By Colin Flaherty
One of the cardinal rules of stand up is that you never blame the audience for not laughing but Ronny Chieng has come up with method of doing so while keeping the crowd on side. This is the magic of The Ron Effect. In his festival debut, Ronny presents a hour of polished stand up that ensures that energy levels are kept near eleven.
Ronny has devised a fascinating stage persona that is equal parts aggressive, naïve, over confident and possessing few social boundaries. All those elements are presented in a hilariously heightened manner that is a sharp contrast to the mild mannered guy he initially appears to be. Paired with a tight script, this results in a show full of laughs, twists and turns.
The material itself covers many standard observational themes, but when filtered through his character it is something special. The naivety produces some amusing literal interpretations while the aggressiveness produces some surprising left turns. He goes to some taboo areas that cause the audience to be torn between laughing at the ridiculous natural of it and stifling guilty titters after recognising that these extreme ideas have some warped merit. There is some truth embedded in the jokes (for example, his story about Rottnest Island and his real scar) but they reach some dizzying heights of absurdity through the telling.
Audience interactions take on a gladiatorial feel when tackled this way. Most questions posed to the crowd are merely there to confirm his viewpoint and the startled reactions from the punters aid this. When people eventually figure out how to respond to him and feedback starts to flow, it allows Ronny to deviate from the script and venture into unknown territory. Ronny even surprises himself at to where it leads and comes close to breaking character.
It was interesting to see that Ronny has devised some merchandise that is heavily related to material within the show. It makes for an amusing segment during the in-show spiel but ensures that the products will make absolutely no sense to anyone who haven’t seen the show. Perhaps it’s an inside joke only for those in the know, who will hopefully be in the majority by the end of the festival, as this is a brilliant show.
The Ron Way is on at the Evatt Room at Trades Hall
By Lisa Clark
When word got out that the urbane Sir Bob Franklin and Steven Gatesy Gates from Tripod were teaming up for a festival show this year, you could virtually hear minds boggling all over town. If you enjoy having your mind boggled, this one is definitely for you.
The delightful and surprising thing was discovering what a great team Franklin and Gates make; with Bob unsurprisingly as the straight man and Gates as the comic side kick. Gatesy has taken his dumb and cute character from Tripod and augmented it to the point where he occasionally reminds me of Ardal O’Hanlon in Father Ted in being able to elicit laughs from looking confused. Their banter is the highlight of the show and their ability to deal with the odd technical fault gets such huge laughs that maybe they should leave those bits in.
Stubborn Monkey Disorder is a very tech heavy theatrical piece that sets up a spooky, gothic vibe by beginning in the dark with torchlight and sound effects. The opening creates the expectation of a horror story, especially with the brief flash of one of the performers in a wolf mask that suggests a werewolf story, which sadly never eventuates. There are definitely Hammer elements throughout though, with references to sinister doctors, dungeons and the tale of grave robbers Burke and Hare. The surprisingly satirical elements, especially when having digs at reality TV and the TV industry as a whole, are particularly gleeful.
The problem with the show is that are were so many plots over lapping and interweaving that it can be hard to keep up. There is a dream sequence within a story in particular that feels superfluous as I expected it to be somehow tied in at the end, but it is not. The Meta story involves Gates, having recently performed a failed reality show with Franklin, breaking into the studio where it was filmed. He discovers that Franklin has taken on the persona of a Scottish psychiatrist Dr Hugh Knox; with Gates and the audience suddenly finding ourselves taking part in a group therapy session. I think. I suspect this is a sort of re-enactment of their failed reality show, but it’s not quite clear.
Importantly, Bob Franklin and Steven Gates are so damn funny and adorable and the stories so intriguing and amusing that if you are fans you should not miss this and anyone else will probably have a fun time even if they’re not sure why. I don’t know if it’s a concious influence on them but I think Inception has a lot to answer for.
