John Conway – The New Conway Explosion

By Daniel Sheppard

One of my favourite discoveries of last year’s festival was John Conway’s “The New Conway Show” show, which I was recommending at every opportunity. There were a lot of expectations going in here, but instead of meeting those, John just decided to make whole new set of expectations and exceed those instead.
It’s difficult to describe John Conway’s surrealist comedy, not least because it’s hard to determine how much of the show is likely to be repeated from night to night. Whether re-enacting 90’s video games or creating giant string phone contraptions, most of the scenes have a fair bit of setup behind them, but they all seem like half-formed ideas that John is taking out for the night to see where they might lead him. Sometimes these leaves the show flying apart into chaos, but for the most part John pulls together a series of hilariously absurd sketches.
This new show has a lot in common with last year’s brilliant comedy festival debut, but if anything John seems to have allowed himself even greater reign with the improvised chaos. Helping to balance this out is Michael Burke, providing some grounding in the form of musical queues and a slightly more stable character for John to pull himself back to when his comedy takes him off into the deep.
John has a very infectious enthusiasm for what he’s doing, often barely able to contain himself or even complete his train of thought when caught up in a funny idea. With a less charasmatic performer, this often overwhelming enthusiasm could be off-putting, but through a bizarre combination of chaotic aggression and rapt innocence, the audience is never really given any choice but to get caught up in the madness.
This is not a show for everybody, and at certain moments it threatens not to be a show for anybody, but there’s a rich vein of comedy gold for anybody willing to follow John down into the chaos.
John Conway – The New Conway Explosion is on at Trades Hall

Steve Thomson – Police Stories

By Colin Flaherty

Joining the Victorian Police in 1974, Steve Thomson saw many crazy things during his twenty years in the Force. It is these wild but true tales that form the basis of his Comedy Festival debut. He has a catalogue of fascinating stories that are regularly funny but his abilities as a comedic storyteller are still in the “telling stories to your mates down at the pub” stage.

We were regaled with tales of misadventures at the morgue, the difficulties in apprehending tricky perpetrators and some unexpected outcomes of standard police procedures. Those expecting sexy drama ala TV cop shows will need to look elsewhere as these are humble tales from the front line by a foot-soldier who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Steve doesn’t provide much in the way of background to his Police career in either his introduction or conclusion; he begins by launching straight into his first story. Overhearing him speaking with some other audience members, he seems more than happy to chat about these details after the show.

He goes into immense detail in the telling of his tales, seemingly using real names and locations to set the scenes. While this certainly paint a vivid picture and counters the “people don’t believe that these stories are true because they’re so crazy” argument he points out at the top of the show, not all of it is vital in relaying the humour.

By ploughing through the chronological details, he doesn’t structure his tales so that they build to a punchline; most of them end by trailing off naturally instead of a with a witty quip. He certainly doesn’t seem to have embellished his stories in order to extract maximum laughs, they simply state the crazy facts. Some callbacks are worked in to great effect as he successfully manages to relay to us what was going through his head at the time.

His training as a presenter clearly provides him with on-stage confidence and he is amiable in his stage presence which allows him to easily hold an audience’s attention. There is something slightly perverse about his jovial attitude combined with the sometimes violent nature of his stories. It will appeal to those who don’t mind a little bit of dark humour but thankfully it doesn’t get too graphic.

In spite of his inexperience on the stand up stage, he has put together a fascinating show that manages to get the point across. It’s laugh rate is not exactly high, but you will have a chuckle with an interesting bloke.

Police Stories is on at Palomabar

Stephen K Amos – Laughter is My Agenda

By Jayden Edwards

Ok, Stephen’s been around long enough that most of you already know what your getting at a Stephen K Amos gig, a bloke who’s extremely comfortable on stage, as witty as they come, and a razor sharp audience badgerer. You’ll get it in bucket loads in his new show Laughter is my agenda.

Taking a similar formula as to shows of previous years, Stephen dissects and explores what it is that make us, and himself, laugh. Picking up his yellow clipboard, Stephen proclaims if a joke is funny, it get’s a tick on his list and stays in the show. And I guess if a joke’s not funny, then it’s out, but i don’t recall anything getting the chop. With such a transparent approach to the whole stand-up thing, the audience is immediately on-side and primed and ready to watch Stephen push his own agenda.

Stephen tackles topics such as race, local politics, family matters and his childhood, not groundbreaking stuff, but still hilarious and only amplified by Stephens wit and charm. But it’s Stephen’s audience interaction that provides the biggest laughs.

This particular night, Stephen struck gold with a young man named Alan (just one of many Alan’s in the audience that night, including “The Qantas Alan”). For some reason or another, the conversation turned to porn with young Alan proclaiming he wasn’t into “Interracial stuff”. The resulting riffing allowed Stephen to flex his improv mussels and it received a big tick on his yellow clipboard.

You can tell Stephan has a genuine interest in people and the human psyche. His retelling of an encounter with an aboriginal man who was offended by a joke he’d told results some exploration of such themes, and adds a bit of depth and intelligence to the show. More highlights include the reading of a baffling Townsville show review and some strange blues music at the end of the night.

Yeah, Stephen does tread old ground here and it would be nice to see him push himself a bit more, but hey, if it if it aint broke, why fix it? If you’ve seen him before, maybe try something new, but if you haven’t, Stephen K Amos is essential viewing.

Stephen K Amos is performing Laughter is My Agenda in the Main Hall at The Town Hall.

