For most of the year, Vau d’Vile in Fitzroy serves as a drag cabaret and restaurant venue. And what a fantastic venue it is. It has a lovely big stage, a wall covered in a rainbow flag made entirely of feather boas, and another wall covered entirely in Barbie Dolls – which is playful and creepy in equal measure. But for a few nights during the Midsumma Festival, the wigs and sequins take a break and the space is handed over to the Laugh Out Loud Big Gay Comedy team. Unlike most comedy nights, this one comes without a host, which adds a level of complexity to the start of the evening. First of all, there’s no-one there to set the scene and to get the audience excited about the night ahead. Instead it was up to the first act to come on and get the crowd in the mood. I’m not sure that’s such a great set-up, especially for the first performer who I’m sure would prefer to come on to an already warmed-up audience.
Fortunately, our first performer was Laura Davis who ran a very successful comedy room in Perth before moving to Melbourne. Laura is a very accomplished comic, having won the Golden Gibbo award at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival back in 2015, amongst a string of other accolades. And rightly so – she’s very good at what she does. Her style is charming, down to earth and girl-next-doorish, a little reminiscent of Josie Long. You find yourself drawn in to her sweetness until the first c-bomb drops – and then you see that the raw honesty and disenchantment lie just millimetres beneath the surface. Laura shares a lot of herself with her audiences, which really helps cement the relationship. Her delivery is well paced, and her choice of words is perfect. You really should add Laura to your list of Aussie comics to see.
One thing I’ve really enjoyed in the comedy landscape over the past decade or so is the recapturing of old performance art-forms. Many will be familiar with the work of Nina Conti and others in reinventing ventriloquism. Some will be familiar with Sam Wills and his mime work – one of the few performers I’ve seen get a standing ovation at the Edinburgh Fringe. Our second act tonight is doing her bit to reclaim the arts of magic and mind-reading as a comedic form. Cath Jamison is billed as Australia’s leading female magician, but her set sits neatly in a night of comedy. Her rapport with the audience is excellent, and there are laughs-aplenty as she baffles and bamboozles her willing crowd. Testimony to the comfortable relationship she establishes early in her set, people are actually willing, if not eager, to volunteer when asked. The tricks vary in complexity, but there’s no doubting her showmanship, confidence and love of what she does. She has certainly put the fun back into an art-form that, for a while, was favouring ego over talent.
Our third and final comic of the evening was the experienced Bev Killick. Bev’s style is bold, brash and abrasive. There’s nothing demure or understated about this comic – she’s very upfront and not afraid to offend. Her on-stage persona is like the fun-but-vulgar aunt at the Christmas gathering that family members either adore or are scared to death of. Her material covered the well trodden paths of modern child-raising methods, and how she went about traumatising her own kids. It wasn’t until half way through her set that she realised that absolutely no-one in the audience had kids, so the material had no particular relevance. In an attempt to change track, she went to audience interaction. This led her into a discussion with a shy young man who revealed that he had not come out to his parents for cultural reasons – the comedy dried up, and a tangible awkwardness engulfed the room. But she soldiered on with more material about raising kids and the perils of having teenage boys. Whilst many in the audience really enjoyed the middle-class-bogan patter, I came away wondering if this comic had put enough thought into what people coming to a Big Gay Comedy Night might actually relate to.
It’s great that the organisers of the Big Gay Comedy Night were able to put together such an eclectic mix of acts for the evening, I’m sure there will be a lot more fabulous performers to look forward to. If you’re in the market for some stand-up during the Midsumma Festival, make your way down to the Vau d’vile. There’ll be something for everyone!
The Laugh Out Loud Big Gay Comedy Night is playing every Sunday and Thursday evening from Jan 14 to Feb 4 at Vau d’Vile, 62-70 Johnston Street Fitzroy.