Reviews in Week One:
Poet Laureate Telia Nevile, “Headliners” – Tom Segura, Moshe Kasher, Garfunkel & Oates and Hannibal Buress, Xavier Michaelides, “Political Asylum”- Matt Kenneally and many more, Sammy J & Randy, Rich Hall
You may scroll down to the reviews if that’s all you’re here for. But first, an introduction for our readers unfamiliar with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF).
The MICF is the third-largest comedy festival in the world. The largest two are in Montreal, Canada and Edinburgh, Scotland. And the 4th largest one is in Ireland. It’s probably not a coincidence that the two most powerful English-speaking countries in the world are not on that list. There’s probably an article to be written about comedy being the equalizer being the powerful and the underdog. It could even note that within the underdog countries, the festival is in Montreal and not Ottawa, Melbourne and not Sydney, Edinburgh and not Glasgow. This is not that article. This is just the bit to make your reviewer look smrt.
The MICF has been going since 1987, lasts 4 weeks, and these days includes almost 400 different acts. And that doesn’t include “unofficial” acts who don’t pay the entry fee and aren’t in the official program but are still slumming around somewhere in the vicinity putting on shows. You could get lost without a good reviewer, and that’s where I come in. I’ve been going to the MICF since I was a young man deemed old enough by his parents to hear a man with funny hair say the F word very loudly. In recent years, I tend to see around 15-20 shows per festival. So trust me. At least once.
In future issues I will skim over the various issues which plague the festival and any scurrilous gossip I pick up while getting comedians drunk at the Bella Union. But for now, the reviews!
Poet Laureate Telia Nevile
Let’s get the important bit out of the way now. 5 stars, on a scale where 3 is your money’s worth, 4 is unusually good and 5 is sodding brilliant. Anything under 3 is not recommended.
As crasstalk regulars have seen me complain, I gave not a single show last year 5 stars. Not even Sammy J, who was not only my personal favourite performer of the festival but who won the f’n Barry Award as the official best act. And I’m giving the first show of this year’s MICF 5 stars. It’s all downhill from here. Ah well.
Ms Nevile’s character is an awkward poet and dreamer, but where so many would get one-note laughs from some bad poems, the tight script transcends that. The poetry is sometimes rather good, sometimes intentionally tortured, frequently filled with clever references. So that the entire show is not just Telia reciting poems and making funny faces at the audience, the “straight” poetry readings are broken up by more overtly funny moments and one of the best surprise endings I’ve seen in years. The pacing is perfect, and the entire audience (myself included) did not stop laughing from start to finish.
The show is “only” 40 minutes long, in a festival where 1 hour shows are the norm, but tickets are priced accordingly. It’s brilliant value.
Ms Nevile was a nominee for best newcomer at the Festival last year. It wouldn’t shock me if she’s a nominee for best show of the Festival this year.
“Headliners” is a concept which began at the Festival last year. Many American comedians aren’t able to carry a 1 hour show by themselves. They’re not used to it, the poor dears. So the promoters bring in a rotating cast of American comedians who each do 20-25 minutes of material, with 3 or 4 performing each night. I went last year and it bombed. I could have made a killing selling rotten fruit. There’s no nice way to say it.
I decided to give Headliners another go this year only to see Garfunkel & Oates, whom had been recommended to me by a dozen people. But before they came out, I had to sit through Tom Segura and Moshe Kasher. Both were… mediocre, at best, from the school of comedians who try for laughs through shock without actually being funny or original. When the greedy Jew joke, Muslim terrorist joke and Catholic pedophile joke all walk into a bar together, you know you’re in trouble. 2 stars at best for each.
I now have a crush on Garfunkel & Oates (both of them), and so my review cannot be objective. But insofar as a 25 minute set can get 5 stars, 5 stars. Most of the material they did is on Youtube, well, the songs, not the in-between bits, but this stuff is always better live. You can’t beat the roar of a crowd hearing two cute and funny women singing about sex with ducks, especially when it was a crowd on the verge of turning ugly after the first two sets.
Hannibal Buress closed out the show, Hannibal is/has been a writer for SNL and 30 Rock.and was a far better stand-up than Segura or Kasher; 4 stars on the “20 minute” scale. While covering much of the same ground (racism, drugs, celebrity culture) he had class and subtlety in his delivery, and so when he rolled out a shocking line or swerve, it had impact. He also didn’t seem like he was scraping the bottom of the barrel to make it to 20 minutes and had strong material right to the end with a strong ending anecdote with a sting in the tail to finish. I would happily see him perform again sometime.
Xavier has been doing the MICF for a few years now, and is probably best known as a sketch comedian. This year he’s doing a 1-man play in a tiny hot room, based on the premise of a future where there is now a shortage of people in the workforce, and rather turn to potential killer robots they’re using time travel to recruit both working stiffs like our hero and his friend Brad, and the great minds and leaders of history (letting Xavier use his talent for voices and impressions).
The play is often silly, occasionally breaks the 4th wall and even sometimes resorts to toilet humor and sex puns – it is however, almost non-stop laughs. If you don’t mind the 1-act play conceit and a man turning his head back and forth using different voices and facial expressions to establish different characters, if that’s not too silly for you, you’ll love it. 4 stars.
It’s a one-off show which is now over, which makes it hard to review. The humor also largely depends on how much you agree with the comedians. If you’re a progressive lefty, Matt Kenneally (who MC’d) was in the best form of any of the performers when it came to sharp political satire and his solo show might well be worth seeing. Ditto Wil Anderson, although I’m told he holds back his angry ranting for his “main” show: his impassioned diatribes against politicians and celebrities who confuse real mental illnesses with feeling sad or acting out, who blame “depression” for bashing their girlfriend or “being a little bit bipolar” for doing something selfish, was a highlight. As was his lengthy anecdote about his time frequenting a Starbucks in West Hollywood and flirting with the barista (which had little to do with politics, but funny’s funny).
Sammy J & Randy
The kings of last year’s MICF are back with an all-new 1 hour musical /play thing. Skinny and vaguely nerdy keyboard playing Sammy J and his purple puppet friend Randy (puppeteered and voiced by the underrated Heath McIvor, who actually manages to get out in front of the scenery a few times in this one) have a mystery to solve- who’s putting their garbage in Sammy J & Randy’s bins? Of course, this is only an excuse for all the sketches, non-sequiturs, funny songs and one-liners Sammy and Heath could come up with. There were a couple of botched lines and entrances, but covered in such smooth and hilarious fashion that I suspect the errors were not errors if you know what I mean. A couple of short bits fell a bit flat to me, but if one joke fails there’s another one along in a few seconds anyway and I rarely stopped laughing or grinning so widely my cheeks hurt. 4.5 stars, and if not for the rule that you can only win a Barry once, I’d suggest short odds indeed on Sammy J & Randy winning it again.
A long time favourite of mine (and a rare past 5-star recipient), Rich is as grumpy as ever and in fine enough form but well below his brilliant best. I’m giving him 3 and a half stars, but if you haven’t seen him before (not all his material was new; same Sarah Palin jokes as 2 years ago, with minor updates, I mean, come on) then you could bumpt that by a star: my companion at this show, who had never seen Rich before, was aghast at my low rating and laughed all the way through. If you’ve never seen Rich before, then know that you won’t go wrong by seeing him. He does do a couple of musical numbers, in case you hate that, but by and large it’s straight stand-up. Be warned (or be thrilled): he went 90 minutes when I saw him, and that’s common with Rich, so don’t make a dinner booking on the assumption you’ll get out of his show after 60 minutes. And NEVER be late to see Rich Hall, unless you enjoy mortification.
Until next week!