Squirrel Comedy Writers list our Top Five Favourite Shows at the 2012 Melbourne International Comedy Festival

It’s impossible to get out to see every show at the festival. Especially for the Squirrel writers, as most of us have full time jobs in the real world. In the past when we were The Groggy Squirrel we gave an award for our favourite Australian show but it was always difficult for all of us to see the shows on our shortlist.
This year we’ve decided that each reviewer can list their Five Favourite  Shows of the Festival instead. It’s still a really difficult thing to do and some of us have seen more shows than others. We may even see a show that changes our list in the next few days, but this is what we have so far.

Hopefully these insights might help you plan your final few days of the festival.

1 Justin Hamilton – The Goodbye Guy
What a way to go. A stunning show about tying up his career, putting his effects in order and stepping out into the future. So Long & Thanks for all the Funny, Hammo.
2. Sam Simmons- About the weather
This was definitely better than last year’s award winning show. It had everything he’s famous for, plus a delicate structure and sweet romance.
3. Daniel Kitson – Where Once There Was Wonder
He makes shows for audiences who like to use their brains though he makes us do it at nearly midnight. A show about self growth and doing & thinking things you never thought would be possible. The reason I’ve not ranked it higher, is that, as much as I adore being in His presence, I felt it could have been edited down a little. (OMG did I criticise Daniel’s gorgeous work? EEK)
4.Felicity Ward – The Hedgehog Dilema
She just seems to get better and better every time I see her and she’s only been doing this for a few years. Seeing her break down on stage talking about her mum this year was achingly lovely. More importantly she’s the kind of comedian that can really make me nearly fall off my chair laughing and that’s happening every time I see her lately.
5.Hannah Gadsby – Hannah Wants a Wife
Hannah used one of my favourite paintings The Portrait of the Arnolfini (& other great art) as the basis for her show about gender throughout history. Great to see her tying her passions together to create an inspiring show. Her stage presence gets more relaxed and playful and better for it.

Runners up: Lessons with Luis, Plus One, Sarah Kendall & Tie her to the Tracks

Shows that I loved that were not Festival shows as such: The Shelf, Somebody To Love – The annual musical benefit for the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre at Trades (this year it was the music of Queen) and Puppet Slam at St Ali

1. Dr Brown – Befrdfgth
Unlike anything I’ve ever seen before but so, so funny. The man’s a genius.
2. Simon Amstell – Numb
He’s so clever, so hilarious. I would marry him in a heartbeat if only he liked women. I must find out how he feels about sham marriage …
3. Paul Foot – Still Life
Absurd, silly humour but a very fun show.
4. Slow Clap – Truth
A great production from some very talented Melbournians. Totally original.
5.Hannah Gadsby – Hannah Wants a Wife
A funny but also very interesting show. Hannah is really likeable and has that natural comic timing that makes it all look so easy.

1. Tom Ballard – Doing Stuff
Tom is the future of comedy in this country, and tearing the present to shreds.
2. Dave Thornton – The Some of All the Parts
Stand-up just doesn’t get much better that this. Just straight, witty, accessible stand-up.
3. Sam Simmons- About the weather
Sam just keeps getting better and better. One of the best experiences of the festival, year after year.
4. Tommy Dassalo- Pipsqueak
The little buddy that could! Tommy is quick, witty and so damn likable! Comedy with big soul.
5. Triple J’s Good Az Friday
Quickly becoming a major highlight of the festival! And great value… FREE!

1. Lessons with Luis – Kidney Kingdom
Three daggy, naive characters executed perfectly. It’s a shame that the run was so short.
2. Daniel Kitson – Where Once There Was Wonder
His first stand up show in years was a masterclass in how to hold an audience captiv(at)e(d) for about 2 hours.
3. Justin Hamilton – The Goodbye Guy
A brilliant wrap up for all those who have followed Hammo’s Festival oeuvre.
4. Ronny Chieng – The Ron Way
Ronny keeps you laughing all the while he talks down to you. Some serious comedy chops from this guy.
5. The Underlads – Living On Limbo Lane
A high energy show of extreme silliness. Seriously crude, clever and fun.

1. Daniel Kitson – Where Once Was Wonder
Kitson’s stand-up is incredibly thought provoking, and then cleverly undercuts every thought it provokes.
2. Asher Treleaven – Troubadour
Treleaven’s shows just get better every year. I think the main improvement this year was the inclusion of sexy diabolo. All shows could use sexy diabolo.
3. Mike McLeish and Fiona Harris – Plus One
Hilarious, poignant, and the closing musical number was my favourite thing this festival.
4. Sarah Kendall – Persona
Always intelligent, occasionally cringe-inducing, with a bedtime story at the end that is morally ‘grey’ at best.
5. Victoria Healy – Independent Women Part 2
Wonderfully nostalgic, uproariously funny and full of bogan charm.

