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.

Tom Ballard – Doing Stuff

By Jayden Edwards

In his debut comedy festival show in 2009, Tom Ballard proclaimed he is what he is. After winning the Melbourne Airport Best Newcomer award that year, and continuing to go from strength to strength on Triple J’s breakfast show, I think it’s safe to say that what Tom Ballard is, is bloody funny.

Returning with his new show “Doing Stuff”, Tom has moved on from the introductions and tackles some hard hitting, in ya face political truth bombs… and of course, dick jokes. He explores, with great compassion and intellect, many of the big political issues from the last 12 months, and questions what makes people give a shit, and why we should, and of course lampoons the big wigs making stupid decisions. He also dissects issues directly affecting himself, such as gay marriage (or “Fag-age”) and vegetarianism. He finds the funnies and sprinkles them with wisdom like a comedian twice his age.

But it’s not all politics. Tom channels the crude stylings of Mike Wilmot throughout the show, especially at the end with probably the most disgusting thing you’ll hear at the festival this year, disgusting and absolutely hilarious! The crude ending, made all the better by the contrasting political material,  is not for the prudish.

Yeah, Tom is young and opinionated, but never preachy. His quick wit, stage confidence and self-depreciating delivery is really engaging, and whether you agree with him or not, you’ll be laughing, and listening all the same. Self analysing his comedy throughout the show piles on more laughs after the fact.

Tom is the future of comedy in this country, and tearing the present to shreds. A must see.

Tom Ballard is on at the Swiss House
More info and tickets here 

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

Adam Knox is All Washed Up

By Annette Slattery

Seventy two year old actor, comedian, TV host and misogynistic lothario Adam Knox is presenting his memoirs. At least, that’s the conceit of this show, as performed by the twenty two year old comedian Adam Knox.
Knox opens the show with a song, a clever song, but balance problems in the sound made it hard to pick up the subtleties in the lyrics. In fact this problem affected all of the areas of the show which included music. Nevertheless Knox’s opening number was strong, particularly with a Victor Borge type flourish at the end.

Knox ages himself fifty years by adopting a voice change and a kind of dishevelled despondency, reminiscent of a late nineties Anthony Morgan. He recounts his life story, starting with a tale of birth and initial upbringing that’s got the absurdity of someone like Nick Sun. Some of his early experiences include work as a mime, children’s clown and a comedian. He goes on to become a Letterman style Late Night TV Presenter before embarking on a movie career, which gives Knox latitude to parade his Marlon Brando impersonation (which is excellent). After this it’s his activism period and his many wives.

Throughout this Knox takes opportunity to mention his sponsors and continually decry his own physical appearance. Whilst the sponsor material is strong, his material on his self image becomes quickly tiresome and smacks of desperation rather than self deprecation. Also his approach to some of the material, such as attacking Bono for being superficial, smacks very much shooting fish in a barrel.

Whilst it is immediately apparent that Knox is an extremely intelligent young comedian, he is let down by the polish on the writing. That said, heaven knows where this guy could go with a good director because there is so much to love about this show. Whilst rough around the edges this is still a very funny show with great moments of comic insight. The originality and potential of this comedian are exciting.

Adam Knox is a fascinating young comedian who presents an interesting take on the idea of fake memoirs. Whilst the various ingredients to this show are not yet cohesive, this is certainly a show with plenty of laughs and some real comic gems.

Adam Knox is All Washed Up is on at The John Curtain Bar in Lygon Street (opposite Trades Hall).

The Upstairs Mix Up

By Colin Flaherty

In their Comedy Festival debut the Driving Monks Productions team present a random collection of sketches incorporating video, song and dance, and plenty of broad humour. The adventures of various socially maladjusted types are the order of the day. A majority of the scenes trade on being silly for the sake of it which does nothing to detract from the enjoyment; just don’t go looking for deeper meaning.

Many scenes tend to outstay their welcome and end on a whimper rather than a bang, often making the clearing of the stage a signal for the audience to applaud. The ideas were great and get some healthy laughs but they often push the same joke a little too far. The filmed segments in particular suffer from this problem; acting as a time filling device while the cast set up rather than a punchy piece of comedy. For example, a video about a Kiwi gang of youths was essentially several minutes of mocking the New Zealand accent. Occasionally they buck this trend by misdirecting the audience to go to hilariously unexpected places and presenting some short but sweet bits which are a delight.

A minimum of costuming and props were used to bring the scenes to life. It was interesting that they chose to dress up the weirdest character in each sketch elaborately while keeping everyone else in black; not only reducing changeover times but directing our attention to the most colourful aspect of the sketch.

Coming primarily from theatre backgrounds, the cast sell the performances with gusto. They put in all the necessary physical and vocal exaggerations to portray a large range of bizarre and grotesque characters. They make use of the small space well with their economical but expressive arrangements.

Almost half of the sketches feature characters seated on chairs, making it difficult to catch all the physical nuances from the back of the room. Put aside your Front Row Phobia so that you can see all the action ( however some neck craning may still be in order as the video screen is located perpendicular to the stage due to space constraints ) and prepare for an entertaining albeit padded hour of sketch.

The Upstairs Mix Up is on at Fad Gallery.