By Lisa Clark.

We begin with a journey of sight and (mostly) sound led by Trygve (pronounced Trig-vee) Wakenshaw as he weaves and manoeuvres around his partner in mime and silliness, Barney Duncan, who sits on a couch and reads the paper. It’s a soundscape of clips of words, music and effects that have been edited together and make little sense, apart from the constant clip cloppy footsteps as Trygve stomps about the stage, suggesting that he is on a journey. Unfortunately it was too long, loud, disjointed, and unfunny, such that I was led to despair that this was going to be one of those weird arty Fringe pieces more interested in showing off the performers’ miming skills than keeping audiences engaged.

Finally Barney rises and in the guise of the Emperor Constantine himself begins introducing us to the wonders of Constantinople which does something to start winning me over. Soon we are transported to the Hippodrome and perhaps the funniest skits of the show with Barney playing a horse while Trygve gives him a slightly suggestive massage.

The Festival Guide says this is a historically inaccurate look at an amazing city, obviously they are using the city’s history as a jumping point for their comedic skits, but I am impressed with how many historical accuracies were thrown into the mix to keep history fans on their toes. Their amusing use of pepper as a cocaine like drug does actually reflect the expense of and greed for the black spice at the time. I also enjoy the conversion of Christianity portrayed as a rave party with the 90s dance music morphing into the Hallelujah Chorus. If only the lame dancing about the room didn’t go on just a tad too long without anything much happening.

Apart from the sound being too loud for the small space the technical work on the show was excellent with perfect timing of lighting and sound that was crucial to much of the humour in the show. This is a great show for fans of They Might be Giant’s version of Istanbul Not Constantinople. You get to hear it 3 times, one of them live by Trygve and Barnie accompanied by ukulele. I also love the more subtle use of Rod Stewart’s Young Turks; another of my favourite songs.

There are some beautiful quirky moments throughout Contantinople and the performers are both highly skilled and entertaining physical performers who have about as much fun on stage as two men in togas can. Their inspiration from silent film comedy and Monty Python is clear though the execution is patchy, but then so was Monty Python at time, proving just how difficult it can be to pull off absurd sketch comedy. A fun show for those looking for something a bit different and even more fun if you hang on to your grapes ’til the end of the show.

Constantinople is on in the Old Council Chambers at Trades Hall

The Big HOO-HAA!

By Elyce Phillips.

Running in Melbourne since 2010, The Big HOO-HAA! is a regular feature in the local comedy calendar.  Throughout the year, the team presents their improvised comedy once a week at the Portland Hotel. But now it is festival time, and it is ON – four nights a week. Two teams, the Hearts (Sarah Rueben, Liam Ryan, Charlie Sturgeon) and the Bones (Brenna Courtney Glazebrook, Adam Kangas, Matt Saraceni) , battle it out in a series of improv games.

It can be a scary thing, going to an improvised comedy show. It’s all spur of the moment, there are no safety nets and there is every chance it could all go horribly wrong. But when it is good, it is an amazing thing to see. The Big HOO-HAA! is one of those great improv comedy experiences. With a strong cast of performers and some fantastic games, you are in for an incredibly entertaining (and often baffling) hour of comedy.

The show was consistently funny, thanks to the amazing cast. All of the performers had their moment to shine. Every game produced something brilliant – from the overplayed drama of ‘Oscar Winning Moments’ to the short, sharp gags of ‘Arnie’. The host, Emmet Nichols, kept the show fast-paced and kept the audience giggling. The audience is frequently encouraged to get involved, being asked to shout out suggestions for topics and vote for winners of games. If you are extra enthusiastic, you may even earn yourself an ‘I tried’ sticker.

The Big HOO-HAA! is a great way to start off your evening at the festival. Every night there is a

different cast, a different bunch of games and an entirely unique set of comedy – but there is always something to please.

The Big HOO-HAA! is on at Roxanne until April 21, and continues after the festival every Thursday at the Portland Hotel.

WATSON –Shakespeare Fight Club

By Elyce Phillips.

Imagine, if you will, a battle royale where your weapon of choice is Shakespearian verse. Your guide is Caliban. Your enemy, Tybalt. Now imagine it in a small room in the Victoria Hotel, with next to no budget and a smattering of Star Wars references and you have something like Shakespeare Fight Club.

WATSON (Tegan Higginbotham and Adam McKenzie) are joined by Cameron McKenzie and Liam Ryan in bringing this stage spectacular to life. The whole production feels like a play a bunch of kids are putting on in their backyard. The props and set are made from bits and pieces from Bunnings, the costumes are huge, and the levels of enthusiasm are through (the incredibly low) roof. If you’re after a polished piece of comic theatre, this isn’t it. This late night show is hilarious chaos. Shakespeare Fight Club seems to be a show that the comedians are going to see. There were several in the audience the night I went, and it made the show self-conscious at times, as though they were playing to the comedians rather than the whole audience. One laughed exaggeratedly at a few jokes that missed the mark, which disrupted the flow of the show early on, however this was turned around to great effect during a scene in which Higginbotham hypnotizes McKenzie.

But Shakespeare Fight Club has some great moments. Liam Ryan’s Caliban is creepy in the best possible way. The fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed – there is even some shadow puppetry. The on-stage relationship between Higginbotham and McKenzie is one that really works. Higginbotham’s self-interested straight woman is the perfect foil to McKenzie’s endearingly dorky fool. The jokes are hit-and-miss, but they are delivered with such gusto that you just don’t care.

