis from her daily workplace!

A lovely part of her routine involved her sharing some of her students’ work – much of it hilarious – and she finished her time with us by sharing a heart-felt email from an ex-student. Great stuff.

Rounding out the evening was Josh Webb. Josh was a Raw Comedy finalist 2017, surprisingly not from Adelaide. As the only substitute teacher in the show, his material was based around a completely different set of experiences and perspectives on teaching – much of it on an ‘all care and no responsibility’ theme.

Josh has a delightfully dry and unassuming delivery. His perfectly understated observations are mixed in with some purposefully cringe-worthy word play. This is very funny work, from a young performer you should definitely keep an eye on.

The Joy of Working with Children and Other Lies is a welcome contribution to the 2019 Melbourne Fringe. It gives three very impressive young comedians a chance to strut their stuff, delivering material which is obviously very close to their hearts.

The Joy of Working with Children and Other Lies is playing in the Small Room at Coopers Inn until September 27

This Is Our Pilot by Annie Lumsden and Lena Moon

By Lisa Clark 

In a Fringe Festival full of weird and crazy things, it’s almost refreshing to sit down to a good old-fashioned sketch comedy show. Annie Lumsden and Lena Moon in their first outing as a duo prove to be so good at it, that they make it seem effortless.

This Is Our Pilot is about two friends pitching their ideas for a TV show to an invisible “Mr Big TV Man” but it’s really about poking fun at TV shows and friendship. The theme song from Friends is playing as house music. (what is the sudden obsession with this long extinct sitcom?) There is quite a nostalgic vibe to the sketches, like a cross between Fast Forward and Big Girls Blouse, where a lot of them would sit nicely. The great thing about mainstream TV is that it’s a shared cultural experience. Even if you don’t watch Love Island you know what it is because you have seen the adverts or cross promotions or heard people talking/joking about it and so Annie & Lena can do a sketch knowing that we will all get the joke of it, which they set in Greek Mythology with the girls playing Sirens.

Sketches send up Gardening shows, game shows (Millionaire), Marie Kondo (“Organise your Shit”), Queer Eye, a music show which is used to introduce a song about working in a café and café culture on the Ukulele played by Annie and Sunrise and its dreadful advertorials. “Blend Her” was a particularly hilarious advertorial send up using real portable blenders on stage. A highlight for me was “Toilet Roulette” which was a hilarious disgusting dissection of a social taboo, demonstrating how terrifying public toilets can be.

The pair have a lovely rapport and perform brilliantly as a team. Annie tends to be the Straight person / person in authority and Lena the 2nd Banana / silly one. They prove that classic comedy tropes can still work and even manage to make a fart joke that feels fresh. Under all the accessible, charming silliness is an obvious politically awareness that remains feminist while also exploring how female relationships can occasionally be toxic.

I needn’t say ‘hit and miss’ because you can say this about any sketch comedy, including Python. The laugh rate for This Is Our Pilot is impressively high. This is a very strong debut and is recommended to any Mr Big type TV People out there looking for new up and coming comedy talent.

Annie Lumsden and Lena Moon perform This Is Our Pilot at The Coopers Inn til Sept 27

Showko: Occasions

By Peter Newling  

Fringe info refers to the Music Room at the Fringe Hub (Melbourne Trades Hall) as ‘our most isolated venue’. And I think this is a reasonable description. Not located within the beautiful old Trades Hall complex, if you head outside and up a desolate stair case, you’ll eventually find it at the end of a couple of poster-bedecked hallways.

It was delightful, then, having found the venue, to come inside and be greeted by a techie rocking out to a Japanese version of “Holding Out For A Hero”. Showko is a high energy act, and it appears that her energy has rubbed off onto her crew.

There is no doubt that Showko (Showko Showfukutei) is very good at what she does. I certainly have no claim to being an expert in ventriloquism, but she certainly ticked all the boxes that this audience member expects of a ventriloquist – a great range of voices, movement-free lips, and a great relationship with her audience and ‘co-stars’. And hey, you don’t get to be a finalist on Australia’s Got Talent (2016) unless you’re good at your craft.

I can’t imagine how hard it would be to ventriloquise in one’s second language. Or to sing in a range of voices. But this very experienced performer handled these challenges with great humour and enthusiasm. Whilst admiring the technique, I found some of the content a bit clunky. Some of the gags felt a bit dated or predictable. It’s definitely old school stuff. Billed as kooky and off-beat, I found it a far more gentle kind of humour – nothing biting or vicious or crude. But she does show that a fondness for a fart gag is universal.

Some of the sketches went on a bit too long, and some of the audience involvement was a bit awkward, but Showko’s natural charm and warmth lets her get away with it. Her energy is infectious. She has the enthusiasm of a kids’ party performer. And the finale requires abs of steel.

Always an admirer of brave wardrobe choices, I noticed that Showko has chosen a much more spiky outfit than one would expect of one working with inflatable co-stars.

If you have a liking for old-school comedy styles, gags and routines, head across to the Music Room and meet Showko and her friends. Who knows – you may become one of her co-stars.

