Sunday, May 12, 2013

Perth International Comedy Festival 2013

This year's festival consolidated the runaway success of 2012, without adding anything particularly new to the mix (not that it matters overmuch). Once again it was gamely curated by Jo Marsh, and its management and marketing were outstanding. The festival could really use a 3/400 capacity room to fill the gap between the main hall at the Astor and its next biggest venue, at the Mt Lawley Bowling Club, but that might be a hard ask unless they can get their hands on, say, one of Artrage’s spiegeltents, or go further afield from the Beaufort and Walcott precinct,and that would be a great shame.
For me Paul Foot's extraordinary performance at the opening gala and the legendary Bob Downe's glorious Mother's Day show were the great highlights of the festival, and Lawrence Mooney, Jim Jefferies, Jimmy McGhie, Joel Creasey and the festival’s surprise packet, Josie Long, who took out the Best of the Fest award, were acts you’d go a long way to see. It’s great that we now don’t need to.
I've mentioned before the impressive roster of Asian/Australian performers at the festival, and should also recognise the roster of local acts that more than held their own with their imported colleagues. Congratulations to Sami Shah (who is in both categories), a well-deserved winner of the Best Local Act award.
Saturday 18 May Joel Creasey, Josh Makinda, Brendon Burns
It’s not hard to spend 80 bucks going out on this town. A couple of drinks and an only half-decent feed and you’re off home with a hole in your pocket.
For the same money you could have seen three shows at the Perth International Comedy Festival (as you could have at the Perth Fringe earlier in the year), and big numbers of Perth people have clearly crunched the numbers and realized they add up.
Joel Creasey’s 2013 vehicle, Drama Captain, sets him firmly on the path to stardom. The wisecracking Perth boy of the past few years is a little older now (at 22), a little wiser and, it turns out, a little sadder.

The first part of the show tells how the schoolboy Joel gets himself elected captain of drama at Wesley College but only gets cast as the understudy to his mortal enemy in its production of Charlie and the Chocolate Party. It’s funny, bitchy and slight, but it’s only the set-up for the real story, Creasey’s break-up with Tom, his first love, and the hard growing up that it brings.
It’s a bit patronizing to say that a comedian needs life experience to reach his potential, but it certainly builds his stock of material. For Creasey, who has the precious knack of being hilarious about his real life, the more he lives, the funnier he’s going to get.
Josh Makinda is undeniably a rarity; a comedian of African descent hailing from milquetoast Perth, but he rejects token black guy status, and he’s certainly much more than a curiosity. Makinda works his audience with practiced skills, juggling small details into sly, razor-sharp banter. When he launches his set routines, a hilarious sight-gag about emos and their hairstyles and a gentle but powerful story of the confusion of a little girl on his train confronted, for the first time in her life, with a black man, it’s comedy of the first order.
Brendon Burns is bolshie, self-obsessed and, as he proudly admits, his own worst enemy. He’s also got a hard wit and some serious insight, and his shows are always adventures. This time around he had a serious run-in with a heckler that saw the offender (with the ticket he won from the ABC) ejected from the room. He also staged a complex plant involving a disabled man Burns claims was a long lost friend, his carer – a graffiti artist doing community service – and another, over-zealous, audience member. It would be wrong to tell you what happened, but it was scary and bizarre.

