Monday, April 28, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

We all have them. For some people it might be reading trashy true-crime books; for others, Tim Tams, or the music of Britney 'trainwreck' Spears. For me, it's the reality TV program Big Brother. Cease your moaning; I know it's vacuous crap - that's the whole point!

I also know that it's got progressively more dull and tedious year by year - which is why I'm going to be watching the launch show tonight, given that the producers seem to have finally cottoned on to the fact that their formula had become more than just a tad formulaic. Cue: shouting at the television, despairing at just how moronic some people are, and excitedly texting friends to share what knobs some of this year's crop of housemates are sure to be.

I'm also hoping they bring back the voyeuristic pleasure which was Big Brother Uncut, but that's a whole other post unto itself...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Normal service will resume...

You'll have noticed I've been lying low, blogwise, for the last week or so. Partially it's recovery from the Comedy Festival, which means A) I've not been going out much or getting up to anything really blogworthy in the last seven or so days, and B) what has been going on, such as my flatmate buying his first apartment, I've either been too tired to blog about or it just hasn't been that exciting, eg fuelling my nostalgic spirit by catching up on old episodes of Doctor Who from the Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee eras. Talk about painting the town red!

On top of all that, my preoccupation with comedy and the general chaos of my life meant that last week the phone was cut off at home, as I hadn't had time to pay the bill, and consequently I also lost my internet connection. Ack! It's like losing part of your brain! I hadn't realised just how often and how useful the net was until my access to it was suddenly terminated. Hopefully when I get home from work tonight it will be back on-line, so I can continue to detail the fascinating minutiae of my life for you all...

That said, I have been occasionally kicking up my heels. Last Saturday, for instance, I started the night at Enoteca for a long overdue catch-up over a glass of wine with Tim and Lefa and their mate Steve; moved on up to road to the truly scrumptious tapas bar Anada with Mike and a couple of his friends to celebrate his becoming a home-owner; then headed into the city to have birthday drinks with an old and dear friend, Martin (who's turned 41 about three and a half months before I will) and our mutual girlfriend, Kerryn, who was on one of her regular flying visits from Hong Kong.

We started out at Spleen, moved on to Madame Brussels, thence to The Rooftop, and eventually to Kerryn's hotel room for champagne. When everyone else piked I headed on to The Peel for a nightcap or three - shots, as I recall, with Ryan from Anada - before finally staggering through the front door at 7am...

There was a point, about 2am at the Rooftop, when another of our friends turned to me and asked, "What would be a typical Saturday night for you these days, Richard?"

I pondered the question for a moment, looked around me at the highrise lights of the city that encircle the bar atop Curtin House, gestured with my drink, and said, "Oh, this."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Str8 boys r so gay!





Need more proof? Head over to photographer Brian Finke's site, where these amazingly homoerotic photographs are from. (This post inspired/lovingly ripped off from JockoHomo.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

2008 Comedy Festival Wrap-Up

So, I saw 45 shows at the festival this year, laughed a lot, drank too much, caught up with friends, developed a new comedy crush, and generally had a fantastic time - albeit one it will probably take me a few days to recover from!

Last night witnessed the awards presentation at the festival club at the HiFi Bar. The winners are:

The Barry Award for Outstanding Show: a tie, for the first time ever in the festival's 22 year history, between Nina Conti and Kristen Schaal (who is a horse, apparently).

The Age Critics Award: Sammy J

The Golden Gibbo Award for Artistic Excellence: The Suitcase Royale

The Melbourne Airport Best Newcomer Award: Fear of a Brown Planet

That's all, folks!

Going down

THE LIFT
Scott Brennan and Edwina Lunn have crafted an exuberent 12 minutes of fun in the lift at Town Hall - a specially designed show for an intimate audience, featuring a cavalcade of guest performers, including Harley Breen and Daniel Kitson, the night I saw it. Deranged, deftly presented and great fun.
Four chortles out of five.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

And now, the end is near...

Tonight marks the presentation of the Comedy Festival awards, which means that very soon, I can slide into a comatose state, emerging only to hit anyone near me who attempts to launch into a stand-up routine.

I've now seen 44 shows over the four weeks of the festival, and quite frankly, am a bit bloody knackered - as I discovered last night. I went to lie down for an hour before heading out again, and woke up shortly before midnight. Doh! So, instead of launching myself at the door at that late hour, I curled up with a comic book, and trundled back to bed a couple of hours later.

I've definitely slowed down in terms of the number of shows I've seen this week, too - on Thursday night (accompanied by the lovely Ms Razer) I only saw one show instead of three or four. The night prior I saw only two shows. Slack!