Bob Franklin & Steven Gates – Stubborn Monkey Disorder is on at The Melbourne Town Hall in the Regent Room
By Annette Slattery
Seventy two year old actor, comedian, TV host and misogynistic lothario Adam Knox is presenting his memoirs. At least, that’s the conceit of this show, as performed by the twenty two year old comedian Adam Knox.
Knox opens the show with a song, a clever song, but balance problems in the sound made it hard to pick up the subtleties in the lyrics. In fact this problem affected all of the areas of the show which included music. Nevertheless Knox’s opening number was strong, particularly with a Victor Borge type flourish at the end.
Knox ages himself fifty years by adopting a voice change and a kind of dishevelled despondency, reminiscent of a late nineties Anthony Morgan. He recounts his life story, starting with a tale of birth and initial upbringing that’s got the absurdity of someone like Nick Sun. Some of his early experiences include work as a mime, children’s clown and a comedian. He goes on to become a Letterman style Late Night TV Presenter before embarking on a movie career, which gives Knox latitude to parade his Marlon Brando impersonation (which is excellent). After this it’s his activism period and his many wives.
Throughout this Knox takes opportunity to mention his sponsors and continually decry his own physical appearance. Whilst the sponsor material is strong, his material on his self image becomes quickly tiresome and smacks of desperation rather than self deprecation. Also his approach to some of the material, such as attacking Bono for being superficial, smacks very much shooting fish in a barrel.
Whilst it is immediately apparent that Knox is an extremely intelligent young comedian, he is let down by the polish on the writing. That said, heaven knows where this guy could go with a good director because there is so much to love about this show. Whilst rough around the edges this is still a very funny show with great moments of comic insight. The originality and potential of this comedian are exciting.
Adam Knox is a fascinating young comedian who presents an interesting take on the idea of fake memoirs. Whilst the various ingredients to this show are not yet cohesive, this is certainly a show with plenty of laughs and some real comic gems.
Adam Knox is All Washed Up is on at The John Curtain Bar in Lygon Street (opposite Trades Hall).
By Colin Flaherty
In their Comedy Festival debut the Driving Monks Productions team present a random collection of sketches incorporating video, song and dance, and plenty of broad humour. The adventures of various socially maladjusted types are the order of the day. A majority of the scenes trade on being silly for the sake of it which does nothing to detract from the enjoyment; just don’t go looking for deeper meaning.
Many scenes tend to outstay their welcome and end on a whimper rather than a bang, often making the clearing of the stage a signal for the audience to applaud. The ideas were great and get some healthy laughs but they often push the same joke a little too far. The filmed segments in particular suffer from this problem; acting as a time filling device while the cast set up rather than a punchy piece of comedy. For example, a video about a Kiwi gang of youths was essentially several minutes of mocking the New Zealand accent. Occasionally they buck this trend by misdirecting the audience to go to hilariously unexpected places and presenting some short but sweet bits which are a delight.
A minimum of costuming and props were used to bring the scenes to life. It was interesting that they chose to dress up the weirdest character in each sketch elaborately while keeping everyone else in black; not only reducing changeover times but directing our attention to the most colourful aspect of the sketch.
Coming primarily from theatre backgrounds, the cast sell the performances with gusto. They put in all the necessary physical and vocal exaggerations to portray a large range of bizarre and grotesque characters. They make use of the small space well with their economical but expressive arrangements.
Almost half of the sketches feature characters seated on chairs, making it difficult to catch all the physical nuances from the back of the room. Put aside your Front Row Phobia so that you can see all the action ( however some neck craning may still be in order as the video screen is located perpendicular to the stage due to space constraints ) and prepare for an entertaining albeit padded hour of sketch.
The Upstairs Mix Up is on at Fad Gallery.
By Lisa Clark
A ‘Coming Out’ show is pretty much a right of passage for gay comedians, and why not? The situation is ripe for angst, confusion, drama and hopefully liberation. What helps make Geraldine Hickey’s show so fascinating is that we have seen her performing for years and it has taken her until the age of 32 to finally make the big leap.