Link here to an edited version of this review in The West Australian

Thursday 16 May:  Jimmy McGhie, Tien Tran and Gordon Southern
At the risk of over-generalising, there are two types of comedian; those who deliver their show to an audience, and those who at least appear to extract theirs from it. Jimmy McGhie is one of the latter, and I doubt you’ll see anyone better at it.
McGhie is a good-looking (in a Jamie Oliver sort of way – he’ll hate that), early thirties Londoner. A little way into his set I was amazed how lucky he was; everyone he talked to – the bloke from Kenya, the HIV nurse from Tanzania, the beefy eighteen-year old out with his mum, a couple of poms – just seemed to fall in his lap. They were launching pads for hilarious yarns about the difference between British and Australian barbecues, the mysteries of the F keys on Apple computers, endless Adelaide swimming pools, spag bol, the aforementioned TV chef (not a fan) and Grand Designs and the respective joys of London and Leederville. A quick YouTube search revealed that many of the routines were rusted into his repertoire, but so easily and casually did he insinuate them into what seemed like conversations that you never see them coming.
Tien Tran is an Aussie of Chinese descent, and, like most 25-year-olds, he’s bit antsy about the life we’ve left him to lead. Tran has a real cool and an attitude behind it. He’s also got a way to go as a comedian, but only in his transitions. At the moment, his set is a random series of talking points; as his craft matures and he develops a unifying narrative, he’ll be quite something.
Gordon Southern’s idea is promising enough; a comedian’s trip through history from go to whoa. The good news is he’s a funny bloke, and he’s got some zingers up his sleeve: The Feudal System: “Everybody’s doin’ serfdom/ There’s no USA”; Iron Curtain Olympic jiggery-pokery: “Why did Olga fail the urine test? She left the seat up!”.
The trouble is that it’s a bit “1066 and All That”; clever enough and all, but not in the service of anything much. Eddie Izzard has mapped out the same territory in his stand-up, and Southern pales a bit in comparison. 

Tuesday 14 May: Sami Shah, John Robertson and Tegan Mulvaney
A feature of this year’s Perth Comedy Festival is the number of Asian/Australian performers treading its boards. Akmal Saleh, Xavier Susai, Tien Tran and Lawrence Leung will all appear before the festival winds up this coming Sunday, each bringing their take on how we share those boundless plains of ours.
Sami Shah
The newest addition to that list is Sami Shah, a Pakistani journalist and comedian who, with his psychologist wife and young daughter, have settled, at least for the two years their visa requires, in Northam. Northam is also the temporary home of the 600 “clients” at the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre.
You wouldn’t think Shah would have any problem with material, and he doesn’t. He's got all the set-ups he’ll ever need, and he’s got the punch lines to go with them.
There’s not much you can legitimately say about improv in a review, so suffice it to say that John Robertson and Tegan Mulvany are funny, sharp people and energetic, nimble performers. Their show, Genroulette, is a boisterous, snappy diversion that requires very little effort to enjoy.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Sunday 12 May: Bob Downe
You could be forgiven for some trepidation at the prospect of a Bob Downe show. It’s been 12 years since Mark Trevorrow’s fabulous Prince of Polyester played Perth – in public, at least – and we’ve all had that melancholy experience of seeing a favourite act again, only to find it ossified and in decline.
No fear of that here: Bob’s return, under auspicious circumstances – a full house at the perfect Astor Theatre for the Perth International Comedy Festival, and on Mothers’ Day, if you don’t mind – was a triumph.

Link here to my complete review in The West Australian, and check out this clip of Bob's amazing TV appearance on the Michael Barrymore show in the '90s that made his name in the UK:

Friday 10 May: Daniel Sloss, Josie Long and Asher Treleaven
There’s no better venue for stand-up than the little upstairs theatre at the Astor. With a capacity a bit over 100, it seats enough bums for significant comedy acts without losing intimacy, and it’s got those essential accouterments for comedy – seats with drink holders and a bar next door.
Daniel Sloss calls his show The Show because, he claims, he can never stick to a theme and he doesn’t want to give reviewers ammunition. He’s on pretty safe ground there with material (parents and siblings, American obesity, gayity and the stock visiting comic’s portrayal of Aussies as charming, friendly primitives) that keeps his barbs neatly hidden but quite sharp enough to sting.
Josie Long is a decade older than her British compatriot Sloss, but her terrific stand retains all the spunk and idealism of youth. Sincerity and comedy are a hard double-act to pull off, but she does it with an endearing, awkward grace at times reminiscent of Miranda Hart but largely of her own making.
I’m an unabashed fan of the natty, caustic Asher Treleaven, maybe the funniest man in Australia, so if I confess to being a little disappointed with this outing of his, I’m setting a very high bar. There are still wonderful pieces; the nasty old woman he calls Lemon Nanna, his run-in with the contents of a ute in Northbridge, Hitler banning foie gras, torture paste as Treleaven calls it, his Aussie version of My Favourite Things (“Hillbillies, rednecks and white trash and bogans”), but, this night at least, he didn’t seem as tightly-wound, his energy not quite as compulsive, as it can be. And his closer, an overlong and unenlightening take on the international economic order and the GFC was, I’m afraid, much cleverer for the comedian than his audience.
Link here to the complete review in The West Australian 

