Simon Munnery: Trials and Tribulations

By Ron Bingham 

Simon’s show this year is a look back at some the momentous events from his past, most notably two trials (one a parking fine and one a minor affray), which spun out into long drawn-out stressful affairs in which the innocent party (ie Simon) lost a lot of money and time proving his innocence with no restitution. The affray story happened about 20 years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe during one of Arthur Smith’s Royal Mile tours which adds some local colour and interest for Festival goers.

The two main stories in Trials and Tribulations are interspersed with some jokes, poems, recitations of song lyrics, spicy stories of youthful indiscretions in Edinburgh (including one involving Steve Coogan, Patrick Marber, Stewart Lee and Richard Herring from many years ago) and an extended parody of an Archers radio script, where you don’t have to know The Archers (famously long running radio drama) to be laughing along.

Simon is a legendarily exceptional comedic storyteller and the hour just whizzed by. He is one of the Kings of Alternative Comedy in the UK and is still going strong.  The beloved Stand is an intimate venue and as usual, absolutely packed with appreciative and adoring punters. I highly recommend you buy a ticket ASAP to avoid disappointment. The show I attended also had Simon selling some excellent merch -mostly from previous years, including a book, Alan Parker tea towel (only 20 of these so be quick), postcard and DVD.

Trials and Tribulations is on at The Stand

Squirrel writers’ 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Round up

So that was the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Fringe and Festival. Once again the weather was changeable, with reports that it was the wettest summer in Scotland for 80 years. We arrived in the rain, but the frequent showers were never enough to dampen our enthusiasm. There were four Squirrels in Edinburgh this year and all of us have written below about shows we’ve loved, or not loved, or not had the chance to write about previously.

Hannah GadsbyThe Big news to come out of this special anniversary festival is that Australia’s own multi award winning (The Barry, The Helpmann, Adelaide Best Comedy) comedy champion Hannah Gadsby has won the Best Comedy Show Award at Edinburgh. It was a joint win with John Robins and my impression is that their shows are a sort of yin and yang, with John’s show The Darkness of Robins being an anguished cry of help from the depths of a breakup with his more famous girlfriend Sara Pascoe (who was doing her own take on the breakup in an equally well reviewed but not nominated Fringe show Lads, Lads, Lads) and Hannah’s being a powerful, rallying rant of revelation against the apocalypse, Nanette. Previous Australian winners of Best Comedy at Edinburgh Fringe are Los Trios Ringbarkus, Lano & Woodley, Brendon Burns and Sam Simmons.

Other nominees for the 2017 Edinburgh Best Comedy Award were Ahir Shah, Elf Lyons, Jordan Brookes, Mae Martin, Mat Ewins, Sophie Wilan and Spencer Jones.

Best Newcomer Winner at Edinburgh Fringe was Natalie Palamides for Laid. The Nominees for Best Newcomer were; Chris Washington, Darren Harriott, Ed Night, Kwame Asante, Lauren Pattison, Lucy Pearman and Rob Kemp.

Rob Kemp did win Comedians’ Choice Award for Best Performer and Mat Ewins Presents Adventureman 7: The Return of Adventureman won best Comedians’ Choice Award Best Show.

Hannah will bring Nanette for its premiere season at the Sydney Opera House from  September 27 – October 8, before a string of encore performances at the Arts Centre Melbourne from Nov 18 culminating in Hamer Hall on Dec 1. I shouldn’t have to urge you to see it, if you’ve missed out on it so far.

Squirrel writers’ Edinburgh Fringe Round up

Colin Flaherty

My highlights at Fringe happen to be ones that I have reviewed, in particular Big Howard Little Howard

Big Howard, Little Howard (Howard Read) – Man and Boy

Andrew O’Neill’s Black Magick Fun Hour

Simon Munnery – Renegade Plumber

I also enjoyed Stuart Goldsmith – Like I Mean It, a hilarious hour that follows on from his previous show Compared to What where he continues to explore life with his new wife and son. He presents plenty of brilliant observations and plays around with the bird with clipped wings husband angle perfectly.

One off event WiFi Wars was a hoot, even though many of the games refused to play correctly on my underpowered tablet (I was only expecting to word process and web surf on it after all!). This late night, tech heavy show had punters competing individually as well as in teams. We laughed, we cheered and we got our geek on!

I had high hopes for Boris & Sergey’s One Man Extravaganza, an ambitious show featuring complicated puppetry, a crazy blurb and some wacky characters but I found it overlong and not enough laughs to hold my attention. Apart from the wonderful voicing of the characters, the expressionless puppets failed to connect with me.

Lisa Clark

I loved all the shows I reviewed with Jayde Adams (Is Jayded) being the exciting new discovery of the Fringe for me. The following are shows I loved but did not get a Squirrel write up.

