Alanta Colley & Ben McKenzie You Chose Poorly

By Lisa Clark 

You Chose Poorly is Alanta’s third science lecture-based comedy show at MICF, first it was bugs then it was bees and now it’s dinosaurs, sorry, Bias. This year she has teamed up with fellow science nerd, comedian Ben McKenzie, who would prefer to talk about dinosaurs, but he chose to perform in this show and it is about the choices we make and the bias inherent in our systems.

This show had a great opening with a reference to Raiders of the Lost Ark but it should have begun by preparing you for the interactive 2 min on-line Quiz. The audience could be doing it as they are waiting for the show to start or at least primed with the web address on the screen so everyone can have their phones on and the webside up ready in time for the quiz portion of the show which then helps shape large parts of the rest of the show. By the time we were getting close to being ready the 2 mins for the quiz was over. Our friends did not have phones with them. Also there was no free wifi at the venue which would’ve helped. I’ve done interactive things on phones before, it can be fun but it can also be very stressful. Esp if you have a slow old phone.

This brings us to the other stressful thing about this tech heavy show, I was sitting in the 3rd row and could barely see the screen because of the nature of the space – and a couple of tall people in front of me. The slides contained a lot of very funny things but we could not see them all and sometimes they were rushed. You might have to stand up occasionally to get a good look at the screen. It’s a pity to go on about this because the show otherwise was delightful, and Alana & Ben were heaps of fun to spend an hour with.

What do all geeks have in common? They have to tell you what they are passionate about, usually in great detail, but they don’t all have the communication and comedy skills of Alanta Colley & Ben McKenzie. Although they are not really straight standup types they have both been writing comedy and creating comedy shows for some time. I really enjoyed the dynamic between them, Ben was the naughty geek boy wanting to talk about dinosaurs, D&D and superheroes while Alanta kept the show on the rails, bringing it back to finding funny in the science and stats with an occasional political gag on the side. Although this is a show about psychology, science and statistics it is far from dry. Alanta and Ben make sure the laughs keep coming and have a charmingly funny finale.

This is having a short run so get on down to Campari House in Hardware Lane and get your geek on. You will have chosen wisely.

Alanta Colley & Ben McKenzie perform You Chose Poorly at Campari House til Apr 7

Kitchen Cosmology by Chris Lassig

By Noel P Kelso

This will be my second review of a science-related show this Fringe Festival, this time the subject matter is the larger scale of the Universe rather than the origins of life itself.

This show held a special attraction for me as I have always had a fascination with physics, but lacked the mathematical abilities to pursue it as a career. Similarly, the show includes lots of cooking which is another interest of mine. All that this show needs would be conjuring and it may well be my ideal show.

As the title suggests the intention of Kitchen Cosmology is to simply explain the current understanding of how the Universe formed and progressed to its current state with the help of baked goods.

If you are fascinated by such exotic concepts as the Big Bang, Galaxies, Dark Matter and Radioastronomy but – much like myself – lack the necessary understanding of the finer points of maths and physics, then this is the show for you.

Beginning with a nice gag about needing a space License, Chris Lassig takes the audience through the first few microseconds following the Big Bang with the aid of popcorn and the following seconds using a raisin pudding.

This is a well-structured show delivered with clarity of ideas and excellent comic timing to ease the understanding of some of the complex ideas being used. Lassig uses his props and projections well and ropes-in a couple of audience members to assist with one segment involving the collision of galaxies represented by two chocolate tarts.

The audience laughed along to such unlikely humour based around complex chemistry, radio telescopes and Stephen Hawking which is no mean feat and a testament to the performance skills and timing of Lassig himself who is ably directed by Ben McKenzie.

Along the way there are bad puns, pop-culture references and lollies and the ideas clearly fire the imagination of the performer as he keeps track of key events in the formation the Universe and his baking with a digital timer which beeps at key points throughout.

Lassig’s enthusiasm for his subject is clear from the very beginning and does not flag throughout his performance with him putting energy into each segment. The pace of his delivery keeps the ideas flowing, whilst allowing for clarity of understanding and leaving room for laughter.

