Geraldine Hickey : What a Surprise

By Erin Hill

It comes as absolutely no surprise that Geraldine Hickey is a very funny comedian. Astute observations delivered in Hickey’s gently wry tone kept the audience chuckling for the hour. But what did come as a very welcome surprise was how genuine and heart-warming What a Surprise was.

Hickey opens the show with the necessary 2020 disclaimer, acknowledging that the show was written B.C. (Before COVID). The show largely centres on Hickey’s experience of turning forty, and navigating the “surprise” birthday party she forced her partner to throw. Hickey’s recollections of previous years of hastily-thrown-together last-minute parties, fielding text message after text message of apologies and well-wishes struck a particular nerve; eliciting a guttural laugh of recognition.
It brought about an odd sense of nostalgia to recall all the social faux pas that come with birthdays you can spend around other people; like how do you mention it without coming across like a five-year-old, and how do you manage your expectations when it comes to the calibre of “surprise” event? Hickey’s observation that even at the age of forty, your idea of the highest level of excellence and prestige can still be ‘the presence of a bouncy castle’ was truly inspiring.

What a Surprise also speaks to what it means to be in a relationship and the things we do to please, delight and surprise the people we care about. Hickey’s tale of her determination to acquire a ring from the elusive “hairy finger man of Instagram’ is worth the price of admission alone. Brief glimpses into inside jokes between Hickey and her now fiancé, snapshots over years of a relationship highlight the trust Hickey places in her audience. In kind, that trust speaks to Hickey’s prowess; a seasoned performer who has faith in her own ability to get the audience on side.

What a Surprise was a joy to behold. Hickey makes sharp observations with finesse and apparent ease. The stories she shared remind us of a time when a thrill-seeking activity meant zip-lining and not drawing blood in Woolies over a packet of Kleenex Cottonelle. But the unexpected feeling walking out of the show is the overwhelming sense of warmth and sweetness Hickey manages to impart in just one hour. What a Surprise is a pleasant surprise in that.

What a Surprise at The Supper Room in Melbourne Town Hall until April 18

Lano & Woodley in Lano & Woodley

By Nick Bugeja

It’ll serve as no surprise that the stars of Lano and Woodley are, indeed, Lano and Woodley, one of the most successful Australian comedy duos ever. After formally reuniting after 20 years in 2018 with the show Fly, the coronavirus pandemic interrupted their revived partnership for the best part of a year. But now they’re back (again), this time delivering a show, full of sketch and slapstick skits that will please their fanbase and newcomers alike.

Lano and Woodley isn’t easily describable, but anyone with the faintest familiarity with them would immediately recognise their chaotic, frenzied comedic style. Yet, there is also a meaningful design to the proceedings; it’s amply clear that much planning has gone into the choreography and rhythm of individual scenes and the show as a whole. The songs – of which there are many – demonstrate this quality, especially when Lano and Woodley sing together in unwitting, conflictual duets. Of course, both of them are equally capable improvisors, with Lane playfully berating some front-row latecomers over the entire show, while Woodley humorously riffed off an audience member’s unexpected profession. Even when one of them misspoke stuttered over a line, that sometimes spawned new comedic openings. Lesser performers would have let this temporarily derail their show.

Although both excellent comedians in their own right, Lano and Woodley go up a notch together. The essence of their partnership is the oppositional styles they adopt. Lano is irritable and supercilious, Woodley credulous and blinkered, comedically embodying the ancient Yin and Yang principle. The set-up is often similar, but always rewarding: Woodley persists in his idiocy – like believing ‘Artica’ is a real place – to the point where Lano cannot help but unleash his frustration.

Woodley has the better of the two roles, and more comic freedom to generate the biggest laughs. He is Australia’s best ‘wacky’ comedian by some distance. Though Lano is hardly left the scraps, and makes the most of the spotlight on several occasions over the course of the show. His rendition of the ‘moving’ song, ‘100 green bottles on the wall’, just about matches Woodley’s ludicrousness.

At one stage, Lano remarked to no one in particular ‘I’m not sure if this qualifies as entertainment’ in the aftermath of an especially risible episode. The crowd, cheering, clapping, and laughing throughout, most certainly thought so. Of all the shows veering outside the parameters of traditional stand-up, Lano and Woodley is probably the most memorable of them.