Craig Ferguson ShowCraig Ferguson – The Craig Ferguson Show. All the Squirrels saw Craig’s recording of his live radio show and we all enjoyed it. Starting at 11.30pm to go live for drive time in the USA as well as Canada and Mexico, it went for 2 hours and consisted of two very entertaining in-depth chats with performers who were old friends of Craig. In our case an old close friend impressionist/comedian Jan Ravens and Scottish writer Iain Rankin.

Chris Coltrane – Make Love & Smash Fascism – a rather lovely, warm and approachable political comedian who taught me about the evils of Neo Liberalism which is extreme capitalism & pro privatisation of everything which basically seems to be the road to anarchy.

Dave Johns – I, Fillum Star. Dave Johns has been a jobbing comedian all his life and just as he was planning his retirement (he was going to give kids donkey rides at the seaside), he got a part in a film. On the 1st day director Ken Loach said, oh by the way the film is named after your character because you are the lead. I, Daniel Blake won a swag of awards taking Dave to Cannes and the BAFTAs and giving him a cracking tale to tell, and being a great comedian means Dave knows how to tell it for maximum laughs. This was a joy to experience with the message that it’s never too late.

Yianni Agisilaou – Pockets of Equality. As the title suggests, it’s about sexual politics and pockets. More importantly it was a very personal heartwarming show about love and family and one of the best shows I’ve ever seen Yianni do.

Disappointing shows were; Boris & Sergey’s One Man Extravaganza, a puppet show where three puppeteers per puppet failed to give the faceless repulsive puppets any personality, or make an interesting show. Then there was The Great Comedy Cooking Challenge which in no way described the show at all. The two guys had not planned their Festival show at all leaving the audience more bemused than amused and the main one telling the story of how he fell in love with cooking kept saying “I think that might’ve gotten a better laugh”. Nup.

Back to other highlights for me which were the inimitable and indefatigable Doug Anthony Allstars – Near Death Experience, Wifi Wars live online gaming which was a completely different kind of Festival show and finally, Simon Munnery doing a gorgeously crafted show about fixing things, bookended by two great songs. I was lucky to see Simon when Renegade Plumber had been bedded in and found it to be the tightest show I’ve seen of his in years, it was a beautiful blend of the personal and political, with the title perfectly describing the show.

Phoebe O’Brien

Fringe Shows that were highlights not formally reviewed

2 Become 1

The Swipe Right Theatre Company have created a fun and fabulous night that will capture your heart with its upbeat mix of 90’s music. It will also hit you right in the funny bone with A grade performances from a heavenly cast.

The cast of four stunning vocalists sing the hits; from Destiny’s Child to Des’ree to the Spice Girls and so many more! The 90’s bangers are intertwined within a story of friendship and heartbreak, as one of character’s, Jess breaks up with her boyfriend. After the news, her best gal pals do the only thing that would obviously ‘help’ Jess from a breakdown due to the breakup…speed dating.
At its core ‘2 Become 1’ is heartfelt and funny. You can even have a little boogie and sing-a-long of your own while you’re there. Now tell me, what more could you want? Could you really, really want?

David Quirk – Cowboy MouthDavid Quirk Cowboy mouth

After missing David Quirk during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, there was no better option than to catch his show ‘Cowboy Mouth’ at the Fringe. Quirk is the king when it comes to long form narrative story-telling, his tales from his childhood and the awkward meeting with his neighbour were tops.

Amongst the anecdotes, the show was knitted together with audio clips of the recollections of dreams people have had about him.
ps. Quirk performed on a bus and had an excellent jacket. Very cool.

Britney – John
A hidden treasure amongst the thousands of incredible Fringe shows was the sketch duo behind John. Charly Clive and Ellen Robertson are two 20 something year old mates from the UK, who make up ‘Britney’.

In their show ‘John’, the pair reminisce about the time they were just out of high school, exploring America and working on a documentary about president of Congress; John Hancock. For the documentary, they filmed interviews around America with other men with the same name. Their trip abroad became the centre for the show, with critique of the footage and their interviewing technique strong points of the show. Their ability to create stand-alone vignettes and natural storytelling was a highlight, revealing the effort both Clive and Robertson put into their follow up to their previous show ‘Britney’…which is also now the name of their duo, not confusing at all. I strongly believe we will be hearing big things from these two talented performers.

Alice Marshall – Blood
In her show solo show Blood, Alice Marshall captivates her audience with wonderfully executed character sketch comedy. Marshall has great comedic timing, while delivering a punchy hour of pure joy. I can’t wait to see more of her work further down the track.

Ron Bingham

My Squirrel fest started with a couple of excellent Aussie acts which turned out to be highlights Laura Davis (Cake in the Rain) and the Doug Anthony All Stars (Near Death Experience).