Kitchen Cosmology by Chris Lassig is on at Tuxedo Cat on Wills Street at 6pm until September 28th.

Ben McKenzie is Uncool

By Noel Kelso

Co-runner and creator of D&D-style comedy show Dungeon Crawl, Ben McKenzie has a new show at this year’s Melbourne Comedy Festival. Titled Ben McKenzie Is Uncool it explores Ben’s life on the outside of the mainstream of culture and the ways in which this manifests itself.

Ben appears on stage clad in a green hooded robe like some ancient ritualist come to recite eldritch incantations from the books he carries that will summon forth demons from the very pit of Hell itself to torment our souls. When those books are then shown to be an old Target novelisation of Doctor Who, a Dungeons and Dragons rule book, and a Dalek Technical Manual, the audience’s fears are assuaged.

In order for us to find out precisely why it is that Ben is uncool, he first has to define that which is cool and this proves a mite tricky. So the audience is taken on a journey through adventures in school being chased by bullies and pretending they are evil aliens to his Doctor; defining himself as a feminist much to the confusion and consternation of many men he knows and a few women; watching crap British sci-fi before it got cool again, and just being ginger.

Along the way he elicits laughs by turning the show into a Choose Your Own Adventure and has audience members select cards from a stack with prepared segments printed on them. This ensures that no two shows are ever likely to be exactly the same. This is an inspired idea and fits perfectly with his overall theme.

So it is that the room hears Ben extol the virtues of drinking tea, playing board games (except Monopoly), warn of the dangers of time travel and give them his impression of a mad scientist – which, as a Scientist myself, was pretty spot-on.

McKenzie is a confident and affable performer who radiates warmth and inclusiveness to the room and the audience were held rapt by his every word. There was an appreciably large crowd present which lent the show a lot of good energy for Ben to draw on.

This is a very funny show from a very professional performer and ideal for those who know their Bat’leth from their Lightsabre.

Uncool is on at The Provincial Hotel until April 20

Interview with Ben McKenzie about his ‘Uncool’ Festival show, Splendid Chaps and Night Terrace.

By Lisa Clark

Ben McKenzie, also known as The Man in the Labcoat, has been spreading his intelligent geeky comedy around Australia for ten years. This includes comedy tours of the Melbourne Museum, performing a comedic version of Dungeons & Dragons (Dungeon Crawl) and performing with the Anarchist Guild Collective sketch troupe.  In 2012 Ben appeared in eight different shows at MICF but none of them were his own Solo show. In 2013 Ben took part in celebrating 50 years of Dr Who with the monthly live podcast ‘Splendid Chaps. This year Ben and the Splendid Chaps team are working on an online audio series called Night Terrace and Ben is performing a solo festival show at The Melbourne International Comedy Festival called Ben McKenzie is Uncool.

Lisa: How long has it been since you last did a solo show at MICF?
Ben: Seven years! I’ve done a few smaller solo shows here and there, and plenty of solo work – MCing corporate events, charity gigs and conferences, plus presenting and spots here and there – but it’s mostly been, and continues to be, collaborative stuff for me, like Dungeon Crawl, Splendid Chaps and Night Terrace. So this is pretty exciting!

Lisa: You said in our last interview that your next solo show would be about Nerd culture is that how it turned out?
Ben: …sort of. I mean, yes, I talk about stuff that is part of geek culture, and I talk about why I love it so much. It’s that rejection of cool, of embracing passion and enthusiasm, that’s such a part of being a fan of things.

Lisa: Tell us about Ben McKenzie is Uncool
Ben: It’s a whole pile of (un)cool stuff, essentially: little bits of all the things I love. What I was saying about nerds embracing enthusiasm and passion, that’s what this show is about – the things for which I’m a fan, that mainstream culture perhaps doesn’t embrace in the same way. I want to share them with the audience!

