Xavier Michelides – The Brain Whisperer

By Lisa Clark

Xavier is one of those comedians who’s talent can make your jaw drop and your brain think, “why isn’t he more famous yet?” There are so many superb zany ideas, whacky characters and silly voices packed into his show that in other hands it might have been a bit messy but Xavier’s brain has not let him down.

Xavier has crafted an ingenious network of sketches, monologues, mime and even interpretive dance to map the many aspects we associate with the complex and mysterious brain. The membrane holding the show altogether is a fictional relationship Xavier has with his own brain and although there is much silliness and amusement in them chatting, bickering and splitting up to find new partners, it is this story that gives us a real insight into the brain of a working comedian and an idea of where the show’s concept may have originated.

Xavier’s sketches are all brain related, of course and if I have any faults to pick it would be that there are slightly awkward pauses between them where the audience was unsure about whether to clap and that their might have been a few too many characters for the audience’s poor brains to keep up with. Though Xavier does have a knack for picking the perfect comedy voices to go with his characters. The sketches include; the relationship between Emotions and Memory which were portrayed beautifully as characters in conflict, the inevitable psychiatrist and patient relationship and God and Gabriel discussing faith. A regular running gag is some sudden brain related commercials for products such as drugs to make your dreams continue or ‘celebrity brain snacks’.

A strong aspect of the show is blocks of straight standup comedy by Xavier which are attached to the main membrane of plot, but also inspires off shooting skits. These are conventionally funny and are exceptional examples of how the best comedians are able to slot their stand up gear into an interesting hour long festival show. In one of the skits, Xavier has written a call back that is so impressive that it receives a round of applause.

Xavier has been blessed with a comedian’s funny face and anyone who has seen his nutty TV adverts for this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival will agree that his face alone can make you laugh. This is beautifully combined with intelligent writing, perfect comic timing and superb character acting skills. He reminds me a little of a young Rowan Atkinson with loads of potential and a definite star on the rise. This is not a personal heart on sleeve show but it is a very entertaining look into the mind of a very funny guy.

Xavier Michelides – The Brain Whisperer in on at The Portland Hotel

This is Siberian Husky – Boneshaker

By Cathy Culliver

If there’s one thing This is Siberian Husky are definitely not, it’s lacking in energy. Duo Dan Allemann and Simon Godfrey are known for their quirky brand of frenetically-paced sketch comedy, and their latest offering, Boneshaker, is no exception. This show is lively, fervent and above all highly entertaining, though it’s certainly not for anyone looking for a relaxing hour of traditional stand up and ordinary humour.

Absurd but thought-provoking at the same time, Boneshaker takes its audience through highs and lows, from creepy to mundane, from touching to the downright silly. The show covers everything from the Melbourne housing crisis to expired yoghurt to the pros and cons of boiling cats. So to say you never quite know what’s coming next would be a fair understatement.

This is Siberian Husky are a slick, tight unit, never dropping a beat throughout the hour-long show. Switching effortlessly from posh English gents to deranged monsters in a matter of seconds, the duo change characters in the blink of an eye; as an audience member, it’s part of the fun just to see them do it.

The duo’s mime skills also certainly deserve a mention. Armed with the most minimalist of props, Allemann and Godfrey never leave the audience doubting that they are being guided through a dark, twisted world of fascinating characters, even though in reality it’s just a couple of guys on a stage, putting on accents and standing on boxes.

The pace with which the duo perform the show is impressive, and it’s obvious how much hard work has gone into making the skits flow so effortlessly from one to the next. The energy both guys put into the show is intense and passionate, so it’s no wonder than Allemann had to apologise for sweating onto an audience member during one of the skits.

This show is definitely a must-see if you like comedy to be silly, surprising and just that little bit unsettling. But in a good way, of course.

This is Siberian Husky – Boneshaker is showing at the Lunch Room, Melbourne Town Hall.


DeAnne Smith – Livin’ the Sweet Life

By Lisa Clark

 Canadians are so gosh darn adorable, no matter how filthy they are or even when they are insulting the audience and I think we have found the most adorable Canadian of all. Even before DeAnne Smith had officially began her show, she was heckled rudely and her handling of it was breathtaking. Her ability to put him in his place while make the audience laugh and feel at ease suggests years of stage experience and excellent people skills. It also failed to throw her off from performing another ace comedy festival show which confirms why she was nominated for The Barry last year.

The title, Living the Sweet Life is unsurprisingly ironic and to help demonstrate this DeAnne picks an audience member out for special consideration. It may or may not be in your interest to sit in the front row, depending on how shy you are. Her own sweet life includes parent’s who have become too comfortable with her sexuality, her middle class liberal guilt, a date that ends in the emergency department of a major hospital and a disturbing wax incident. Waxing was a bit of a passe subject a few years ago, usually talked about by wide eyed comedians who had not been through it, but DeAnne’s experience is astounding and hilarious. Another highlight for me was her participation in a ten day silent meditation retreat, not unlike the one Judith Lucy went through in her Spiritual Journey.

If you are seriously, easily offended this one might not be for you, DeAnne discusses lesbian oral sex, watching straight porn and she tells some dick jokes, but then maybe you should try a different festival altogether. It’s hard to imagine anyone being offended by DeAnne, she puts on a strong hour of bright, perky comedy which occasionally touches on dark subject matter. The show is bookended by hilarious songs that she plays on the ukulele, surely the cheeriest of instruments. The first is a chirpy tune about death and the last about nerdy pickup lines which really reminds me of Josh Earl, as does her haircut.  A fabulous show for a girls night out at the comedy festival, everyone is bound to have a great time and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch one of her chocolates.

