Shows at the 2014 Melbourne International Comedy Festival previously reviewed by Squirrel Comedy

By Colin Flaherty

It’s not long until the 2014 Melbourne International Comedy Festival gets into full swing. To assist you in navigating the colossal program, here are 26 shows that we have reviewed in other festivals. Keep in mind that all shows will have undergone a fair bit of spit and polish since we last saw them.

2014 – When We Were Idiots: A Comedy Walking Tour Hosted by Xavier Toby
Burke & Wills Statue, City Square (Melbourne Fringe 2013)

Alexis Simmonds 0-9 Tales of a Straight, Single Cat Lady
Comedy On Collins (MICF 2013)

Andy Matthews – String Theory
ACMI – Games Room (Melbourne Fringe 2013)

The Boy With Tape on His Face – More Tape
Forum Theatre – Upstairs (Adelaide Fringe 2014)

Cam Knight – 100 Percenter
The Upstairs Lounge @ Hairy Little Sista (Adelaide Fringe 2014)

CJ Delling – Reality Bandit
The Bull and Bear Tavern (Adelaide Fringe 2014)

FanFiction Comedy
Melb Town Hall – Cloak Room (Edinburgh Fringe 2013) & (MICF 2013)

Impromptunes: The Completely Improvised Musical
Trades Hall – The Annexe (Melbourne Fringe 2013)

The Improv Conspiracy : A Night in Chicago
The Croft Institute (Melbourne Fringe 2013)

Marek Platek : Wormhole
The Provincial Hotel (Melbourne Fringe 2013)

Juliette Burton – When I Grow Up
Trades Hall – The Meeting Room (Edinburgh Fringe 2013)

Late Night Letters and Numbers
Melb Town Hall – Powder Room (MICF 2013)

The Little Dum Dum Club Live Podcasts! Five Boroughs
(MICF 2013)

Marcel Lucont : Gallic Symbol
The Tuxedo Cat (Adelaide Fringe 2013)

Nellie White is The Shitty Carer
Imperial Hotel (Melbourne Fringe 2013)

Political Asylum Late Night Riot!
Melb Town Hall – Supper Room (MICF 2013)

Pop Mashup : Happy Birthday Doctor
The Butterfly Club (Melbourne Fringe 2013)

Radio Variety Hour
Comedy On Collins (Melbourne Fringe 2013)

Rhys Nicholson – Eurgh
Portland Hotel – Gold Room (Adelaide Fringe 2014)

Sam Allen & Chris Harrigan Inside the Egg: The Life of Anne Geddes’ Prisoner Children
ACMI – Games Room (Melbourne Fringe 2013)

Set List
Melb Town Hall – Lower Town Hall & Victoria Hotel – Vic’s Bar
ttp:// (MICF 2013)

Simon Taylor : Funny
Imperial Hotel (Melbourne Fringe 2013)

Sitcom Theme Song Singalong and Trivia
The Provincial Hotel & Imperial Hotel (Melbourne Fringe 2013)

Stephen Hall : Raiders of the Temple of Doom’s Last Crusade
Comedy On Collins (Melbourne Fringe 2013)

Wizard Sandwiches : The Last Lunch
Trades Hall – The Music Room (Melbourne Fringe 2013)

Wolf Creek : The Musical
Trades Hall – Old Council Chambers (Melbourne Fringe 2013)

Tim Ferguson – Carry A Big Stick : A Funny, Fearless Life of Friendship, Laughter and MS.

By Colin Flaherty

Set out like a four act play (fitting in perfectly with his current career as lecturer in narrative comedy) Tim Ferguson’s autobiography covered his life in great detail. The first act covered his family background, the constant relocations and troublesome school life which went a long way in explaining his knack for comedy and its use as a defence mechanism. The larger than life characters in his family were lovingly sketched out for us through many amusing tales so that we grew to know them rather intimately as the book progressed.

Act two is where Tim began his life as a performer with his time in the Doug Anthony All Stars making up the bulk of his tale. Both on stage and off, it was quite a wild ride and reveals some amazing anecdotes. There are stories dispelling some misconceptions about their work which may be new to hardcore fans of The Dougs and his recollections of their material could possibly paint the group’s output in a different light for many. At numerous times the signs of MS rears its head, quite obvious warnings with the benefit of hindsight, but his strong work ethic forced the show to go on.

Ferguson’s post DAAS endeavours were covered next. After the juggernaut that was The Allstars, it’s easy to forget that Tim was just as busy during this time both in front of the camera and behind. The stories about the unsuccessful TV pilots developed by Tim and his associates were just as fascinating as the tales from his more well known work at the time including “Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush”, “Funky Squad”, “Unreal TV” and “Shock Jock”.