Shakespeare Fight Club is Shakespeare as it is meant to be seen – violent, very silly and full of dick jokes.

WATSON’s –Shakespeare Fight Club is on in the Acacia Room at the Victoria Hotel until April 21

Sarah Kendall – Persona

By Elyce Phillips.

One of the first topics Sarah Kendall addresses in Persona is reviewers. She’s not huge a fan of them – their hyperbole, in particular. And admittedly, her observations are spot on. There do seem to be an inordinate number of “geniuses” working in comedy, and if you applaud a show until your hands explode you are an idiot. So I am going to tell it to you straight. Persona might not be a work of genius, but it is hilarious. It’s hilarious not because Kendall had some magical brain fart that spurted out a show, but because she has put in the hard work. She had her first solo show in 2000 and has been honing her craft ever since. It shows. Kendall appears to be completely at ease on the stage, as though stand-up is the most natural thing in the world for her.

Persona is, at its heart, a show about gender politics. Kendall talks about the kind of world her young daughter is going to have to grow up in, voicing her concerns about how she will explain our messed up culture of sexualisation to her. She tells wonderful (and horrifying) stories about motherhood and working in the entertainment industry. There really is something amiss in the world when even going to buy a piece of fruit can become a sexual issue. The material may be political, but you never feel as though you are being lectured at. Kendall has a way of perceiving the world that is novel, yet entirely common sense. Her take on the music videos of Pitbull is absolutely inspired. When Kendall warns you that things are going to get hot, you best believe her.

Persona is biting, intelligent and darkly funny. If you want to see the work of a fantastic stand-up comic at the height of her powers, this is a show for you. You even get a bedtime story at the end.

Sarah Kendall – Persona is on at Vic’s Bar at the Victoria Hotel until April 22


Tracey Cosgrove – Half a Wake

By Colin Flaherty.

Planning your own funeral is rather dour topic for a comedy show. As well as pointing out the ridiculous aspects of the process using stand up, Tracey Cosgrove impressed upon us her desire to make this an event of joy that replicated the best parties she experienced whilst alive.

Tracey didn’t go into a lot of detail about the actual planning of her own funeral and wake, as you would have expected from the blurb. Instead she used the central concept to tell some amusing stories from her own life either related to funerals (the passing of her Uncle Brian and the shenanigans of her cousin Doug) or parties in general (parties she attended in her youth and sending her young children off to their friends).

The stories were told by a bubbly and enthusiastic Tracey who charmed the audience with her crazy tales from suburbia. Despite the somewhat tenuous links to the main plot of planning her own funeral, she was able to weave these threads together and execute some clever call-backs towards the end. To demonstrate that she had actually done some homework on the topic, she presented some fun jokes about various cremation options that climaxed with a crazy series of puns.

There was a segment of audience participation as we finally got to see a run through of her memorial service. A volunteer was enlisted to show a sequence of photos as pre-recorded audio plays. It began in a delightfully silly manner with Tracey singing the descriptions of the images but soon descended into enthusiastic babbling about everything and anything. It was an excuse to put events into perspective with some family photos and allowed her set things up for her showstopper.

Tracey showed off her character comedy chops with an impressive finale. It was hilariously inappropriate and over long, but that was the whole point of this crazy scenario. She committed whole-heartedly to the character by maintaining the illusion whilst interacting with the audience as we filed out of the room. It was a fun theatrical ending to an solid and amusing stand up show.

Half a Wake is on at 3 degrees.

CJ Delling – Life is Wunderbar (Individual Results May Vary)

By Lisa Clark. 

Some of you may have been lucky enough to see 1000 Years of German Humour with Brit / Germans Henning Wehn & Otto Kuhnle in 2009 when they were nominated for the Barry Award. They certainly proved that German humour can cross borders and had me falling about in tears. At this year’s festival there are two German based acts Paco Erhard who is giving a ‘5 Step Guide in how to be German’ and newcomer CJ Delling who has been living in Sydney for 5 years.

CJ is a very bright, confident girl who comes from a corporate seminar background which is clear from her confidence, the shows good structure and her enthusiasm for imparting interesting facts. CJ’s humour is mostly anecdotal and her topics include air travel, dating, her language difficulties and clichés about Germans, she assumes non Germans have.

My main problem with her anecdotes, as cute and amusing as many of them are is that she is unable to convince me that any of them are real or part of her own life experience. Even her fascinating sounding time as a Bondi life saver and her boyfriend from Dubbo are brushed over so briefly that they seem made up for quick laughs.

There are mostly gentle chuckles to be had throughout with some cute call backs and my favourite laughs coming from her short chat with Kate the finger puppet possum. CJ could have improved things with a few more quirky touches like this. She has ‘comedian, cartoonist’ on her press info, so I’m sure her cartooning skills could have been brought in to amusingly illustrate some points. Also at the end of the show she describes to us her collection of funny customs forms for various countries and it would have been nice for the audience to have seen them as either blown up copies or even her own cartoon versions.

This is CJ’s first ever festival show and I think it might be a bit ambitious to put on an entire hour on your own first time out. Older, experienced comedians will tell you that an entire hour for a comedian was rare when the comedy festival began and was reserved for the most experienced performers. The Bull & Bear was also a pretty tough venue with noisy pub patrons nearby for her to contend with and having to do all her own teching. Still CJ is a lovely, engaging person to spend an hour with and is unlikely to offend anyone.

CJ Delling’s  Life is Wunderbar (Individual Results May Vary) is on at The Bull & Bear Tavern