Lano and Woodley is showing at the Arts Centre (Playhouse) until 4 April.

Claire Sullivan : Toast Rat

By Will Erskine

A show of ideas. Some of them were excellent.

My overarching response to this show is that it is scheduled at the wrong time of day. I’m unsure if this is a wilful choice or a logistical challenge, but Toast Rat would benefit from a later slot, some more alcohol and energy in the audience. 4:15 is a show time I can get behind, but maybe not ideal for Claire Sullivan’s mad-cap, erratic selection of ideas, gags and character comedy.

The performance feels like a lucky-dip selection of characters, thoughts, stories and gags that Sullivan has experienced or thought up over the past year (or two). They range from joyously silly character pieces about a middle-aged yummy mummy trying to charm a police officer to detailed descriptions of a threesome and a scattering of Claire dealing with the death of her father. The range of emotions was enormous and it’s incredibly brave of Claire to include her father’s passing amongst the silliness as it is a visibly raw topic for her. Her stories of back-pack steak boy and living in a shed are wonderful and the “angler fish” line about her friend’s butt-hole will stick with me for a long time.

The pleasure in this type of show for an audience member is that if the current segment isn’t landing for you, the next one might and there is bound to be something in this show to make anyone laugh at least a few times. The less positive is that none of the ideas gets enough airtime, the titular Toast Rat appears a few times throughout the show, and is funny, but doesn’t add anything to the structure and doesn’t really develop from the first appearance. It almost felt like Claire was holding some of the chaos, energy and madness back… the joy of running screaming “I want my toast” into the audience is making people a bit uncomfortable, when toast rat reappeared, I was expecting and hoping the boundaries to be pushed further, to watch audience members squirm and hope that they aren’t going to have to get involved. This may again be a result or a reflection of the early timeslot. I can’t help but feel this show would play out differently at 10:30pm.

Overall Toast Rat is an enjoyable hour, it’s very fringe-y, very Comedy Festival-y. I would hesitate to recommend it to people who like their comedy to be a person telling jokes for 50 minutes, but if you’re game for a bit of a random wild ride, it is a fun one. The self-comparisons to The Mighty Boosh and Fleabag are fair, but there is a lot of polish and refinement needed to come close to either. One or two fewer ideas would give the rest of them space to breathe.

Toast Rat plays at Storyville until April 4th


By Will Erskine

Regular attendees of the comedy festival, including myself, often recommend seeing something you’ve never heard of before. Something you’re unfamiliar with and maybe even something that “doesn’t sound like your cup of tea”. Those who book tickets to the same acts every year often baulk at the idea of booking tickets to see something you’ve never heard of, but they miss out on the single greatest joy of the comedy festival and festivals in general.

I entered the Motley Bauhaus, a small theatre space in Fitzroy North well off the beaten path of the comedy festival, with no expectations. I was seeing Daydream, written and performed by Con Coutis and Charlie Hill, directed by the former. A show that had piqued my curiosity initially due to its early evening timeslot and geographic convenience to my home and evening Yoga class.

I was somehow struck by a feeling that the show I was about to see was going to be one of two extremes, it would either be uncompromisingly awful or a masterpiece. The first 30 minutes or so of punchy dialog, clever scripting, self-referential call-backs and excellent physical comedy left me almost desperate for a moment’s respite from the laughs. While it felt like there was a slight let-up in the dizzying quality of the performance for a couple of minutes around the halfway mark, it was momentary, and it might have just been self-preservation kicking in so I didn’t die from laughing too much. Daydream delivered one of the slickest, fastest paced and funniest hours of comedy I have seen for quite a number of years.

The highlight of the performance for me was one of the most genuine slow-builds rounds of applause I’ve ever witnessed as various members of the audience realise the punchline to the scene a few moments before it has been delivered. A quality yarn indeed.

It’s hard to pin-down exactly what Daydream is, it’s part play, part sketch show with, as they say themselves, “just a hint of stand-up”. The crucial thing is that it’s incredibly well written, clever and most of all hilarious. If I were to choose the target audience, I’d say those who enjoy word-play and sketch comedy will be in their element here, however I’d recommend this show to anyone and everyone who will listen. They have already sold out their all-to-brief run at Melbourne International Comedy Festival but make a note of these two as Daydream deserves to play for more people at a later date. Without doubt a couple of comedic stars at the start of their careers.

