The Peer Revue

By Lisa Clark

If the success of Big Bang Theory and the IT Crowd are anything to go by geek comedy is the New Black and there is a lot of it about during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. Peer Revue is a comedy show by a group of science boffins who are out to convince comedy audiences that science is fun and funny. In fact they are backed by a CSIRO program called re- science

The Venue is appropriately the elegant Kelvin Club, named for great physicist Lord Kelvin who has units of measurement named after him. There’s a lovely big painting of him in the performance space. The performers pay tribute to him at the beginning of the night in appropriately formal tones. They soon toss off their smoking jackets to don their ‘Hey kids! Science is really rad!’ personas. They are daggy and endearing and after all the silly intros each performer takes the stage in turn to share their particular scientific passion with us.

First up is one of the most famous faces in Melbourne Geek Comedy Ben McKenzie. Ben is involved in giving informative comedy tours of the Melbourne Museum and in the comedy Role Playing show The Dungeon Crawl amongst other things. For his portion of the show he has hit upon the intriguing idea of explaining the famously intimidating tome A Brief History of Time by physicist Stephen Hawkings. He begins by finding out how many people in the audience own the book (in our case one ) and how many people have actually read it (again one, but a different person). Ben then takes us through eleven chapters in the book and sums them up one by one using the briefest of amusing anecdotes. I can’t verify his accuracy but it was fun to watch what I assume were actual physicists who were nodding and laughing, even clapping enthusiastically, as he nailed each of Hawking’s theories. Everyone else had a good laugh and definitely ended up feeling a little bit
smarter after Ben’s section. I learned that Black Holes are ninjas & cool.

Simon Pampena was a big contrast in personality… to probably everyone in the room. He reminded me of Garden Guru Costa Georgiadis but his geek passion is maths with an enthusiasm that borders on the psychotic. He is quite shouty, which is a bit confronting in the genteel Kelvin Club, and I got the impression that his act was designed for performing in a pub or some such rowdy comedy venue. He had two major maths theories to explain to us and for the first one he used the Olympics medal tally. I could see that a pub crowd would be excited about sports statistics but the people around me were not that excited. He went on to explain Pythagoras’ Theorem involving triangles and his style went from aggressive to something a bit like Sam Simmons and I enjoyed it a lot more. He also had a fun PowerPoint presentation and had the audience rocking with laughter.

After a brief interval and sojourn to the bar it was time to learn about cephalopods from Trent McCarthy. It was described as ecology science but it was mostly silly stuff about octopi. His opening bit dressed as an octopus was cute but a bit of a let down to anyone who wasn’t in the front row, because we couldn’t see him. He either needs a higher stool or they should film him and show it on the screen. I also wanted to know more about his aunt’s historic survival of a box jellyfish sting and more fabulous wacky facts about cephalopods, but after a brief introduction to the mimic octopus he just went on to take some cheap shots at politicians. It did end well with a very successful and harmless bit of audience participation demonstrating cephalopod coitus that was a lot of fun.

Nicholas J Johnson was unsurprisingly the most charismatic of the performers of the night. As a former scammer, being inviting & charming is his stock in trade in the same way that in a geek it is generally not. His science was about psychology, human behaviour and hormones. His set relied heavily on audience participation and a camera was trained on his hands so everyone could see his close up magic. He did the old balls under cups routine and showed us how easy it is to trick the eye and mind with simple movements. It reminded me a little of Lawrence Leung, delightfully astonishing and a great crowd pleaser.

Although opening night was a little patchy, it is a fun night and would suit a group of friends with scientific tendencies who want lots of laughs with some learning. Considering the range of topics and the pizzazz of the performers I’m sure there would be something to enjoy for everyone.


By Colin Flaherty

Incorporating Social Media and related technologies into comedy shows has been increasing within the past year or so. Pushing it even further, Mick Neven makes extensive use of twitter in an ambitious attempt to engage his audience. Audience members are encouraged to tweet comments during the show at any time. There is also a fun guided walk via podcast to get you to the show.

