Nicholas J Johnson – Today Tonight, Tomorrow the World

By Cathy Culliver

Nicholas J Johnson’s new show begins with the sentiment that “critics are jerks”. Well I never. In that case, Mr Johnson … No, I can’t do it. As much as I’d like to get him back, it just wouldn’t be fair. Some critics are jerks. And Today Tonight, Tomorrrow the World is too good a show to give it a bad review.

Based on his experiences appearing on everyone’s favourite “current affairs” show (and I use those quotation marks very ironically), Johnson takes the audience through the background and the reasoning that lead to him selling his soul to appear on Today Tonight.

Johnson is better known around the country as “Australia’s Honest Con Man”, and spends his time educating folks on how to avoid being tricked into parting with their hard-earned cash.

Which is, according to Johnson, why Today Tonight hired him; they wanted a con man to trick unsuspecting members of the public out of their money so they
could swoop in with their cameras and prove that everyone is a gullible idiot, presumably.

Johnson’s re-telling of his experience is not only entertaining and very funny, but also a fascinating look behind the scenes of how these television types operate.

I wouldn’t call it an expose, because really, who wasn’t already aware that Today Tonight was dodgy as all hell? But Johnson’s experiences certainly reiterate why the show is perceived as such a scourge on Australian television.

Aside from his con artistry skills, Johnson proves he’s also a damn good comedian. He’s warm and engaging, but at same time delightfully unpredictable. The moments in the show when he pulls the rug out from beneath you make for some of the funniest and most memorable.

You have to wonder whether this is a cathartic experience for Johnson; a way to finally be at peace with what those bad TV men made him do.

But since just after calling me a jerk he also made us all promise not to give away the ending, I won’t tell you how he eventually finds a way to sleep at night. But I will say it’s a cracker.

Today Tonight, Tomorrow the World is showing at Club Voltaite, North Melbourne until Saturday 6th October.

More information can be found in the Fringe Guide

Lessons with Luis – Luis Presents: Kidney Kingdom

By Elyce Phillips

The winners of Raw Comedy 2012 and the Golden Gibbo have returned for the Melbourne Fringe with a reprise of their wonderful production Kidney Kingdom. Luis, his younger brother Luelin and dad Len put on a play about Luis’ quest to get his sick dad a new kidney. It’s a chance for Luis to show off his many skills – singing, dancing, teaching and above all, comedy.

Kidney Kingdom has all the ambition of a grand stage spectacular, but springs to life in a dazzlingly underwhelming array of cardboard props and embroidered homewares – ably handled by impressively deadpan propsmaster Luelin. It feels like you’re watching some family friends put on a performance in the lounge room. There’s that fantastic contrast between earnestness of the production – performed with such vigour on Luis and Len’s part – and the uncomfortable reality of the quality of their play. The jokes fall flat, the dancing is out of time, the costume changes are an ordeal and it is hilarious.

However, Kidney Kingdom is more than just an exercise in anti-comedy. Luis, Len and Luelin’s characters are all incredibly well-realised. They work together seamlessly as a family, from the subtle flickers of exasperation on Luis’ face as Len rambles on, to Luelin’s constant lack of enthusiasm for his brother’s work. The dynamics of the family are constantly bubbling beneath the main performance of the stage play. What’s more, they all portray their characters with a great level of affection. The humour of Kidney Kingdom may be in the awkwardness of the delivery, but it is never cruel. It’s also a wonderfully inclusive show. Although the audience may have been reticent to sit in the front row, by the end of the show everyone was getting involved.
Kidney Kingdom is truly impressive – all the more so for being a debut full-length production. The Lessons with Luis team will no doubt go on to do great things. Catch this show if you haven’t already. It would be a great shame to miss it.

Lessons with Luis – Luis Presents: Kidney Kingdom is on at the Fringe Hub – The Ballroom, Lithuanian Club until October 5th.