ANDREA GIBBS is Starkers!
Subtle, character-based comedy performed in a tiny room at the Forum by this Perth-based comedian. Each character was written by a different writer, with Gibbs breathing life into them. An ocker chick with fond memories of 1970s cricket and a penchant for getting her gear off; a female prisoner with a remarkable capacity for love; and a lacivious granny with a pleasure/pain fixation. Deftly performed and definitely entertaining but bordering on dramatic monologue rather than straight-forward comedy.
Three occasional guffaws out of five.


ROSS NOBLE

At a friend's urging I went to see this apparent god of stand-up, and I have to say, pissed myself laughing (and yes, thankfully, that is a metaphor - otherwise I would have had a rather soggy evening). His masterful improvisation skills meant that the show's lack of substance was irrelevent, with his lightning-quick quips and witty responses to comments and characters in the audience generating hearty laughs. When you're laughing so much your cheeks ache, you know you're in the hands of an excellent comedian. I'm not a huge fan of stand-up, but when it's this good, I'm not complaining.
Four gut-clenching shrieks of mirth out of five.


JOSIE LONG - Trying is Good

Having had the misfortune of catching this sweet-natured comic last year when I was dog tired and in a foul mood, I came out absolutely loathing what I decribed as her "gentle, observational humour, faux-naïve persona, and quirky, lo-fi presentational gimmicks". She hasn't changed, but because I knew what I was in for, and I was in a good mood, and in excellent company, I didn't find her that annoying at all. In fact, I thought she was rather sweet. Long comes across as a female version of Andrew McClelland - an indie hipster capable of gently mocking her own interests and obsessions, with a cheerfully exagerated means of expression. Her Phar Lap joke was fantastic, while the basic premise of the show - that people are basically, deep down, quite nice - is something that clearly resonated with the audience.
Three giggles out of five.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

On attending the opening night of GUYS & DOLLS


A facelifted throng of diamond-draped luvvies in the foyer, more penguin suits than at the opening night of MIFF, and the sound of air kisses echoing in the air around me. Derryn Hinch! Rhonda Burchmore! The horror, the horror!

I'd thought a night at the theatre would be a good antidote to my duties at the Comedy Festival, but it was all I could do not to laugh as Mike and I fought through the throng and climbed the stairs in the gorgeously garish Princess Theatre to find our seats in the dress circle.

Despite being reared on a musical diet as a child (everything from Pirates of Penzance to Oklahoma) I'd not seen a production of Guys and Dolls before, so was definitely interested in checking it out - and the idea of a musical whose characters were New York gamblers and showgirls and petty crims was equally appealing.

What a shame, then, that it was so truly bloody awful.

The show itself has dated badly, with great slabs of dialogue interspersed by only a handful of forgettable songs. The casting is dire - stuffed with Names designed to draw in the tv-loving public (Lisa McCune! That guy from Kenny!) but who can't actually sing or dance - a bit of an oversight in a Broadway musical, I would have thought. As a consequence the cast were all miked up, which resulted in a thin, flat and tinny sound, which reminded me unpleasantly of Spamalot. The overall impression was that it was a trainwreck waiting to happen, so we fled as soon as we could.

I'm sure the after party would have been wonderful, darling, but I would have had to sit through the second half of the show if I was going to attend it, and quite frankly, I would have rather have chewed my own face off than do that.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

2008 Melbourne Comedy Festival shows no's 38 - 41

So, we're into the home stretch of the 2008 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and I've got to the staggering from show to show, laughing hysterically and fleeing screaming from anyone outside the Town Hall who offers me a flyer for a show, and - generally speaking naturally - am bordering on the point of nervous exhaustion. But fuck it's been fun!

So anyway, let's talk about shows number 38 - 41, which I saw on Sunday and tonight, shall we? I took Saturday night off - a mistake as it turned out, to attend the opening night of Guys and Dolls (more of in another post) and Monday as well, it being my day of rest where the ComFest is concerned. Which basically means I've been seeing comedy six days a week, every week, since the festival opened 21 days ago. Excuse me, I feel faint... or is that my liver packing in?


DAVE BUSHELL - The Struvvel Bushell
Or, how Dave exorcises his childhood fears via a sharp, clever and damn entertaining comedy show. I first became aware of Der Struwwelpeter via the Doom Patrol comics of twisted Scottish genius Grant Morrison (who'll we'll hear more of in a moment). Basically, the book is the scariest children's book in the world, full of less than charming fables about children who suck their thumbs, play with matches, refuse the eat their soup, etc, and consequently have their thumbs cut off, are burnt alive, and starve to death. How jolly! But back to the show. Like a cheerfully deranged book club, Bushell talks us through the history of the book and the book itself, makes rude jokes about other children's authors, and generally has a good time - as did I. In fact, I hooted like a gibbon on heat throughout much of the show. Go see it - just don't suck your thumbs!
Three and a half deranged chortles out of five.


