Suns of Fred : Excited!

By Colin Flaherty

Three guys and a guitar has been a staple of musical comedy over the years so it’s important to differentiate your trio from what has come before. In the case of Suns of Fred (Sly, Micky J and Foxy), they have crafted a show with high energy dancing and choreography that’s tighter than a duck’s rear end. Even though they can sing up storm, it’s a shame that their attention to detail in the songs didn’t match that of the dancing.

Although there was the odd amusing line to be found and chuckles of recognition to be had through parodied song-lines, most of their tunes were one joke songs that often read like a laundry list of mildly amusing words thrown together to fit the theme. Thankfully most of the songs were relatively short thus reducing the tedium. The theory of the guitar being an automatic applause machine sadly held true here as each song ended with overly-flourished bows awaiting our Pavlovian response.

There were plenty of lewd lines to titillate and homoerotic innuendo, but their lyrics and banter were ham-fisted and lacked any finesse. When attempting to go to some dark places, they were quite crude and blunt; being shocking for the sake of it. These lines stopped a song dead in its tracks as the audience audibly recoiled at the abhorrent nature of it with a smattering of nervous laughter. They didn’t attempt to soften the blow with a witty comment, usually just ploughing on with the rest of the song.

Other times it was Foxy’s series of one liner Dad Jokes set to music that successfully played on his character’s lack of wit and provided nice little quiet interludes. A mimed rollercoaster ride, also set to music, was an amusing highlight that didn’t overplay things too much.

Where Suns of Fred excelled was in the dancing and miming that provided the most humour. Their dance moves were flawless, constantly mugging for the crowd and faux harassing the girls in the front row. The running joke of Excited! high energy dancing was cute but only gave us titters of embarrassment. Synchronised hand actions to the song lyrics provided laughs where the words failed to.

From their matching hand decorated vests and funky haircuts to the character tropes (the dim one, the dangerous one and the pretty one), everything screamed “We want to be edgy and dangerous just like the Doug Anthony All Stars!” This trio even pulled out the done to death “band break up on stage” routine but didn’t do anything amusing, let alone original, with it. It got all the appropriate pantomime responses but the biggest laugh came from an audience member’s comment rather than anything they did.

There were a number of punters who were getting off on the boy’s shtick, laughing heartily throughout. If you’re in the mood for some simple puerile comedy with lots of colour and movement, this would be the perfect musical comedy junk food. However if you fancy something more substantial you’d be advised to look elsewhere.

Suns of Fred is on at Five Boroughs until April 19
http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/excited-suns-of-fred

Wizard Sandwiches : The Last Lunch

By Alanta Colley

This sketch comedy quintet, consisting of Stuart Daulman, Dylan Cole, Jarryd Clifford, Andrew Belsten and Jake Ludowyke breathe new life into a well populated genre with their particular brand of silly, frantic and charming sketch comedy.
Things started off a little touch and go, with fears that the sketch troupe were going to rely on tired old cultural stereotype tropes of various nationalities; Mexicans, French, Scottish, etc. for laughs. And while these caricatures did form a substantial part of the show’s content the performers do manage to transcend predictability and add new depth, character and surprises to them.

There are many highlights throughout this show. The scene where a stick transforms in the hand of the performer into all manner of objects was absolutely mesmerising; proving high-tech props aren’t necessary to capture the imaginations of the audience. There are some fantastically complex displays of word play that grow ever more ludicrous as they carry on, and are a testament to the preparation put in by the performers.

While the rules and regulations of how sketch must be enacted seem almost set in stone Wizard Sandwiches do bring several new items to the table. The method by which they merge one sketch into the next created a fun intertextuality between sketches; displayed skill of the performers in switching seamlessly between characters, and created a second or two of delightful confusion for the audience as they grew familiar with this new technique.

The crew complement each other nicely; each bringing a distinct persona to proceedings with no one member dominating time or focus across the performance. The constant revolution between characters kept the plot fresh and the audience engaged.