All the Details are on the Melbourne Fringe Festival site

Exploding Heads Impro – A Night of Improvised Comedy

By Cathy Culliver

The very nature of improvisational comedy means the audience never knows what it’s going to get, and neither do the performers. It could all go horribly wrong, or it could all go hilariously right. At the end of the day, it all comes down to having quality performers on stage who know their stuff.

Luckily for Exploding Heads Impro, they have just that. Performing together only since May this year, this group of Melbourne performers are steadily building a reputation for being the newest, most exciting improvisation troupe on the scene, thanks to their weekly performances at Smith Street’s The 86.

In addition to their regular Monday night shows, the group is putting on extra Sunday and Thursday shows during the Melbourne Fringe, and it’s well worth checking out.

For the most part, the show I saw was really enjoyable. If there was a negative, it was that one or two of the performers looked a little lost on stage. There were several moments where I just wished they’d take the ball and run with it, and the show would have been so much better for it.

That being said, this was only a small problem. The rest of the ensemble were clearly very talented, experienced and completely at ease with the job ahead of them; that is, make up stuff on the spot and make sure it’s funny. Not an easy task, but they managed it really well.

The evening was split into two parts. The first was a battle of sorts, with two teams facing off in a series of different skits, each with its own rules for what the performers could and couldn’t do. Some of these worked really well, some less so, but hey, that’s the nature of improvisation.

The second part of the night was called “Flashback”, a sort of “This is Your Life” skit following the life of an imaginary character, with the ensemble cast jumping in to play characters in scenes from their life. What resulted on the night I was there was a rollicking take of a mother-killing male model named Tony with an unhealthy attachment to a chicken named Clarence. So as you can see, anything can happen.

Exploding Heads may not be the most polished comedy show you’ll see at the Fringe, but the unpredictable nature of the show is probably one of its biggest assets. It’s exciting to watch and see what these guys come up with, right there before your eyes.

Sure there are some awkward moments, but there are also very funny moments that make it all worth it. But I can’t tell you exactly what will happen; you’ll just have to come along yourself and see for yourself.

Its on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays until the 14th at The 86 in Smith St Fitzroy, for further info, visit the Melbourne Fringe website

Mace and Burton: Rom Com Con

By Ron Bingham

The premise of this show is that Lizzie and Juliette were together about eighteen months ago, with one having been dumped and the other long term single, watching a marathon session of romantic comedies. One of them then persuaded the other to do a road test of the ‘getting together’ (hitching up, falling in love, whatever) scenario’s of the best films in the genre to prove whether the movies were based in reality in any way. I will confess right now that I have only seen one of the hundred movies on the list (Love Actually, in the cinema with a female friend many years ago) so I had to take their word for the plots and lines used.

They had a couple of rules for this experiment, with the most important one being that they would be honest. They went through a few films and eliminated some on the basis of danger, location, employment etc, showed a couple of the attempts and how disastrous they were (or not), had a few that were still waiting on results (one of the potential romances was going to be in the audience the next day for their penultimate performance) and there was a long sequence involving them using actors to see if they could fall in love with a ‘worst enemy’ type.

I would use examples of specific films and the situations if I had any recollection of which films were involved with what but I don’t want to appear a total fool. Just accept that Liz and Juliette were experts on the subject of the romantic comedy genre and, if there was a Mastermind for this, they would be Grand Champions. I won’t give details of the finale but the conclusions they make from their experiment in love, that being confident, honest and open seems to be a good thing, shouldn’t really surprise anyone. The journey to finding that conclusion out was the important thing, and some of the taped segments will have you shedding a tear over the emotions expressed.

Rom Com Con is on at The Cannons’ Gait

Suggs: My Life Story in Words and Music

By Lisa Clark

There’s nothing new in ex pop star icons performing nostalgic, autobiographical cabaret, but it does feel weird that a pop star from my generation is doing it. It was hard not to feel a bit old sitting in the middle-aged crowd and a bit apprehensive about what to expect. The show is in the comedy section of the Fringe guide, which seems promising, though in a music venue. (Unlike David Hasselhoff who is listed in the music section yet at a comedy venue.)

