The final Saturday night at The Festival Club is always a Big night and Max Watts has certainly found ways to squeeze in a hell of a lot more people than Hifi ever did. It was a pretty good line up of performers, with standouts being Geraldine Hickey, Urzila Carlson and Romesh Ranganathan. The low point was having a boring, non-funny stripping hula hooper from Yummy on just before the Awards.
Then around 1am it was time for the Awards Ceremony.
Barry Award – Hannah Gadsby: Nannette
Best Newcomer – Aaron Chen: The Infinite Faces of Chenny Baby
Angus Gordon: Sad Boy Comedy Hour
Piece of Wood – Luke Heggie: Rough Diamante
Directors’ Choice – Demi Lardner: Look What You Made Me Do
Raw Comedy is the biggest open mic competition in the country. Over 1,000 acts competed over the last few months in heats in every state, and here it’s down to the final 12. Each comic performs a five minute set and at the end of the show, the judges confer to find a winner. This year’s judges were Susan Provan, Chortle’s Steve Bennett, Neal Downward from SBS, Sarah Dodd and UK comedian Steve Bugeja.
Susie Youssef hosted the two-hour show, keeping the crowd warm with material about performing at a buck’s night and caring for her nephew. Youssef seemed a little on-edge at first, but soon settled into her role and kept the proceedings running smoothly.
The first of the contestants was Andrew Bensley from the ACT, who started the show on a strong note with some solid observational stand-up. His take on Thai massages was fun, but not particularly unique and didn’t stack up against later contenders.
Next up was Hobart’s Isabella Roldan who burst onto the stage brimming with confidence. The latter half of her set where she focused on her Spanish language background was entertaining, however, her entire set was punctuated with little asides and catch phrases that felt very forced. It was a performance that was full of energy, but an energy that was mismatched with Roldan’s stand-up on the day.
Jason Williams then took to the stage, all the way from Darwin. Williams provided some more observational thoughts, with jokes about relatable things like system updates on recently-purchased technology and whitegoods. It was a fine set, performed well, although it felt like material that we’ve heard before.
Perth contestant Shaquille Blackley was the first stand-out of the show, and he walks away with second runner up. A gangly, pale, hipster-looking man, Blackley is just about the opposite of what you would expect from his name, and he uses this to full advantage at the start of his set. His later material about various idioms is clever and the audience clearly loves it.
The second bracket continues with Bonnie Tangey, who presents the first and only deviation from straight stand-up with a prop joke up top. It’s absolutely hilarious, and so it’s a shame when she moves on from this absurd line of humour on to more well-trodden territory about being awkward and single. The set as a whole is great and Tangey comes in as first runner up.
Oliver Twist, a relatively recent immigrant from Brisbane, is up next. Twist’s delivery is a little shaky, but his material is wonderful. His tale of a racist magpie is hilarious and he talks about the police attention he gets in a unique way. Twist may not have walked away with a prize, but with a few more years of performing under his belt, I suspect he’ll do well.
The third group started with Billy D’Arcy from Sydney. His material was well received, though I was personally put off by his tale of getting into a fight at a club over a girl. The main joke of his set seemed to be that he’s not particularly “manly”, which feels pretty outdated in this day and age.
Adelaide’s Carla Wills then took to the stage, boldly stating that she has been inspired to become a pervert. Wills turns public transport harassment on its head, with a story that begins with approaching a man on the bus and telling him he should smile. It’s a terrific set with a clear point of view, but it doesn’t draw a huge response from the crowd – more dry chuckles than uproarious outbursts.
The first of three Melbourne-based contenders is up next – Josh Webb. Webb’s opening gambit starts with a little twist, turning a routine that’s seemingly about gyms into an extensive rant about Jim’s Mowing etc. It dips a little in the middle, but picks up steam the longer and weirder it drags on. Ending the set with an old rap from his school days is an admirable attempt to get the energy of the the crowd up, however, it doesn’t quite hit the mark.
The show heads into the final quarter with Brad Hollis from Adelaide whose stiff, nervous delivery sat somewhere in between very real awkwardness and anti-comedic performance. The character wasn’t quite pushed hard enough to land. There was something really endearing about Hollis’ set, though, and it definitely resonated with pockets of the audience. It was entertaining, but divisive.
Sharon Andrews from Torquay was the penultimate act and she presented herself as one of the more polished acts in the show. Andrews was self-assured and completely owned her stage persona. Her jokes about country lesbians and jockey mix-ups were received well.
Last up was Melbourne’s Zach Dyer, the winner of this year’s grand final. Dyer’s material about Melbourne played well to the home audience, and his take on Pauline Hanson had enough of an idiosyncratic spark to make it interesting. He had an onstage swagger that will no doubt serve him well in his career going forward.