Lisa: Will it be a more general show about nerdery in your science professorial style or will it have some personal stories as well?
Ben: There’s a little bit of personal stuff, but mostly just as background for who I am and where I fit in. Establishing nerd credentials, you might say – though also rejecting the idea that those should be necessary! Mostly though this show is not about me, it’s about some of the things I love, which probably says as much about me as anything else. 😉

Lisa: How do you tend to write shows; all at once, long and slow, at a set time and place every day…?
Ben: In the past I’ve come at it from a very theatrical kind of bent. I would workshop ideas and then script the entire show, then learn it like a monologue. But this show has been different, partly because I haven’t had time to do that, and partly because it’s a show made of lots of parts. It was an interesting development process, I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be, but I had a pretty good idea of what I didn’t want it to be! So not just stand-up, but using other skills I have; it has a bit of sketch, and some games and impro. I’ve worked on it in fits and starts, whenever inspiration took me. I come up with a lot of ideas in the shower for some reason, when I’m least able to write them down! And it’s not all new, I should say; it’s got some stuff I’ve written in the last few years, but it’s stuff comedy festival audiences probably won’t have seen.

Lisa: Will you be doing any other shows in the Festival this time?
Ben: Nothing official, this year – which is quite a departure for me. For the last six years I’ve usually been in three to five shows each year, though mostly they weren’t long runs. I’m sad to miss out on Late Night Letters & Numbers this year; typically the year it clashes with something else is they year they make it into the Town Hall! But they have Lawrence Leung on board filling my spot at the whiteboard, who I know will smash it out of the park. (Though I’ll lay odds he won’t get as many solutions as I did. Take that, racist stereotypes!) Richard and I are doing two late night Dungeon Crawl shows during MICF as part of our final regular season, but they aren’t officially part of the festival.

Lisa: You spent a lot of last year working on Splendid Chaps, now that it’s over how do you look back on it?
Ben: It’s funny, I often have trouble talking up my own work, but I’m really proud of Splendid Chaps. I wanted to talk about this show that I love so much, but make sure the podcast wasn’t like all the other ones, and that it wasn’t just about Doctor Who. That’s why we had the guests, and the broad topics, and performed (nearly) every show to a live audience. And I think it worked. It’s one of the few things I’ve done that I go back to every now and then and listen to, because the guests were so great and the conversations went to interesting places I didn’t expect. And that’s just the stuff that made it into the podcast! I really must get the raw recordings from John and listen to the full versions some time.

Lisa: How did you and John get together and decide to do it?
Ben: It was kind of my idea. John and I met through Boxcutters, the TV podcast; I knew host Josh Kinal through some friends and did a guest spot. We discovered our mutual love of Doctor Who and got along really well, so we used to go out on these “nerd dates”, as John called them. We’d have a coffee and talk about the new series and possible casting and our opinions of the old series. John had an idea for a pretty nerdy show he wanted to do with me, though it didn’t work out; then when the anniversary was coming up, I thought it was high time I talked about Doctor Who in public. I mean why not? I love it, other people love it. And I wanted to get into podcasting, to make something that would persist; the vast bulk of my work is live only, so you can’t show it to anyone. I love that but I wanted to record something. The idea for Splendid Chaps came to me nearly fully-formed, and I pitched it to John, and he loved it, tweaked it a bit, and that was that.

Lisa: How did you meet Petra and get her involved?
Ben: I met Petra through a mutual friend years ago, when she first moved to Melbourne. We hung out a bit. I’d seen her perform a couple of times and we caught up again a couple of years ago, and it struck me she would be great to work with on the Melbourne Museum Comedy Tour. And I was right! Originally the idea for Splendid Chaps was that we’d have a different announcer/co-host every episode, and I invited Petra to do the first episode; she has a brilliant voice for that kind of work. But then she worked so well, and the audience loved her too, that we just decided she had to stay! And she’s really part of the Splendid Chaps family now. We couldn’t do the show without her.

