The Underlads – Living on Limbo Lane

By Colin Flaherty

Set at the end of last year’s MICF, Shrub and Wearnie inherit a house from their “Uncle Lucifer” and soon discover that not everything is as it seems. So begins the Underlads latest crazy adventure.

Every horror movie cliché imaginable was thrown into this show. It got to the point that identifying all the references sometimes took precedence over laughing at the jokes. There was lots of witty wordplay, hilarious verbal and physical conflict, and plenty of absurd ideas running throughout. The plot twisted and turned all over the place but still remained coherent enough to follow.

The references to ghost sex in the program blurb made it clear that they would delve into some risqué and disturbing concepts, making it not one for sensitive souls. This was emphasised with some sexually graphic visuals and crude song parodies that simultaneously titillated and grossed out. Add to this the splatter elements of horror and a homoerotic subtext, and you get a show that traded on sophomoric humour but managed to do so in inventive ways.

A massive amount of work has gone into this show. From the clever props to the scarily accurate puppet replicants, to the extensive video footage there was boundless creativity on display. A semi transparent screen allowed the guys to interact with video both on stage and behind as shadows. This allowed some additional characters (all played by the duo) to be efficiently incorporated into the story to provide some relief from the boys running about the stage shouting at one another.

Their acting chops got a workout as the on screen actions required perfect timing to pull off the visual jokes. Both performers were on the go from start to finish as plenty of colour and movement was required to sell this kind of broad humour and slapstick. Things denigrated into constant cartoon violence as the show reached its climax, but their enthusiasm was so infectious that it was impossible not to be swept up.

They each cranked up their characters to eleven but still managed to clearly maintain their roles in the classic format of the double act; Wearnie as the dimwit and Shrub as the practical one. There were fascinating moments of deconstruction that appeared to be off the cuff, but soon were revealed to be as tightly scripted as the rest of the performance.

This show certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if the prospect of seeing a pair of flesh and blood cartoon characters in an ejaculate and blood soaked (figuratively not literally) romp sounds appealing, this is worth checking out.

Living on Limbo Lane is playing at 1000 £ Bend

Sammy J and Randy in The Inheritance

By Daniel Sheppard

Carrying on the journey of their last two shows together (2010’s Rickett’s Lane and 2011’s Bin Night), The Inheritance takes our self-centered no-hopers to Britain in the wake of Randy’s uncle dying and leaving him with unexpected riches. A tale of secrets, debauchery, jealousy, mistaken identity and murder unfolds. There’s a series of twists in the saga, so I won’t go into great detail, but it’s a great little story that they’ve woven together.

The stage design and puppetry have taken a step up from the last few shows, especially the delightfully grotesque groundskeeper. While not quite at the level of production of Forest of Dreams, it’s unlikely that you’ll find a more impressive production in the festival. Heath McIvor’s skill as a puppeteer is really showcased here, and it’s a delight to see such an under-appreciated art given an outlet.

Sam and Heath seem really comfortable in their characters here, and their ease on stage allows them to really enjoy themselves. Even with such a tightly scripted show incorporating musical numbers and constant stage changes, they’re both relaxed enough on stage be able to break out of the show when the opportunity arises. This sense of fun is infectious, making it impossible not to get caught up in the enjoyment of the performers.

This show is probably a good re-entry point into Sammy J and Randy for those that were brought in by Forest of Dreams but were shocked away by the darker more misanthropic nature of the characters of recent years. The edge is all still there, but there’s an extra level of charm in this show that makes it much more accessible. Sammy J and Randy are on a great little journey together, and this show is a great opportunity to get on board and see where else they’re going to take us.

Sammy J & Randy perform The Inheritance at Forum Theatre downstairs.

Josh Earl is XXX

By Annette Slattery

It’s hard to find the right adjective to describe Josh Earl. He is a contrast. On the one hand he presents a show of high energy, adorably relatable, poppy joy. But he is also dryly acidic, knowingly exasperated and bluntly honest. However I can think of a couple of adjectives that do fit him neatly, such as fabulously funny.

Earl has turned thirty. As someone two months shy of her fortieth birthday, I was concerned that thirty year old Josh Earl was going to bemoan his advancing age. Earl however is quite aware that he’s not old; in fact this show sees him questioning whether he’s grown up enough. This fear is enunciated to him by nine year old Rosie, a character who has appeared in two of his previous shows. This monopoly playing adversary believes that Earl has grown old without ever becoming a grown up. Rosie has a list of criteria by which she judges whether someone is grown up and it is upon this list that Earl hangs this show.

In doing so he tells us about his son, his marriage and his driving history. He assesses his own level of wisdom (occasionally comparing himself to an owl), determines if he’s ever had a proper job and discusses his home rental history. Earl’s take on these stories is never dull, never ham and never old hat. He works from his individual history thus rendering his tales authentic.

Whilst Earl began his comic existence as a musical comedian, usually accompanied by Tasmanian cohort Justin Heazlewood (The Bedroom Philosopher) these days he’s a “comedian who uses music”. His musical ability has in no way diminished; in fact it has expanded in style and content, becoming occasionally reminiscent of Flight of the Conchords. The difference is that Earl doesn’t rely on musical interludes but rather he uses them to enhance his comedy.

Earl relates to his audience exceptionally well. Whilst he may be well known enough to attract a favourable demographic, his work is accessible enough to attract knowing laughs from a wide spectrum of society. Nevertheless he is never in danger of becoming “broad”.

This is not a show that will disappoint. In fact I was thrilled to see this young (yeah I said young) comedian’s latest stage of evolution. Josh Earl is a youthful thirty years old. But he is also fabulously funny.

Josh Earl is XXX is on at Arthurs Bar on Flinders Lane

Kevin Kropinyeri – Guess Who?