Following in the fine footsteps of tradition of Monty Python and the Goodies, but not as absurd or confronting as League of Gentleman or Tim and Eric, you’re guaranteed a night of fun, frivolous and frenzied comedy.

The Last Lunch is on at Trades Hall – The Music Room until April 20
http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/the-last-lunch-wizard-sandwiches

Simon Chugg is Living the Dream

By Alanta Colley

Simon Chugg has lived a life less ordinary. A black boy growing up in a white family. A restless soul always looking for a way to express itself. A curious spirit that has sojourned down many an unknown path looking for enlightenment. And a man who never lost the ability to laugh at himself, even when times were tough.

Chugg takes us back to the days of his childhood; his role models the heroes in the comics he read. He tells of the band he and his mates put together; a dubious homage to the heavy metal bands they worshiped. Chugg surprises us with some footage of the band’s epic performances. We learn of Chugg’s struggling days as an actor, being one of a handful of freelance actors who are black in Australia; and the stereotypes he was chronically cast as. We hear about his journeys down various avenues of spirituality. Woven through all Chugg’s narrative are dreams, both actual and metaphorical, which have played a hauntingly prophetic role in his life.

Chugg is warm and friendly with his audience; responding generously on this evening to interjections from the slightly inebriated audience. His life story is a unique one, and he presents it without excessively emphasising the trials or the triumphs, presenting them frankly and honestly.

This show was friendly and fun. The only drawbacks included the occasional dependence on pop culture references that left some of the audience behind. Chugg’s delivery also sounded a little too much like a memorised script, even though the content asked for a more conversational tone. But these were forgivable and all in all it was an enjoyable hour where we felt connected to Chugg.

This is a tale of friendship, adventure, laughing at shortcomings and set backs, and making the most of what you have. You’ll leave the venue with a spring in your step.

Living the Dream is on at Caz Reitops Dirty Secrets until April 19
http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/living-the-dream-simon-chugg-is

FanFiction Comedy

By Elyse Philips

The world of fan fiction is a terrifying one, where fans of TV shows, books and films love them so dearly, they’re unwilling to let them go and decide to give writing some more a red-hot go. Characters that should never get together fall madly in love. Universes that should stay firmly apart are fused. Stories that need no further explanation are drawn out until they are a shadow of their former selves. I mean, there’s Tetris fan fiction that exists for goodness sake. FanFiction Comedy (Nick Gibb, Steven Boyce, Heidi O’Loughlin, Eli Matthewson and Joseph Moore) steps into this often questionable world and brings the funny.

Each night, a different line-up of comedians, as well as the FanFiction crew, reads a work that they have written themselves set in a fandom of their choosing. On the evening I attended, we had readings from three of the FanFiction team and special guest Tom Ballard, with Nick Gibb hosting and running commentary from Steven Boyce.

The fandoms on display were diverse. Moore told a tale of Iron Man hooking up with his robotic butler JARVIS a la ‘Her’. O’Loughin teamed up the two greatest detectives known to man – Sherlock Holmes and Steve from Blues Clues. Matthewson showed just how messed up his imagination is with a Thomas the Tank Engine story that combined elements of The Island, Alien: Resurrection and a very Welsh-sounding Ringo Starr impersonation. Ballard’s work, a pitch for a Charmed film, clearly came from a place of true fandom. Before his script, we were treated to a thorough explanation of the Charmed universe and a heartfelt rendition of ‘How Soon Is Now’.

As hilarious as the stories are, the discussions between the readings are what really make this show. No matter how bizarre the fics get, their internal logic must be questioned. What exactly are the ramifications of JARVIS being able to control Iron Man’s suit? Is it the actual salt in Mr Salt that represents his being, or the salt shaker? Boyce’s sage wisdom from the sidelines was an absolute highlight – from his musings on philosophy (“Of course you can put your foot in the same river twice. One.Two.”) to regaling us about his daily ‘Sherlocking’ to find the bread in the cupboard.

These guys have a fantastic rapport and you get the feeling they’re having a great time up on stage. With a different show every night, you’re going to want to catch FanFiction Comedy as many times as you can.