Livin’ the Sweet Life is on at the Meeting Room at Trades Hall


Sarah Quinn – Weird Lonely Strangers

By Annette Slattery

In her festival show, Weird Lonely Strangers, Sarah Quinn performs a composite of unrelated, solo sketches. Interspersed with smoky jazz, Quinn uses voiceovers and simple costume changes to relocate from one scene to the next. Quinn’s array of characters includes a regular, single young woman, a beauty pageant organiser, a private investigator, an English author and a prudish burlesque dancer.

Quinn’s performances are strong, however the writing is weak. There is one piece about a “reformed” lesbian which is very clever and funny, and which has the potential to be developed into something more substantial, but apart from that there is little to recommend here in terms of content. A lot of the ideas are weak, unoriginal or over done and the better jokes within the script are often camouflaged by some confusion in the writing.

Some of the sections of the show are presented simply as a pre-recorded voice over, with Quinn behind the curtain and the polite, but clearly unamused audience left staring at the empty stage. This only further sapped the remaining energy in the room.

That said, Quinn, as I mentioned, is a strong performer and those skills alone make this show watchable. However Quinn does not have the comedy chops to pull this off as a festival show.

Sarah Quinn – Weird Lonely Strangers is on at Tuxedo Cat, Flinders Lane.


Ronny Chieng – The Ron Way

By Colin Flaherty

One of the cardinal rules of stand up is that you never blame the audience for not laughing but Ronny Chieng has come up with method of doing so while keeping the crowd on side. This is the magic of The Ron Effect. In his festival debut, Ronny presents a hour of polished stand up that ensures that energy levels are kept near eleven.

Ronny has devised a fascinating stage persona that is equal parts aggressive, naïve, over confident and possessing few social boundaries. All those elements are presented in a hilariously heightened manner that is a sharp contrast to the mild mannered guy he initially appears to be. Paired with a tight script, this results in a show full of laughs, twists and turns.

The material itself covers many standard observational themes, but when filtered through his character it is something special. The naivety produces some amusing literal interpretations while the aggressiveness produces some surprising left turns. He goes to some taboo areas that cause the audience to be torn between laughing at the ridiculous natural of it and stifling guilty titters after recognising that these extreme ideas have some warped merit. There is some truth embedded in the jokes (for example, his story about Rottnest Island and his real scar) but they reach some dizzying heights of absurdity through the telling.

Audience interactions take on a gladiatorial feel when tackled this way. Most questions posed to the crowd are merely there to confirm his viewpoint and the startled reactions from the punters aid this. When people eventually figure out how to respond to him and feedback starts to flow, it allows Ronny to deviate from the script and venture into unknown territory. Ronny even surprises himself at to where it leads and comes close to breaking character.

It was interesting to see that Ronny has devised some merchandise that is heavily related to material within the show. It makes for an amusing segment during the in-show spiel but ensures that the products will make absolutely no sense to anyone who haven’t seen the show. Perhaps it’s an inside joke only for those in the know, who will hopefully be in the majority by the end of the festival, as this is a brilliant show.

The Ron Way is on at the Evatt Room at Trades Hall


Bob Franklin & Steven Gates – Stubborn Monkey Disorder

By Lisa Clark

When word got out that the urbane Sir Bob Franklin and Steven Gatesy Gates from Tripod were teaming up for a festival show this year, you could virtually hear minds boggling all over town. If you enjoy having your mind boggled, this one is definitely for you.

The delightful and surprising thing was discovering what a great team Franklin and Gates make; with Bob unsurprisingly as the straight man and Gates as the comic side kick. Gatesy has taken his dumb and cute character from Tripod and augmented it to the point where he occasionally reminds me of Ardal O’Hanlon in Father Ted in being able to elicit laughs from looking confused. Their banter is the highlight of the show and their ability to deal with the odd technical fault gets such huge laughs that maybe they should leave those bits in.

Stubborn Monkey Disorder is a very tech heavy theatrical piece that sets up a spooky, gothic vibe by beginning in the dark with torchlight and sound effects. The opening creates the expectation of a horror story, especially with the brief flash of one of the performers in a wolf mask that suggests a werewolf story, which sadly never eventuates. There are definitely Hammer elements throughout though, with references to sinister doctors, dungeons and the tale of grave robbers Burke and Hare. The surprisingly satirical elements, especially when having digs at reality TV and the TV industry as a whole, are particularly gleeful.

The problem with the show is that are were so many plots over lapping and interweaving that it can be hard to keep up. There is a dream sequence within a story in particular that feels superfluous as I expected it to be somehow tied in at the end, but it is not. The Meta story involves Gates, having recently performed a failed reality show with Franklin, breaking into the studio where it was filmed. He discovers that Franklin has taken on the persona of a Scottish psychiatrist Dr Hugh Knox; with Gates and the audience suddenly finding ourselves taking part in a group therapy session. I think. I suspect this is a sort of re-enactment of their failed reality show, but it’s not quite clear.

Importantly, Bob Franklin and Steven Gates are so damn funny and adorable and the stories so intriguing and amusing that if you are fans you should not miss this and anyone else will probably have a fun time even if they’re not sure why. I don’t know if it’s a concious influence on them but I think Inception has a lot to answer for. 

Bob Franklin & Steven Gates – Stubborn Monkey Disorder is on at The Melbourne Town Hall in the Regent Room