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

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

Xander Allan : Fashion

By Colin Flaherty

Xander Allen is a man of contradictions. A self described dog person, he has quite a few routines involving cats. He boasts of being immensely lazy yet a hell of a lot of work has gone into his debut Comedy Festival show Fashion and what an impressive debut it is.

As promised we got tales of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and of course fashion but they are not as decadent as you would expect from this colourful fellow. Allen may look like a cocky rockstar come comedian but he regales us with hilarious tales of misadventure and circumstance, with the odd wacky theory thrown in, rather than telling us of his conquests and what he thinks we need to know. On paper his set list may look like one belonging to every other 20/30 something comedian but he gives everything a unique spin and takes us to wholly unexpected and immensely fun places.

Allen keeps himself lower status throughout which perfectly suits his persona as a laid back dude going with the flow, as life throws all sorts of crazy challenges his way. We get plenty of amusingly original metaphors expanded to their logical conclusion. His 80’s rock and 90’s movie references do require prior knowledge to get the most out of them but he delivers them with such confidence that you go with he train of thought regardless. Wild stories with a cast of colourful characters are highly entertaining as he re-enacts the scenarios with plenty of colour and movement. Often he follows his bits up with a comical exclamation to the heavens to add a silly cherry on top.

A fascinating and engaging performer, Allen has delivered the goods (certainly helped with a similarly billed show at Melbourne Fringe as warm up). The forty five minutes spent in his company seemed to fly by and we could have easily listened to him for twice that. He’s already nailed the golden rule of show-business; always leave them wanting more.

Fashion is on at the Imperial Hotel until April 20

Jack Druce : Adventure Peach

By Alanta Colley

Jack Druce is a decent, upright, sort of fellow. As he points out he has an uncanny resemblance to the archetypal wholesome 1950’s boy as depicted in American adverts for Coca Cola or a diner. One couldn’t imagine such a figure having any less than pure thoughts and ambitions.

Playing off this archetype Druce examines the concepts of bravery and adventure; synonymous with the boy hero of Tin Tin and other comics of Druce’s youth. What does bravery mean in a modern day context? How does one imbue adventure in their day to day lives? There’s comedy in the contrast between Druce’s confessed passion for bravery and adventure and his gentle on stage persona.

Druce tells the tales of love that didn’t quite eventuate, and the perils of dating. He compares the ideals of being the sort of person who can talk to complete strangers, with the outcomes of run ins with the world’s more eccentric characters in public. Rather than hunting baddies or discovering buried treasure; Druce’s adventures tend to be more about what he finds in a refrigerator, job opportunities he finds on Gumtree, missing something live on the internet, or discovering the rules you’ve been playing a game by your whole life aren’t universally accepted.

This show holds plenty an anecdote, and the self aware Druce reflecting on how the situations he finds himself in look like to an outside examiner. This is not dramatic or life changing comedy; Druce focuses more on the more tiny details of life than the snowy peaks. In this sense Druce’s comedy is quite relatable. This isn’t a big laugh show, but it is pleasant enough.

A gentle and genial night of comedy.

Adventure Peach is on at Trades Hall and Melb Town Hall until April 20

Reginald D Hunter : Wake In Sleight

By Noel Kelso

Familiar to most people through his appearances on UK panel shows such as QI, American comic Reginald D. Hunter returns to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival with his new show Wake In Sleight – an hour of thoughtful, hilarious, sometimes provocative and occasionally touching humour.

Appearing on stage in total darkness before the lights rise to reveal him standing behind the mic, ready to start the evening, Hunter begins his show by saying that a lot of people seem offended by his material and that he is clearly being misinterpreted by those people. This prompts the first ripple of laughter from the packed auditorium of the Forum theatre.

Without missing a beat Hunter then launches into some material about the case of a certain paralympian who is currently facing serious charges in South Africa. The audience is already putty in his hands as they laugh heartily to his musings on this media spectacle, drawing parallels with the OJ Simpson case of some years previous.

This is a performer clearly at home on stage in front of a large audience who can judge just how far he can take his humour before pulling back. Along the way he also makes references to local personalities and locations which make the show all the more inclusive and give a sense that here is a man who takes the time to get to know his audience.

We learn that Hunter has a large family in which he is the youngest of nine children and of his rivalry with one of his brothers, a successful Doctor. His relaxed, conversational style allows him to breezily cover subjects such as rudeness, white middle-class race guilt, marriage and how best to compliment a woman with ease and humour whilst also making some astute observations and pointed comments on society.

A word of warning to those offended by the n-word – Hunter uses it a lot during the show simply as a descriptor for people. Not just black people, but everyone. Rather in the same manner that the average Aussie might use the word ‘bloke’.

His observations on how national psyches differ are accurate and very funny indeed with many in the audience laughing in recognition at his description of the Australian version compared to that of the US or Britain.

He ends the evening with a lovely tale concerning his adventures with his elderly father and of the attention this nonagenarian received in the fancy hotels at which they stayed.

Wake In Sleight is on at the Forum Theatre – Downstairs until April 20

Michael Hing : Bildungsroman At 28

By Sofia Monkiewicz

There are many shows in this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival that involve stories and jokes about love: dating, relationships, breakups, flirting, the list goes on. Sydney-based comedian Michael Hing has taken his inclusion of love-related experiences somewhat further in his 2014 show Bildungsroman At 28; he has based its entire premise on love, in particular with one girl from his past.

Hing begins his show by discussing the true definition of love. Is love about helping someone you care about with menial tasks, or is it more about taking incredible risks for that one person you adore most? When he divulges his personal definition of love – that it is an emotion that always ends in heartbreak – we begin to get a clear idea of what the theme of this story is going to be. The word ‘bildungsroman’ is a German word for ‘coming of age’, and Bildungsroman At 28 refers to Hing’s better-late-than-never tale of growing up, falling in love and learning some valuable life lessons.

This likeable, jittery 28-year-old is a fast-talking and feisty storyteller with some sharp one-liners and poignant anecdotes, some of which hit you right in the feelings. He comes across as incredibly sweet and genuine, which helps to capture the interest and empathy of his audience as he builds beautiful moments alongside some conventional light-hearted humour. Every line in this show is well-thought out and contributes to a simple and charming story arc; such as which stands apart from any other show in the festival.

Hing’s 5,000-word description about what he needs in a girlfriend (including 50 movies she is required to have watched, musical interests and national pianist accreditation) is highly amusing and his detailed descriptions of his attempts to seduce his perfect girl induce a mixture of laughter and cringing from the crowd. A terrifying goblin impersonation and his efforts at pretending he is a serial killer are also worth a mention, as well as an entertaining discussion of dating deal-breakers.

Bildungsroman At 28 is not only a comedy show about love; it is also an emotional narrative about love. For a 28-year-old who admits he knows absolutely nothing about this broadly defined emotion, Michael Hing has produced a bittersweet love story that will undoubtedly pull on the heartstrings of every punter that takes a chance on his show, as well as induce many chuckles throughout.

Bildungsroman At 28 is on at the Forum Theatre – Pizza Room until April 20