The three other shows that made me laugh out loud the most were:

Lucy Pearman – Maid of Cabbage Look What Youu Made Me Do

Demi Lardner – Look What You Made Me Do

Mark Steel – Every Little Thing’s Gonna Be Alright.

Lucy and Demi for their props and general air of controlled chaos, and Mark for his political insights and honesty about his recent marital troubles. I also enjoyed Muriel -(Bad Master) for their use of multimedia and fun sketches and The Canon -(A Literary Sketch Show) for their literary humour

I saw some fabulous new talent (two were deservedly nominated for best newcomer – Lauren Pattison and Lucy Pearman) and caught up with some excellent established acts. Saw some early shows and some late ones, drank a little too much of the free alcohol early on, nearly got blown off the top of Arthurs Seat after seeing a show up there called This Arthur’s Seat Belongs to Lionel Richie, and missed a lot of acts (ones I regret most not managing to fit into my schedule include Sarah Kendall, Ingrid Oliver and Hannah Gadsby). Importantly I only saw two shows which didn’t achieve the high standard I expect. Met a lot of lovely people, as always, and have already pre-booked for next year.

Simon Munnery – Renegade Plumber

By Colin Flaherty
Simon Munnery

There was a time when Simon Munnery concentrated on high concept art pieces (such as Fylm Makker and the La Concepta Restaurant) but over the past couple of years he has gone back to straight stand up. The latest is Renegade Plumber and it is a brilliant offering by the master of surreal satire.

Munnery’s shows are always scatter shot affairs full of random musings but this is one of the few times that he appears to stick to a theme. His centrepiece story has him playing the part of the titular Renegade plumber – creating a solution to heating a tent in a cold climate. Other creative examples of this mad scientist cum performance artist pop up during the show (such as his invented sport “Night-cock” a night time version of shuttlecock) but he also tells of times he bodged together solutions to life’s interpersonal problems.

His stage persona comes across a little “rabbit in the headlights” but his words pack a hilarious punch. Audiences often begin a little wary of his strange world view but quickly warm to his quirky charm. He produces a number of wonderful props to surprise and delight. The inclusion of a lengthy letter from his daughter adds authenticity to a routine…but it all could be a ruse, couldn’t it?

Munnery treats us to some songs that are sung in a manner like Billy Bragg. The first is a protest song about Glasgow’s 1915 rent strike called “Mrs Barbour’s Army”, which is very educational after he comically deciphers the lyrics, and we all join in singing along to the chorus. He later sings some silly football chants about various supermarket chains which are hilarious in their focus and brevity.

The mixture of fascinating stories and surreal one liners in Renegade Plumber make a delightful hour in the presence of a master craftsman of comedy.

Renegade Plumber is on at The Stand 1 until August 28

Simon Munnery’s Fylm School

By Elyce Phillips Fylm School pic

Armed with a projector, several cameras, a mirror and a big screen, Simon Munnery creates avant-garde cinema on the fly in Simon Munnery’s Fylm School. It was a one-night-only special event, with a dream team of a guest cast keeping the eager crowd laughing.

Simon Munnery’s Fylm School is an absurdist delight. While Mick Moriarty provided improvised musical accompaniment on guitar, Munnery amused and befuddled the audience in equal measure with his musings on Melbourne’s architecture, Venn diagrams and racism. The projector set-up was used to great effect, particularly with a series of brilliantly lo-fi animations created from paper and various moving pieces. Munnery plays with language and makes it feel effortless. Each little comedic snippet has a musical quality to it, beyond the backing track. Munnery’s words ebb and flow, kick and dart, then smack you across the face with something hilarious. He truly is a unique presence on the comedy scene.

Performing alongside Munnery and Moriarty were a selection of comedy festival guests. Adam Hess flipped through a book of assorted stick-figure drawings on the projector screen, firing off witty one-liners that had the audience in stitches. Alex Edelman told the story of the year his Orthodox Jewish family did Christmas – a tale that was both painfully funny and awfully endearing – using a selection of props and iPhone photos to illustrate the narrative. David O’Doherty rounded out the evening with some business pitches, throwing out some bizarre rapid-fire app ideas accompanied with illustrations.

Simon Munnery’s Fylm School is outside-the-box comedy that plays at the height of the audience’s intelligence. If you’re after a sophisticated dose of silly, hurry to book in should it ever return to Melbourne.

Simon Munnery’s Fylm School was a one-night-only event. Munnery’s other show, And Nothing But, is on at Melbourne Town Hall until April 17.

Simon Munnery : And Nothing But

By Lisa Clark
Simon Munnery

An unusual thing seeing Master of the Absurd Simon Munnery doing straight (as he can) stand up and I love it as much as his character work and his ultra-weirdness because Simon is funny to his bones.

