Don’t Draw Pictures of Dicks The One-Man Musical

By Colin Flaherty

Well…this was certainly a most ambitious fringe offering. One man performing various musical styles as eight different characters and promising “it’s gonna be offensive” (hence the long list of trigger warnings in the show blurb). The main issue was that this writer/composer/performer of music theatre, comedy and rock, William James Smith, seemed to focus on the offensive content to the detriment of this shows’ humour.

Hung upon a story of ten year old Little Timmy being dragged in front of the Human Rights commission for drawing a dick. Commisioners for Race, Gender, Sex and Disabled Rights (as well as his inept lawyer) presented their “cases” in song with a variation of the dick portrait introducing each segment. Ultra PC types making a mountain out of a molehill was a solid topic for ridicule but Smith painted all of his characters with extremely broad brushstrokes and used crass stereotypes which seemed a bit lazy. Sure, he was all about pushing buttons with all these grotesque people but he constantly beat you over the head and deliberately presented misinformation as fact to flesh them out as bogeymen which gave the whole performance a nasty and ignorant undercurrent. Most of his observations on these “PC monsters” were so surface level and brief that instead of expanding on their beefs, each song spent the majority of its running time giving an inappropriate and graphic sexual education to Timmy .

The majority of his jokes were talk of sex acts including plenty of double entendres. They lacked finesse to be outright funny but the onslaught elicited nervous titters at times. Some lines could have been amusing if he was playing them for ironic laughs but the vibe of this performance suggested otherwise.

Using a viola, Smith played various musical styles – a huge challenge which he achieved with varying degrees of success. Some genres were easily recognisable while others needed some clarification. Tuning issues and possible opening night nerves resulted in many bum notes and screeches. The songs themselves were full of variety and rarely repetitive… unless he was coaxing the crowd to sing along to some highly offensive parts which became a grind and was embarrassing for all involved.

Smith’s background in musical theatre certainly was apparent, doing various characters and questionable accents as well as adding a reprise of the songs to a show already running way over time. He plowed on through some technical difficulties and danced up a storm, all while staying in character.

This was certainly a show that many would find problematic. Even if you’re one who doesn’t easily take offence you might be offended by the lack of smart comedy.

Don’t Draw Pictures of Dicks The One-Man Musical is on at Club Voltaire until September 28

The Joy of Working with Children and Other Lies

By Peter Newling

I don’t know about you, but when I was going through school, I never thought about my teachers having a life out of school. In fact, I’m not really sure I recognised them as humans. Imagine what a shock it would be to find out that your teacher was a stand-up comedian in their spare time – and what’s more – a very good stand-up comedian.

Josh Webb, Billie Duncan and Nick O’Connell are all exciting new voices in their respective comedy scenes – in fact, they’re all award winning comedians in their own right. And they’re all teachers. It makes perfect sense, then, for them to join forces to present a very entertaining hour of anecdotes and horror stories about the challenges they face on a daily basis.

Despite all coming from different parts of the education system, several common themes emerge. First and foremost, teachers are undervalued in our society. This is reflected in how people perceive (and treat) teachers, and how dreadfully they’re remunerated compared with less taxing professions. Secondly, there was consensus that working with the kids is infinitely more enjoyable and rewarding than interacting with the students’ parents……

A bit about each performer:

Nick O’Connell kicked proceedings off, and set a fantastic pace and rhythm for the evening. Originally from Adelaide, O’Connell shifted across to Melbourne and landed work in a school on the suburban fringe. Much of Nick’s routine is based on the very difficult circumstances faced by schools in these outer suburban areas. The fact that he looks like a private school lad doesn’t work in his favour amongst his more streetwise charges.

Nick’s style oozes confidence. Some of the lines come out sounding a bit plastic or clinical, but his observations are sharp, and there’s just enough self deprecation in there to win the audience over. His rhythm was thrown out once he found out there was a school-aged child in the audience. I’m sure it was his teacherly instincts that kicked in, with his primary concern turning to whether his material might be damaging to the child’s wellbeing. Thankfully, he soldiered on and everyone was better for the experience.

Up next was Billie Duncan. Billie is also from Adelaide now working in Melbourne (does Melbourne import all its teachers?). But as a fantastic counter-point to Nick, Billie works in the private school sector, so was able to relate a very different set of experiences and challenges.

