Kirsty Mann: Skeletons

By Lisa Clark

I love a good Coming Out Festival show and this is a highly entertaining one. Kirsty Mann is not gay though, she is coming out as a comedian who is also Doctor and also a fragile human with foibles, insecurities and a brain the size of a planet.

Coming from a grand tradition of Medical Doctors who become comedians such as Graeme Garden, Graham Chapman, Harry Hill, Ken Jeong and our own Rob Sitch, Kirsty’s comedy is so sharp you could cut yourself with it. It’s not really a medical comedy as such, but she’s certainly got a lot of eye-opening, comical hospital anecdotes. There is going to be quite a bit of blood and hospital talk, so it’s not for the easily squeamish. Luckily she has a great bedside manner that charms and wins over the audience very quickly.

Kirsty welcomes us cheerfully into the space and opens with some light audience interaction. She calls it a “Safe Space”, and as she picks out punters to answer her questions I think “But IS it though?” and of course it is. Kirsty knows exactly what she is doing and she’s making a point. It’s all about feeling highly uncomfortable in social situations when very standard small talk questions come up like, ‘So what do you do?’ and ‘What have you been up to?’ For someone trying to hide a double life these are especially nerve-wracking.

Kirsty is a brilliant storyteller and does the voices well, by creating characters that include her sassy, gay, Irish best friend, his snooty, posh actress friend, Kirsty’s annoying arrogant crush, and her German gossipy workmate. She apologises for the Australian accent she attempts when bringing her strict boss to life, it’s not great but she makes it part of the silly fun.

In amongst the ups and downs of amusing tales from her life she hits the inevitable, looming mountain that is 2020 and the horrors of working in a London hospital during Covid. It is visceral and moving, giving depth and poignancy to the performance as well as being the catalyst for coming out. We do not linger too long in the darkness, Kirsty swiftly moves us back to the laughs and conclusion of her tale.

Kirsty is well known for clever and silly online sketch videos via social media and it’s always wonderful when an online performer proves that they are equally adept at performing to live audiences. Skeletons is the smartest storytelling comedy show I’ve seen in a while, sophisticated, tight and layered. It’s a shame her run in Melbourne is so short, see her if and when you can.

Kirsty Mann performs Skeletons until April 7 at The Malthouse

https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2024/shows/kirsty-mann

Frankie McNair in An Intimate Evening With Tabitha Booth

By Peter Hodgson

It was during The Days Of Lockdown that I first noticed Frankie McNair posting the odd video where they played a sort of old-timey Hollywood starlet character doing line readings. “Dance? Oh no, I don’t dance, I don’t dance [damaged expression] …anymore…” I don’t know if this led directly to the invention of Tabitha Booth but it sure feels like it. A bit of backstory: Tabitha is a star of yesteryear with a roster of films, TV shows, cabaret and burlesque. She’s led a very French lifestyle, oo-er. She’s rubbed shoulders and probably other bits with legendary movers and shakers. And found great success with the character of Long Fork Lady, success that overshadowed her other achievements until the true Tabitha was left in the dark. People didn’t want to see Tabitha. They wanted to see the lady with the extremely long fork. Tabitha wanted to make it outside of cutlery-based comedy.

And that brings us to An Intimate Evening With Tabitha Booth. We find Tabitha making a triumphant return to the stage as she regales us with tales from her days of glamour and stardom, complete with musical numbers from her prestigious career (including a hitherto unheard submission for the theme to Goldeneye that you just have to hear to believe). But things soon start to go just a little bit wrong: invited guests don’t show up, there are issues procuring props, Tabitha hits the pills, her stage manager Harris tries his best to work with what he has, and Tabitha ends up having a little psychedelic freak-out that exposes her deep resentment of and debt to her past success.

Frankie McNair is such a naturally funny, charismatic little comedy gremlin, and the Tabitha Booth alter-ego provides plenty of scope for their many talents, from dancing to singing to a real command of the ‘the mouth says one thing while the face says another’ school of acting as Tabitha’s mask slips. And this may be a comedy show but there are some genuine moments of real, poignant emotion, particularly a video segment where a throes-of-success Tabitha, eyes glittering with optimism, reveals her thoughts on artistic purpose and the spectre of failure.

