George Glass : Advertising Death

By Alanta Colley

The George Glass Boys have taken their musical ensemble to the next level by building a black comedy about love, death and revenge around their music.

The Frissal Brothers, who smell faintly like con-men are staring down the barrel of bankruptcy as Frissel Funerals’ loans have run dry. But just as they accept this fate the funeral opportunity of a lifetime comes along. The only challenge is that unfortunately the old man the funeral is for hasn’t quite popped off the perch yet. Plots aplenty ensue.

Scenes are interspersed with a full complement of musical numbers; the actors transforming into the band and then back again. There’s dance numbers, an odd acrobatic stunt or two, and not an insignificant amount of costume changes; involving a large amount of rather ludicrous drag.

Like a number of theatre pieces that have registered for the Melbourne Comedy Festival, this piece probably suffers from the expectation created that this is a laugh a minute comedy. There are jokes, but they were muted in their delivery and created very little punch. While the premise for the story was a fertile one; death, romance, doctors, widows, preachers and dodgy business men all make for chaotic comedy, this play didn’t quite get there. Sadly the acting of several (but not all) the cast was rather tepid; feeling like people delivering lines rather than fully embodying their characters. It seemed that there was an expectation that the drag was supposed to accrue more laughs than it did. It felt like the play was built around the music, which was the strong point of the performance. Sadly the plot also has gaping holes too – it’s really not clear how one of the main characters met his end.

This play needs a lot of work before the comedy, plot and acting can match the quality of the music.

Advertising Death is on at Mechanics Institute until April 19

Jason Pestell – Let’s Go

By Sofia Monkiewicz

 At the beginning of the show, Jason Pestell addressed the fact that it was his media night and kindly offered to write his own review to save us the trouble. He added that he is his own worst critic, and would not hesitate to give himself one star. Now, while he may not be perfect, it is safe to say that his 2014 MICF show is definitely worth more than that (and if we used a star-rating system at Squirrel Comedy, one measly star would simply not suffice).

Perth-born but currently based in Adelaide, Pestell is a genuine nice-guy. His personable nature and conversational tone creates a positive atmosphere where it feels as though he could be chatting to you over a drink or two, and you want to buy the next round. Let’s Go does not have a distinct theme; instead it is a series of mostly unrelated thoughts, observations and memories that are funny without being arrogant or crude. Pestell’s material appeals to all ages. He does not swear to enhance his humour, and does not resort to cheap jokes about alcohol, sex or illegal behaviour, reaching a high-level of hilarity while maintaining a G-rating.

Stories about deaf hecklers, petrol station safety and bookstore pranks are delivered with uninhibited enthusiasm, and a cheeky tale about the perks of a cancelled flight is delightfully endearing and a lot of fun. His passion for comedy developed at a very young age (we are privileged to hear proof of this during his show), and this is made obvious by his effortless ability to fill the entire room with laughter, even if performing to a small crowd. We discover that he is a high school teacher as well as a stand-up comedian, and his anecdotes about including comedy in the classroom, along with helping school-aged children achieve their hopes and dreams, are hilarious.

Charismatic, friendly and relaxed, Pestell may not be well-known or currently drawing in major crowds, but he would no doubt perform excellently whether he was speaking to 3 or 300 audience members. He is incredibly likeable but lacks any sign of an ego, although he has perfected a comical puppy-dog-eyes look in order to get what he wants. If you’re looking to take a punt on a comic you haven’t heard of before, and are looking for someone who is entertaining without being offensive, Jason Pestell is your guy. Bring the family.

Jason Pestell performs Let’s Go at The Downstairs Lounge @ The Swanston Hotel

Alice Fraser – Everyone’s a Winner

By Lisa Clark

Everyone’s a Winner is a beautiful, intelligent, funny, story show about survival, not fitting in and gaining the strength to walk away and find a better life. Sydney comedian Alice Fraser trained as a lawyer at Cambridge University, but thankfully for comedy audiences a legal life did not suit her and this show is about the miseries of the corporate world and her joyful escape.

Before the story proper Alice Fraser sings us a silly song on her banjo, an instrument which is almost as funny as the ubiquitous ukulele, that she plays wonderfully. Then just to let us know that she can crack out some pretty sharp gags she starts by popping zingers at us inspired by topics set out on cards. They are file cards because her props in the show tend to relate to her corporate theme.

When Alice moves into the story proper there is a change in mood and in manner which has more of a feel of spoken word but luckily is also very funny. Alice’s topics can get quite dark at times, the high levels of mental illness and suicide in her profession, the deep shame of failure, sexual harassment, the disdain towards women who choose motherhood and working in a place where non conformity is treated like a crime. Seeing her perform comedy and play the banjo, it is not surprising that she felt so out of place, could see through the bullshit and is thankfully able to make comedy about it.

I saw Alice absolutely slay a large comedy room with her intelligent, feminist comedy routine recently. It was then awe inspiring to see how she had expertly placed the jokes from her routine throughout her festival show. Which came first the routine or the festival show? I don’t know, but she is clearly mastering both. She has worked out an interesting structure with a warm welcome, Dictaphone messages that tell the story  and routines about the topics that emerge, interspersed with some musical interludes including a lovely sing-along.

It is always fabulous to discover a new hugely talented comedian who is clearly destined for big things. You should discover her too, before she starts selling out in more expensive venues.

Alice Fraser performs Everyone’s a Winner at The Swanston Hotel in the Downstairs Lounge at 6.15

Life Lessons with Michelle & Gemma

By Sofia Monkiewicz

“I love and appreciate you.”

