Michael Williams’ Mild Spectacular (in 3D)

By Colin Flaherty

Michael Williams (aka That Guy With The Easel) based his latest show around the loose theme of “mild spectacular” and, much like Michael’s previous work, it revelled in the wackiness associated with the mundane. Add lots of inventive, hand crafted visual aides and you essentially have what Michael is all about; a guy appearing as if he’s making it all up as he goes along, but the hours of work put into it are clearly on display.

There was a faux laziness running through this performance which was contrasted by brief moments of single-minded dedication to a single task. These extremes were the source of the majority of the humour with some self deprecation thrown in for good measure. Plenty of half-arsed pop culture references made the audience feel more knowledgeable than our hero so that we could laugh at his “ineptness”.

Having only seen Michael perform short stand up spots, I was impressed with the inclusion of video work alongside the cards on the easel. Displaying a similar art style to his drawn pieces, we saw animations, drawings, still photos and filmed segments. The screen was also used for the promised 3D content that ran from the gimmicky to the pointless to the impressive.

There were also some audio components which Michael could interactive with as well as a show stopper of a song. This big production number of promised “stupidest thing you will see at the festival” was set up earlier in the show but still came as a surprise when revealed.

This was a rather ramshackle operation with Michael acting as his own tech. It tended to hamper the flow of the performance and leave him on stage in the dark as he provided commentary to the video segments. Was this an attempt at emphasising a reclusive persona by hiding in the shadows, or simply a case of not knowing how to control the lighting? Some may see this as adding to the “low tech” aesthetics of the material while others will view it as poor production values.

If you are able to set your expectations at a reasonably low level and allow yourself to be swept away with Michael’s lo-fi aesthetics you will have a fun time. There is plenty of silliness and absurdity to bring plenty of laughs and smiles.

Michael Williams’ Mild Spectacular (in 3D) is on at Softbelly

http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2012/season/shows/mild-spectacular-in-3d-michael-williams/

Ronny Chieng – The Ron Way

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

http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2012/season/shows/the-ron-way-ronny-chieng/

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.