The old adage ‘You get what you pay for’ isn’t always true at the Comedy Festival. Some of the best gigs I’ve ever seen cost less than you’d pay for two bowls of ramen, while occasionally headline acts at The Town Hall and Hi-Fi bar have left me underwhelmed, bitter and vengeful. So when an international star like Dara O’Briain rocks up at Hamer Hall for two shows only, charging $70 – $80 a head, the value-seeker inside me wants him to be next level funny. So hilarious that I would willingly sacrifice a dozen bowls of ramen, if only to spend another hour in his company. Measured against those lofty standards, Dara O Briain was worth every cent.
He’s just a complete pro. There’s no other word for it. From the moment he bounds onto the stage, 8ft tall, bald and boggle-eyed, the sounds of Basement Jaxx’s ‘Do Your Thing’ pumping in the background, he’s got the audience right where he wants them. He doesn’t let go for the next two hours.
As someone who grew up watching Dara on QI and Mock The Week, I’d always considered him solid and quick-witted, a good addition to any panel, but never the genuine standout. On stage though he’s unshackled from the quiz show format, free to do what he does best: ramble, stutter, gesticulate and bounce off the audience, his Irish tongue tangling itself in his trademark style, words fusing and colliding between his teeth. In fact it’s his high-energy audience participation that gets some of the night’s biggest laughs. “The front row are always in I.T.” he moans, before discovering (with genuine delight) a gravedigger, a debt collector and a guide for Launceston’s tram museum, one after the other. “Do you have a favourite tram?” Dara asks the guy, only half ironically, “Do you save it for the end of the tour?”
The material itself, on paper, isn’t anything mind-blowing. There’s some stuff there on the taxonomy of the humble koala, a few gentle digs at Sydney that get a rise from the Melbourne crowd, and anecdotes about the misunderstandings that arise when you’re moderately famous (a story about hijacking a stranger’s camera for a celeb selfie, was particularly good). But honestly, when you’re this confident, and your timing is this sweet, the substance of the jokes doesn’t really matter. I’d happily sit and listen to Dara talk for 60 minutes on the merits and drawbacks of his favourite socks. His talent is storytelling, and connecting with a crowd, and he does those things better than most of the big-name acts I’ve seen. Start saving those pennies now – with any luck he’ll be back in a year or two.
Dara O Briain’s run has finished