While the judges deliberated, we were treated to a set from the very talented Mae Martin. At this point the show had run overtime, so there were a few walkouts, but it was by no means due to the caliber of comedy on the stage. Martin killed it with stories of her early days in comedy, inspired by the acts that she had just seen.
All in all, it was a grand final with bucketloads of talent, but not a lot of diversity in genre. Of all the entrants in Raw Comedy this year, the pool was whittled down to 12 stand-up acts. Yes, they were all strong stand-up acts, but it’s disappointing to see such homogeneity in style in a competition for fresh faces when the broader festival embraces such a vast range of acts. Having said that, the contenders put on a thoroughly entertaining show and some of them are sure to become big on the local comedy in the years to come.
The 2017 Melbourne International Comedy Festival is back bigger than ever and the Squirrels are here to help you chose which shows to spend your money and time on. There are shows that we have already seen and also some intriguing shows that have piqued our interest.
A number of MICF shows have run prior to the festival and we have already reviewed some of these. We’ll give the usual disclaimer that Festival shows are ever evolving beasts, so the show’s we have covered may have undergone changes (hopefully for the better!) since we saw them.
This is the first ever live version of Andy Zaltzman’s podcast. It promises live guests, people on screens, freshly-hewn satire, lies, puns and high-grade bullshit. Sounds like tonnes of fun. (You can see his own standup show too, sold separately)
The last time Daniel performed here in 2015 it was with his astonishing, gorgeous, experimental play Polyphony. It involved 20 pre-recorded characters (played by actors and comedians) on MP3players being played by audience members. I was lucky enough to see it towards the end of the run, on a night when it all ran beautifully and it blew my mind. If audience participation was the comedy trend, Daniel fashioned it into couture art. We’ve missed out on a lot of his finished shows in Melbourne over the past ten years but he’s making up for it by giving us Three types of Kitson, including a filmed show we never got to see.
1.Stories For The Starlit Sky with Gavin Osbourne
Actually 3 plays in one (of his 3 shows). It will be long, why not bring a packed lunch? 3 of his delightful heartwarming and funny stories from Daniel with Gavin on the Guitar.
2.Not Yet But Soon – A Work in Progress Stand up Show.
Well its another work in Progress, but having done it in Sydney before Melbourne it should be fairly well formed. An hour and a half, but knowing Daniel probably longer. Its mostly on late too, 10 pm so have a little nap during the day.
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne – March 30th to April 16th(Various dates and times)- https://goo.gl/bry3Tv
3.It’s Always Right Now Until It’s Later – On Film
A 7 year old show we never got to see in Australia, but here it is preserved forever on film and Daniel will be there to introduce it.
A comedy night for charity produced by our own Erin Davidson and we can promise you she has organised a cracker of a lineup. Names she cannot name, but some of the top names in Australian comedy and this may be the only place during the festival you get to see some of them. Also you get to laugh for a good cause.
Josh has hooked up with Daniel from Die Roten Punkte and they promise famous guest stars in this mini comedy music festival. I’ve had a bit of a taste of this one and it has got my mouth watering for more.
Michael Williams: Escape from a 90s Educational CD-ROM!
One of the recipients of this year’s Moosehead Grants, you can always be rely upon Williams to present an inventive and hilarious show. Last year he was one of our favourites, with the added Moosehead creative seal of approval, this is sure to be a doozy!
Hero Complex was the Talk of Melbourne Fringe and the talk was: “Have you Seen it? You HAVE TO SEE IT!!!” We were so glad we did. It won Best Comedy Show at Melbourne Fringe 2016 and has just won the first Weekly Award for comedy at Adelaide Fringe 2017. It is side achingly hilarious, and face hurtingly joyous. It’s better to go in knowing as little as possible; yes it is about Sammy J’s love for The Phantom but also about much, much more.
Five audience members – in one caravan – with three spiteful old grannies – for 15 minutes. These terrifying characters by Thomas Jaspers, Kyle Minall and Scott Brennan will be more so in such close quarters and sure to be hilarious.
After scaring the stuffing out of laughing audiences at the Old Melbourne Gaol during the 2015 Melbourne Fringe, Watson (Adam McKenzie, Liam Ryan and Tegan Higginbotham) return with a show of frights and laughs. Another Moosehead recipent so expectations are high.
It’s hard to think of any great positive things that happened to the world in 2016. Apart from the odd sporting achievement, it was a nonstop pileup of deplorable crud. Australian comedy however didn’t let us down, delivering performances that will stand out, no doubt, for years to come. So to cheer myself up about the dreadful year that was I thought I’d just do a roundup of good things that happened in Australian Comedy this year.
