Monday, 23 July 2012

Comedy tonight

On Tuesday, 17 April, I had a whirlwind comedy ride. My partner and I saw three Melbourne International Comedy Festival shows in one evening. <phew>

Something familiar …

First, it was off to the Retreat Hotel in Abbotsford to see David Nash in ‘Decent Exposure’. I must state upfront that Dave is a great guy who was in my college course during first semester this year.

Dave has the advantage of being a handsome lad, which helps to explain the largely young, female audience at his show. In his promo materials, Dave styles himself as a ‘clueless country Victorian boy [with a] microphone’. Dave has a busy life. Between studying, playing football, and MC'ing at wrestling events, he manages to find time for a stand-up career. All the different facets of his life, though, make great fodder for his act.

Dave’s show was staged on a shoestring budget. The milk-crate set was a dead giveaway. Yet the makeshift nature of his show helped to endear him to the audience. And he chose the venue well: an upstairs rooms at a pub, not too large nor too small, and intimate enough to make people feel like they were sitting in someone’s living room.

As he mentions in his promo material, Dave’s material tends to be along the lines of ‘pushing boundaries’, and he didn’t disappoint. Inappropriate humour is often my favourite sort of comedy, and Dave had quite a few ‘Oh no you didn’t? Oh yes I did!’ zingers. His most successful material tended to be about his observations of suburban life and different cultural ethnicities. But the real find of his show was that Dave is a very clever mimic of everyday sounds. In the style of ‘Police Academy’ comedian Michael Winslow, Dave’s repertoire of uncanny sounds ranged from ‘doof doof’ music to car engines. 

While enjoyable and entertaining, Dave’s show did feel under-rehearsed. Dave has a highly likeable, knockabout demeanor, but this can only carry him so far before solid material is needed to sustain the gig. I think that with time and experience, Dave will come to structure his shows better, and to give more of an arc to the comedy audience.

I would also humbly suggest that it’s very important to begin as close to the show’s advertised starting time as possible. The Comedy Festival always has a jam-packed program, with audience members ­– like myself – often attending two or three shows in an evening. I hated having to leave Dave’s show just before the end, but when you have other shows booked it’s an occupational hazard.

I think Dave has a promising future in stand-up. Once he strikes more of a balance between his skills and his material, I can really see his career really taking off. And even more young female admirers are sure to attend his shows.

Something peculiar …

We headed off in the ‘Comedymobile’ to the Loop Project Space and Bar in the CBD for our next show ­– ‘2 Dudes 1 Show’ – featuring Sean Ryan and Craig McLeod. Again, I must say upfront that we saw this show with a friend of my partner, whose brother was the first of the two performers.

The Loop is a quirky, funky little space in Meyers Place in the city. The room used for the shows was very intimate and allowed the performers to interact quite effectively with the audience. While we were a small group, we were a responsive one.

When Sean Ryan first appeared – with his bushranger beard, long hair and ‘Slipknot’ shirt – you could have been forgiven for thinking that he’d strayed from his gig next door in a heavy rock band. But Sean soon proved his metal with a series of witty and wry observations. He structured his material well, and while we didn’t have many belly laughs, there was much amusement about the humour drawn from his everyday life.

Equally unassuming was the second performer, Craig McLeod, whose shaved head, black clothes and cockney accent could have had you worried that you were seeing a skinhead act. As a relocated Englishman, though, Craig shared some amusingly dry, self-deprecating material. In particular, his ability to view Australian customs and lifestyle from an outsider’s perspective was a highlight of his set.

Both Sean and Craig entertained us with their material but they need to consider more the structure of their acts to give their performances more momentum. As I mentioned with Dave’s show earlier, every show – be it a play, musical, concert or stand-up – needs to have an arc and a frame to hang the material on. I couldn’t help feel that much of the material was fairly linear for these two guys. And although their laidback style was particularly suited to their material, the audience also needed a bit more energy from them to help sustain their routines.

Sean and Craig have talent, and I look forward to seeing their progression in stand-up in upcoming Comedy Festivals. If you like your comedy dry then these guys are sure to entertain you.

Something for everyone …

The ‘Comedymobile’ then took us to the Famous Spiegeltent at the Arts Centre for a hot beverage and the final show of our evening’s comedy odyssey, ‘Paul McDermott Sings!’. The premise of this show was the amusing quote from Paul’s mother: ‘You’ve got such a lovely voice. Why don’t you sing more?’

Paul’s career has gone from strength to strength for around twenty years now. He is quite the Renaissance journeyman – singer, musician, writer – having worked across television, radio, stage and publishing. Most people would know Paul nowadays from his current, ongoing work with Channel Ten’s ‘Good News Week’. But those of us with longer memories know that his career started with the ‘Doug Anthony All Stars’. Thence, Paul graduated ­– variously – to ‘Mosh’, ‘The Big Gig’, ‘Strictly Dancing’ and ‘The Sideshow’.

So it was from his variety of incarnations as a performer that Paul drew on the repertoire for this performance. I was expecting a stand-up show with some songs, but instead we were treated the opposite: a concert, with Paul’s singing and his songs centre stage. That’s not to say this was a problem, because the material was very, very good. I would most characterize his music overall as sophisticated blues with a folk twist.

I was also expecting Paul’s program to consist mainly of comedy pieces, but again I was wrong. Instead, we were given an array of well-written, well-arranged songs. The comedy came from Paul’s short chats between songs on and off during the evening. This wasn’t stand-up, though, yet it was a masterclass in relaxed good humour. Paul is an effortless showman whose immense appeal as a performer was clear to the appreciative audience. Indeed, we refused to let him go until a suitable number of encores had been provided.

Kudos to Paul’s band – and in particular, to his MD – for the warm arrangements of his songs. I hope he continues with this sort of show as they make great side gigs for his television work, and for those who have been following his career over the years. In future shows, I’d like to hear more about the background of the songs, and a bit more about his career around the time of writing each song. This late-night show at the Spiegeltent was the perfect forum for Paul to give us an amusing and musical overview of his musical journey thus far.

Comedy tonight!

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