Thurs 9 May: Damien O’Doherty, Xavier Susai and Greg Fleet

Damien O’Doherty is a close mate, and one of the rare comics that has had me helpless with laughter, so, to be fair, this is more an appreciation than a review. Docco’s been at comedy a long time, and she’s unearthed a bunch of hilarious characters, some, like her Rose Hancock, from life, others, like the fabulous Lena Watertower, from her own, warp-speed imagination. Her latest subject/target is Rose’s litigiously unwilling daughter-in-law Gina, and she dominates this show, a panegyric for our very own State of Excitement. Whatever you think of Rose, she’s fertile territory for comedy; I’m not sure that Gina is a laughing matter, though, even in Damien’s hands.
In any event, there’s plenty to laugh about (her FIFO de facto is a superb take-down), and it’s good to see her back on the boards.
Now Gina Rinehart may be no laughing matter, but, compared to Kim Jong-un, she’s a crack-up. Or so you might have thought, until Xavier Susai hosts one of the weirdest slide nights you’re ever likely to see. Susai somehow managed to get himself to Pyongyang, the comedy capital of communism, and what he got up to there could easily land him at Gitmo.
Susai has a good line in bombast, and, even if he’s a bit scattergun in the management of his material, he’s never going to be short of it.
Greg Fleet isn’t the funniest man on earth – he doesn’t have (or at least use) the physical and vocal athleticism of, say, a Paul Foot. What he is, though, is a talented and disciplined comic writer, and that makes his shows more interesting, and humorous, than many of his pyrotechnical peers. It also means he can work difficult material, like his former heroin addiction and the destruction it caused, with a simultaneously comic and serious intent. Indeed, there are times when you wonder whether you’re getting a stand-up routine or a cautionary tale with him, but that’s not a bad thing when it’s done so well.
Fleet was one of the first acts this year at the pennant-winning Mt Lawley Bowling Club, and it’s great to be back there. It’s a terrific venue for comedy, with two performance rooms, a bar between and a barbecue on the go outside on the patio. You should make a night of it soon!      

Saturday May 4: Craig Hill and Jim Jefferies

The Scottish comedian Craig Hill and the expat Australian Geoff Nugent’s character Jim Jefferies delivered a double-barreled highlight of the Perth International Comedy Festival at the Astor Theatre on Saturday night.
While they are wildly different on the surface – and a few layers under that – Hill and Nugent have plenty in common beyond the obvious fact they are terrifically funny. Each uses an unmistakable and directly stated persona to get some quite subversive points across, and both have the technique to do it to great effect.
Hill begins his show in a frenzy of dance club moves, his shocking pink leather kilt, complete with sporran, ablaze. There’s not much left to the imagination, and, in any case, his triumphant first line, in a broad Scottish brogue, “My God – If you didn’t know I was a poof before!” made things perfectly clear.
That’s only the start of an act that, at least to all appearances, is a conversation between the comic and his audience. He soon found out where we were from; he misheard (either accidentally or deliberately) “Rockingham” as “Crocodile” – plenty of good material there –before he got really lucky when he started asking for people’s names and occupations. The first guy he asked was a policeman, the second worked in construction, and the third – to good to be true – was a sailor. Hill was well away on that little godsend.
It’s all great fun, and the character Hill creates, the sexually confident Glasgow gay boy on the make, has a sweetness and kindliness that gives his show a positivity that is both disarming and charming.
Nugent is riding a barnstorming career with his in-your-face bogan alter ego Jim Jefferies. His US sitcom, Legit, has signed into a second series and is moving up the American cable TV pecking order, his stand-up is hugely popular (his three Astor shows were sellouts) and he’s in demand at festivals and in the media around the world.
It’s easy to see why. From behind the rough-as-guts callousness of his character, Nugent executes a forensic dismantling of the logic of the US conservative movement and authority in general. His take on American gun culture and their Second Amendment was as devastating as it was hilarious. I’d love to see a face-to-face battle of the Nugents on gun control – I’m pretty sure Ted would emerge as just a hot air guitarist after Geoff got done with him.
Hill and Nugent are generous and mightily talented performers, and their shows gave the festival’s main stage a solid platform for the big fortnight ahead.
This review appeared in The West Australian 7.5.13        

