The Upstairs Mix Up

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.

 

Geraldine Hickey – Turns Out I Do Like Sun Dried Tomatoes

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

http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2012/season/shows/turns-out-i-do-like-sun-dried-tomatoes-geraldine-hickey/

John Conway – The New Conway Explosion

By Daniel Sheppard

One of my favourite discoveries of last year’s festival was John Conway’s “The New Conway Show” show, which I was recommending at every opportunity. There were a lot of expectations going in here, but instead of meeting those, John just decided to make whole new set of expectations and exceed those instead.
It’s difficult to describe John Conway’s surrealist comedy, not least because it’s hard to determine how much of the show is likely to be repeated from night to night. Whether re-enacting 90’s video games or creating giant string phone contraptions, most of the scenes have a fair bit of setup behind them, but they all seem like half-formed ideas that John is taking out for the night to see where they might lead him. Sometimes these leaves the show flying apart into chaos, but for the most part John pulls together a series of hilariously absurd sketches.
This new show has a lot in common with last year’s brilliant comedy festival debut, but if anything John seems to have allowed himself even greater reign with the improvised chaos. Helping to balance this out is Michael Burke, providing some grounding in the form of musical queues and a slightly more stable character for John to pull himself back to when his comedy takes him off into the deep.
John has a very infectious enthusiasm for what he’s doing, often barely able to contain himself or even complete his train of thought when caught up in a funny idea. With a less charasmatic performer, this often overwhelming enthusiasm could be off-putting, but through a bizarre combination of chaotic aggression and rapt innocence, the audience is never really given any choice but to get caught up in the madness.
This is not a show for everybody, and at certain moments it threatens not to be a show for anybody, but there’s a rich vein of comedy gold for anybody willing to follow John down into the chaos.
John Conway – The New Conway Explosion is on at Trades Hall

Steve Thomson – Police Stories

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

http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2012/season/shows/police-stories-steve-thomson/

Stephen K Amos – Laughter is My Agenda

By Jayden Edwards

Ok, Stephen’s been around long enough that most of you already know what your getting at a Stephen K Amos gig, a bloke who’s extremely comfortable on stage, as witty as they come, and a razor sharp audience badgerer. You’ll get it in bucket loads in his new show Laughter is my agenda.

Taking a similar formula as to shows of previous years, Stephen dissects and explores what it is that make us, and himself, laugh. Picking up his yellow clipboard, Stephen proclaims if a joke is funny, it get’s a tick on his list and stays in the show. And I guess if a joke’s not funny, then it’s out, but i don’t recall anything getting the chop. With such a transparent approach to the whole stand-up thing, the audience is immediately on-side and primed and ready to watch Stephen push his own agenda.

Stephen tackles topics such as race, local politics, family matters and his childhood, not groundbreaking stuff, but still hilarious and only amplified by Stephens wit and charm. But it’s Stephen’s audience interaction that provides the biggest laughs.

This particular night, Stephen struck gold with a young man named Alan (just one of many Alan’s in the audience that night, including “The Qantas Alan”). For some reason or another, the conversation turned to porn with young Alan proclaiming he wasn’t into “Interracial stuff”. The resulting riffing allowed Stephen to flex his improv mussels and it received a big tick on his yellow clipboard.

You can tell Stephan has a genuine interest in people and the human psyche. His retelling of an encounter with an aboriginal man who was offended by a joke he’d told results some exploration of such themes, and adds a bit of depth and intelligence to the show. More highlights include the reading of a baffling Townsville show review and some strange blues music at the end of the night.

Yeah, Stephen does tread old ground here and it would be nice to see him push himself a bit more, but hey, if it if it aint broke, why fix it? If you’ve seen him before, maybe try something new, but if you haven’t, Stephen K Amos is essential viewing.

Stephen K Amos is performing Laughter is My Agenda in the Main Hall at The Town Hall.

http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2012/season/shows/laughter-is-my-agenda-stephen-k-amos/

Celia Pacquola – Delayed

By Annette Slattery

In her new show Delayed Celia Pacquola take the audience on a journey half way around the world and back, covering wristies, high fives, sleep talking, accents, an abacus in poo, bad dancing, accidental assault, hairy stoves, aeroplane toilets and Craig Charles.

In this show Pacquola takes macro concepts and gives them micro treatments. Whilst the stories may cover such grand events as travelling to the other side of the globe and the world’s greatest romantic moment of all time, it’s the smaller moments, the incidents in between, the things that a passerby might not even notice, which carry the greatest significance for Pacquola.

Pacquola has a different of way of looking at things. She takes her experiences and extrapolates them out, sometimes to the degree of the absurd. Apart from anything else, Pacquola should be recognised with some kind of award for creating the first, original “aeroplane food” joke in thirty years.

This show is hilarious. Pacquola greets the audience with high energy glee and keeps the ball rolling from one moment to the next. There’s a slight lull in the laughs towards the end, but Pacquola has the skill to create an evocative story to keep the audience engrossed until the inevitable payoff. And what a payoff!

This is the same standard of high quality show that I’ve come to expect from Pacquola. Yet, there’s something new in her aspect, something in her manner, her gait that reminds me of Mighty Boosh comedian Noel Fielding. Her self deprecating, likeable goofiness is somehow more refined, more focussed. This is a comedian who is constantly refining her craft and, going by the evolution of her work over the last few years, Pacquola promises great things.

Pacquola is someone who deftly straddles the chasm between artistic integrity and wide ranging appeal. She’s as welcoming as a cuddle from your mum and as thought provoking as a young Justin Hamilton. If you’re a fan, don’t miss this one. If you’re not a fan yet, get on board now, while you can still see her somewhere more intimate than a ten thousand seater.

Celia Pacquola is performing Delayed in the Portico Room at the Melbourne Town Hall.

http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2012/season/shows/delayed-celia-pacquola/