Stella Young in Tales from the Crip

By Lisa Clark

Stella Young has been doing standup spots for a few years now, I saw her early on when she was still finding her feet and several times after that. Then a few months ago I saw her kill at a political comedy night, she was holding the room in the palm of her hand, and was clearly the best performer amongst a very highly skilled group. I knew she was ready for her own festival how. She didn’t let me or the rest of her audience down.

The title itself seems fairly provocative but as Stella points out there is no descriptor for her position lacking in some sort of loaded, negative subtext. Crip (short for cripple) sounds like a cool gangsta name to her and if you’ve got a problem with that, then maybe this is not the show for you but Stella couldn’t care less. She has a lot of fun with language, especially poking fun at ‘politically correct’ language and people trying so hard to be inoffensive but winding up sounding the exact opposite. There is also quite a bit of fruity language threading its way through her tales and one-liners. This is not a show for kids or the easily offended. Stella touches on all the subjects you’re supposed to avoid at polite dinner parties; politics, religion and sex.

The jokes flew pretty constantly and the laughs rolled along non-stop. Stella’s humour is possibly even drier than Judith Lucy’s (which is saying something). She’s cynical, sardonic and delightfully charming. Her Oscar Pistorious gear got a little dark (in a brilliant way) but then she gave us some very insightful stories about the Olympics, including being in London for the Paralympics. A highlight was reading through a hilariously inept children’s book teaching children about disabled kids which took her into various routines and helped break up the show from straight standup. We also learn quite a lot about her life, some of which is fairly unique but some, like having an embarrassing mum, we can all relate to.

Having a director’s outside view and experience help with a show can take it from a lot of well written comedy to a well rounded performance and Nelly Thomas’ direction has no doubt helped in this way.  This is an exceptional debut and I’m not surprised to see that she’s already scored some work on the Agony series on the ABC. Stella may be utilising her comedic skills as a political tool to make people more comfortable around crips, but more than anything else, she is definitely a brilliant comedian.

Tales from the Crip is playing alternate nights at Northcote Town Hall until April 20. There will be an Auslan interpreter Wed 9 & Fri 11 April shows

Don’t Peak at High School

By Caitlin Crowley

In 2012 Fiona Scott-Norman edited a collection of stories from well-known Australians about their experiences at school, Don’t Peak at High School from Bullied to A-List. It’s not only a noble idea but a wonderful read and for this year’s festival Scott-Norman has curated a show around the same theme.

Hares and Hyenas bookshop in Fitzroy has been converted to a smart little venue for the festival season and with comfy chairs, a well stocked bar and charming service one can only hope it becomes a permanent spot for live comedy and theatre.

There’s a rotating cast of comics enrolled in the Don’t Peak class of 2013. Opening night featured a mixed bag of tricks with clear highlights from the ever reliable Nelly Thomas and the wonderful Stella Young. Thomas talked about both being bullied and being the bully and performed a killer rap about a about the chicken Hawaiian pack.  Young touched on political madness gone wrong and on her own experiences at the hands of the “mean girls” from high school. It’s a rare talent who can deliver humour and pathos in such a brief set but Young absolutely nailed it, I was moved from laugh out loud to sucking back the tears in about ten minutes. Imaan Hadchiti delivered a solid performance with some good physical comedy.

When you have four performers to move through in an hour the role of the MC is super important. Unfortunately the MC for the evening, Jacq Tamlyn, was not up to the task on this occasion. Tamlyn’s upbringing and background appear to be packed full of rich material (crazy family, gender identity issues, high school tantrums) but Tamlyn has not been able to craft that material into a successful routine. This show needed an MC to maintain the momentum and move things along quickly but Tamlyn felt the need to perform material in between each act, stretching the show out unnecessarily and forcing it to go over time by 45 minutes. As the final performer, Scott-Norman didn’t stand a chance. Maybe she was concerned with the show running overtime or perhaps she wasn’t on form but her material about her experiences as a lonely teen at boarding school should have packed a lot more punch and the delivery was flat.

I took along a real-life High Schooler (the only one in the audience) and she really enjoyed it. There was a bit of colourful language and some adult themes but nothing she couldn’t handle and the performers interacted with her really warmly. With issues focused squarely on the vulnerable teen years and with a real lack of shows aimed squarely at that market it seemed like a missed opportunity not to promote this as a show for the oft-neglected 13-16 market.

This is a great idea for a show with some talented folk on board; unfortunately based on the performance I saw I can only grade it “Needs improvement.”

Political Asylum – Late Night Riot

By Elice Phillips

Political Asylum is a monthly line-up of great local political comedians. During the Melbourne International Comedy Festival they take up residence in Town Hall for one night only in their annual Late Night Riot.

The late night show played to a packed auditorium and it wasn’t hard to see why. Every single performer on the line-up was fantastic. Political Asylum regulars Aamer Rahman, Stella Young, Toby Halligan, Scott Abbot and John Brooks were all hilarious, covering topics from Abbott and Gillard to compulsory horse-riding classes for the disabled. Mathew Kenneally was an absolute standout among the regular crew. He’s quick-witted, his material is incredibly strong and he did a great job of hosting the show.

Nelly Thomas and Damien Callinan were special guests for the evening. Thomas amused with tales of remaining diplomatic while hosting talkback on Radio National. Callinan brought a touch of theatre to the proceedings, performing a meeting of the Horsham branch of Amnesty International. His characters were spot-on and painfully funny – his portrayal of a truly woeful ‘green poet’ was my highlight of the night.

The extra special surprise guest for the evening was the wonderful Rich Hall. His material wasn’t quite as politically-minded, but the audience absolutely loved him, cheering for him to stay on after his red ‘get off the stage’ light came on. Hall’s droll observations of Australia had people in stitches. His comparison of our coalition government to the store that does shoe repair and key cutting was particularly funny for its strange accuracy.

If Late Night Riot is any indication of the quality of the regular show in Brunswick, it deserves a packed house every month. These guys are serving up some of the most on-point and entertaining political humor around.

The Run for the festival is over but Political Asylum is on at the Brunswick Green the second Sunday of every month.