We find Mick tweeting observations and instructions to us as we take our seats which is an interesting take on pre-show banter. The freedom to interact makes for some creative audience heckling later on, although it isn’t as immediate as it could have been due to imposed continuity measures. When the iPad is entrusted to a mischievous “Secretary”, the risk of distraction is high and some of Mick’s jokes may be missed.

The structure of the show comprises of stand up with regular refreshing of the twitter feed (projected onto a screen for all the room to see) so that Mick can comment upon the tweets sent from both within the room and the outside world. Most of these off the cuff remarks tend towards crude lines and the insulting of the sender. They still manage to elicit voyeuristic laughter from the punters as a certain anonymity factor provides a safety barrier when it is Mick’s name being associated with the replying tweets.

Adding the odd reply and retweet, the show attempts to expand into the Twitterverse but sometimes the context is a little skewed. Tweets from audience members can only provide a glimpse into the material covered (as well as the obligatory superficial observations) which makes for some amusingly odd responses from those situated elsewhere.

Mick’s scripted material is solid observational gear with various amusing rants. He covers many stupidities of the modern world, usually with the addition of a “when I was young we had to…” routine; ensuring that the stand up is tied securely to the concept of the show. Some of the routines fail to end on a big finish but they always contain enough humourous lines and ideas to keep the punters laughing constantly throughout the show.

The guided walk requires at least forty minutes of your time, as Mick and his guests provide colourful banter while you make your way to Roxanne Parlour from the Town Hall. There’s the extra incentive of a free beverage as the tour takes in a pit stop at the Portland Hotel. This podcast is both entertaining and informative, even if Dave from the Brewhouse is a little dry in his presentation.

Certainly a unique and intriguing concept, this is a well structured and amusing show that goes beyond a mere technological gimmick. If you can tolerate his constant dropping of the “f-bomb” you will certainly have a fun time.

#ShitMickNevenSays is on at Roxanne Parlour


Daniel Kitson – Where Once Was Wonder

By David Slattery

Well you will certainly get your money’s worth for this show. Introduced as a show about “what life is”, and how “the impossible becomes the inevitable”, there is certainly no skirting around the serious topics at hand. While I am reluctant to compare his work to any other, his masterful Stephen Fry-ish use of the English is entertainment on its own. I genuinely think I could listen to him talk on the most mundane of topics and find it both enlightening and entertaining. The fact that he is also hilarious is a bonus.

There have certainly been a few changes to this show, compared to his earlier work. While in previous shows he has given off a fairly self-deprecating vibe, in this tour he has thrown all that away in favour of being “awesome” instead. Also, possibly more obviously, he has shaved his head and beard. This relatively insignificant act actually goes on to spark a large portion of his inspiration for this show; a myriad of metaphors about perception, prejudice and rebirth.

One of Kitson’s great skills which is certainly demonstrated in this show is his ability to create vast amounts of comedy while remaining firmly within the theme of his show. Generating comedy from topics not inherently funny with his unmistakeable use of language, he also weaves some compelling, and often poignant arguments seamlessly into the show. Arguments and philosophies that are cynical and heartfelt, logical and completely contradictory.

Despite the wordiness of his content, there is no sense of alienation for the audience. He balances his language perfectly with his subject matter to ensure that everything he says can be understood completely by virtually any audience. Whether or not any individual member appreciates the full extent of his cynical philosophies is of course a different matter.

As always with Kitson’s shows, be prepared for him to ramble on past his allotted time frame, but I guarantee you will be left with a kind of warmth, and a moral that I for one have never experienced from any other artist.

Daniel Kitson -Where Once Was Wonder is on at The Playhouse, Melbourne Arts Centre

Win tickets to Dave O’Neil’s show “You Don’t Really Have a Job Do You Dad?”