By Colin Flaherty

At the top of his MICF debut, Kevin Kropinyeri explained that he usually plays to predominantly Indigenous audiences and this was his first extended run of playing to mixed crowds. This forced him to add side notes to his regular material so that broader audiences would get the references. He pulled it all off with ease, making this a fascinating and hilarious primer into Aboriginal humour.

Observational material made up the bulk of Kevin’s set which focused on his immediate family and the extended family that comes from being part of a Mob. From his experiences living in various small towns to performing for the Elders, he told tales that could only happen in the Indigenous community. Some silly wordplay was given a nice twist with the various dialects at his disposal. Wonderfully expressive impersonations of various characters from his adventures and exaggerated physical parodies brought the jokes to life. He oozed confidence and cool attitude on stage which was a delight to watch.

The Aboriginal people in the audience howled with the laughter of recognition as they saw characters that they were familiar with and roared with delight at Koori centric concepts. This meant that explanation was often required so that the rest of us could follow the action. Even with the translation delay it was impossible to feel any frustration with not being immediately in on the joke with a performer as charismatic as Kevin.

Kevin makes fun of every Aboriginal stereotype in his act along similar lines to other ethnic humours. This made him susceptible to knee jerk reactions from well meaning Whities about reinforcing those views but he counters it with the argument “we’ve been laughing at ourselves for centuries”. Although he gave us permission to laugh by instructing us to ‘follow the lead of the Blackfellas in the audience’, there is still that small hurdle of guilt to navigate. The light-hearted nature of the show certainly helped us to make the jump.

Those familiar with Kevin’s work would find this the expected hour of solid stand up in the hands of a consummate performer. Everyone else will learn a great deal about another culture to boot. With only one expletive uttered (entirely understandable while tackling a topic that riled him up), it’s a show that anyone can enjoy.

Guess Who? is on at the Backstage Room at the Melbourne Town Hall

Steele Saunders – The Cat’s Meow

By Lisa Clark

Lets get this straight upfront, this is a show for cat people. If you hate cats, this is not the show for you. The title should give you a clue and once you’re in the room a screen showing 50 pics of an orange grumpy looking Persian while Tom Jones croons ‘What’s New Pussycat” should ring some really loud alarm bells. This is not an ‘’ kind of cutesy show, thank god. I mean, really, if cats could use computers they would be able to spell and have good grammar. This is a story about Steele’s relationship with cats and especially his grumpy looking marmalade Persian named Jerry.

The idea for this show was spawned by the fact that Steele included his cat Jerry in his twitter avatar and noticed there was more interest in Jerry than in himself. This led to Jerry getting his own twitter @JerryThePersian which is not at all surprising considering the proven success of cats on the internet. The Cat’s Meow is all about how successful cats are, especially in comparison to ape descendent life forms. Steele has a list of topics stuck to the wall behind him of things that Cats are better at than humans, such as Fitness, Honesty, Happiness and Intelligence. He covers them all, some more successfully than others, with funny anecdotes about cats being smart and people being not so smart.

Steele is an anecdotal comedian, it’s not a grand biographical story show and his experience as a regular in the clubs and pubs of Melbourne is clear from his confidence and ability to get laughs. Some of his stories are crackers and most of them actually stuck to the topic of the show (which isn’t always the case with even the best of comedians) but there was one long personal tale that made me wish the rest of the show had been a bit more of the same, but then I’m a fan of a story show. His account of Chewy the cat and how Jerry came into his life was funny and moving and will stay with you long after seeing the show.

From the get go, Steele reminds us that cat lovers are often teased and looked down upon and I can’t help but be amused that he rarely speaks of his own emotional attachment. He tends to put the blame on his girlfriend for his cat owning, but there is no doubt of his affection. Steele is a warm, friendly comedian and this is the best I’ve ever seen him. This would be a great date show for cat lovers, it is a sweet and funny show.

Steel Saunders is performing The Cat’s Meow upstairs at Spleen

Michael Williams’ Mild Spectacular (in 3D)

By Colin Flaherty

Michael Williams (aka That Guy With The Easel) based his latest show around the loose theme of “mild spectacular” and, much like Michael’s previous work, it revelled in the wackiness associated with the mundane. Add lots of inventive, hand crafted visual aides and you essentially have what Michael is all about; a guy appearing as if he’s making it all up as he goes along, but the hours of work put into it are clearly on display.

There was a faux laziness running through this performance which was contrasted by brief moments of single-minded dedication to a single task. These extremes were the source of the majority of the humour with some self deprecation thrown in for good measure. Plenty of half-arsed pop culture references made the audience feel more knowledgeable than our hero so that we could laugh at his “ineptness”.

Having only seen Michael perform short stand up spots, I was impressed with the inclusion of video work alongside the cards on the easel. Displaying a similar art style to his drawn pieces, we saw animations, drawings, still photos and filmed segments. The screen was also used for the promised 3D content that ran from the gimmicky to the pointless to the impressive.

There were also some audio components which Michael could interactive with as well as a show stopper of a song. This big production number of promised “stupidest thing you will see at the festival” was set up earlier in the show but still came as a surprise when revealed.

This was a rather ramshackle operation with Michael acting as his own tech. It tended to hamper the flow of the performance and leave him on stage in the dark as he provided commentary to the video segments. Was this an attempt at emphasising a reclusive persona by hiding in the shadows, or simply a case of not knowing how to control the lighting? Some may see this as adding to the “low tech” aesthetics of the material while others will view it as poor production values.

If you are able to set your expectations at a reasonably low level and allow yourself to be swept away with Michael’s lo-fi aesthetics you will have a fun time. There is plenty of silliness and absurdity to bring plenty of laughs and smiles.

Michael Williams’ Mild Spectacular (in 3D) is on at Softbelly