Take a risk, get involved, go and see Daydream and whatever Con Coutis and Charlie Hill do next.

Daydream plays at The Motley Bauhaus until March 31st

Max Paton : Dark Web Mystery Box

By Colin Flaherty

Max Paton created a high energy, fast paced sketch show as part of MICF this year. As with any sketch show the quality varied wildly but Paton’s enthusiasm was so infectious that nobody really cared. We got plenty of visual puns, deliberately bad jokes with lame explanations and wonderfully creative wacky costumes.

There was an overall plot involving creating YouTube content and he explored a lot of internet culture covering topics such as Copyright flagging, inappropriate content and media ownership. The rest of the material didn’t always make complete sense but the energetic Paton ploughed on regardless, dragging the happily punch drunk audience with him. He described the show as a “gloriously unfiltered braingasm”, so it turns out this was exactly what it said on the tin.

Paton was a bundle of energy as he bounced around the tiny stage. Little space was left between scenes, leaving no time for the audience to catch their breath let alone applaud. He revved up the crowd, subjected us to bouncy songs in a sing-song-talk style (ala Aunty Donna) and inhabited various wacky characters. Paton kept the performance quite loose, rough and ready even though he has been involved with various on line sketch projects so this isn’t his first rodeo. It gave the performance a sense of danger that added a special thrill.

The sound design was impressive with sound effects punctuating the action and voices providing characters for Paton to interact with. He had a warehouse full of props on stage which were used in every sketch, none of that miming malarkey!

Some mildly embarrassing audience participation took place and the good humoured punters took it in their stride. The interactions were gentle enough to put the victim at ease once they got over the initial timidness. He’s not the slickest improviser in the world but the shambolic nature of the performance was fun.

A brilliantly silly show, Dark Web Mystery Box was a delight. You are sure to enjoy being sucked into Max’s crazy online world.

Dark Web Mystery Box is on at The Motley Bauhaus until March 31

Alex Jae : No Sorry, You Go

By Lisa Clark

Alex Jae’s show has a Great opening using the famous movie intro: ‘In a World’….. Something that no doubt goes down a storm with fans of her podcast “The Ladies Guide to Dude Cinema”. I wish this show was more about that. She and the title suggest No Sorry, You Go, is about having anxiety but maybe she was too anxious to delve into it because it turned out to be a fairly light and amusing skip through Alex’s life as an unmarried woman in her 30s.

Alex briefly mentions being single in lockdown with her cat but her cat isn’t given a name or any cute stories, it’s just used to joke that she’s worried she might be some kind of clichéd single cat lady. But she never seems to be far from having a boyfriend. This is Alex’s only hint at the pandemic, she’d rather forget about all that nonsense, why don’t we have a fun night talking about Ladies Things?

She talks about her love for lists and admin as only someone without relying on a job in admin can. She moves away from it too soon and onto her theories about watching porn which had a couple of good solid jokes but not enough and really just made the majority of the audience a bit uncomfortable for too long. Even Alex acknowledged it.

After you’ve survived the Porn section we can move to the good bit. The good bit was a great character study satirising pyramid sales seminars only it’s about… organising a Hens Night. Lots of fun for people who’ve been to traditional hen’s nights and eye opening for those who haven’t. It’s a great standalone sketch with a well-drawn character. I wished it had been earlier in the night to win me over before all the less interesting jokes told to uneven laughter.

The relationship standup feels a bit tired at times but I am an old married lady and this is material for singles in their 30s to relate to. She says she loves being single more than once, but has no great jokes about it and spends most of her time talking about annoying her boyfriend and her annoying exes. There are hints at family discord, but she doesn’t seem to ever really relax on stage and open up about herself.

The topic of Anxiety really only pops up in the show occasionally and it feels tacked on to an otherwise lively show. A fine Melbourne International Comedy Festival Tradition. She asks the audience to imagine she’s written a great ending to fit her theme, but it only adds to the impression that she is trying to add gravitas because it’s expected.

If you’re looking for right on feminist, topical or quirky standup, this is not your show. Alex is doing that mainstream, dick obsessed type stand up and if that’s your thing, grab some wines and take your girlfriends (esp if you’re doing a hens night) for a titillating fun time.

No Sorry, You Go is on at the Imperial Hotel until April 4