By Colin Flaherty
Set at the end of last year’s MICF, Shrub and Wearnie inherit a house from their “Uncle Lucifer” and soon discover that not everything is as it seems. So begins the Underlads latest crazy adventure.
Every horror movie cliché imaginable was thrown into this show. It got to the point that identifying all the references sometimes took precedence over laughing at the jokes. There was lots of witty wordplay, hilarious verbal and physical conflict, and plenty of absurd ideas running throughout. The plot twisted and turned all over the place but still remained coherent enough to follow.
The references to ghost sex in the program blurb made it clear that they would delve into some risqué and disturbing concepts, making it not one for sensitive souls. This was emphasised with some sexually graphic visuals and crude song parodies that simultaneously titillated and grossed out. Add to this the splatter elements of horror and a homoerotic subtext, and you get a show that traded on sophomoric humour but managed to do so in inventive ways.
A massive amount of work has gone into this show. From the clever props to the scarily accurate puppet replicants, to the extensive video footage there was boundless creativity on display. A semi transparent screen allowed the guys to interact with video both on stage and behind as shadows. This allowed some additional characters (all played by the duo) to be efficiently incorporated into the story to provide some relief from the boys running about the stage shouting at one another.
Their acting chops got a workout as the on screen actions required perfect timing to pull off the visual jokes. Both performers were on the go from start to finish as plenty of colour and movement was required to sell this kind of broad humour and slapstick. Things denigrated into constant cartoon violence as the show reached its climax, but their enthusiasm was so infectious that it was impossible not to be swept up.
They each cranked up their characters to eleven but still managed to clearly maintain their roles in the classic format of the double act; Wearnie as the dimwit and Shrub as the practical one. There were fascinating moments of deconstruction that appeared to be off the cuff, but soon were revealed to be as tightly scripted as the rest of the performance.
This show certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if the prospect of seeing a pair of flesh and blood cartoon characters in an ejaculate and blood soaked (figuratively not literally) romp sounds appealing, this is worth checking out.
Living on Limbo Lane is playing at 1000 £ Bend
By Colin Flaherty
At the top of his MICF debut, Kevin Kropinyeri explained that he usually plays to predominantly Indigenous audiences and this was his first extended run of playing to mixed crowds. This forced him to add side notes to his regular material so that broader audiences would get the references. He pulled it all off with ease, making this a fascinating and hilarious primer into Aboriginal humour.
Observational material made up the bulk of Kevin’s set which focused on his immediate family and the extended family that comes from being part of a Mob. From his experiences living in various small towns to performing for the Elders, he told tales that could only happen in the Indigenous community. Some silly wordplay was given a nice twist with the various dialects at his disposal. Wonderfully expressive impersonations of various characters from his adventures and exaggerated physical parodies brought the jokes to life. He oozed confidence and cool attitude on stage which was a delight to watch.
The Aboriginal people in the audience howled with the laughter of recognition as they saw characters that they were familiar with and roared with delight at Koori centric concepts. This meant that explanation was often required so that the rest of us could follow the action. Even with the translation delay it was impossible to feel any frustration with not being immediately in on the joke with a performer as charismatic as Kevin.
Kevin makes fun of every Aboriginal stereotype in his act along similar lines to other ethnic humours. This made him susceptible to knee jerk reactions from well meaning Whities about reinforcing those views but he counters it with the argument “we’ve been laughing at ourselves for centuries”. Although he gave us permission to laugh by instructing us to ‘follow the lead of the Blackfellas in the audience’, there is still that small hurdle of guilt to navigate. The light-hearted nature of the show certainly helped us to make the jump.
Those familiar with Kevin’s work would find this the expected hour of solid stand up in the hands of a consummate performer. Everyone else will learn a great deal about another culture to boot. With only one expletive uttered (entirely understandable while tackling a topic that riled him up), it’s a show that anyone can enjoy.
Guess Who? is on at the Backstage Room at the Melbourne Town Hall
By Colin Flaherty
Michael Williams (aka That Guy With The Easel) based his latest show around the loose theme of “mild spectacular” and, much like Michael’s previous work, it revelled in the wackiness associated with the mundane. Add lots of inventive, hand crafted visual aides and you essentially have what Michael is all about; a guy appearing as if he’s making it all up as he goes along, but the hours of work put into it are clearly on display.
There was a faux laziness running through this performance which was contrasted by brief moments of single-minded dedication to a single task. These extremes were the source of the majority of the humour with some self deprecation thrown in for good measure. Plenty of half-arsed pop culture references made the audience feel more knowledgeable than our hero so that we could laugh at his “ineptness”.
Having only seen Michael perform short stand up spots, I was impressed with the inclusion of video work alongside the cards on the easel. Displaying a similar art style to his drawn pieces, we saw animations, drawings, still photos and filmed segments. The screen was also used for the promised 3D content that ran from the gimmicky to the pointless to the impressive.
There were also some audio components which Michael could interactive with as well as a show stopper of a song. This big production number of promised “stupidest thing you will see at the festival” was set up earlier in the show but still came as a surprise when revealed.
This was a rather ramshackle operation with Michael acting as his own tech. It tended to hamper the flow of the performance and leave him on stage in the dark as he provided commentary to the video segments. Was this an attempt at emphasising a reclusive persona by hiding in the shadows, or simply a case of not knowing how to control the lighting? Some may see this as adding to the “low tech” aesthetics of the material while others will view it as poor production values.
If you are able to set your expectations at a reasonably low level and allow yourself to be swept away with Michael’s lo-fi aesthetics you will have a fun time. There is plenty of silliness and absurdity to bring plenty of laughs and smiles.
Michael Williams’ Mild Spectacular (in 3D) is on at Softbelly
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
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.