By Peter Newling
Stephen Hall is one of the unsung heroes of Australian Comedy. While many will be familiar with his amazing on-camera character work for Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell (think Darius Horsham, Donald McEngadine et al), his work as a contributary writer on some of Australia’s best comedies is perhaps lesser known. He worked on such classics as The Hollowmen, BackBerner, Full Frontal, Spicks & Specs, Newstopia and Adam Hills Tonight – to name but a few. From this it’s easy to see that he keeps very good company, and is much in demand in the worlds of political satire, impersonation and topical comedy.
His 2023 MICF offering allows him to show off all of these remarkable skills.
Letters From My Heroes is not your usual festival stand-up show. It’s a series of quite excellent impersonations, loosely held together with some (sometimes quite tenuous) links. The central device sees Hall try and imagine what various celebrities might write back to him in response to requests for advice. This gives him a chance to pay homage to an impressive array of celebrities, including past and present Aussie comics, Hollywood stars, historical figures and even the occasional cartoon character. The diverse themes are drawn together at the end in a most unexpected and delightful way.
Moments of the show are surprisingly personal, with Hall sharing insights into how his background has influenced his work, and his own choice of hero. The show also offers an opportunity to reflect on how culture and taste determine who should and shouldn’t be impersonated.
In an interview last year, Hall spoke of his approach to impersonation, and making sure he’s got the inflections, rhythms and body movements of his impersonatee just right. He said: “I’m quite forensic about it, as I tend to be with most impressions. There’s a lot of analysis and study behind the scenes before the performance that the audience doesn’t see”.
That forensic analysis and quest for precision is the hallmark of his work. Most importantly, he shows great respect for those who he impersonates.
The early start time makes Letters From My Heroes an ideal way to kick off a night at the festival. It’s not side-splitting stuff, but it’s a great opportunity to watch one of Australia’s comedy legends at work.
Stephen Hall – Letters From My heroes is playing March 30 to April 23 at the ACMI Swinburn Studio at 6:00pm (Tues to Sat) and 5:00pm (Sundays). https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2023/shows/letters-from-my-heroes