Showko – Occasions is playing  Sept 24 – 29 at the Fringe Hub: Trades Hall – Music Room 

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Gillian English – You’re A Good Man Doctor Pirate

By Peter Newling 

Gillian English is a self-described Canadian immigrant living in Tasmania. Her offering for this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival traces her journey from small-town Nova Scotia to the suburbs of Hobart, and the role a clairvoyant-to-the-stars played in the journey.

In a dynamite 55 minutes, English explores the role of fate in our lives – however you choose to hear about it – through clairvoyance, astrology, religion, fairy tales and folklore, or through the predictions of friends and family. She explores the notions of destiny and self-fulfilling prophecy, and how we choose to respond to (or reject) what the universe has in store for us.

Most importantly, this is laugh out loud stuff.

English is first and foremost an amazingly accomplished story teller. She has a breathtaking, rapid fire style that is in equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. If you want to see a display of the mastery of the half beat pause for comic effect, here it is.

It’s a very ‘look at me’ style of comedy (is that the Sagittarius or the Gemini side winning?). It’s brash, confident, high energy and relentless. And the silver sparkly outfit immediately lets you know where your focus needs to be.

The narrative of her verbal tour of her journey to Tasmania, and her search for what’s been promised to her, has been finely crafted and honed. She is able to create amazingly clear mental images of the people who are on the journey with her – including her mum, her friends, her housemates and her partner.

What does the title of the show mean? Well, you’ll just have to go along and find out. It’s a show that deserves a bigger audience than Tuesday night at the Fringe was able to attract!

Gillian English – You’re A Good Man Doctor Pirate is playing Sept 24 – 27 at Coopers Inn t 8:40pm.

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5 Good Reasons to See Tom Skelton: Blind Eye Spy

1. BREXIT: Want to see how Britain and Europe will fare in 2023 after Boris’ Big Brexit?

2. BLINDNESS: I’m blind but I also want to be a spy. Come and see my dream come true!

3. BERLIN:  Berlin, oh Berlin. Meine Lieblingsstadt (apart from Melbourne obviously, Berlin’s southern twin!). See me munch Currywurst, drink Rauchbier, and speak ‘ein Bisschen Deutsch’ in this ode to my ancestry and this most brilliant city. Visit Europe from the comfort of the Cooper’s Inn!

4. BELLY LAUGHS: You’ll certainly have these (I have decided to make all of these begin with B so must plough on).

5. BEER. The Germans love beer. Even more than the British.I hear the Aussies love it too. That’s got me covered from all angles! So beer features in the show. I drink it on stage and you can drink it in the audience. So join me for a beer before, during or after the show. Prost!

Tom Skelton performs Blind Eye Spy at The Coopers Inn until Sept 27

The Briefing by Melissa McGlensey

By Lisa Clark 

Most American comedy TV shows are (unsurprisingly) doing satire about the Trump regime, some good, some painful. It is a surprise to find something that feels somewhat fresh, smart with a local angle to it, covering this territory in a more sophisticated way at Melbourne Fringe. Melissa McGlensey plays President Trump’s former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pretty straight. Not quite as bored and terse as the real thing but much more entertaining.

Melissa doesn’t just ape the Press Secretary and repeat variations of her actual words, she has made up some extreme versions of what might be happening in the White House, added Australian angles and thrown in a bit of impro and audience participation to boot. We the audience are playing the part of the “Ladies and Gentlemen of the press” and with my reviewer’s notepad and pen in hand, it wasn’t too hard to play my part. The impro doesn’t feel shoehorned in. It adds to the show and shows off Melissa’s skills. Though, in hindsight it can be a little hard to tell what is real and what is pre-planned and that is part of the magic of showbiz.

The Briefing isn’t simply about making fun of Sarah or Trump, it also pokes fun at dark parts of Australia’s own politics, garnering some gasps and shocked laughs from the audience. Most impressively the show refers to recent political events, for example the burning of the rainforests and even something that had happened the day before. It’s the sort of show that can change and adapt as the news of the world happens. Not every joke is going to land on opening night, but not only do the majority land, there are a lot of big fat guffaws to be enjoyed.

Props must go to Melissa’s director, the tech who made everything go pretty smoothly for a first show and particularly to her side kick an actor who plays her body guard Gumbo quietly and brilliantly. There were a lot of fantastic small details and surprises. It was all a lot of fun.

This is a brilliant example of political comedy. Much better than anything produced by SNL for example. It was particularly impressive considering it was a preview and the 1st time she’s performed it anywhere. There was a bit of a slip of the tongue in this show that proved to be priceless and had everyone falling about. I hope she keeps it in. Melissa also made a quip referring to the noisy hoons of Lygon St that were drowning her out at one part of the show, showing that she’s pretty tough and ready for whatever Fringe throws at her. I hope it throws great audiences and accolades, she deserves it.

Melissa McGlensey performs The Briefing at Universal Restaurant til Sept 24