By Hooi Khaw
After judging more than 1000 entrants, Raw Comedy brings 12 national finalists to the stage to compete for the opportunity to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The Raw Comedy National Grand Final is hosted by the amicable Ivan Aristeguieta who is warm and personable, and keeps the energy high for all of the contestants throughout the show.
Gavin Sempel starts the show, immediately getting the audience onside with commentary about his slender appearance, moving onto humorous anecdotes from his life. Having seen his set at the state finals, there is something in his delivery that is still joyfully entertaining to watch the second time around.
Sian Smyth follows next, with some polarizing punch lines. The topics span from social work, to porn, to Gandhi, and she provokes both cheers and groans from the audience at different points.
The third contestant is Jane New, whose distinctive stage persona could be easily attributed to nerves. She distinguishes herself as a writer, rather than a comedian, and she gets sprinkled laughter as the crowd warms to her particular brand of humour.
Alex Hall-Evans starts the second bracket speaking of sexiness, and his humour seems typically millennial. Hall-Evans interacts well with the crowd, and generously applies hyperbole to get the laughs.
Next up is Emma Holland who uses a paper fortuneteller to warm up the crowd. She succeeds with weirdly specific questions, and the genius is in the deliberately warped assumptions inherent in those questions. Holland then moves onto translating emojis for the crowd, and the explanations get progressively more absurd as she cycles through them.
Scout Boxall follows next, specializing in earnest set ups, which are then contrasted with on the nose absurdity. The laughs come from hitting the target of the criteria that Boxall has set, but also from the weird exploration of the themes, and the contrast between them. Boxall is a standout, closing her set with the only musical number of the show.
Bronwyn Kuss is deadpan in discussing body image and self esteem, but there is something unconvincing in the delivery that the audience struggles to relate to.
Next, Emo bursts onto the stage with a strong stage presence, interacting with the crowd, and mining themes of race, and sex for comedy. Although the material is not the most original from the night, Emo gets the crowd laughing with his charisma and classic jokes.
Ryan McArthur follows with his set focused on awkward experiences. The first example lands well, and the audience audibly relates. From there it starts to feel more like someone venting about experiences that they can’t let go of, and the audience is unwilling to follow McArthur down this path of indulgence.
Matthew Vasquez starts the last bracket with some racial humour relating to his South American heritage. Vasquez’s style is distinctive, in that he seems to say a punch line, and hold for applause or laughter. It’s surprising to see how often this pays off, and you can hear the audience catching up with Vasquez’s thoughts as pockets of laughter start bursting in the crowd during the pause.
Bec Melrose delivers one of the more varied sets of the night. With cleverly constructed jokes, Melrose explores issues of gender, politics, and productivity with a clear point of view.
The last contestant for the night is Kevin Jin, who speaks mostly about race and dating. Although these topics are frequently visited in stand up, Jin is still able to surprise and delight with his take on these. Jin has an affable style, and his comedy is easy to enjoy.
Without spoiling the big reveal for when the Raw Comedy National Grand Final is aired on SBS, it is safe to say that there was fierce competition this night, and throughout the state level heats. Although only one lucky winner gets the prize of a trip to Edinburgh, it’s clear that there is a bright future ahead of all of these brave, funny, and clever stand ups.
Raw Comedy National Grand Final was on April 15 at The Melbourne Town Hall.