I wonder if it is her work as a teacher that makes Billie so comfortable with crowd work? She brings to the stage a confident and brashness that I’m sure would make many in the private school system wince. I came away convinced that her life in comedy provides much needed catharsis from her daily workplace!

A lovely part of her routine involved her sharing some of her students’ work – much of it hilarious – and she finished her time with us by sharing a heart-felt email from an ex-student. Great stuff.

Rounding out the evening was Josh Webb. Josh was a Raw Comedy finalist 2017, surprisingly not from Adelaide. As the only substitute teacher in the show, his material was based around a completely different set of experiences and perspectives on teaching – much of it on an ‘all care and no responsibility’ theme.

Josh has a delightfully dry and unassuming delivery. His perfectly understated observations are mixed in with some purposefully cringe-worthy word play. This is very funny work, from a young performer you should definitely keep an eye on.

The Joy of Working with Children and Other Lies is a welcome contribution to the 2019 Melbourne Fringe. It gives three very impressive young comedians a chance to strut their stuff, delivering material which is obviously very close to their hearts.

The Joy of Working with Children and Other Lies is playing in the Small Room at Coopers Inn until September 27

This Is Our Pilot by Annie Lumsden and Lena Moon

By Lisa Clark 

In a Fringe Festival full of weird and crazy things, it’s almost refreshing to sit down to a good old-fashioned sketch comedy show. Annie Lumsden and Lena Moon in their first outing as a duo prove to be so good at it, that they make it seem effortless.

This Is Our Pilot is about two friends pitching their ideas for a TV show to an invisible “Mr Big TV Man” but it’s really about poking fun at TV shows and friendship. The theme song from Friends is playing as house music. (what is the sudden obsession with this long extinct sitcom?) There is quite a nostalgic vibe to the sketches, like a cross between Fast Forward and Big Girls Blouse, where a lot of them would sit nicely. The great thing about mainstream TV is that it’s a shared cultural experience. Even if you don’t watch Love Island you know what it is because you have seen the adverts or cross promotions or heard people talking/joking about it and so Annie & Lena can do a sketch knowing that we will all get the joke of it, which they set in Greek Mythology with the girls playing Sirens.

Sketches send up Gardening shows, game shows (Millionaire), Marie Kondo (“Organise your Shit”), Queer Eye, a music show which is used to introduce a song about working in a café and café culture on the Ukulele played by Annie and Sunrise and its dreadful advertorials. “Blend Her” was a particularly hilarious advertorial send up using real portable blenders on stage. A highlight for me was “Toilet Roulette” which was a hilarious disgusting dissection of a social taboo, demonstrating how terrifying public toilets can be.

The pair have a lovely rapport and perform brilliantly as a team. Annie tends to be the Straight person / person in authority and Lena the 2nd Banana / silly one. They prove that classic comedy tropes can still work and even manage to make a fart joke that feels fresh. Under all the accessible, charming silliness is an obvious politically awareness that remains feminist while also exploring how female relationships can occasionally be toxic.

I needn’t say ‘hit and miss’ because you can say this about any sketch comedy, including Python. The laugh rate for This Is Our Pilot is impressively high. This is a very strong debut and is recommended to any Mr Big type TV People out there looking for new up and coming comedy talent.

Annie Lumsden and Lena Moon perform This Is Our Pilot at The Coopers Inn til Sept 27

Scout Boxall: Good Egg

By Colin Flaherty

Non binary comedian Scout Boxhall made their solo festival debut with Good Egg and word of mouth of it’s excellence spread quickly so that an extra performance was added in a bigger room to meet demand. After catching this last performance I can report that all the hype and award nomination was justified. This was a brilliant and hilarious show that delighted all in attendance.

Good Egg was a personally political show that didn’t aggressively push an agenda instead playfully poking fun at the comedian’s experiences, the current political climate and societal conventions. Scout regularly diverted down paths of daftness that managed to stick to the point being addressed while being hilariously ludicrous flights of fancy. You will never watch the Federal Budget or listen to the music of Enya the same way again.