Geraldine comes out to the audience up front in her usual style of self depreciating jokes and little fuss. On her opening night there were a few nerves but as she takes us back to her childhood looking for what seem now to be very obvious clues to her sexuality, she relaxes and gets into her comedy rhythm perfected over years of comedy gigs. She tells some lovely stories about her family, the funniest of which also brings out a political side to Geraldine we’ve never seen which was a description of her sister’s bogan wedding that was trashy as all get out. I also enjoyed tales of her close childhood relationship with her brother which brought back memories of her 2007 show about her big, close family Trucker’s Daughter.
That’s the thing with Geraldine, she’s done so much comedy about her life experiences that we feel like we know her. She’s so earthy and honest about herself yet loving women remained taboo. I think she was the first woman I’d heard use the expression ‘I love cock’ and I figured that it sounded like a phrase she’d made up to get a laugh. I’ve never heard a woman off the stage say that & it grated. She may not have been the first but since then I’ve heard other female comedians use the same expression and it always turns me off because it doesn’t ring true. So it has been even more interesting to learn that Geraldine in fact does not love cock and it has all been a lot of bluff and bravado. It is also what makes this show so brave.
Although it gets passing mention simply as her debut festival show, one can’t help but wonder if 2006’s One Week in Paradise about her depression, self harm & spending a week in an acute psychiatric unit might be closely tied up with her denied sexuality. Geraldine has obviously decided not to go there, perhaps with the aim of making this coming out more of a celebration. One of the really surprising things is that she did attempt to come out in her twenties but was intimidated by the more judgemental quarters of the young gay community as well as her religious, rural family and friends.
The best part of the show is of course the actually coming out to her family, you will need tissues. Importantly though nothing has really changed in her comedy, Geraldine still greets us with ‘Sup Fuckers and has a filthy mouth and a naughty twinkle in her eye while she pumps out the punchlines. She’s also always been a warm, intelligent, storyteller and the only faults I could find with this were a shaky nervous start and a rather abrupt ending. For those looking for comedy with soul this would be one of the top picks of the festival this year.
Geraldine Hickey – Turns Out I Do Like Sun Dried Tomatoes is on at The Portland Hotel
By Colin Flaherty
Joining the Victorian Police in 1974, Steve Thomson saw many crazy things during his twenty years in the Force. It is these wild but true tales that form the basis of his Comedy Festival debut. He has a catalogue of fascinating stories that are regularly funny but his abilities as a comedic storyteller are still in the “telling stories to your mates down at the pub” stage.
We were regaled with tales of misadventures at the morgue, the difficulties in apprehending tricky perpetrators and some unexpected outcomes of standard police procedures. Those expecting sexy drama ala TV cop shows will need to look elsewhere as these are humble tales from the front line by a foot-soldier who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Steve doesn’t provide much in the way of background to his Police career in either his introduction or conclusion; he begins by launching straight into his first story. Overhearing him speaking with some other audience members, he seems more than happy to chat about these details after the show.
He goes into immense detail in the telling of his tales, seemingly using real names and locations to set the scenes. While this certainly paint a vivid picture and counters the “people don’t believe that these stories are true because they’re so crazy” argument he points out at the top of the show, not all of it is vital in relaying the humour.
By ploughing through the chronological details, he doesn’t structure his tales so that they build to a punchline; most of them end by trailing off naturally instead of a with a witty quip. He certainly doesn’t seem to have embellished his stories in order to extract maximum laughs, they simply state the crazy facts. Some callbacks are worked in to great effect as he successfully manages to relay to us what was going through his head at the time.
His training as a presenter clearly provides him with on-stage confidence and he is amiable in his stage presence which allows him to easily hold an audience’s attention. There is something slightly perverse about his jovial attitude combined with the sometimes violent nature of his stories. It will appeal to those who don’t mind a little bit of dark humour but thankfully it doesn’t get too graphic.
In spite of his inexperience on the stand up stage, he has put together a fascinating show that manages to get the point across. It’s laugh rate is not exactly high, but you will have a chuckle with an interesting bloke.
Police Stories is on at Palomabar