Celia Pacquola – Delayed

By Annette Slattery

In her new show Delayed Celia Pacquola take the audience on a journey half way around the world and back, covering wristies, high fives, sleep talking, accents, an abacus in poo, bad dancing, accidental assault, hairy stoves, aeroplane toilets and Craig Charles.

In this show Pacquola takes macro concepts and gives them micro treatments. Whilst the stories may cover such grand events as travelling to the other side of the globe and the world’s greatest romantic moment of all time, it’s the smaller moments, the incidents in between, the things that a passerby might not even notice, which carry the greatest significance for Pacquola.

Pacquola has a different of way of looking at things. She takes her experiences and extrapolates them out, sometimes to the degree of the absurd. Apart from anything else, Pacquola should be recognised with some kind of award for creating the first, original “aeroplane food” joke in thirty years.

This show is hilarious. Pacquola greets the audience with high energy glee and keeps the ball rolling from one moment to the next. There’s a slight lull in the laughs towards the end, but Pacquola has the skill to create an evocative story to keep the audience engrossed until the inevitable payoff. And what a payoff!

This is the same standard of high quality show that I’ve come to expect from Pacquola. Yet, there’s something new in her aspect, something in her manner, her gait that reminds me of Mighty Boosh comedian Noel Fielding. Her self deprecating, likeable goofiness is somehow more refined, more focussed. This is a comedian who is constantly refining her craft and, going by the evolution of her work over the last few years, Pacquola promises great things.

Pacquola is someone who deftly straddles the chasm between artistic integrity and wide ranging appeal. She’s as welcoming as a cuddle from your mum and as thought provoking as a young Justin Hamilton. If you’re a fan, don’t miss this one. If you’re not a fan yet, get on board now, while you can still see her somewhere more intimate than a ten thousand seater.

Celia Pacquola is performing Delayed in the Portico Room at the Melbourne Town Hall.

Greg Fleet – Heroes

By Andrew Holmes

Heroes – performed by Greg Fleet started off in the strangest way. Fleety starts siting on chair in a low light and in a very pained and reflective voice, begins to tell a story about the demise of SuperHeroes, Fleety’s failed attempts at being one and the unfortunate suicide of Superman. No-one really knew how to take this dark and serious monologue but thankfully it passed and the real Greg Fleet stood up!

I’ve seen Fleety do stand-up more times than I can remember and he’s never let me down. This stalwart of the Australian Comedy scene has been telling stories in his special Fleety way for almost 25 years and I’ve only once heard the same heckling story – that is a brilliant comic library!

The show is essentially about the people that Fleety puts up on a pedestal – his Heroes. The air hostie telling it like it is and the drunken taxi driver. There some cracking stories of his personal, bravery attempting antics; like taking on the Thai mafia and a strange tale of a Peter Parker Spiderman like effort on St Kilda Road. After a while though, the stories tend to lose their flimsy ties with the heroic back drop and just become amusing stories. All that aside, they’re told by Greg Fleet – so it could be about paint drying and it would still be gold.

The creepy monologues could be axed from the show. They didn’t really fit and left a really strange post-show mood in the room. They were the start, middle and end – perhaps there was a deeper morale story there somewhere. No idea what he is trying here but it didn’t quite work.

It must be said – once a Fleety fan, always a Fleety fan. He’s managed to change it up and keep it entertaining for this long, even through a self-proclaimed “drug hobby”. If you haven’t seen him before – get involved; and if you have, you know you won’t be let down.

Greg Fleet is performing Heroes in the Council Chambers at the Melbourne Town Hall.

Dave Callan – The Graveyard Shift

By David Slattery

In his show Dave Callan showcases some of his most interesting calls and experiences from his time working the night time or Graveyard Shift.

In a nutshell, if you are looking for some simple, uncomplicated laughs then this is a show for you. Many laughs are to be had at the expense of Callan’s middle of the night clientele, who range from the obviously drug-altered, to the downright odd and unexplainable. Excerpt recordings of actual callers are played, along with a slideshow of (in some cases quite necessary) subtitles. Certainly the material is unique and showcases a rare event where the majority of the humour comes from people who are neither trying to be funny, or even present for the show. It must be said that although a large portion of the act is spent listening to audio recordings while Callan stands silently, this does not detract from the quality of the show. Callan’s commentary and clever interplay really “make” the performance. That being said, the utter truthfulness of the show is horrifyingly hilarious. Knowing that who you are hearing are real people, with real thoughts is a little worrying from an evolutionary perspective.

Callan also gives a short history and description of exactly what Triple J is all about, some of the people he has worked with there, and the inherent risk of working with said people. Interspersed amongst the recordings are some games involving a fair amount of audience interaction. The entirety of the show had an informal air about it for that matter; Callan speaking very conversationally and obviously knowing his audience well. There is a real sense of being allied with Callan against the absurdity of some of his callers, a mutual feeling of complete bamboozlement at some of the things Callan obviously had to endure.

This was only a preview show, so of course there were some obligatory teething problems, but surprisingly few and nothing that really stopped the show. A few abrupt segues between sections of his act and one or two minor technological glitches that had to be endured were handled very well by Callan who kept the audience entertained throughout.

For simple, unadulterated humour at the expense of strangers, coupled with some killer dance moves, you cannot go wrong with Dave Callan’s Graveyard Shift.

Dave Callan’s The Graveyard Shift is on at The Portland Hotel.