1. David O’Doherty presents Rory Sheridan’s Tales of the Antarctica
This adorable and hilarious show contains my favourite phrase of the festival: “cat and kitten care” (say it out loud…in an Irish accent)
2. Justin Hamilton – The Goodbye Guy
Wrapping up a decade of shows – it’s a hell of a way to say goodbye!
3. Celia Pacquola – Delayed
Hard to believe – but she just keeps getting better each year.
4. Josh Earl is XXX
Awesome tunes and rocking stand up, looking forward to seeing him at XL.
5. Nick Coyle – Me Pregnant
This peculiar and touching story isn’t getting nearly the kind of attention it deserves this festival.

Also recommended: Danny McGinlay Learns Ukrainian; Michael Chamberlin – Joy & Despair; Simon Amstell – Numb; Dr Toby Halligan is Not a Dr

The Melbourne Airport Best Newcomer Award Nominees are….

The Melbourne Airport Best Newcomer Award Nominees were announced at Wednesday night’s Festival Club

The four nominees are:

Luke Heggie – Master of None


Matt Okine.


Ronny Chieng – The Ron Way


Tegan Higginbotham – Million Dollar Tegan


The winner will be announced Saturday 21st April with the grand prize of a trip to the Brighton Comedy Festival in the UK.

Danny McGinlay Learns Ukrainian

By Annette Slattery.

“добрий вечір” says Danny McGinlay as he hits the stage for his new show “Danny McGinlay Learns Ukrainian”. For those of you not fluent in Ukrainian, that means “Good evening”. Obviously, having seen the show, I can now converse in fluent Ukrainian (of course I’m not really fluent in Ukrainian, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a learning show).

But more of that later, because, what this show primarily is, is hilarious. McGinlay got a single response to his opening greeting from a man in the back row who turned out to be Polish. Being ever the professional, McGinlay used that as a cue to tell an amusing Polish story. Asking the audience for any other languages spoken he also got French and Arabic (both from the same Polish guy) and came out with funny anecdotes about trying to speak both languages. I was tempted to put my hand up and tell him that I speak some Auslan (Australian Sign Language). Turns out that he had a bit about that too, which he did later in the show. I wonder what language would have stumped him.

McGinlay is huge fun as he takes the audience through a tale of love, family, culture, oversized dogs, the death of Osama Bin Laden and ultimately about learning Ukrainian to impress his finance’s family. McGinlay chops and changes subject matter, handling complex digressions with ease. He tackles a range subject matter, from the broadly appealing Hollywood film re-construction, to the more engrossing topics such as a potted history of the Ukrainian Civil War.

McGinlay ends the show with one of the best call-backs I’ve ever seen. He relates a shaggy dog story from earlier in the show, but this time in Ukrainian. Identifiable by the sounds and name peculiar to this story, the pinpoints of recognition brought huge laughs from the audience and completed a hugely enjoyable show.

Danny McGinlay Learns Ukrainian is on at The Upstairs Lounge at Hairy Little Sista 


The Horne Section

By Lisa Clark.

Having enjoyed The Horne Section last year, I looked forward to this must see event of the festival with great anticipation. Alex Horn has gathered some great mates around him who happen to be very talented jazz musicians for a late night, big old fashioned, British musical comedy knees up. It is very much of the old music hall tradition and every performance is a bit of a surprise because it depends on the guests appearing and what games come up on the big spinning Wheel of Wonder.

This year Alex and his band have found a much better venue, the bright and sparkly Spiegeltent which is perfect for a musical variety hour, rather than the dark & sticky carpeted Hifi Bar that seemed to dampen the merry atmosphere in 2011. The audience is a middle aged crowd who are revved up and ready for fun, which is just as well, because they take a big part in the evening’s entertainment.

Popping in each night are the special guests who are usually headlining comedians from the festival and they are given the chance to do pretty much what they like with the band. This has seen some truly magical moments in the past as some comedians live out rock star fantasies or turn their comedy into musical jazz poetry. Tonight we had one of those magical experiences when Des Bishop asked for a back-up singer from the audience who happened to be very talented and then performed a searing satirical hip hop rap in the style of Eminem while the band kept up.

