Tom Ballard : UnAustralian(ish)

By Lisa Clark

There’s been an avalanche lately of comedians leaving mainstream media jobs to get back into their standup careers; starting with Wil Anderson, and more recently Dave Hughes, Charlie Pickering and Tom Ballard. This is particularly weird when you consider that conventionally standup is usually considered a path to mainstream media and that the living made from standup in Australia can be adequate to appalling. They had what most budding comedians dream of, why give that up? A clue may be found in this show where Tom Ballard has the freedom to talk about what it means to him to be Australian and the time to develop a considered and accomplished show about it.

In the main Tom is giving us a loving portrait of his childhood trip around Australia in 1995 with his rather fussy family. His family have regular meetings, with an Agenda and during the trip his parents set up a space for he and his brother to do homework that had been set for them. Part of this homework was for he and his brother to keep a diary of the trip. These diaries have proved to be comedy gold for this show. Not only does he read from them but also shows us slides of the writing and of the adorable pictures they drew of their trip. These most often involved the celebration of getting to eat or drink junk food. The highlight for me was running gag of the dramatic tension of the kids going through the rough pilgrimage of the trip with the sole aim to reach their own holy grail. Will the boys get to experience the delights of the theme parks on the Gold Coast?

The real meat of the piece though was Tom ruminating on how he feels to live in a country that denies him and new immigrants basic human rights. About how it treats it’s indigenous population. These routines pop up throughout the story, for example a diary excerpt that explains how they climb Uluru despite being told that the local aboriginal community aren’t happy about it and Tom shows us that in spite of it being banned now, people are still doing it to get themselves notoriety on youtube. The family visits Woomera and Tom gives us it’s eye opening and alarming history involving; nuclear bomb testing, a shut-down immigration detention centre and uranium mining. A lot of the political stuff sit’s beautifully within the tale though there is the odd point that feels a little didactic as the laughs die down. Still these are pretty minor really and can’t diminish and excellent show.

I’m loving the way that comedians are putting so much care into their shows that they even think carefully about their house music to warm up their audiences for what’s to come. I’ve really been noticing it this year. For UnAustralian(ish) it was Paul Kelly’s From St Kilda to Kings Cross. No doubt extra significant for Tom himself who’s moved from Melbourne to live in Sydney. I saw a very rough preview show of UnAustralian(ish) in Sydney in January and it’s lovely to see all the bells and whistles and tweaks that have turned it into an impressive polished performance. These included; a map of his family’s campervan trip, a pile of eskies to hold his water bottle and the diaries by he and his brother, and an old fashioned slide projector with slides of his family trip. He tells us the slides cost him $5.50 a pop and they do add to the retro feel of the stage set, but it’s a pity the position of the projector blocks the screen for a large percentage of the audience.

It was also fantastic to see UnAustralian(ish) outside of a media night with an audience come specifically to see Tom and have a laugh and a great time. Tom’s radio experience came to the fore as he seemed pretty relaxed and had a lot of fun with a group of boisterous Americans in the audience who were in the middle of their own Australian odyssey.

I highly recommend Tom Ballard’s comedy of nostalgia and modern issues. This was also a beautiful portrait about what it means to grow up and go from looking at the small pleasures to the bigger picture of life.

UnAustralian(ish) is on at Melb Town Hall – Council Chambers until April 20