In addition to amusing monologues Scout performed hysterial sketches using simple costuming to transform into various wacky characters. Some were presented in a blasé manner as if many ideas were being thrown at the wall to see what would stick but the quality was so consistently high that this on-stage second guessing seemed to be a ploy to keep us off balance. Scout has the funny bones to pull off anything vaguely comedic with an ease and comfort on stage proving that a number of years in straight theatre has prepared them well for the world of comedy.

Stuart Daulman’s directorial fingerprints were all over this show and he even made the odd guest appearance. Scout performed it with ease, fully committing to some absurdly long and uncomfortable set pieces to break through to the hilarity.

The sound design by James Collopy was an essential element to this performance. From the sound effect punchlines to the dry robotic quips, this was an auditory delight.

Good Egg is sure to get a reprisal in upcoming festivals so when it does, grab a ticket posthaste to witness this masterclass in performing a debut show.

Good Egg has finished its run.

Tom Skelton – Blind Eye Spy

By Peter Newling

Tom made his MICF debut earlier this year with his well-regarded show Blind Man’s Bluff. As Squirrel writer Lisa Clark said at the time: “It’s really late, after you’ve spent an hour laughing with this joyful, adorable comedian and you leave and think about it, that you realise how seriously dark the undercurrent of this show is. Tom Skelton is telling the story of how he was diagnosed with a disease that took most of his eyesight at a very young age.”

His offering for the Melbourne Fringe Festival sees him move from telling his own real life story, to a more fictitious account of a blind British spy (that just happens to look and sound a lot like Tom) sent to Berlin to gather post-Brexit secrets from the newly created United States of Europe. Along the way, we meet a host of colourful (or shady) characters – some voiced by Skelton, some portrayed by unsuspecting audience members – as he tries to uncover secrets and potential double agents.

It’s a strange structure for a show – a curious mash-up of stand-up, voice recordings, audience engagement, improvisation and narrated story-telling. Fortunately, Skelton is well adept at each of these skills. A seasoned improviser, he is a founding member of several impro troupes in the UK, and has performed with some of Melbourne’s better impro companies. He is certainly very good with accents.

Despite a slowish start, the piece gathers momentum over the course of the hour – and Skelton seems to relax more into the mayhem as the audience gets more and more involved. The plot line is delightfully convoluted, but put across with maximum sincerity. Having performed this piece in Edinburgh and various other festivals, this is a well honed and confident piece of work.

If your Fringe show checklist contains the words fun, inventive, original, multi-disciplinary and currywurst, this could be just your thing.

Blind Eye Spy is playing in the Small Room at Coopers Inn until September 27.

Pat McCaffrie – Politics and Polar Bears (There Are Still No Polar Bears)

By Peter Newling

When the performer personally knows the names of every audience member within the first five minutes of a show, you know you’re in a small audience. And that was certainly the case on this particular Tuesday night at the Melbourne Fringe. It’s a shame, because Pay McCaffrie is worth listening to.

McCaffrie is something of a rising star in political comedy. His clever, pithy observations have earnt him a seat in the writing room of Mad As Hell, along with other satirical programs. There is nothing to indicate he would be out of place there.

To attempt satire – especially political satire – you first need something to say. “Write about what you know”. And McCaffrie certainly has plenty to draw from. Growing up as a young gay man in the Catholic education system in Adelaide gives him plenty of material to reflect on – and as a reformed law student, he has the ability to find exactly the right word, and use it to its fullest effect.

But basing your shtick on political observations can have its downsides. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, as McCaffrie found out on a recent comedy tour of regional NSW and Victoria. He delights in telling stories of how his well honed observations relating to the recent federal election utterly failed to capture the imagination of some in the more insular communities. He riffs freely about the uber-dinkum Daggy Dad image that the current PM is promoting, freedom of religion, environmental issues, as well as Australia’s position in international politics. What’s not to love?

His style is erudite and charming, without crossing over into smugness or pomposity. There’s a warmth in his engagement with the audience, and an instant likeability – probably more to those who lean to the progressive side of the political ledger.

If you’re going looking for polar bears, you may be disappointed. But if you’re looking for an incisive, informed, very funny look at Australian politics, from a new and exciting voice in satire, this could be a great way to round out your evening at the Fringe.

Politics and Polar Bears (There Are Still No Polar Bears) is playing at Trades Hall – Evatt Room until 29 September 29