Unfortunately there are always those guest comedians who don’t (or can’t?) join in on the musical comedy fun and just manage to do their usual stand-up with a bit of musical accompaniment. Wil Anderson seemed a bit worse for wear when he wandered up the aisle and onto the stage. There was some excitement in the audience around me with the appearance of this superstar of comedy. His routine was excellent, but it was a pity that he was not up to working with the band, which he had to eventually ask to stop because it was taking him out of his rhythm comfort zone.

In between the guest acts, the entertainment is chosen by spinning the Wheel of Wonder. On our night we played Connect 4 using the audience, Alex performed some stunning mimed beatboxing, as well as a disappointing magic trick and the band performed an impressively funny tribute to Australian music.

All the while Alex is the consummate Ring Master, conducting the band, supervising the audience and maintaining the jazzy vibe. He and the band have been working closely for so long now that they bounce off each other effortlessly and have a working shorthand that belies their seeming dictator / minion relationship.

It’s such a pity that this is on so late in the evening because it is a show I would recommend to anyone. Still the late hour adds to the bohemian, anything can happen atmosphere. If you are not keen on audience participation you might want a seat up the back, but I recommend you go with a sense of fun and ready to join in with the party, and you will have a ball.

The Horne Section is on at The Famous Spiegeltent in front of The Arts Centre

Keep an eye on the website for upcoming guests


Dr Toby Halligan is not a Dr

By Annette Slattery.

Hitting the stage with a husky voiced charm, Toby Halligan makes himself at ease with the audience from the get go in his new show “Dr Toby Halligan is not a Dr”. Halligan takes on the big guns in this show including religion and politics. But his preoccupation seems to be walking through this intolerant world as a homosexual.

Halligan is funny from start to finish. He deals in a very intelligent brand of comedy and even when he tackles some well worn subject matter, such as talkback radio, he does so in an original way. He is of course not an actual doctor (as the title suggests). The conceit for this show plays on the idea that he wants to fix the ills of this world, a conceit which operates mainly as a place on which to hang his stand up material. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, especially when the stand up is this good.

And that is what Halligan is, a very good stand up. He touches on a variety of subjects including an encounter with a South African evangelical, the Julia Gillard/Tony Abbott quagmire, the Yumi Stynes/George Negus debacle, ADD and its associated drugs, drug addicts and their threat to society, American Republican hopeful Rick Santorum, changing the sheets as compared to survival on the ice…the list goes on. Halligan packs a lot into this hour which offers evidence to his ability to create a very tightly crafted hour of stand up.

In 2011 Halligan was nominated for the best newcomer award at the festival. This show suggests to me that it’s just a matter of time before we see his name amongst lists of future nominees. This is a highly enjoyable show which deserves to be seen in a better venue than the tiny Locker Room.

Dr Toby Halligan is not a Dr is on at The Locker Room in the Portland Hotel


Michael Chamberlin – Joy and Despair

By Annette Slattery. 

Michael Chamberlin’s new show “Joy and Despair” is, quite frankly, light on the joy and heavy on the despair. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very funny show. Chamberlin’s ‘set ‘em up and knock ‘em down is as sharp as ever, if not sharper. But if you’re feeling a bit down going in, don’t expect to come out feeling upbeat.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with this. Comedy and tragedy make natural bedfellows, and some of the great comedians have demonstrated the sublime heights of bellowing, depressed comedy. Chamberlin, whether he likes it or not, is heading down that path in this show.   This is a darker Chamberlin, reflecting shades of the great Bill Hicks, albeit Hicks as a ‘nine year old girl with a lisp’ (to paraphrase Chamberlin himself).  Chamberlin talks about his mind moving from one extreme to another. He takes every positive thought and deconstructs it down to its worst possible outcomes.

It is Chamberlin’s move last year to Sydney which fuels the bulk of the story. He finds himself suddenly alone, being bullied by a seven year old girl, discovering new debaucheries in the act of self-love, yelling at the beautiful people in the supermarket, indulging in irrational hatred of neck tattoos, taking a chance on a girl, only to be stood up on the third date and becoming involved in a sexually charged dogacide. There is a decline in society and it has left Chamberlin numb to the world around him, he can only be touched by a children’s story about a boy and penguin.

The one irritating aspect of the show was Chamberlin’s continued live deconstruction of the show as it went along. I found it hard to reconcile my knowledge of his experience with what seems like such an amateurish mistake. The only resolution in my mind is that it could be construed as yet another symptom of Chamberlin’s insecurity.

This show is bitingly funny and appears to mark a new chapter in Chamberlin’s progression. If you’re interested in comedy that’s a bit on the dark side then the slight and deceptively pretty Michael Chamberlin is the go. Very funny but not recommended for suicide risks.

Michael Chamberlin – Joy and Despair is on at the Acacia Room at The Victoria Hotel.