It always brings me joy to see good comedy coming out of TV, I can remember when I would be rolling in the aisles to so many comedians on stage and felt so frustrated that their voices were not heard on TV except occasionally on the odd panel show. It was one of the reasons I set up this site. I wanted the world to know how wonderful Australian standup comedians are. This year it was so satisfying to see so many live standup performances on TV shows such as Comedy Next Gen and Comedy Up Late as well as the usual Festival Galas and Just For Laughs specials. We saw comedians working in different formats like The Katering Show, Sammy J’s Playground Politics, Who’s Line is it Anyway Australia and Hard Quiz. It’s exciting to watch Comedy Showroom give fresh comedy ideas a go and to see the sweet sitcom Rosehaven bloom so beautifully. Sitcoms have always been so bloody hard to do successfully in Australia and this year we’ve also had Here Come the Habibs doing well on 9 of all places and Upper Middle Bogan as strong, funny and heart-warming as ever in its third season. This is all along side regular shows such as Mad As Hell, Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery and The Weekly. There was happily too much comedy on TV for me to cover properly but I’ll leave that to the TV websites. Just to say 2016 was a great year to see Australian standup comedians doing exciting and wonderful things on TV and of course beaming around the world online.
Meanwhile comedians on stage have been creating astonishing, hilarious work. I didn’t get to see everything, as usual, it’s just impossible, but I thought I’d share some of my own personal highlights of the year.
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival was celebrating 30 years as a Thing and put on a fun party for comedy fans with shows such as Cal Wilson’s Sunday arvos at The Victorian Arts Centre speaking with different generations of comedians in The Decades That Were and comedy tours with Rod Quantock.
Also at the Festival this year was The Wedding of Zoe Coombes Marr and Rhys Nicholson. There have been a few great comedy weddings over the years, but this riotous spectacle which was making a clear statement in support of same-sex marriage could not be bettered. The bridesmaids were Denise Scott, Judith Lucy and Celia Pacquola, MC Hannah Gadsby made a fabulous funny and moving speech. The Priest was Geraldine Hickey, Celebrant Ben Noble. Entertainment was provided by Tina Del Twist, Peter & Bambi Heaven, Hot Brown Honey, The Daredevil Chicken Club, The Butterfly Glee Club, The Royal Melbourne Philharmonic and Melbourne Uni Choirs, Wil Anderson, Adrienne Truscott and The True Australian Patriots.
Other general comedy highlights were laughter filled Sunday afternoons at the live podcast recordings of Josh Earl’s Who Do You Think I Am? There was the return of The Bedroom Philosopher at Local Laughs singing about haberdashery and a reboot of The Doug Anthony Allstars. Tripod celebrated 20 years on stage with a gift of their songs in book form and performing them with guests on stage, ending the year with one of their best Christmas shows ever. The new exciting discoveries in 2016 included funny musical acts Jude Perl and Sarah Wall & Freya Long of The Astrudes, then the astute, warm, political comedy of Sami Shah, Alanta Colley and character comedian Haley Tantau as her alter ego Cindy Salmon.
Finally, as is traditional, I’m including an End of Year List; 5 Very Good Festival Shows of 2016. As you can imagine it’s hard to pick out only five great festival shows for the whole year, its been a really great year for live comedy.
5 Very Good Festival Shows of 2016 1. Zoe Coombes-Marr Trigger Warning. (MICF) The show captured the zeitgeist of the comedy world. I was laughing so hard I was worried I’d lose control of my bodily functions. I literally fell off my seat at one point. So many thoughts I’ve been thinking that she wrapped up and detonated. She destroyed me and remade me as a stronger woman. It won the Barry Award for best show at the 2016 MICF and deservedly so.
(Thanks to modern technology and smart TV people it’s been filmed and you can probably see it on ABCiView as part of Comedy Next Gen, not quite the same as live, but do it. WATCH IT. Then watch all the others)
2. Sammy J – Hero Complex. (Melbourne Fringe) Sammy has been wowing audiences for years, but this one had the audience whooping and cheering with pure joy. It’s about the love of unpopular nerdy pursuits, in this case a passion for The Phantom comics and a friendship borne from that. The show is full of secrets and reveals, so it hard to say more except that it is gobsmacking, weepingly hilarious and will have you grinning for hours, perhaps days afterwards. This won Best Comedy at the Melbourne Fringe Festival and will get a run at festivals in 2017 so DON’T miss it.
3.Zanzoop – Feeble Minds. (MICF) Who knew a late night show in a rundown night club about an alien chat show would become the talk of MICF? All three performers added their amazing talents, my highlights being Aaron Chen as Owen Wilson with Tom Walker as Jackie Chan and the heart-warming family reunion of snarky host Zanzoop (Sam Campbell) and his alien dad (Cam Campbell) at the end.
4. Micheal Williams: An Evening with Michael Williams (who is trapped under a boulder)– with Jack Druce. (MICF) Michael has moved from delighting us with his clip board of sophisticated cartoon humour to giving us an all singing, all dancing audio visual extravaganza and puppet show. A delightfully silly show had the audience gasping when the boulder suddenly came to life and was fun for the whole family. Michael has received a 2017 Moosehead Award, so am looking forward to his Moosehead show in 2017!