“You are a wonderful human being.”

These positive mantras are only one part of what make Michelle & Gemma the lovable duo they appear to be in their new show, which combines their bright, endearing personalities with some mostly-helpful hints on how to lead a successful life. Life Lessons With Michelle & Gemma runs through seven steps that they believe will help maintain a well-rounded lifestyle if followed, for the benefit of each individual audience member and for the good of humankind.

Best friends Michelle Mammana and Gemma Duncan love bubbles, colour-coding everything, and, most of all, each other. They are sugar-sweet and filled with a childlike giddiness that fuels this high-energy comedy festival endeavour. This excitable pair have the potential to be mistaken for children’s performers (minus the innuendo and tales of dating mishaps), and their on-stage immaturity is what keeps the audience smiling throughout. We enter the performance space to find the duo engaged in a mini dance party for two, and once everyone is seated in the tiny ACMI Games Room they immediately launch into a playful attempt at educating us on what not to do when it comes to confrontations, manners and etiquette, and updating your Facebook status.

The premise of this show is certainly entertaining. Lessons in platonic spooning and the benefits of placing your elbows on the dinner table are creatively quirky, while a short audience-participation friend-making game keeps things interesting. Having said that, it was often difficult to engage with the fast-paced, back-and-forth interaction between Mammana and Duncan. The show was not so much a flowing conversation as it was a heavily scripted performance pretending to be a friendly chat between friends. The script was well-written and the lines were perfectly timed, but that was the issue; they were too perfect. It was impossible to take the girls’ feigned spontaneity seriously, and no aspect of their performance really came as a surprise; the over-rehearsed interactions were very unnatural.

Aside from the distracting scripted humour, Michelle & Gemma’s spirited routine was a rainbow of light-hearted fun. Drama nerds to the core, the girls conclude with some amusing banter about subconscious twins and a cutesy acoustic ditty, which tied up the performance nicely. Life Lessons With Michelle & Gemma is not the funniest show in the festival, but it is definitely a fun experience and you will no doubt leave with a smile on your face.

Life Lessons with Michelle & Gemma is on at ACMI – Games Room until April 20

Zoe Coombs Marr : Dave

By Alanta Colley

Dave is the antidote to the flogged-to-death clichés of blokey comedy. Coombs Marr has penned the perfect parody of a genre we are unfortunately all too well acquainted with. If you’ve ever stepped foot into a pub comedy night, an open mic night, or comedy dungeon, or watched an episode of the Footy Show you’ll be familiar with the sexist, homophobic and blokey tropes Coombs’ character Dave throws at us. This is a space to laugh at how unfunny some attempts to be funny are.

This show tumbles downward into an inescapable hole of tragi-comedy, as Dave runs out of material, panics, turns on the audience, and commits about every major gaff you can think of for a performer to undertake. He grows increasingly disillusioned with his heroes. He accidentally reveals facts about himself which start chipping away at his projected masculine persona. You’re watching a train crash in slow motion. Never has catastrophe been more delightful to encounter. This is a show you watch between fingers covering your eyes while squawking loudly with laughter.

Coombs is an excellent actor. Dave has depth, timing, a full gamut of expressions, and excellent physicality. Every thought Dave has is projected to the back of the room through Coombs Marr’s facial expressions. Coombs Marr plays with irony, cliché, assumptions and the delicate sensibilities of the audience to great effect.

Coombs Marr sets up expectations then knocks them down again. This show is packed from start to finish with surprises. Coombs Marr goes far beyond presenting ironic parody and supports the concept with a well developed character we end up empathising with. She’s also created a plot packed full of twists and turns. This is a bloody masterpiece. Comedy needed this. This is a packed hour of insightful, hilarious, absurd and uplifting comedy. Don’t miss it.

Dave is on at the Tuxedo Cat until April 20

Lessons with Luis : By Myself

By Elyse Philips

After two successful shows performing with his family, Luis Brown from Lessons with Luis is stepping out on his own for the first time (ably assisted by his crew, aka little brother Luelin). In By Myself, we get to know the real Luis as he tries his hand at stand-up comedy. There’s singing, storytelling and Seinfeld-esque gags, all of which are bad in the best possible way.

Once again the Lessons with Luis gang have created a wonderful show that’s not quite like anything else this festival. Beneath the dad jokes, home-made props and op-shop finds is a bittersweet story about family that sneaks up on you and grabs at your heart.

Despite being a solo act this year, there are still appearances from the extended family via video – we get a gloriously rambling welcome from Len and some basic Spanish lessons from Mr Bianchi. The show is more of a variety night than straight stand-up. Luis’ short bursts of jokes are interspersed with daggy tracks from the cassette player and a bizarre story acted out with assorted toys and cardboard props.

Luis is masterfully awkward in his special stand-up comedy outfit, shuffling around the stage like the world’s most terrified song and dance man. Luelin is the perfect foil to Luis’ attention-seeking, not cracking a smile for the entire show and staring at audience members for just that little bit too long. The dynamic between the two of them has really been amplified in ‘By Myself’ and it works beautifully. There’s a new level of tension that tests the boundaries of what’s funny, which is incredibly rewarding.

‘By Myself’ is remarkably refined piece of clumsiness. It’s everything you loved about their previous shows distilled into a purer form. If you’re a fan of Lessons of Luis, you shouldn’t miss it. This is their best work yet.

By Myself is on at the Tuxedo Cat until April 20