FanFiction Comedy is on at Melb Town Hall – Cloak Room until April 20
http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/fanfiction-comedy

Ronny Chieng : Chieng Reaction

By Lisa Clark

Every year Ronny Chieng has been out-selling any room they can put him in and finally I got to find out why. He is just that good.

The stage backdrop for Chieng Reaction is his name RONNY in huge Broadway type lights that sets the scene for a big, bright energetic performance. The high status character Ronny has created around his own personality has eased into the role of Superstar beautifully and the audience are going with it, not just because of his charm and style but because he has the comedic talent to back it up.

Ronny talks a lot about the fame that has come to him and has some great touring tales, the best is about his family coming to see him perform in their home town of Singapore. There are also a lot of dating stories and we learn quite a bit about his background including going to school in the United States and of course his commerce law degree from the most prestigious law school in Australia. Ronny is on the way to being another comedy heavyweight who gave up medical, architecture and law careers for the life of a jester.

Watching someone being angry about stuff has always been funny but Ronny and his show are a lot more than that. His timing and comedy instincts are extraordinary and he’s worked on his persona so that there is light and shade and some self-depreciation. This was prominent in a fabulous routine about knowing that there will be people in the audience who have been dragged out and are hating his show. It suggests a very healthy outlook for a rising comedian and adds to his delightful grumpy attitude. I also loved an inclusive routine about people in the audience who have organised a group to come see the show. He works an audience impressively well and keeps them on side throughout.

This is Ronny’s third festival show, and although I’d seen him do impressive spots in rooms and on TV I’d not yet seen him do a full festival show, mostly because he’s sold out and I can’t get tickets. It’s a fantastic experience when a performer lives up to the hype, Ronny can certainly bring the funny but this goes alongside a strong work ethic that is always important for anyone serious about a comedy career. He is a born entertainer and will never regret giving up a career in law.

Unsurprisingly Ronny will be moving his show to a bigger room at the Melbourne Town Hall on the 18th and 19th of April at the new time of 6pm

Chieng Reaction is on at The Hi-Fi until April 20

http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/chieng-reaction-ronny-chieng

Tim Key : Single White Slut

By James Shackell

You can tell there’s a bit of quiet buzz surrounding this show. As I look around the Fairfax foyer pre-gig, I spot a few familiar faces: MICF institution Denise Scott, local funny man Tommy Dassalo (with youthful comedy Entourage in tow) and that guy from the RACV house-call ads. It fits with what I’ve read about Tim Key – the comedian’s comedian, the one other stand-ups go to see for inspiration, illumination and possibly because it’s a slow night mid-week.

Barry Award nominee, winner of the Edinburgh Comedy Award, and former Footlights member, Key comes with a serious pedigree. So it was with some excitement that I joined the star-studded audience at Single White Slut, the third of the very successful Slut Trilogy. I didn’t really know what to expect. Comedy? Poetry? Nouveau-meta art installations? Key is known for delivering up unorthodox and genre-warping shows and, sure enough, this was one of them.

We enter the auditorium to see Key on stage wearing a denim onesie, red socks and a smile. On stage is a bed, a Guinness can, two boots, a full mug of beer, a black filing cabinet and scattered playing cards. What follows is 80-odd minutes of some of the strangest anti-comedy you’ll ever see: a dark, elliptical tangle of short poems, anecdotes, audience participation and silent theatre. It’s a hard show to remember. Not forgettable, just intangible, like steam.

There were jokes in there somewhere. And a story about gouging Anne Hatheway’s eyes. Possible owls were mentioned. I’m sure at one point Key tried to have a threesome while listening to Michael Vaughn’s autobiography on audiobook. And something about a red balloon floating onto the stage…

Tim Key doesn’t tell jokes. And he doesn’t do punchlines. His poems are funny as hell, but always in an oblique and unexpected way. Some end like a knife in the dark, others like a truck between your eyes. All are completely bizarre, brilliant and unpredictable.

See this show now, then boast to your mates when it takes home a Barry.

Single White Slut is on at Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio until April 20
http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/single-white-slut-tim-key