Josh Earl – Square Peg

By Elyce Phillipsjosh Earl

Josh Earl has a history of struggling to fit in. From growing up in Tasmania to making friends as an adult, he’s always been a bit out of place. In Square Peg, Earl explores the idea of finding your tribe. Through a witty collection of songs and stories, we are transported through Earl’s life, right up to his stint as host of Spicks and Specks. It’s an interesting story that will have you laughing the whole way through.

Earl’s love of music is at the heart of this show – both in the story and in his performance. His musical talent is on display from the get-go. The songs in Square Peg are well-crafted and never fail to amuse, with their clever lyrics and fun melodies. A song from the perspective of a local footy club coach back in his home town of Burnie was a particular stand-out and a good representative of Earl’s style – sweetly funny, lovingly mocking and never punching down.

Although the songs form the backbone of Square Peg, the stand-up elements of the show are just as strong. Earl’s story about his discovery of Nick Cave had the audience in fits of laughter, helped along by some fantastic impersonations of his parents hosting a dinner party. A short play in the middle of the show is absolutely hilarious and was the highlight of the show for me. Earl’s on-stage persona is very likeable. He interacts with the audience well, drawing them in and even helping out-of-towners with the more obscure Australian pop culture references.

Square Peg is a heart-warming piece of work from a talented musical comedian. Earl’s storytelling is engaging, affable and above all, funny.  If you’ve ever felt out of place in the world, this show is for you.

Josh Earl – Square Peg is on at the Victoria Hotel until April 19

Sam Marzden – Peculiar Avenue

By Sofia Monkiewicz Sam Marzden

There are countless stand-up comedy shows in this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which is why it is refreshing when a comedian attempts something a little different.

Peculiar Avenue is an elaborate sketch comedy show, involving various stories and an abundance of characters all portrayed by the multitalented Sam Marzden. Over 30 characters are introduced during the course of the performance, each with distinct personalities and delightfully varied accents. Set at a mental asylum, we meet Doctor Christmas, the owner of the asylum who acts as a springboard for the two long sketches that the show is primarily focused on. Doctor Christmas is a strange, eerie fellow, who interacts with several sanatorium inmates before he plays them a murder mystery movie, which Marzden then acts out for his audience.

The movie sketch is a classic whodunit story, complete with murder, corruption, numerous motives, and several shocking secrets that are revealed under much suspense and spectacle. The characters are all suspicious: from Miss Feathertail who has experienced (and solved) over 3000 murder mysteries, to the nervous Commander Blank with his unsettling and creepy demeanour. Once the ‘movie’ finishes, the action returns to the asylum, where Doctor Christmas unwillingly brings our attention to faded singing sensation Johnny Witness who demands to communicate his story. Johnny’s segment is filled with catchy musical numbers, which describe his rise to fame with the help of a deal he made with the devil. This sketch is vastly more energetic than the previous scene, with bright lights, fast-paced dialogue, and a mixture of Elvis-inspired crooning and some very impressive rap.

The two central sketches are incredibly imaginative, with original and diverse characters, and compelling storylines. The murder mystery tale is quite difficult to follow at times, as the dialogue is extremely quick and there are so many characters to differentiate between. The whodunit genre does require sharp, snappy delivery in order to be effective, however the dialogue could afford to be slightly slowed down for clarity purposes, especially as there are so many accents to keep up with. While this story is well-structured and funny, it would benefit from some further editing, particularly during the final few minutes of the sketch.

Johnny Witness’ musical medley is brilliantly hilarious. This act really showcases Marzden’s singing abilities, and incorporates some truly funny gags to conclude the performance. With the help of an enthusiastic stage-side technician, who seamlessly controls music and lighting changes, this sketch is by far the highlight of the show.

Marzden is more of an actor than a comedian; he comfortably swaps from character to character, and he has memorised his script well. He does have the propensity to pace back and forth across the tiny stage during longer monologues, which is somewhat distracting, but that is just a minor issue to his performance style. My main criticism is that the show’s ending comes too suddenly; it would have made more structural sense to return to the asylum to tie everything up neatly, and so the end of the show comes across as a little abrupt.

Overall, Peculiar Avenue is an entertaining and original piece of theatre. Marzden has clearly found his comedy niche in character sketches, and his show matches his imagination in that it is vividly detailed, charmingly versatile and indeed peculiar.

Peculiar Avenue is on at The Downstairs Lounge @ The Grand Mercure Hotel until April 19.

Nicolette Minster – Inanimately

By Sofia MonkiewiczInanimately

Nicolette Minster has a fancy first name and a knack for guessing middle names. She is charming, articulate and slightly sarcastic, and has a bit of an obsession with her childhood security blanket.