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If you ‘d like to win one of these double passes email us at


Dave O’Neil’s show is on Tuesday to Sunday at 9pm at

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240 Lt Collins St, Melbourne

* Licensed venue. Under 18s must be accompanied by a Parent or Legal Guardian.

More info can be found here

An Interview with Ben McKenzie

by Lisa Clark

This year Ben McKenzie is appearing in (at least) eight different shows during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. I’m wondering if this is a record and if this could be the inspiration of a sort of performers’ version of the Funny Tonne competition?

Well, I don’t know about a festival record, but it’s certainly a personal one! My previous record was four, and two of the eight aren’t official festival shows, so I’m not sure they count. I wouldn’t recommend trying to beat even six, though!

How did you make the move from the science world into the comedy world and is there still some separation, or have you melded them like two Vulcan minds?

It’s debatable whether I was ever really in the science world; I did study science at uni (mostly physics and computer science), but I never completed my degree. I have always loved science though. I was an actor finding it hard to get gigs, but I’d done some sketch comedy at uni and I decided I should write some comedy, and my first three comedy shows were solo shows about science. I was inspired by friends I admired – Lawrence Leung, Linda Catalano and Andrew McClelland – to write comedy about a subject I cared about.

Who in comedy has inspired you?

I’m constantly inspired by friends I’ve made through the comedy scene, like the people I named above. There’s so much great live comedy in Australia! Celia Pacquola and Hannah Gadsby inspire me; they each have a definite style and they really make it work, something I find difficult as I always wanted to change and try different things – probably to my detriment! I’m also a big fan of the British comedy scene.

You have been part of Museum Comedy since 2008, who have you got lined up as your guides this year?

This year I’ve decided to change things around and do a character based tour, so I have some great comic actors playing our tour guides. Dave Lamb is a WAAPA grad who’s worked with Bell Shakespeare, and he has amazing amounts of energy, he’s playing Dave, a new graduate of the Tour Guides Academy. Petra Elliott has a great, commanding authority, she used it to great effect in a recent role with La Mama; she’s playing Narcissa, a veteran guide who loves Melbourne and the history of the city. Her odd assistant Vic is played by Nadia Collins, who’s a great improviser with a talent for coming at things from an unexpected direction. It’s going to be different from our previous tours, I’m really excited about it!

What is your part in The Peer Revue?

I’m one of four performers brought together by re-science, a group who craft science experiences in Victoria to get adults interested in science. We’re each doing our own thing; mine is a reprise of a show I wrote for Science Week a few years ago in which I summarise A Brief History of Time in, well, it’s now about 10 minutes. It can be done!

Can you please explain what Pop Up Playground is all about? Remember that not all of us have heard of the ‘classic’ Werewolf – or is this used to weed out the non nerdy?

No, it’s definitely for everyone! It’s a game in which you and your team leader – who is one of the five guild leaders on your village council – must figure out which of the councillors are secretly werewolves. The werewolves kill off the council members one by one at night (when everyone has their eyes closed), and then you talk to your leader and team mates and try and figure out who the werewolves are. It’s all about bluffing the audience and trying to work out who’s lying, but the audience make the final decisions. Pop Up Playground is this and other games played live on stage.

So you are planning on singing in at least two of your shows this year…

Somebody to Love is this year’s ASRC fundraiser, and I’m super excited. I’m singing at least one of my favourite Queen songs. It should be a blast! So should Karenoke, Karen Pickering’s karaoke show. I used to go to karaoke a lot about five years ago, so that show is quite an indulgence.

I get the sense of you as being a comedy professor teaching comedy fans about science, politics and what the hell Dungeons & Dragons is all about. Do you see a teaching role in your comedy?

Definitely. I mean, the comedy comes first, but comedy is partly about surprise – not knowing what the punch line will be. Science is like that, the world is like that: so many surprises and things we don’t know, and finding them out is as much fun as laughing. Why write another joke about airline food when you can spread the word about things you love?

Do you think the Geeks have gradually taken over the comedy world? (Or have they just gradually taken over the world…?)