I saw this performance last year too, and while the general show is more or less the same, the 2024 incarnation is lifted up by McNair’s increased comfort with the character. There’s now more of an understanding of what Tabitha is capable of, more nimbleness in catching little moments to build improv out of, and just a generally deeper journey into the world building. I’d love to see Tabitha continue her story, and can’t help but think what a Tabitha Booth TV show would be like, maybe showing us her day-to-day life intercut with clips of her classic performances and interviews. The character herself is becoming so well fleshed out now that it feels like time to let her truly run free, out of the pronged shadow of the Long Fork Lady.

Frankie McNair performs An Intimate Evening With Tabitha Booth at the Town Hall til April 7

https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2024/shows/an-intimate-evening-with-tabitha-booth

Cameron James – Mixtape

By Lisa Clark

Cameron James is a talented musical comedian who’s been around for a while popping up on TV and at gigs, but this is my first full show with him and his glorious, hilarious (I don’t use this word lightly), gorgeously romantic Mixtape really blew me away.

The atmosphere is set for the audience as we enter with nostalgic and emotionally charged house music. On stage there is an old fashioned boom box, Cameron’s electric guitar and the ubiquitous screen. Most shows I’ve seen this year have had a screen, but Cameron uses it fairly sparingly and intelligently, helping the audience with the witty lyrics of the songs, and giving us a real glimpse into his past.

Cameron is very relaxed on stage with the vibe of a mate telling you some jawdropping stories in a pub or at a party. He also has the perfect show ice-breaker, a funny song on his guitar about teen love and been ferried about by your dad. It’s a banger that gets the audience’s toes tapping and the audience feel safe and warmed up for a brilliant hour of laughs.

The laughs come thick and fast with belly laughs hitting and tears flowing. Tears of laughter and tears of poignancy. There are not as many songs as I’d expected from a Mixtape. I thought it might be a list of 10 songs with a show wrapped around it but there were only 4 or 5 songs and they were intertwined in the story, moving it along and telling their own tales, like the songs do in the best musicals.

A love letter to growing up in Newcastle, hanging out with his daggy mates, growing up, dreaming of kissing a girl and meeting her at a blue light disco. SMS messenger, slam dancing, young love and a first job. Cameron is a stunning, evocative storyteller, conjuring nostalgia for an audience who were not there but can easily relate.

At the centre of it all is an epic tale that involves a speeding ticket, his first job at a horror themed dinner theatre restaurant called Koffin that becomes a dream job and turns into a nightmare. This has a bit of a vibe of the TV show The Bear, where he brings the characters of the skanky venue to life and even the worst become somewhat lovable. The tale is insane, hilarious and goes to unexpected places. It includes a whole medieval style temptation by the devil vs angel type thing that is just the cherry on the top for me.

Mixtape is a show full of really awesome, original comedy songs and beautiful insights by a grown man looking back to his youth. He admits to his follies and some dumb decisions, but it never gets very dark. This is musical comedy after all. He may be looking at his past through slightly rose coloured glasses, but with a show this funny, who needs the ugly truth? I cannot recommend this show more highly, but particularly for lovers of romance. This is one to take your crush to, it might just get you laid.

Cameron James Mixtape is on at Rydges Two until April 21

https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2024/shows/mixtape

John Hastings – Comedian John

By Nick Bugeja

If you’re in search of hilariously off-putting, unsavoury, and frankly, depraved anecdotes crafted into comedy gold, then Canadian comic John Hastings is your man. His show, Comedian John, is a great combination of standalone one-liners, bits and call-backs, and, of course, compelling tales involving himself, friends and utter strangers. His performance style is bursting with energy; it’s almost as if, through sheer insistence, he’s willing you to laugh at every joke he enunciates in his booming Canadian voice. And it’s hard to resist the invitation.

Hastings’ is eminently likeable (even if he doesn’t present himself as a particularly ‘eminent’ individual), and much of this comes from his self-deprecating opening. “I don’t look any age, I just look like I’ve been through a lot”, he tells us. And that’s not all: he compares himself to a robustly ‘used car’, acknowledges his likeness to a generic Victorian police officer, and concedes that he doesn’t look like a lot of fun. But as the adage goes, we ought not judge by appearance.