Inanimately has a broad focus on people who have a sexual attraction to inanimate objects. Whether it be a ladder, a household appliance, or even an iconic landmark, Minster delves into the strange desires that people can have for generally undesirable items, and incorporates an array of stories into this interesting premise to a comedy festival show. From Erika Eiffel, who is married to the famous Parisian steel structure, to a woman named Emma who is in love with a tree, the show covers some interestingly odd material, funny mainly because of its utter absurdity.

Minster intertwines tales about boxing, raw food trends and, of course, her unnatural attachment to Blue Blanky; tales which don’t necessarily relate, but which are seamlessly incorporated into the proceedings. Several of the jokes and one-liners she tells resurface later on, tying everything together nicely. Clever wordplay is what drives this show forward, and her dry sense of humour keeps things entertaining. She seems to get some kind of twisted enjoyment out of luring her audience into what appears to be an innocent observation, and then conjuring up some crass imagery that generates a burst of shocked laughter. This is all part of her charm. Minster is self-deprecating and likeable, and welcomes a bit of laughter at her own expense.

The show is well written, with unfaultable timing and consistency. A reading of a romantic choose-your-own-adventure novel is very funny, and an attempt to slow dance with the much-loved blanket was a real comedic delight. Minster utilises a refrigerator on stage to add some variety to her word-heavy comedy, which does break things up a little, however the use of a loud vacuum cleaner in the opening of her show proves more distracting than comical.

Inanimately is engaging and fun, and while it isn’t necessarily a hysterical performance that will leave you breathless with laughter, it is certainly an amusing show that will leave you wanting to Google ‘objectum sexuality’ when you get home.

Nicolette Minster’s Inanimately is on at the Forum Theatre until April 19.

Damian Cowell Hara-Karaoke

By Lisa Clark Damian Cowell

In early 2015 it was announced that for the first time, for some inexplicable reason, Australia was going to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest. There were lots of ideas for who should represent our great and distant southern land but one name rose out of the throng. “Send TISM” the people cried and despite the fact that TISM hadn’t performed together since 2006, a petition was created and signed, by thousands. Unfortunately it looks like TISM has not been chosen, but in Hara-Karaoke ex TISM (This is Serious Mum) singer Damian Cowell imagines; what would happen if they were?

The answer to that is a low fi dystopian sci fi musical set in the distant future of 2525. Damian is giving us the hour long concert version of “Eurovision Ruined My Life – The musical” and the first song ‘Where are They Now – 2015’, sets the scene. The world and Damian’s life is going into a bit of a tragic decline. Further songs describing his fall into debauchery and disgrace include an insightful attack on the gambling industry and a surprisingly romantic tune about his relationship with Danni who works at Dan Murphy’s bottle shop.  He also manages to pop in some top tunes from his current album ‘Jesus Barista Superstar’ and ‘Folk Music Turned me Into a Fascist’.

Last time I saw Damian Cowell it was a few months ago at the Corner Hotel as he debuted his current disco-themed album Damien Cowells Disco Machine with all the trimmings, a fab band that included two sets of drums (like Adam & the Ants), two gorgeous backup girl singers who played various instruments and a slew of guest performers like Shaun Micallef and Tony Martin, who appear on his album. There were disco balls, lights, costumes and screens showing lyrics and pictures. At the centre of it all was the charismatic, gracefully aging rock star Damian Cowell, occasionally fiddling with his laptop. At last year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival Damian performed as DC3 with two band members and a sound and visual show that bombarded the audience overloading us with information. Hara-Karaoke is a completely stripped back affair. Just Damian and his laptop from which he controls projections of lyrics and some pictures in a small room. Everything is focused and clear which is perfect to bring his brilliant comedy to the fore.

Along with the vicious satire and the killer songs Damian often surprises with some rather adorable silliness and traditional jokes.  I enjoyed his ‘honest adverts’, not a new idea but well executed and is at the heart of Damian’s comedy mindset. A direct, angry, politically left look at the society around him. The darkest he gets is in his musings on mortality in ‘Fuck, I’m dead’ and his naff impression of Guy Sebastian singing one of TISM’s filthiest songs is definitely worth the price of admission. TISM fans will be sated by the finale created especially for them.

Damian Cowell is doing searing political musical comedy. He’s might be new to the comedy world but he’s been doing it for years and knows how to entertain an audience. Bring your brains to this one and jump into the boiling mire, you’re in the dexterous hands of a legend.

Damian Cowell – Hara-Karaoke is on at The Forum until April 19

Kitty Flanagan : Seriously?