I needn’t have been so anxious as Suggs, frontman of early 80s ska band Madness, is a charismatic showman with impressive storytelling skills. Not so surprising when you think about the word picture stories he created singing songs like Baggy Trousers, Our House and House of Fun (hmm why ever was this not chosen as a song sung on the roof of Buckingham Palace???). Suggs used songs from Madness and others that influenced him to help illustrate his tale, which were used sparingly and effectively. It is also delightful to hear that Suggs still has a tuneful singing voice.

Suggs takes us on a colourful journey evoking detailed images of places he grew up, in Soho and Camden in London describing shops and streetscapes and the people he sees and meets there including gangs, friends and neighbourhood characters. For some in the audience it was a reminder of their own youth in these places for the rest of us it was a fascinating tour of a world we know only from music clips and movies. Framed by a sort of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ search for information about his Jazz singing father who abandoned the family when Suggs was three. We also learn how he was abandoned by his mum to live in country Wales with his cousins for a few years, then came back to London and joined a band that would later become Madness. His time with Madness is covered in detailed, but pop fame seems such a brief, bright spark in a long and colourful life.

Madness has reformed and it’s a pity the show doesn’t cover their recent triumphant performances at the Olympics and on the roof of Buckingham Palace for Her Maj, but this is a tightly scripted performance and maybe they’ll be kept for a sequel. It’s also impressive that Suggs seems to maintain a fairly stable home life with his wife of thirty years and two daughters who are starting to perform music. I do feel however that there is something missing, considering his own father’s problems, when he ignores his own darker side with alcohol etc, after incidents that have made the papers. Still maybe they were aberrations and this is a comedy, despite some dark issues, it’s kept pretty light and is very funny throughout. In fact the mood and style of the show perfectly mirrors the mood and style of songs sung by Madness and his true life stories certainly bring the lyrics to life. This is a must see for fans of Madness, but you could safely take someone who has never heard of band and they would still have a brilliant time in the company of the charming and eloquent survivor that is Suggs.

Suggs is on at Queens Hall

Simon Munnery – Fylm Makker

By Colin Flaherty

Simon Munnery is always pushing the boundaries of stand up and this performance is no exception. Broadcast via video link from the middle of the room, he performs sketches, monologues, puppetry and songs to camera using all sorts of video trickery to create a unique and hilarious show.

Keeping the audience’s attention fixed on a screen rather than the performer is a slightly odd, disembodied experience but it works brilliantly; the strange relationship between audience and performer sitting well with Simon’s often surreal material. A re enactment of his wife’s swim around the island, a musical tribute to the creator of the Zeppelin and a Mexican stand off are amongst the silly scenarios played out for us.

Mixing between 1mulitiple cameras he could create all sorts of visual transitions and interesting effects that provided something a million times more interesting than a bloke standing on stage. Simon kept some stand up tropes in his monologues (perhaps a microphone is a safety blanket) as well as adding the odd visual item for emphasis that echoed his “League Against Tedium” days. He enacted scenes using creatively crude paper puppets as characters. It was a little clunky at times but that added to the charm.

This is not a one man venture as musical accompaniment is provided by Mick Moriarty on guitar. As well as the wonderful musical backing to Simon’s singing/rapping he provided a soundscape and score to the sketches that fitted perfectly. He was able to convey moods to fit with the action in a seamless manner.

As a break for himself, Simon screened a short film he had made called “Rubbish Night”. Although he prefaced it with a warning that it may not be particularly amusing, the crowd found plenty of things in it to chuckle at.

My highlight of the Fringe thus far, Simon once again embraces the spirit of the Fringe and gives us something far removed from your basic stand up show. Bravo Mr Munnery, Bravo!

Simon Munnery – Fylm Makker is on at The Stand