By Elyce Phillips
Raw Comedy is the biggest open mic competition in the country. Over 1,000 acts competed over the last few months in heats in every state, and here it’s down to the final 12. Each comic performs a five minute set and at the end of the show, the judges confer to find a winner. This year’s judges were Susan Provan, Chortle’s Steve Bennett, Neal Downward from SBS, Sarah Dodd and UK comedian Steve Bugeja.
Susie Youssef hosted the two-hour show, keeping the crowd warm with material about performing at a buck’s night and caring for her nephew. Youssef seemed a little on-edge at first, but soon settled into her role and kept the proceedings running smoothly.
The first of the contestants was Andrew Bensley from the ACT, who started the show on a strong note with some solid observational stand-up. His take on Thai massages was fun, but not particularly unique and didn’t stack up against later contenders.
Next up was Hobart’s Isabella Roldan who burst onto the stage brimming with confidence. The latter half of her set where she focused on her Spanish language background was entertaining, however, her entire set was punctuated with little asides and catch phrases that felt very forced. It was a performance that was full of energy, but an energy that was mismatched with Roldan’s stand-up on the day.
Jason Williams then took to the stage, all the way from Darwin. Williams provided some more observational thoughts, with jokes about relatable things like system updates on recently-purchased technology and whitegoods. It was a fine set, performed well, although it felt like material that we’ve heard before.
Perth contestant Shaquille Blackley was the first stand-out of the show, and he walks away with second runner up. A gangly, pale, hipster-looking man, Blackley is just about the opposite of what you would expect from his name, and he uses this to full advantage at the start of his set. His later material about various idioms is clever and the audience clearly loves it.
The second bracket continues with Bonnie Tangey, who presents the first and only deviation from straight stand-up with a prop joke up top. It’s absolutely hilarious, and so it’s a shame when she moves on from this absurd line of humour on to more well-trodden territory about being awkward and single. The set as a whole is great and Tangey comes in as first runner up.
Oliver Twist, a relatively recent immigrant from Brisbane, is up next. Twist’s delivery is a little shaky, but his material is wonderful. His tale of a racist magpie is hilarious and he talks about the police attention he gets in a unique way. Twist may not have walked away with a prize, but with a few more years of performing under his belt, I suspect he’ll do well.
The third group started with Billy D’Arcy from Sydney. His material was well received, though I was personally put off by his tale of getting into a fight at a club over a girl. The main joke of his set seemed to be that he’s not particularly “manly”, which feels pretty outdated in this day and age.
Adelaide’s Carla Wills then took to the stage, boldly stating that she has been inspired to become a pervert. Wills turns public transport harassment on its head, with a story that begins with approaching a man on the bus and telling him he should smile. It’s a terrific set with a clear point of view, but it doesn’t draw a huge response from the crowd – more dry chuckles than uproarious outbursts.
The first of three Melbourne-based contenders is up next – Josh Webb. Webb’s opening gambit starts with a little twist, turning a routine that’s seemingly about gyms into an extensive rant about Jim’s Mowing etc. It dips a little in the middle, but picks up steam the longer and weirder it drags on. Ending the set with an old rap from his school days is an admirable attempt to get the energy of the the crowd up, however, it doesn’t quite hit the mark.
The show heads into the final quarter with Brad Hollis from Adelaide whose stiff, nervous delivery sat somewhere in between very real awkwardness and anti-comedic performance. The character wasn’t quite pushed hard enough to land. There was something really endearing about Hollis’ set, though, and it definitely resonated with pockets of the audience. It was entertaining, but divisive.
Sharon Andrews from Torquay was the penultimate act and she presented herself as one of the more polished acts in the show. Andrews was self-assured and completely owned her stage persona. Her jokes about country lesbians and jockey mix-ups were received well.
Last up was Melbourne’s Zach Dyer, the winner of this year’s grand final. Dyer’s material about Melbourne played well to the home audience, and his take on Pauline Hanson had enough of an idiosyncratic spark to make it interesting. He had an onstage swagger that will no doubt serve him well in his career going forward.
While the judges deliberated, we were treated to a set from the very talented Mae Martin. At this point the show had run overtime, so there were a few walkouts, but it was by no means due to the caliber of comedy on the stage. Martin killed it with stories of her early days in comedy, inspired by the acts that she had just seen.
All in all, it was a grand final with bucketloads of talent, but not a lot of diversity in genre. Of all the entrants in Raw Comedy this year, the pool was whittled down to 12 stand-up acts. Yes, they were all strong stand-up acts, but it’s disappointing to see such homogeneity in style in a competition for fresh faces when the broader festival embraces such a vast range of acts. Having said that, the contenders put on a thoroughly entertaining show and some of them are sure to become big on the local comedy in the years to come.