Steve Bugeja – Summer Camp

By Lisa Clark

I chose Steve Bujega’s show because it is about working at an American Summer Camp. My friend worked at one several years ago and I was looking forward to a comedy show about all the ins and outs of taking part. This however was more of a personal journey about a very specific kind of Summer Camp for kids with autism, where Steve at only 18 took care of only one specific child for seven weeks. Gosh suddenly it looked like we were in for a pretty meaty journey, but it all turned out pretty light and amusing.

Steve at 18 was way more preoccupied with losing his virtue and dropping his nerdy reputation than worrying about the onerous task ahead. For someone from a dysfunctional family suddenly being a parent for a teenager with autism who you’ve never met before is pretty huge. The tale does turn out to be pretty engrossing and Steve sells it in a mostly engaging and energetic fashion, though there is more insight into the kids at the camp than Steve himself.

Early on Steve describes himself as a victim of serious bullying at school, which makes it extra weird that he picks out a punter in the front row to use as his verbal punching bag. At one point he literally takes out all of his anger against his absent father on him shouting angrily inches away from his face. Steve gains guilty laughs from the audience and laughs it off but we can’t see the audience member’s face and Steve continues to bring him into the show. The lowest point of the show was when Steve described his Camp cabin mate as a complete arsehole, looks down and says ‘You probably would’ve got on with him’. Why a perfectly nice history teacher who comes out to see Steve’s comedy festival show deserves this constant low grade harassment is beyond me. Maybe Steve wrote this with a drunken heckler in mind, but this is not Edinburgh and we are all perfectly polite in the Melbourne Town Hall. I guess it does get some cheap laughs and is a fairly common old school trope with comedians but in this context it didn’t work and rather broke down Steve’s good will for me.

The set is simple and lovely, reflecting the subject matter. His use of pin board and photos also fit with the theme and help to tell his tale but as I could barely see them from the second row, a large screen might’ve helped. Or bigger posters. School Camp is an entertaining coming of age story, where it is the kids rather than the performer who come of age. In the end there is an acknowledgment of this, but I think it runs deeper than Steve is willing to admit.

Summer Camp is on at the Melbourne Town Hall- Cloak Room until April 22