5.True Australian Patriots (MICF). Noticing in the MICF programme that three of Australia’s most promising comedians had teamed up to lampoon right wing protest groups had comedy fans very excited and we were not disappointed. Anne Edmonds,Damien Power and Greg Larsen are all at the top of their game and gave us a riotous late night of political satire and bizarre love triangle that hit the perfect tone and bashed us right in the comedy solar plexus.
Happy Hogmanay from the Squirrels and hoping 2017 brings you more laughs than sorrow. X
Comedy at Christmas time is the perfect choice for festive celebrations. Sometimes Very Christmassy, sometimes a look at the year gone by (& aren’t we just hanging out for 2016 to have gone bye bye?), sometimes a chance to drink, laugh and forget…. The Comedy Rooms in Melbourne are putting on some Fantastic line ups throughout December and brilliant comedians doing exciting Christmas shows. So organise your bookings, get together with your friends to laugh and forget about the past year and the coming Christmas family obligations.
3 Sat – A Very Judy Christmas – The Butterfly Club
We’ve had a wonderful Melbourne Fringe Festival which was full of all things creative and wacky including, a show in a car (Equal Best Performance Winner: Dion), a shop window (Winner of Best Ideas and Words Award: Between Two Lines) and one in a huge space with only two audience members (Equal Best Performance Winner: Blindspot). We here at Squirrel Comedy are mostly interested in Comedy. That’s not to say that we didn’t see funny shows in other catagories or that there were some rather unfunny shows that found their way into the Comedy section, but, hey this is Melbourne Fringe and it’s all about mixing it up and taking risks.
Congratulations must first go to Best Comedy winner Sammy J who has created his Opus Magnus in Hero Complex. A work that had everyone who headed out to the Northcote Town Hall to see it howling with laughter, cheering and crying with pure joy. I saw a lot of great shows at the festival but could not imagine any I missed were better than this – in any category – and couldn’t be happier with its Best Comedy Award win. An autobiographical show with a sprinkling of his brilliant comedy songs and a lot of surprises that must be kept secret, making it difficult to review. Except to say that it is a celebration of unpopular nerdy passions, in this case comic book hero The Phantom, but of course it’s about much, much more. Look out for it at Melbourne International Comedy Festival and other Festivals no doubt, just don’t miss it.
Winner of the Queensland Tour Ready Award was another stunning autobiographical comedy; Isamofarcist by Sami Shah who’s come to Melbourne from Afghanistan via studying in the USA and living in Western Australia. Sami has been doing excellent stand up around Melbourne for the past year about religion, politics and other dangerous ideas in a very accessible, warm and hilarious way. A comedian who’s definitely worth going out of your way to see if you like your comedy smart. Queenslanders can look forward to seeing Isamofarcist next.
More congratulations to one of the hot tickets at this year’s Melbourne Fringe Andre Tonight! by Chris Ryan and special secret guests that had everyone whispering that this was a must see. It won The Discovery Award and was a discovery to everyone who managed to get seats in the Rehearsal room (now with raked seating). Chris’s character reminded me of an Epping based Norman Gunston, a beautifully rounded sad sack character with a dream to be a TV Tonight Show host and some of his dreams came true in Andre Tonight! Another show to look forward to when it pops up again.
A Squirrel discovery at Melbourne Fringe was another amazingly strong character comedy Cindy Salmon’s Empowerment Hour. The show is a send up of an American “empowering” daytime TV host such as Tyra Banks or Bethenny Frankel (the 2nd rate Oprahs). Hayley Tantau’s, Cindy Salmon is one of the most powerful high status creations on the Australian stage right now. A high status character that can be hilariously satirical, wildly inspiring, teetering on the monstrous and yet somehow sympathetic is rare among current female comedians (I can think of Sarah Ward’s Yanna Alana and Queenie Van de Zandt’s Jan Van de Stool). Hayley pulls it off; sustaining it for a full hour without dropping her perfect American accent once, while keeping the audience on side despite some hilariously appalling behaviour. Go see comedy Cindy Salmon’s Empowerment Hour if it pops up near you and we’ll be keeping an eye on Hayley Tantau.
Here are some of the Award Winners that might interest our readers:
Sammy J – Hero Complex
QLD Tour Ready Award, supported by Brisbane Powerhouse:
ISLAMOFARCIST by Sami Sha
The Discovery Award, supported by Melbourne Festival:
Andre Tonight! by Chris Ryan
NSW Tour Ready Award, supported by Sydney Fringe:
Tina Del Twist GOLD CLASS by Wes Snelling
Hare Hole – Hares & Hyenas
For a Full List of Awards presented by the Melbourne Fringe Festival see their website