Lisa: Do you have Splendid Chaps Highlights?
Ben: Oh, loads! The Seven/Religion episode is probably my favourite, and getting to take the show to Sydney thanks to the support of fans through our crowdfunding campaign, that was amazing. Meeting Alexandra Tynan, the designer who created the Cybermen, was fantastic; she’s so wonderful! But most of all I think I loved the songs! Finding those old songs about Who and reviving them for the show, and getting to pay these wonderful performers to cover some truly awful tunes. I love them all, but performing The Universe is Big and blowing bubbles into the audience was a moment I’ll always treasure. I also absolutely love Georgia Fields and her cover of Doctor Who Is Gonna Fix It, this ridiculous song from the 80s by Australian band Bullamakanka. And getting Keira Daley to cover Jackson Zumdish’s I Wanna Be Doctor Who…I don’t think she’ll ever forgive me, but it was totally worth it.

Lisa: Tell us about the new project for the Splendid Chaps team Night Terrace.
Ben: Night Terrace is an audio series, so like a radio serial, a bit Hitchhiker’s-esque I suppose! It’s not a podcast, we’ll be selling it as a digital download; you get the whole thing all at once, eight episodes in this first series, kind of like a Netflix original show, or the newer stuff from Big Finish. It’s a sci-fi comedy, in which adventuring scientist Anastasia Black (Jackie Woodburne, best known as Susan on Neighbours) quits her job saving the world for a secretive government organisation and tries to retire to the suburbs. But just as she’s trying to get rid of a door-to-door electricity plan salesman, her house starts travelling through time and space! So she’s stuck having these fantastic adventures with this guy, and it just makes her seriously annoyed. She hates it! But they have to try and survive and make their way back home by figuring out the mystery of this house. They also meet this mystery woman, “Sue”, played by Petra…but I can’t reveal too much. I’m playing the sidekick, Eddie. He’s the salesman, but he’s also a university student; someone who’s studied a lot but doesn’t have practical, real-world experience. He’s a bit useless most of the time, but excited about their adventures. A nice counterpoint to Anastasia being grumpy about it.

Lisa: How did you get Jackie Woodburne involved?
Ben: We asked her! John just got in touch and pitched it to her. She was our first choice and she said yes! We were over the moon. She’s so perfect for it, and it’s going to be great fun; Anastasia is a very different role to Susan Kennedy!

Lisa: Will Night Terrace involve any live performances?
Ben: We have talked about it, but it’s difficult. There have been some great live radio play style shows in recent years, like the superhero story Bullet, but those were written with that sort of performance in mind. And being sci-fi, there’s a lot of effects and post-production work needed; David Ashton, our fourth Splendid Chap and professional sound engineer, who’s also writing an episode (he used to write and perform on The Third Ear with John on RRR), he’s got his work cut out for him! That said, we’re planning on having a live event to launch the series, to which many of our Kickstarter backers will be invited, and we will have live performance at that. We might write something especially for that, though it’ll probably be difficult to fit that into Jackie’s Neighbours commitments!

Lisa: Will it have a finite number of episodes or will it be ongoing?
Ben: We’re approaching it like a TV series, so what we’re writing now is a first series of eight 25-minute episodes. If it’s popular and sells pretty well, we’d love to come back and do more series later on. We already have lots of ideas about where to take it!

Ben McKenzie is Uncool at The Provincial Hotel during Melbourne Comedy Festival.

Information about the web audio series Night Terrace can be found on their website

The podcasts for Splendid Chaps – A year of  Dr Who celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr Who can still be found on the website if you missed out on it last year.

Late Night Letters and Numbers.

By Lisa Clark This is a fun nerdy little comedy quiz show that is based upon the stupidly axed Letters and Numbers which was based on the UK show Countdown, but not called Countdown for very obvious reasons. Before that there was a French show called  Des Chiffres et Des Lettres, but you didn’t need to know that. The best way to see it on TV is being sent up in a stunning episode of The IT Crowd. called The Final Countdown.

