Melbourne Fringe Festival – Awards and Wrap Up

By Lisa Clark 

We’ve had a wonderful Melbourne Fringe Festival which was full of all things creative and wacky including, a show in a car (Equal Best Performance Winner: Dion), a shop window (Winner of Best Ideas and Words Award: Between Two Lines) and one in a huge space with only two audience members (Equal Best Performance Winner: Blindspot). We here at Squirrel Comedy are mostly interested in Comedy. That’s not to say that we didn’t see funny shows in other catagories or that there were some rather unfunny shows that found their way into the Comedy section, but, hey this is Melbourne Fringe and it’s all about mixing it up and taking risks. sammy-j-award-winner

Congratulations must first go to Best Comedy winner Sammy J who has created his Opus Magnus in Hero Complex. A work that had everyone who headed out to the Northcote Town Hall to see it howling with laughter, cheering and crying with pure joy. I saw a lot of great shows at the festival but could not imagine any I missed were better than this – in any category – and couldn’t be happier with its Best Comedy Award win. An autobiographical show with a sprinkling of his brilliant comedy songs and a lot of surprises that must be kept secret, making it difficult to review. Except to say that it is a celebration of unpopular nerdy passions, in this case comic book hero The Phantom, but of course it’s about much, much more. Look out for it at Melbourne International Comedy Festival and other Festivals no doubt, just don’t miss it.

Winner of the Queensland Tour Ready Award was another stunning autobiographical comedy; Isamofarcist by Sami Shah who’s come to Melbourne from Afghanistan via studying in the USA and living in Western Australia. Sami has been doing excellent stand up around Melbourne for the past year about religion, politics and other dangerous ideas in a very accessible, warm and hilarious way. A comedian who’s definitely worth going out of your way to see if you like your comedy smart. Queenslanders can look forward to seeing Isamofarcist  next.

More congratulations to one of the hot tickets at this year’s Melbourne Fringe Andre Tonight! by Chris Ryan and special secret guests that had everyone whispering that this was a must see. It won The Discovery Award and was a discovery to everyone who managed to get seats in the Rehearsal room (now with raked seating). Chris’s character reminded me of an Epping based Norman Gunston, a beautifully rounded sad sack character with a dream to be a TV Tonight Show host and some of his dreams came true in Andre Tonight! Another show to look forward to when it pops up again.

A Squirrel discovery at Melbourne Fringe was another amazingly strong character comedy Cindy Salmon’s Empowerment Hour. The show is a send up of an American “empowering” daytime TV host such as Tyra Banks or Bethenny Frankel (the 2nd rate Oprahs). Hayley Tantau’s, Cindy Salmon is one of the most powerful high status creations on the Australian stage right now. A high status character that can be hilariously satirical, wildly inspiring, teetering on the monstrous and yet somehow sympathetic is rare among current female comedians (I can think of Sarah Ward’s Yanna Alana and Queenie Van de Zandt’s Jan Van de Stool). Hayley pulls it off; sustaining it for a full hour without dropping her perfect American accent once, while keeping the audience on side despite some hilariously appalling behaviour. Go see comedy Cindy Salmon’s Empowerment Hour if it pops up near you and we’ll be keeping an eye on Hayley Tantau.

Here are some of the Award Winners that might interest our readers:

Best Comedy:

Sammy J – Hero Complex

QLD Tour Ready Award, supported by Brisbane Powerhouse:


The Discovery Award, supported by Melbourne Festival:

Andre Tonight! by Chris Ryan

NSW Tour Ready Award, supported by Sydney Fringe:

Tina Del Twist GOLD CLASS by Wes Snelling

Best Venue:

Hare Hole – Hares & Hyenas

For a Full List of Awards presented by the Melbourne Fringe Festival see their website

Paul Culliver – The Honeypot

By Lisa Clark paul-c-honeypot

All comedians have that bad night where they just can’t get the audience laughing. This includes successful comedians and shows that are successful on other nights. I know this show has been successful with other audiences and it did win an award (as Paul kept reminding us) but from the mostly weak material I heard, I just couldn’t see how this was possible.

After a cheerful welcome Paul begins by explaining the title. The Honeypot he says refers to an espionage recruitment technique. He is luring the audience in with a sexy poster of himself covered in honey. What he fails to grasp (apart from the fact that he’s just put the audience off side by gloating at having duped them) is that Honeypot, more traditionally, means vagina (See Karma Sutra or a dictionary) and considering his keen-ness to mainsplain feminism at us from the get go, it is quite strange that he ignores mentioning this extraordinary sexist attitude to female spies and working women being valued as pretty sticky vessels. Maybe he shouldn’t have explained the title.