BENN BENNETT AND WES SNELLING in Black Bag

Life is a cabaret, ya? At least it is when partners in crime Wes and Benn have anything to do with it. One part tormented sibling relationship, one part beautiful takes on the most unexpected songs (seriously, I've never heard '99 Luft Balloons' sound so achingly beautiful, while a cover of Men At Work's 'Land Down Under' performed as a torch song literally brought tears to my eyes!) adds up to a superb show which rightfully deserves its nomination for the Golden Gibbo Award (awarded to a local, independent show that bucks trends and pursues the artist’s idea more strongly than it pursues any commercial lure at the festival). Bravo!
Three and a half hearty laughs/gasps of wonder out of five.


FIONA O'LOUGHLIN
A frankly underwhelming show about nursing work gone wrong, children, life in Alice Springs, the queen and camels from a Barry Award nominated comedian who I expected better of. Last year I was blown away by her show, though admittedly it was the first time I'd seen her do an entire performance rather than a guest spot in the festival club or similar. I found her material patchy, though occasionally hilarious, and her halting delivery frankly frustrating.
Two and a half solid laughs out of five.


JUSTIN HAMILTON - The Killing Joke
A comedy show for comedians, or indeed for anyone who is having a bit of a mid-life crisis and re-evaluation of who they are and they've achieved in life, Justin Hamilton's The Killing Joke is less a laugh-out-loud show, more one which sparks contemplative chuckles. The premise is simple - it sees Hammo in conversation with himself, or rather with an aspect of himself, his performance persona. It's a concept inspired by the final issue of Grant Morrison's run on the DC comic Animal Man, in which the titular superhero character steps outside the comic book and meets his writer. Certainly it's a novel idea, but as a comedy show, while I liked the meta-narrative unfolding on stage, and I certainly got a kick out of comedy that references some of my favorite comics (including another Morrison comic, Arkham Asylum), The Killing Joke struck me more as clever rather than funny. Nonetheless, an intriguing concept for a show - it's clearly evident that Hamilton is intent on pushing the form.
Three and a half chin-stroking chuckles out of five.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Funny as in strange

And - surprise! - still more comedy festival reviews...

MAEVE HIGGINS & CLAUDIA O'DOHERTY - Ha Ha Yum!
In which Irish comedian Maeve Higgins tells jokes about such diverse topics as catty put-downs disguised as compliments and the Titanic, while her friend Claudia (a Sydneysider, and also one third of Pig Island) makes chocolate crackles on stage, which are handed out to the audience at the end of the show. O'Doherty's dry wit is an appropriate foil to Higgins' light yet lyrical delivery, yet overall I was rather underwhelmed by this slight confectionary-like show, which seemed to lack pace and direction.
Two and a half chuckles out of five


BEST OF THE EDINBURGH FEST
A portmanteau show presented by four comics: Eddie Ifft, Tom Stade, Mickey D and Daliso Chaponda. The weakest link in the show was compere Micky D, an Adelaide boy who's been living overseas for several years and who's just moved to Collingwood; his crude, cheeky material seemed to lack polish, especially in comparison to the rapid-fire delivery of Ifft (USA) and the droll, dry and laconic Stade (Canada). Chaponda (Sth Africa) was also strong, but was thrown off early in his set by some unimaginative heckling. Loved his come-back though. "Now, this is disturbing. See, normally I'm turned on when I'm looking at a cunt." Zing! Ifft and Stade were definitely the highlights, however, and well worth catching if you get the opportunity.
Three loud, long laughs out of five.


THE SUITCASE ROYALE - The Ghosts of Ricketts Hill
Sweet, sweet strangeness! The junkyard theatre aesthetic of local trio The Suitcase Royale is a definite highlight of the festival, but don't go in expecting either a) stand up or b) sanity. Instead, expect madcap adventures that don't just deconstruct narrative - they tear it into confetti and scatter it about the stage! A dextrous, madcap romp about the adventures of a team of desert-crashed aeriallists which had my friend and I in hysterics. Highly recommended.
Four roars of laughter out of five.

And the Barry Award goes to...

No idea, as I'm not psychic, and the awards aren't announced until next Saturday night. But the nominees are:

Nina Conti
Kristen Schaal
Josie Long
Sammy J
Justin Hamilton
Fiona O'Loughlin

Friday, April 04, 2008

More and more comedy...