By Luke SimmonsKitty Flanagan

Seriously? is Kitty Flanagan’s latest show that focuses on tales of relationship breakdowns and issues associated with being a single, pet loving female – who’s completed 40+ laps around the sun. The ground she’s covering isn’t new, but she demonstrates the delivery skills that’d suggest she could talk for an hour about Accounting and have people in tears!

Although she’d hate to admit it, Flanagan’s now classed as a veteran on the Australian comedy circuit and she’s built up a solid following thanks to her work in the media throughout the last 15 years. And based on this performance, she’ll be around for many years to come.

She strode out to the Arts Centre stage and immediately set the show in motion by talking about the description on her Wikipedia page that almost accuses her of remaining single just for the comedic material it provides. She did a bad job of refuting the fact as she then took the packed crowd through the first (of many) relationship disaster stories.

Some may suggest her humour is “female” centric (well she’s not going to do comedy about living life as a purple puppet), but the jokes have the power to ensure she could wet pants at a mining show in rural WA. In fact, she has the ability to out-Alf Stewart Alf Stewart on the Aussie stakes when she switches into put down mode.

The central story that she wove in and out of during the night related to her relationship with a particular ex as she relayed hilarious insights into what went wrong. In fact, she brought herself close to the audience by really opening up. A standout gag relates to how she had a difference in opinion when it came to cleaning his underpants. This is worth the admission price!

She ended the performance as she did a previous show, she brought out her talented sister Penny on guitar and they played her new song, “Middle Aged Lady”, which proved to be an apt finale. The opening night of Kitty Flanagan’s MICF offering for 2015 was simply superb. It flowed beautifully, and has a story structure that would be fit for a TV special.

Seriously? is on at Melbourne Arts Centre (Playhouse) until April 19

Lauren Bok, Chelsea Hughes & Megan Mckay : Wander Women

By Lisa ClarkWander Women

Up in the air! Is it Wonder Woman? No but it’s still pretty cool. It’s Wander Women a great little sketch show by three talented comedians who want to share their Superpower skills at travelling with anyone who wants to join them on their journey.

Those hoping for anything more of the fab 1970s Wonder Woman than its catchy theme tune might be a little disappointed but fear not, the Wander Women have an entertaining show in store. Lauren Bok from Live on Bowen, Megan Mckay (a 2012 National Finalist at RAW Comedy) and Chelsea Hughes from America are our Super Hosties providing the in-flight entertainment on an imaginary flight into the world of travelling, travel nightmares, and tourists from hell. They also share their travelling Super Powers with us

The girls begin where we all begin with packing for the trip and end the tour with a very modern way to end holidays, adding reviews to Trip Advisor. The Superhero ‘Travelator’ saves us from travel stress with a very edifying and amusing lecture on packing tips. The Wander Women also advise us on how travel can make or break a relationship, what not to wear and warn us against Delhi belly.

Their satire of the insensitive tourist whose priority is getting the ‘right’ photo for their social media site was a little dark but spot on and had a cracking tag. As did the pun-laden gameshow with the delightfully surreal element of a jar of chutney as a contestant. Why not? The Contiki tour guide could’ve been more stressed out but was a great low key way to involve the audience. The ‘Dance of the Luggage Liquids’ was a highlight though things could’ve gotten messier, but then maybe I’ve been influenced by seeing way too much of Dr Brown & Sam Simmons and this is definitely not that show.

There were a lot of really fresh and fabulous ideas here and the performers worked well together considering this was their first outing. My main suggestions would be that each of them concentrate on creating stronger (& sillier) characters. The travel insurance phone room would’ve benefitted from some interesting characters and the TripAdvisor interrogators could’ve been more extreme. Lauren Bok in silly wig has fun as one of the ‘Tourist Fashion Police” but the others don’t seem to have put much work into their characterisations and the whole thing is not vicious enough. Though it’s pretty hard to out-bitch such a nasty reality concept I guess.

The audio visual component was excellent and a perfect accompaniment to the live performances without ever overshadowing or outstaying it’s welcome. The idea of breaking up the show with three sets of three genuine holiday snaps was perfect and the ‘un-happy snaps’ were particularly funny. The finale was also inspired, the girls had a lot of work put into it and it’s definitely one of the best finales at this year’s comedy festival.

Wander Women is a pretty nice way of spending an hour at the Comedy Festival and there are a few bang on belly laughs among the titters, groans and smiles of recognition. The ratio could go up if they really threw everything in and ramped it up a notch, so there is heaps of potential here in this debut work. It’s certainly enjoyable for experienced travellers and we learned some serious super powered packing skills.

Wander Women is on at The Portland Hotel until April 19