The way he finally went public about his MS and his change of career to focus on lecturing rounded out the book. He doesn’t pretend to offer advice to fellow sufferers; in fact he described it as an inconvenience rather than an affliction; but still relayed a positive message as he developed as a person and contributed to society in many ways he couldn’t have foreseen.

Through it all he downplayed his contributions, regularly heaping praise upon those around him. This allowed him to insert some amusing self-deprecation (often with the phrase ‘I’m not smart, I just sound smart’) but his brilliant colourful way with words contradicts this naivety at times. Following his own teachings, Tim wasn’t afraid to tell some tragic tales from his life to contrast against the general levity of his writing. Plenty of witty asides, self-depreciation and amusingly worded descriptions keep the mood light. Cheekily manipulating the reader, he alluded to some juicy details that he ultimately kept to himself. This interesting portrait of a man with many stories to tell was a joy to read.

Carry A Big Stick is published by Hachette Australia.

Marcus and Dan’s Award Winning Show

By Colin Flaherty

With its cheeky title, the advertising blurb of Marcus and Dan’s Award Winning Show didn’t give too much away but dropped extremely subtle hints as to what to expect. Joining Daniel Pavatich and Marcus Willis on stage were seven other performers and together they set out to improvise an entire movie based on an audience suggested title.

On the night I attended the film was “Three Men Flying” which resulted in a rollicking air force drama set during the cold war era. With a nod to many well-known movies, most notably Top Gun, we saw the interconnected stories of a seriously determined boy with dreams of flying, a pilot with no respect for the rules and a nervous wreck of a co-pilot, and their part in stopping a soviet plane loaded with nukes. Plenty of recognizable movie tropes and clichés were used in the telling of the story; a training montage, a kid out to avenge his father’s death, a cannon fodder character and many, many more.

The way that the show was structured was different to most long form improvised shows in that the character performers weren’t necessarily in control of the story most of the time. Just like a film written by committee everyone not acting in the scene contributed narration, prop and costume description, camera shots (close ups required the subject to approach the front of the stage) and lots of plot twists. At times it was like those not in the scene tried to throw in as many ideas as possible to see what would stick. The result was some very frenetic on stage action with people buzzing around the characters filling in the details with wild gesturing.

An interesting addition was a kind of Director’s commentary where “writer” Pavatich would be called upon to explain a plot point. This tested his quick thinking and produced some laughs but his general response was to comically dismiss the point as being beyond his knowledge rather than make up some outrageous statements to add to the lunacy.
Being the last show of the night at the venue, the team weren’t restricted to squeezing all the action into an hour so no one was really keeping an eye on the clock. There was the danger that they were digging too deep a hole and wouldn’t be able to wrap things up, but somehow gave a satisfying conclusion. The movie approached a feature length of about ninety minutes which fit the concept but was possibly a tad too long. Such is unpredictable beast that is improvised theatre.

The large cast all worked very well together and kept the show moving at a cracking pace. There didn’t seem to be too many toes stepped upon with everyone willing to go with any new direction the movie took off in. This team of quick wits came up with many hilarious lines and scenarios that kept the audience in stitches. It was a hoot.

Marcus and Dan’s Award Winning Show is on at Gertrude’s Brown Couch until October 6

Nellie White is The Shitty Carer

By Colin Flaherty

In …The Shitty Carer Nellie told the story of her experience working in the UK as a carer, a role she was rather unqualified for and completely unprepared. The advertising is rather drastic (see the image to the right) so the expectations of something comically over the top were high. The resultant show however was the polar opposite with low key observational humour, deliberate pacing and an extremely serious tone.

The show started off well with some amusing stories about her time spent in London and how she fell into her role as carer. We heard of how dreary London was, her brief spell of homelessness and the homes she shared with some eccentric characters. Most of the humour came from White’s blunt, occasionally crude, comments about her actions and bizarre quotes from the people she encountered. We laughed with some shock at her temerity and often un-PC thoughts.

When White went into detail about the woman she cared for, a former doctor named Lee, the number of laughs decreased dramatically. There was the odd amusing comment about her comical attempts to cope but generally it turned into heartfelt recollections about her time spent with Lee and her dismay at the lack of support for the gravely ill. This about-face seemed to be due to both the very serious subject matter and her direct involvement with Lee who, as revealed at the top, had passed away since.

It must be a huge emotional drain to revisit these memories every night but it was a hindrance to both the comical content and her delivery. Her words slowed even further than her usual laissez-faire candence and she seemed to be on the verge of tears. After about only thirty-five minutes we were thrust from the theatre to ponder the experience. Her conclusion was not very optimistic and left all feeling rather down; not the greatest way to end a comedy show.