From there it is a big muddled mess of rambling ideas and delivery with no sense of rhythm or where it’s going. He announces that the show is about privilege. He is going to talk about topics (sexism, racism) where white middle class men traditionally take the role of villain. He is aware he is privileged but assured that he is not a villain.

The room goes silent waiting for the laughs as he explains things. He really needs a lot more jokes up the front to win over the audience before he starts tackling difficult topics that he has failed to research adequately. He opens up the topic of Australian Aboriginal footballer Adam Goodes then says he knows nothing of sport and “I don’t know what happened there”, remarks on Lord of the Flies, followed by “I’ve never seen it”. I suspect/hope he was being ironic, but it was too hard to tell. He kept saying so many dumb things.

Paul made a lot of rookie mistakes the night I saw him, here are ten of them.

  1. Never blame or turn on the audience for not laughing, even if they are to blame.
  2. Saying or explaining important things from your perspective does not equal comedy.
  3. Know all your comedy show subject matter back to front. Especially if it’s an important social issue.
  4. Don’t try to win the audience around by saying “This show won an award” way too often.
  5. Have some witty retorts to general heckles or disruptions from the audience up your sleeve, or ignore them.
  6. If there are hostile elements in the audience and you are floundering, don’t ask “Any Questions?”
  7. If you do ask for “Any Questions?” and an audience member asks a reasonable question about a confusing section of your show, answer it or respond in some way, after all, you asked
  8. Don’t ask “Any Questions?” again later in the show.
  9. You should not explain a joke when it bombs.
  10. Don’t ever say to the audience “you DO understand how that is a joke don’t you?”

An interesting aspect of the show was the sudden appearance of Verbatim Theatre as Paul reads out a complete online conversation he had with a guy who posted some sexist pics on Facebook. Paul was proving what a great Feminist he was by putting a facebook friend in his place. It went on too long and Paul clearly didn’t understand why the audience wasn’t laughing at the ignorant oaf while joyously sharing in Paul’s triumph.

It was hard for me to understand what Paul was doing with this show. If it was all supposed to be irony he didn’t pull it off. Was he parodying privileged arrogant dumb jerks or was he just behaving like one? Was this all some sort of Andy Kaufman/Tony Clifton type hoax? As a privileged Male Paul knows it’s good to not have everything go his way all the time and this night was one of those nights.

Paul Culliver – The Honeypot is at Belleville Sept 19 – 24

Game Boys: Free to Play

By Colin Flaherty
Children of the nineties Eden and Joshua Porter bring us this wonderful look at their love affair with video games. They also throw in plenty of pop culture from their childhood that will have you laughing through all the nostalgia.

The whole show is based upon the audience helping the brothers to complete all the levels in a hexed video game to reach their final goal and escape. They have come up with wonderful ways to involve us including some projectile work that must be an insurer’s nightmare. There are some witty improvising around audience responses but this heavily scripted storyline requires them to keep us on a short leash (just like those “open world“ games that guide you along a single path…but that’s a rant for another time).

Eden and Josh have so many creatively amusing ideas and have thrown everything and the kitchen sink at this show. Liberal use of game animation and sound effects as punchlines? Check! Lots of crazy props? They’ve got ‘em! Wonderfully hammy acting and silly costumes bringing your favourite characters to life? You bet! Their techie must be commended for nailing the plethora of video and audio cues required in this simultaneously high-tech and low-fi production. Highly polished videos and painted cardboard boxes create an immersive game world in which the audience are emotionally invested.

This show is clearly aimed at a particular demographic (I certainly felt old at times) but if you were born before or after these brothers, fear not. Their wacky portrayals of various cultural artefacts provide plenty of chuckles, regardless of your familiarity with them. Even those who don’t game will find lots to laugh at as the Porters mug their way through the quest, throw themselves around the stage, comically bicker and act their little socks off with great comic timing. This manic romp through their personal history of games is an exhilarating and hilarious ride.

Game Boys: Free to Play is on at Tuxedo Cat until October 1


By Colin Flaherty
In spite of a nuclear Armageddon, the human race must carry on… competing in events such as skiing, “What’s in this box?” and “Greg” as part of the tenth ApocOlympics. Justin Porter and Dan Pavatich bring us this romp set in a bizzaro alternate universe which is a tonne of fun and has laughs aplenty.