By establishing his bona fides as a comedian in this way early in the show, Hastings affords himself an unfettered licence to launch into material on particularly thorny subjects and stories. Each of his ‘set piece’ stories—involving a mugging in a London park, an unfortunate incident implicating a vodka bottle, and a WWII veteran presenting at his high school (they are too good to detail further here in writing—hits with maximum impact. On their own, they are irrepressibly funny, and Hastings’ writing, pacing, and overwrought energy only serve to amplify this.

In my personal experience, comics performing in rooms like those in the Victoria Hotel, the smaller rooms of the Melbourne Town Hall and the Greek Centre deliver the highest rate and greatest volume of laughs per capita. Comics in these rooms are established, but are yet to hit their ceiling; they remain hungry and eager to please their audiences. Hastings’ is included in this category of comedians. His show is impeccably structured and, in terms of his performance, alive and electric.

Comedian John is on at the Victoria Hotel until 21 April.

https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2024/shows/john-hastings

Geraldine Quinn – The Passion of Saint Nicholas

By Peter Newling

Geraldine Quinn has been delighting audiences with her stellar performing and song-writing abilities since the mid 2000s. A multiple winner of the MICF’s Golden Gibbo Award, she is well entrenched as one of Australia’s most loved and respected comedy and cabaret performers. This show carries on that proud tradition.

The subject matter is difficult. The death of a family member is awful. When that family member is a sibling dying way too young of a form of cancer, it’s worse. But somehow, Quinn has taken this dark base and constructed something joyful, life-affirming and (at appropriate moments) laugh out loud funny.

In The Passion of Saint Nicholas, Quinn explores her relationship with her late brother, hilariously relaying stories about childhood rivalries, juvenile one-upmanship, family favouritism and coping with loss. The half a dozen songs created for the show help punctuate the narrative, each differing from the last in style and energy. The songs move effortlessly from earnest sincerity to smiling piss-take and back again. She really is a terrific song writer. And her singing, as we all know, is outstanding.

Shout out to Declan Fay, the director of the show. The pacing and intensity levels throughout the hour were spot on. And the show is backed up by a first class sound plot.

This is an intensely personal piece, but with themes that will resonate with audiences young and old. The standing ovation offered at the end of the show I attended was heartfelt and genuine. It’s a remarkable piece, by a remarkable performer.

Get in quick. Geraldine Quinn – The Passion of Saint Nicholas is only playing until April 7 at the Malthouse, at 6:45pm and 5:45pm on the Sunday.

https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2024/shows/the-passion-of-saint-nicholas

Stuart Daulman – Into the Galaxy

By Nick Bugeja

Stuart Daulman has laboured away on comedy stages and rooms at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) for nearly as long as some of his audience members have been alive. He’s a versatile and talented comic performer whose passion and commitment to the form is evident in his latest show, Into the Galaxy, an engrossing foray into an intergalactic world inhabited by Daulman’s cast of characters, not least himself. As it develops, you realise the show is less about a whimsical space story and more a self-examination of Daulman’s personal and professional aspirations, anxieties and convictions.

In this fictional world, Daulman had become an astronaut, and he’s setting out on a mission to space, in the company of an artificial intelligence computer much like HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (minus the malice and malevolence). His take-off and journey into space from the comfort of his spaceship is pre-recorded, and displayed on a projector. These sequences give structure to the show, and serve the incident purpose of giving Daulman enough time to change between the well-curated costumes for each of his characters.

The first of these is 12-year-old Daulman, then a South African resident of ‘Jozi’ with dreams of entering into space. Daulman winds back the clock when playing his younger self, and executes a perfect South African (or rather, South Efrican) accent. A surprise cameo from former President Nelson Mandela makes for great, good-natured comedy, characteristic of the entire show.

Daulman’s other sketch performances—as a self-promoting businessman who he’d encountered at astronaut school, practicing his golf swing, and an alien suspended in space—were equally relished by the audience. The entire performance was marked by the thought and work—evidenced by each gesture, facial expression, staging choice, costume, and joke—Daulman had invested to create a funny, personal and reflective show.

Into the Galaxy is a breath of fresh air at MICF, amid a catalogue of largely
homogeneous stand-up performances. It’s a living and breathing performance by a man clearly passionate about the arts, comedy and performance, and delivers a steady stream of laughs throughout. Stuart Daulman is a comic workhorse whose preferred genre of comedy may not enjoy the widest appeal, though it should.

Into the Galaxy is on at the Victoria Hotel until 21 April.

https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2024/shows/into-the-galaxy