Friday May 3: The Pajama Men and Eddie Ifft
Last year, I said that there seemed to be nothing Mark Chavez and Shenoah Allen, The Pajama Men, can’t do on a stage. That wasn’t an invitation to do anything they liked, but, sadly, they took it up anyway. Gone was the inspired hand-puppetry – the horse eating an apple, the alien invaders – and in its place was more of the tedious mock-fable, complete with its cast of indistinguishable, daggy, characters that had been the only weakness in their prize-winning show in 2012. To say it was a disappointment is an understatement; to be frank, it gave me the shits.
Eddie Iffts, the Californian comic of bad manners, fared much better, even though he is afflicted by the obsession with porn that weighs down so much comedy these days. I’m not talking about good old-fashioned filth, one of the great pillars of the laughter game since the Assyrian Empire, but the specific rituals of the packaged American pornography industry and the attitudes and practices it endorses and exploits. It no doubt makes for good business, but it’s tiresome, deadening, comedy. Maybe that explains some of the asinine heckling (actually that’s too good a word for it) that even made his good stuff – of which there was plenty – a bit of a struggle.

Thursday May 2: Justin Hamilton and Daniel Kitson
After the razzmatazz of the Opening Gala, time for some hard, grafting comedy as the artists settle in to the short seasons of their full shows.
First up, in the intimate Astor Lounge, hard working bloke Justin Hamilton. Hammo, you can call him Hammo, has the intonations of Adelaide (his home town) and Melbourne, those old (Queen) Victorian towns, down perfectly: you can hear the trams going by; you can hear the breakfast shows on FM stations (he’s a regular on radio around the country); you can just about tell which teams his characters barrack for. I’m not saying it’s comfortable comedy – Hamilton goes into some weird enough places – but it’s recognizable, and authentic, and true. A little like Greg Fleet, who’s back in town next week, he’s a writer first and foremost, but that absence of physical and vocal zaniness (can I say that) has a big upside. He’s a bloke you might meet anywhere, and he’s as funny as real life.
Here’s a bit of Hammo:

You could also meet Daniel Kitson anywhere, but after 108 minutes of his After the Beginning. Before the End I imagine it would most likely be in the lecture theatre in the philosophy department of a minor university somewhere very English. And if that’s not an appealing thought, you’re on the right track. I’m not saying Kitson isn’t funny (sometimes he’s very) or intelligent (ditto), but it’s an awfully long, and mercilessly self-indulgent, way to show it. Claiming that the show was a preview, essentially a work in progress he wanted to try out on us is all well and good, but, at $25 a ticket, that’s a very stretched friendship if it’s true, and slothful if it isn’t.

Wednesday May 1: The Opening Gala
Festival director Jo Marsh
MC Diggy Bones, with John Robertson, Xavier Susai, Jeff Hewitt, Mike G, Craig Hill, Gina Yashere, Suns of Fred, The Pajama Men, Daniel Sloss, Tommy Dean, Justin Hamilton, Paul Foot and Eddie Ifft.
Astor Theatre, Mt Lawley
Wednesday May 1

Paul Foot
The best way into the sometimes-bewildering array of acts a comedy festival offers is its opening gala. These rapid-fire medleys are comedy’s version of 20/20 cricket, with artists pulling seven-minute nuggets from their full shows, and their back catalogues. It’s exhilarating entertainment in its own right, but, just as importantly, a taste of what’s to come when the festival’s acts hit the street with their full shows.
And, on the strength of this gala, we’re in for a hilarious May.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

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