FEAR OF A BROWN PLANET
Having previously seen this show in last year's Fringe, I was curious to see it for a second time, particularly as the weakest of the three young Muslim comics in the show wasn't part of its new incarnation. As I suspected, Nazeem Hussein is still fairly funny, though never completely hilarious, and the wonderfully edgy Aamer Rahman is still the standout of the show. Solid laughs exploring racism and Islamaphobia from a firsthand perspective. Bloody funny, but not a work of genius.
Three and a half chortles out of five.


ANYONE FOR TENNIS? Take Your Time
When this show started I thought, 'god it's going to be awful', but within five minutes these two likeable young comedians, Jase and Doody, had me happily ensconced in their haphazard, amateurish yet charming world. A ludicrous story about killing Time is the McGuffin which underpins their act, which essentially consists of a series of comedic songs linked by a few gags. The show could be tighter, admittedly, but it was still fun, with plenty of raw charm and appeal. Definitely two musical comedians to watch.
Two and a half giggles out of five.



PIG ISLAND in Simply Fancy
Before your eyes, these three Sydney performers create a magical and marvellous world that evokes such films as The Dark Crystal and Labryinth, despite an almost total lack of props and no set save for a bare stage. An inspired piece of surreal theatrical lunacy that you simply must see (especially if you're over stand-up comedy) from the creators of last year's sleeper hit, The Glass Boat. Unlike that show, which was left-of-centre sketch comedy, Simply Fancy is much more traditional in terms of its narrative approach, but it's still completely out there. Without doubt one of the best productions I've seen in the festival this year. See this show or your head will explode!
Four astonished shrieks of delighted laughter.


DAVE HUGHES is Cranky
From the sublime to the ridiculous. Boring bogan humour that works for the crowd it's aimed at but which left me utterly cold. So much so, in fact, that I walked out - the only show of the whole festival I haven't stuck out.
One and a half bored yawns out of five.


KRISTEN SCHAAL as you've probably never seen her before
Gentle, delirious, silly fun that's certainly not to everyone's taste, but which had my girlfriend Sam and I clutching each other and shrieking with mirth. From jokes about werewolves on the moon and alcoholic birds, to an obvious love of historical innacuracy, Schaal is the sort of performer for whom the word whimsical was invented. Less stand up, more roll around hooting with mirth like a drunken gibbon. Simple, charming, and an absolute delight.
Four crazed cackles out of five.


ROB HUNTER is Shoes?

More good chortle material from this up and coming Adelaide comedian, whose act wasn't always quite as sharp as it needed to be, but whose material was nonetheless consistently entertaining. An extended sequence of surreal thoughts set to music was probably the highlight, although a couple of unexpected appearances from special guests were also good fun.
Three consistent giggles out of five.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Shining a light on the Beijing Olympics

And in other news...

I've been asked to be a judge in the Journalism category of this year's Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, entries for which are now open. How nice - and how slightly daunting, given that one of the other two judges (the third having not yet been appointed) is former Age editor Michael Gawenda... Eeek!

Laughing your way to exhaustion

More reviews from the 2008 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. When will it all end? Oh yeah, next weekend, that's right....


JOHN MOLONEY in Only Moloney
An evening of solid, well-crafted but somehow old-fashioned jokes that had me smiling occasionally, but almost never laughing. Some of his material, such as jokes about the Royal Family, had the audience in fits, but given the originality and calibre of some of the shows I've seen at the festival this year and previously, I'm afraid that this very trad take on comedy just didn't do it for me. Perhaps 10 years ago, in a smoky pub, some of Moloney's humour might have cut it, but not today. And John, if your reading this? Drop the jokes about transgenderism - there's a line between cheekily crass and just plain offensive, and you crossed it at that point of your show...
Two and a half wry smiles out of five.


CHARLIE PICKERING in Thirteen Ducks

I've been pretty hard on local lad Pickering in the past, so I'm pleased to say that this show was definitely a cut above what I've seen him do in recent years. It's a tighter, sharper show, with a range of stories that fly off at tangents and circle round for a while before coming home to roost. While his material seemed at times familiar, I think that's more because I've been regularly exposed to his schtick and style rather than because he's regurgitating old jokes. Material about foreign dictators, visiting South Africa, his inability to remember names (to which I can so relate) and banal advertising is interspersed among a linking narrative about an experience Pickering had in New Zealand as a teenager. A solid, well-structured show from a likeable local performer.
Three happy chuckles out of five.