Bronwyn Kuss – Sounds Good

By Lisa Clark

Bronwyn Kuss has a very distinct style of comedy which is slow, quiet and downbeat where sometimes the silences are longer than the jokes. She’s as dry as you might expect a comedian from country Queensland to be, she’s also confident and comfortable on stage, but what is her second solo festival show about? Certainly not what the publicity blurb suggests.

OK so let’s talk about the description of the show in the MICF Guide:

Very mild themes* and language** and no crowd work***

This show is a safe space***, or a trap. Who knows.

Anyway, sing out if you need anything.

Bronwyn relays stories about her childhood and growing up with too many aunties****, ruminates on how close she came to joining a cult***** and laments her total inability to ever make a decision.

Sound good? You should probably buy a ticket.

*she talks about paedophilia

** she teaches us the meaning of “Growling Out”

***she teases the front row and latecomers (though she doesn’t ask what they do for a living thank god). One bloke in the front row, moved back a row, part way through and Bronwyn stops the show to comment on it and embarrass him.

****what Aunties?

*****what cult?

Nothing else in the blurb seems to reflect the show I saw either. Is it part of her dry ironic humour or is it indeed a trap?

So things change a lot as a festival show develops, that’s normal, but the actual content was all over the place and perhaps is not quite ready for a festival. The many brief stories she touches on were really interesting, quite funny and could have been the basis of shows of their own. A story about working in a prison would have been a goldmine of material and her trip across American could have been a brilliant structure for a show. Instead her side stories have the vaguest of connections to her main thread.

It was also frustrating to see her specifically reference certain people to highlight homophobia in the most lazy way imaginable. She refers to drag artist Pauline Pantsdown in the past tense as if she died in the 90s (she’s  still active politically on Twitter) and talks about Pauline Hanson but appears to be unaware of the current news cycle were Hanson has somehow, surprisingly, (and potentially hilariously) come out as a gay advocate.

My mind started to wander as she talked about a first aid course, finding her slow delivery style quite the slog for an hour of stand up. Her tales about her relationships included information about a Bendigo paedophile called the Bendigo Toe Tickler which elicited a shocked gasp from the audience louder than any laugh she received.

It’s a very meandering show where she attempts the “going off on many tangents” style of a Billy Connolly or Ross Noble but doesn’t quite pull it off. The original story is not quite riveting or memorable enough for the audience to be excited about returning to. The journey of coming out to her dad at the beginning and her Mum’s different reaction at the end lacks something when we’ve learnt very little about her parents to have any connection with them and maybe coming out stories just aren’t as interesting as they used to be.

Bronwyn won awards and nominations with her debut show last year and I can’t help but think this one suffered from a bit of second album syndrome. Bronwyn has a unique comedic style and a lot of potential.

Sounds Good is on at The Westin until April 23

Sara Schaefer – Going Up

By Lisa Clark

So you wanna be a Real Comedian eh? American comedian Sara Schaefer is here to teach us her patented theory of Comediocity, and how to climb the ladder of the comedy industry to success. She somehow covers the entire live comedy world and does not paint a pretty picture.

Set up like a direct marketing sales seminar which may or may not be an induction into a cult, Going Up is a sharp satire full of corporate speak and non-stop acronyms (RC = Real Comedian),  but in contrast to that concept there is a cute softer side too. Sara is obsessed with miniatures and doll houses, so her show is stuffed full of references to them and also appearances by them. It adds charm and a little magic to what might otherwise be another well written spoof-seminar type show.

This is definitely a show for comedy nerds, who will be immediately on board, but in Melbourne with our own comedy festival, most audiences will be familiar with the comedy world she is lampooning, from lowly open mic nights to the heights of having a sitcom with your name in the title. You will learn how to Hang with other comedians back stage and how to give and take cruel jokes at each other’s expense, how to build your Brand and the all-important Likability Factor.

At the centre of the performance is her impression of EVERY KIND OF COMEDY YOU CAN THINK OF and some you’d not thought of before. Sara impressively uses her theme of Miniatures to present routines in many the comedic forms such as, misdirect, edgy, impro, storytelling, blue and the inevitable musical comedy. Of course she couldn’t cover EVERY style of comedy and I can think of a couple she missed that might describe Going Up; whimsy (cute handmade dollies and tiny programs) and understated vicious satire.