There were the bones of a powerful and entertaining performance in this show but it needs some work before it becomes a polished comedy work with a message. It would have been nice to see some rage rather than all the sorrow to get the points across in an amusing manner.

Nellie White is The Shitty Carer is on at The imperial Hotel until October 6

Radio Variety Hour

By Colin Flaherty

At the tail end of the golden age of radio, the Radio Variety Hour soldiers on. We were privy to the back stage / off-mic banter between the cast (bickering about the onset of television) and saw them transform to all smiles once the microphones were switch on. The looming domination of the cathode ray tube gave them the opportunity to make some jokes about modern day technologies and the arguing was the basis for a subplot involving the cast’s lives away from the studio. The main focus of the show was the radio show segments with their hilariously out-dated sponsorship announcements, amusingly antiquated moralities and some good old fashioned audio drama with plenty of laughs thrown in.

Being a radio program our attention was on the wonderful vocal performances and inventive sound effects. Una Broben (played by Lauren Bok) handled the parts of a feisty detective with film noir stylings, a strangely alluring alien cat and a creepy “children of the corn” type child with brilliant confidence and style. Bert Maverick (Bert Goldsmith) handled announcing duties with faux authority and played a comically stoic space captain (a combination of Futurama’s Zapp Brannigan and Captain Kirk) with consummate ease. Johnny Ray styled crooner and wannabe teen heartthrob George Hunt (Ben Vernel) belted out a hilariously soppy over-sung song and played a wonderfully evil crime boss (ala Peter Lorre).

It was interesting to see that they didn’t employ a dedicated person to franticly generate the foley, instead each actor took turns in using the props to bring the stories to life. Popped balloons, punched lettuce and tin can echoes added to a pre-recorded soundtrack to tell these hilarious stories in a fun, chaotic manner. We even got laughs when devices didn’t make the appropriate noise and the performer attempted to explain it away.

The script was witty with charming period phrasing and amusing word play. It was fun to see the cast throw in left-field comments, not necessarily to make the others corpse but to cover mistakes. These minor errors would have passed by the audience unnoticed if they hadn’t drawn attention to them but they added some extra lunacy nonetheless. There was the odd stifled giggle but they were able to recover quickly and dive straight back into the script. All were very expressive in their radio performances both vocally and physically, and even included the odd visual joke for the in-studio audience.

We laughed, we cheered and were regularly on the edge of our seats. This was a fun hour of nostalgia with brilliantly constructed stories to enthrall all ages.

Radio Variety Hour is on at the Lithuanian Club until October 5

Wolf Creek the Musical

By Colin Flaherty

Wow! Where to begin in describing the wonderful lunacy that is Wolf Creek the Musical. It was a gleeful hour of murderous mayhem with tunes destined to be earworms, not so subliminal advertising and a mid play coup.

I can’t attest to the accuracy with the source material but they freely admitted that they played fast and loose with the movie plot. Straight-faced overacting (with the odd nudge and a wink) gave things a suitable cartoon flavour; a nice contrast to the darkness lurking beneath but there were still some moments where things almost became too dark (the excessive repetition of “rape shed” only just got over the line as an overly-long gag). Comical signposting and explaining of every single plot point, awkward stage directions, frequent obliteration of the fourth wall and bizarre plot devices gave the performance a hyper-real atmosphere. The laughs came hard and fast with little time to catch your breath.
From the moment you entered the theatre with James McCann using synthesised grunts to play some well known tunes, you know that you were in for a musical treat. All the musical numbers were hilariously demented with some very creative shoehorning of lyrics. You’re sure to leave the show craving seafood! The vocal deliveries were a delightful mixed bag ranging from speak-singing to school concert singing to full on diva extravagance.

All the cast did a brilliant job. Demi Lardner, Chris Knight and Hayman Kent played the hapless victims with extreme naivety, horror movie hysteria and some inspired gender bending. Kel Balnaves inhabited the psychopath role with hilarious creepiness while many guest stars take on the tiny but pivitol role of Clem (Ryan Coffey’s beard on beard disguise was a wonderful touch). Angus Hodge possibly had the most exhausting task of playing all the peripheral roles, even portraying inanimate objects.

The costuming and props were suitably silly and obviously had a lot of work put into them, even when they were only utilised for a fleeting moment. The script regularly commented on how these props couldn’t possibly be adequate analogues for real world items to garner huge laughs.

A beautiful piece of manufactured outsider theatre, Wolf Creek the Musical has been creating quite a buzz around the festival. Believe the hype and go see this awesome show!

Wolf Creek the Musical is on at the Lithuanian Club until October 5