The story follows a number of threads that are all interconnected. We see the stadium construction, media coverage, journeys of individual athletes and even a twisted hero’s journey into the wastelands. There is some satire about the organising bodies of the modern Olympic Games but this is mostly the story of eccentric people trying to get by in a world gone mad.

Porter and Pavatich do a great job in bringing this huge cast of wacky characters to life. Porter brings a manic energy to all his roles, almost every one of them is suitably boisterous and larger than life. Pavatich’s are usually more subdued but he can turn on the crazy when needed. As they use no props or costumes, working out who’s who in a scene is a little tricky. With so many characters it takes someone to the address the other by name for you to realise where we are in the story. Once you have that sussed, the plot is a breeze to follow as everything is chronological.

The tiny stage means that dialogue trumps physical humour in this show and there are plenty of hilariously offbeat exchanges that fit in perfectly with this strange yet familiar world. All the scenes are relatively short as they flit from one storyline to the next, progressing things at a decent clip and keeping it punchy and tight. The only complaint is that the conclusion concentrates so much on tying up all the loose ends that we leave with a warm fuzzy feeling rather than split sides.

If you’re in the mood for some end of the world silliness, this wonderfully wacky play is a hoot.

ApocOlympics is on at The Tickle Pit at Fancy Hanks until October 2

Hayley Tantau – Cindy Salmon’s Empowerment Hour

By Elyce Phillips cindy-salmon-empowerment-hour

With a blast of an air horn and a shattering of the glass ceiling, Cindy Salmon bursts into Melbourne Fringe with an infectious energy that will leave your cheeks sore by the end of the night. ​Cindy Salmon’s Empowerment Hour​ – a solo vehicle for Hayley Tantau’s answer to Oprah, Cindy Salmon – is an absolutely hilarious character piece, filled with positive messages for women taken to the absolute extreme.

In the ​Empowerment Hour, Salmon (Tantau) is running her own daytime talk show, ​Upstream, with the assistance of her mild-mannered tech Jayden (Jayden Masciulli). Over the course of the hour, a personal crisis unfolds, leading Salmon to take matters into her own hands. Things take a turn for the weird and the dark, but true to form, Salmon comes out on top through sheer force of will.

Tantau has previously performed as Salmon as part of sketch group Trillcumber, she has got it down perfectly and the character stands up brilliantly in a solo hour. By taking Salmon outside of the comfort of her TV show and showing how she deals with difficulties in her own life, Tantau adds nuance to her portrayal and it makes Salmon’s brashness even funnier. The audience responded well to Salmon’s messages of empowerment, and Tantau was quick-witted in her responses to any audience ad-libs, always coming back with a Salmonism on the fly.

Masciulli does a wonderful job on the tech desk, blasting Salmon’s slogans and bursts of air horn with brilliant comedic timing. The outstanding tech, brilliant writing and captivating performance mean that the performance whizzes along, with non stop laughs and the audience breathlessly wondering what will happen next.

Cindy Salmon’s Empowerment Hour is a bold and confident first solo show from Tantau. This is one of the best examples of a high status character comedy done to perfection, it is a highlight of Melbourne Fringe and I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Hayley Tantau – ​Cindy Salmon’s Empowerment Hour is on at The Improv Conspiracy – Office until October 2 c5-4583-8a7a-5f0c29b877cf

5 Good Reasons to See Game Boys: Free to Play

1. You’ve played more video games than you realise – You’ll enjoy it whether you’re a gamer or not. But lets be honest, there’s no one reading this who hasn’t played Tetris or The Sims.

2. The Sims – If you delighted in torturing your sims by locking them in a room as they busted to go to the toilet then prepare to torture Eden live on stage.

3. Nostalgia – Take a stroll through your old save games as they navigate growing up in the 90s with Cheez TV, slap bands and crying when you lose a game of NBA Jam. ‘Member NBA Jam? And Doom, if you’ve wanted to be a Pinky Demon from Doom then don’t miss out.

4. High fidelity graphics – The show looks crisp running in 4k at a stable 60fps with HDR, it looks so realistic it’s almost like you’re in the room with them.

5. Mario Kart – Recreated live on stage. For real. If you’ve ever wanted to throw a green shell at Luigi (or Josh) then this is your chance.

Game Boys: Free to Play is on at Tuxedo Cat from September 29 to October 1