There is a surprising amount of audience participation, but she is good at it, polite about it and luckily the one punter who she encouraged up on stage was a Real Comedian (she probably had no idea who Dan Ilic is – sorry Dan). Underneath it all is some deeply disturbing lived shit. Also on the surface of it. It’s not as raw or outwardly angry as a Hannah Gadsby’s work with similar themes, but it’s clear, by the end, that Sara has been through the wars and has some war stories to share, in her own quirky style.

Going Up is clearly a new show that Sara doesn’t quite have under her belt at the beginning of her run. She deftly uses a laptop to remind her of some passages, but it’s such a densely wordy show, that it does affect her timing and flow somewhat. There are laughs throughout but they are sporadic rather than constant. Still, Sara is a force to be reckoned with and non-stop entertaining, with her tenacity and talent the show will only improve as the run goes on.

Sara Schaefer –Going Up is on at Melbourne Town Hall Cloak Room

Joshua Ladgrove – Baba

By Jess Welch

If you thought you had a tough lockdown, try being the sole caretaker of your 97 year old Ukrainian grandmother, the titular Baba. You might not think a comedy show about caring for, and subsequently losing, a grandmother during the pandemic could possibly be funny. It doesn’t exactly seem like prime comedy material. But Joshua Ladgrove is no ordinary comedian.

Ladgrove weaves the story of not just caring for his grandmother while dealing with a global pandemic, but the wider stories around them. From his Baba’s upbringing in Ukraine, he details her life of ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies. He recounts his own upbringing, surrounded by family. It is a story of love and loss and hope and despair. It touches on so many heavy topics that to list them all would put anyone off buying a ticket. But that wouldn’t be doing it justice. It’s something that will stay with you, long after you leave. It’s one of those shows that’s more than comedy, yet still has more than enough light-hearted and hilarious moments to keep from dragging you too deep into the darker side. It’s comedy plus tragedy.

Ladgrove has been a familiar face at MICF for many years, though perhaps not always a familiar name. As a character performer, he won acclaim and more than a few awards. Now, in a completely startling departure from the world of character comedy, he takes to the stage as himself. It’s raw, powerful, hilarious and heartbreaking. Above all, it’s truthful – something most comedy can’t boast. It has moments of shock and discomfort. But all of that is soothed by equal moments of peace, calm and, most importantly, love. Ultimately, it is a tribute to the matriarch of his family and it is an incredibly beautiful one.


Stephen Hall – Letters From My Heroes

By Peter Newling

Stephen Hall is one of the unsung heroes of Australian Comedy. While many will be familiar with his amazing on-camera character work for Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell (think Darius Horsham, Donald McEngadine et al), his work as a contributary writer on some of Australia’s best comedies is perhaps lesser known. He worked on such classics as The Hollowmen, BackBerner, Full Frontal, Spicks & Specs, Newstopia and Adam Hills Tonight – to name but a few. From this it’s easy to see that he keeps very good company, and is much in demand in the worlds of political satire, impersonation and topical comedy.

His 2023 MICF offering allows him to show off all of these remarkable skills.

Letters From My Heroes is not your usual festival stand-up show. It’s a series of quite excellent impersonations, loosely held together with some (sometimes quite tenuous) links. The central device sees Hall try and imagine what various celebrities might write back to him in response to requests for advice. This gives him a chance to pay homage to an impressive array of celebrities, including past and present Aussie comics, Hollywood stars, historical figures and even the occasional cartoon character. The diverse themes are drawn together at the end in a most unexpected and delightful way.

Moments of the show are surprisingly personal, with Hall sharing insights into how his background has influenced his work, and his own choice of hero. The show also offers an opportunity to reflect on how culture and taste determine who should and shouldn’t be impersonated.

In an interview last year, Hall spoke of his approach to impersonation, and making sure he’s got the inflections, rhythms and body movements of his impersonatee just right. He said: “I’m quite forensic about it, as I tend to be with most impressions. There’s a lot of analysis and study behind the scenes before the performance that the audience doesn’t see”.