That’s a big question. I think a lot of comedians are nerds, it’s just that they’re nerdy mainly about comedy. Certainly most of my favourite ones are, and that spills over into nerdery about other things. My next solo show is about geek culture so I don’t want to give too much away, but the best thing about nerdery is that it makes a virtue out of passion; it says “it’s okay to care deeply about stuff and want to share that with the world”. There’s a fine tradition, especially in Melbourne, of comedy in this vein, so I don’t think it’s a new thing.

Come on you can tell us, have you some how gotten hold of a time turner to keep up with it all?

Let’s just say I might have more than one heart and know a thing or two about the time vortex, and leave it at that. 😉

Here’s where you can see Ben perform this Comedy Festival:

Pop Up Playground
The Peer Review
Late Night Letters and Numbers
Melbourne Museum Comedy Tour
Late Night Dungeon Crawl
Political Asylum’s Late Night Riot!
Somebody To Love: A Tribute to the Songs of Queen

5 Good Reasons to see Mick Neven, Jennifer Wong & Ben McKenzie

5 Reasons to See #ShitMickNevenSays

1. Because you’re not just allowed to tweet from the audience, you’re expected to tweet from the audience. With a projector screen displaying the latest tweets with the #ShitMickNevenSays hashtag, it’s the future of audience participation.

2. Because there’s a Pre-Show Guided Tour podcast. Once you’ve got your ticket you can download the podcast from and it guides you from Melbourne Town Hall to the venue. It features commentary from guest comedians and instructions on how to get a free James Squire Golden Ale.

3. Because you get a free James Squire Golden Ale. Seriously! Get a ticket, get the podcast and get a free beer on the way to the show.

4. Because it’s a funny show featuring incisive social commentary and topical doodle jokes.

5. Because my kid wants a bike and if you don’t buy a ticket you’ll be breaking a little girl’s heart.


5 Reasons to See Jennifer Wong – Ouch & Other Words

1. Time: Ouch & Other Words is on at 7:15pm. There is a good chance it doesn’t clash with any of the shows you want to see.

2. Location: Ouch & Other Words is on at the Forum Theatre. If you’re already nearby, this location will be very convenient for you. If not, sadly it will not be.

3. Language: Ouch & Other Words is performed entirely in English. It is much better than the solo show I once performed entirely in Finnish. I only know one word in Finnish. (Lahja. It means gift, or present, and is the name of my favourite dog on Instagram.)

4. Content: Ouch & Other Words is stand-up comedy about First Aid and some other things, such as being bookish and observational and anxiously optimistic. This may be of interest to you.

5. Guarantee: If you hate my show, I will sit in the dark and watch you talk for an hour.


5 reasons to see any one or all of Ben McKenzie’s shows

1. I have super powers: due to a mutation on my sixteenth chromosome I have slightly increased pain tolerance, a resistance to anaesthetics and extraordinary ginger mutton chops.

2. You can get your nerd on: who else will be making jokes about science (The Peer Revue), games (Pop Up Playground and Late Night Dungeon Crawl) museums (the Melbourne Museum Comedy Tour) and puzzles (Late Night Letters and Numbers)?

3. We will rock you: whether you want to be rocked by the music of Queen (Somebody To Love) or learn how to properly rock out yourself at karaoke (Karenoke), we’ve got you covered. (Fame and fortune not guaranteed.)

4. You can get involved: why annoy your fellow patrons and comedians by heckling in other shows, when you can come to Dungeon Crawl or Pop Up Playground and be invited to participate in the fun? And all from the safety of the audience!

5. I’m a terribly nice man: I was described as the anti-Hitler, don’t you know?

Here are the links to book for Ben’s shows:
Pop Up Playground
The Peer Review
Late Night Letters and Numbers
Melbourne Museum Comedy Tour
Late Night Dungeon Crawl
Political Asylum’s Late Night Riot!
Somebody To Love: A Tribute to the Songs of Queen