Simon had a delicately worked out structure, from Dancing in the Dark House Music (The lyrics could be about a comedian plying his trade) to testing various potential openings (the chosen one being pretty damn awesome though), through thoughts of being on the road and industry experiences, to unabashed lefty political comedy, a big glorious prop and finally a little romantic comedy play in Yorkshire accents to round it off it is an intelligent, well put together and funny Festival show.

It was unfortunate that some rowdy shouty drunk dickwads tried to send it all off the rails. Shouting things like “Is he British?” and finally “Is this comedy?” to which Simon replied “Let’s take a survey. Who thinks this is comedy?” Everyone else in the room put up their hand. I think Simon handled it like a seasoned pro who’s dealt with worse things in his long career in comedy clubs and pubs in the UK. He engaged with them to calm things down, when that didn’t work he politely said “Anyone not enjoying the show can leave now” and remarkably, they did. I was lucky to be up the front so that it hadn’t affected my ability to enjoy most of the show so far and they were gone about 15 – 20 mins in, so it wasn’t too bad if you weren’t too close to them. But I was extra impressed at Simon’s relaxed ability to deal with it all, have a bit of a laugh with us about them after they left, and get on with the rest of the show. And it wasn’t Simon’s show, they were so drunk and stupid I don’t think any kind of comedy would’ve made them happy.

I’ve been seeing Simon Munnery perform since he performed as his own shouty League Against Tedium & Alan Parker Urban Warrior back in the day at the Prince Patrick Hotel. I always attended his legendary Annual General Meetings when in Edinburgh, but never had the time to hang out with him afterwards when he took the audience to the Pub or a gallery. I’ve loved his freaky Fylm Makker so check out his one night performance of Fylm School in Melbourne if you can, I’m sure it’ll be just as experimental, fascinating and fun. Alright, I am a fan. That’s because he is very funny, very endearing, always performs something interesting and unexpected and he is a bonafide comedy legend. Go see his shows.

And Nothing But is on at the Melbourne Town Hall- Regent Room until April 17

Set List : Stand-Up Without A Net

By Lisa Clark

In a short time (only a couple of years) Set List is becoming an exciting must see for comedy fans and a must do for Stand up artists. Created by Americans Troy Conrad and host Paul Provenza (famous for the Aristocrats film and TV show The Green Room with Paul Provenza), it’s a sort of Theatresports for stand up performers and has become a fixture at both the Edinburgh Fringe and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Last year it was on very late at night, this year it’s been brought forward a little, so it doesn’t clash with Festival Club and it’s easier to get to for those who’d prefer an early night.

A set list is more commonly known as a list of songs performed by a band, for a comedian it’s a list of words or phrases referring to practiced comedy routines that they plan to do for their set, something never usually seen by an audience (unless you glimpse the backs of their hands). At Set List the list is generated for them by the Set List Team and a random phrase pops up on a big screen where the comedians see it for the first time and has to make up a routine around it on the spot.

Like Theatresports or the circus watching it can be as thrilling and terrifying for the audience as it is for the performer. Audiences are encouraged to take part by adding ideas on small slips of paper to the suggestion box which the comedian can reach for during their routine if stuck for an idea. Paul also encourages the audience to join in by not being a Dick. In other words, we’re there to support the comedians and enjoy the fun, rather than heckle and jeer and make it more difficult for them. It encourages a great vibe and a good time can be had by all.

It’s pretty unfair almost pointless to review the performers themselves as there are going to be vast differences depending on the comedian’s experience at improvisation, experience at Set List and the topics they are given. For example a comedian had to cope with a word they clearly didn’t know the meaning of. Generally though, all the performers coped really well and the laughs were pretty much non-stop even if they were occasionally for the wrong reason. Some started strongly on an adrenaline high then gradually lost momentum, possibly from thinking too hard and others started slowly and warmed into it. The latter included Set List virgin Matt Okine who enjoyed explaining why Ski-ing = Racism and veritable veteran Wil Anderson who was gifted the topic Gay Time of the month and could barely be restrained from cracking out line after line about homosexuality and ice-creams.

To give you a taste of the ride we enjoyed that night, we were treated to Felicity Ward with her Heroin vs Crack Insights, Simon Munnery who effortlessly explained the ‘3 Types of Serial Killers I support’, a nervous Celia Pacquola tackled ‘Genocide Sensitivity’ in a surprising and clever way, and Ronny Chieng, as cool and smooth as ever, tried to get ‘8 people to join Scientology.’

This is a fantastic experience for comedy nerds as well as a broadly entertaining show for casual punters to take a group of friends to. There’s bound to be a laugh in this for anyone out to have a good time, only remember don’t be dicks!

Set List is on at The Victoria Hotel