That forensic analysis and quest for precision is the hallmark of his work. Most importantly, he shows great respect for those who he impersonates.

The early start time makes Letters From My Heroes an ideal way to kick off a night at the festival. It’s not side-splitting stuff, but it’s a great opportunity to watch one of Australia’s comedy legends at work.

Stephen Hall – Letters From My heroes is playing March 30 to April 23 at the ACMI Swinburn Studio at 6:00pm (Tues to Sat) and 5:00pm (Sundays).

Ari Eldjárn – Return of the Icelandic

By Bren Carruthers

In most eyes, Ari Eldjárn is the Icelandic comedian – no other act has had greater success between here and the North Sea. Surely then, it should come as no surprise that his primary source of mirth and mockery is his homeland, the quaintness and oftentimes ridiculousness of Icelandic life.

It’s a deep well of content, and as he caricatures his fellow countrymen, as well as Danes, Swedes and Germans, it’s surprising to find how well-received it is by an Australian audience that – one would have to assume – have no more than a passing familiarity with the region. It may well be that Eldjárn’s relatively innocuous skewering is a close match for the classic Australian pursuit of egalitarian pisstaking.

While effective, the choice in material does render Eldjárn pretty one-dimensionally. In fact, he is well into the second half of Return of the Icelandic before he begins to offer us any insight into himself as a person: his family, his home life, his one-time DJing career. It makes for an odd, even slightly unnerving shift, as though a few pages of content from elsewhere have been stapled to the back of the runsheet to fill time, or as though Eldjárn’s identity itself has been ruthlessly relegated to a fifteen minute afterthought.

Does Eldjárn nail the laughs? Absolutely. But it’s hard not to think about how a better approach to constructing a show would take his craft to the next level – a level he is quite obviously capable of reaching.

Ari Eldjárn’s Return of the Icelandic is on in Melbourne Town Hall’s Powder Room until April 16.

Maisie Adam – Buzzed

By Lisa Clark

Well I just saw my favourite show at the Festival so far, Maisie Adams – Buzzed. It’s early days I know and a big call, but it’s such a joy to experience a new stand-up comedian with confidence and enthusiasm who can wiz me off into their world and hit me right in the solar plexis.

Her energy is way up as she bounds onto the stage, ready to give the audience her all. Maisie does no nonsense standup with stories from her life that she has turned into brilliant comedy for us. This was her Australian debut of a show she’s been performing since Edinburgh in August last year, so it’s finely tuned and bedded in. There is a sense that she really knows what she’s about and won’t let us down. I loved the moment she got her first big laugh across the whole room and she said, quietly, almost to herself, “We’re off”, and we were. She kept that laughter rolling and the audience in the palm of her hand.

At her show’s heart there are two main stories. She mines her recent engagement and wedding plans for comedy gold expanding on the ridiculousness of wedding traditions through the eyes of a modern woman. Timeless comedy material but made fresh by an intelligent comedian experiencing them for the first time. The second and deeper story was about her lifelong passion for playing and watching football (ie soccer), who would’ve thought I’d be this excited about a comedy festival show that devotes such a large clump to sports and that it would make me cry? Her finale lifted the roof off the room.

Woven around these big stories were smaller warm tales about her life and family, such as her relationships with her mum and beloved granny and of course there was the inevitable Covid gear.  But my goodness it was great gear and Maisie had the BEST impression of post-covid chit chat. So.  Are you curious about her hair then? She knows you are and this show will reveal that story too. Her comedy instincts are effortlessly awesome.  The hour zips by and it’s over too quickly. By the end of her Melbourne debut, I feel like I know Maisie and that she’s a new mate I look forward to seeing again.

You may have seen Maisie Adams brightening up many a British TV panel show, like 8 Out of 10 Cats do Countdown, The Last Leg or QI. She is becoming well known over there and she is disarmingly delighted and surprised to have sold out her whole show run (in an admittedly small room and short run) on the other side of the world.

They’ve had to put her in a bigger room for a bonus show on April 22. Get tickets while you can.

Maisie Adam’s Extra show of Buzzed is at 6pm in the Lower Town Hall on Sat April 22

Maisie is also appearing in a group show The Best of The Edinburgh Fest at The Capitol, Every night for the rest of the Festival.