The basic idea is; two contestants compete in various rounds, in this case they are guest comedians. The Letters round is like boggle where the contestants try to make the longest words out of 9 random letters. In the numbers round a random target number under 1000 is given by an audience member, then 6 random numbers are drawn and the contestants must use these to somehow reach the target number using mathematics. The final round is the Conundrum which is an anagram that the contestants must be the first to unscramble. Where it differentiates itself from the TV shows is that it is live, it is comedy and it is late at night.

The late night comedy atmosphere means that although they take the game seriously to a point, there is a lot of silliness, veering off topic and naughty language. They are also fairly encouraging of audience participation and will award points to impressive audience members. You could hear a lot of audience members around you guessing at words or getting the maths perfect, but not everyone was brave enough to pipe up when invited to do so. It can be pretty hard not to participate in this infectious show.

The night we were there guest comedians Karin Danger – nee Muiznieks (Hot Box) and Yianni (Numb & Number) made admirable adversaries while up the other end of the desk the Watson (Once Were Planets) duo played comedy relief with Adam McKenzie and Tegan Higginbotham as moderators in charge of the giant dictionary. Ben McKenzie (Splendid Chaps) makes a fair go at being Lily Serna, letter displayer/ maths genius but for reasons I can’t put my finger on, cannot quite capture her demure allure. The host, in great contrast to the cheerful and rather straightlaced Richard Morecroft, is the famously cynical & comically grumpy Nick Caddaye who does a great job of keeping it all rolling and not running too late.

Late night Letters and Numbers is a fun way to finish a full Friday night of comedy. Also keep your eye out for further Letters and Numbers nights happening outside of the festival at Trades Hall throughout the year.

Late Night Letters and Numbers is only on Friday nights of the Festival at Trades Hall in the Old Council Chambers

11 Good Reasons to see both sessions of Splendid Chaps 4 Tom Baker / Comedy.

Here’s Five Good Reasons To See Splendid Chaps. Only we did Eleven, to match the number of Doctors…

11 Good Reasons To See Ben McKenzie & John Richards Splendid Chaps
(one for each Doctor)

1. It’s Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary this year, and Splendid Chaps is basically a birthday party. Who wouldn’t attend a 50th birthday party? Some kind of monster, that’s who.

2. If you love humorous yet well-informed and thoughtful discussions about Doctor Who, this show is for you, probably. If you like the phrase “nerdy Tonight Show”
you’ll like Splendid Chaps.

3. It’s also a podcast recording, so your enjoyment will be immortalised forever. Future generations – and your friends right now – will be jealous every time they hear your laugh and will be reminded of the emptiness of their own lives.

4. Splendid Chaps: A Year Of Doctor Who has topped the iTunes Film & TV podcast charts, and sold out previous shows. So they’re a safer bet than your cousin’s friend’s show with the made-up quotes on the poster.

5. Speaking of which, Doctor Who archivist Andrew Pixley called Splendid Chaps “tremendous fun”, Time Out called it “a smash hit” and the Bigger On The Inside podcast called it “semi-professional”.

6. The chaps behind Splendid Chaps are comedian Ben McKenzie (Dungeon Crawl, “patron saint of geek comedy”) and writer John Richards (ABC1’s Outland, Boxcutters podcast). They were born to do this.

7. They are joined by co-host and factmeister Petra Elliott (Melbourne Museum Comedy Tour). Listen to Petra and you’ll actually learn stuff. This show will make you smarter. And smarter is sexier.

8. There’s fabulous guests! ABC3 Steam Punks host Paul Verhoeven and JJJ/Rove’s Dave Callan will talk about Tom Baker in show one, and Fox FM/Outland’s Adam Richard and a super special UK guest (who we can’t name) will be discuss the role of comedy in Doctor Who in show two.

9. There’s fabulous prizes! Thanks to BBC on DVD there’s a door prize where you could win a shiny disc (possibly Shada, or The Ark In Space – Special Edition!).

10. There may be a Dalek.

11. Like any good Tonight Show, they always end with a song. DO YOU END WITH A SONG? No. Case closed.


Both sessions of Splendid Chaps (6th and 13th of April) are on at Trades Hall – New Ballroom