Mark Trenwith – Be My Friend: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Mark Trenwith – Be My Friend: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Mark Trenwith is all energy in Be My Friend, currently showing at Club F4. His show, a combination of standup and multimedia sketches, explores his decision to one day try and make a new friend. Trenwith keeps up a frenetic pace, reflecting his desperate attempts to be more friendly by any means necessary. Mark hails from Adelaide, where he is involved in the comedy stand-up circuit, as well as being featured on the ABC’s Like It Is and Being Me. This is his first solo Melbourne Comedy Festival show.

The premise of Be My Friend is simple. Having nearly gotten into a drunken fight one night, Trenwith, a slightly built guy, slipped into a funk and became rude and isolated from the world. So he decides to be more friendly towards his fellow man, with hilarious results. Cue a series of multimedia clips through the performance, showing him meeting the public through a number of stunts on the street. These range from hilarious—such as Trenwith scattering rose petals at the feet of passers—to a little bit lame, such as when he dances around people sitting in a café. You can’t fault him for his audacity. He is a genuinely disarming character, so it helps to think that he’s not taking the piss out of unsuspecting members of the public.

The absolute highlight of the show is when Trenwith shows footage of himself entering a hip hop battle. This clip is staunchly ambiguous as to how much of it was set up with the audience complicity, but it is an hilarious scene cleverly put together, even cracking the bewildered and serious hip hop artist that he battles against. Another highlight is Trenwith’s schizophrenic musical closing scene that involves a series of masks of famous faces.

The Club F4 venue is a strange one. With Melbourne’s live venues bursting at the seams with comedy festival acts where audiences are herded in and out according to a vacuum-sealed schedule, it’s not surprising that venues usually reserved for live music acts—or no acts at all—are being used. Club F4 has bar, so it took some clever coaxing at the start by Trenwith to bring everyone to the front of the room. Mark’s show is heavily reliant on a series of multimedia clips, from images to videos. Unfortunately, our audience were the first to be subject to a recently reconfigured and installed AV system. Of course there were kinks that visibly irritated Mark, but both he and the audience got through it with a degree of humour.

Trenwith’s energy means that if something doesn’t quite work, he can move very quickly onto something that does. This bombardment is very entertaining and energetic, and most of all funny. Be My Friend plays on level two of Club F4 until the 25th of April.

Mark Trenwith – Be My Friend: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Date: 11 – 25 April

Times: Tue-Thu, Sat & Sun 19 8.30pm

Duration: 50 minutes

Venue: Club F4 
Level 2, 322 Little Collins St, Melbourne

Full $18
Concession $14
Group (6 or more) $13
Preview $12
Laugh Pack $13
Tightarse Tuesday $12

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Anthony Salame – One Night Stand: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Anthony Salame – One Night Stand: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Anthony Salame is not my kind of comedian. Personable, charming, but still delivering a kind of stand up that I do not get. And why would I? I’m a white middle class woman, and Salame is a Lebanese guy from Sydney who specialises in ethnic comedy. And he has a good following at that, from featuring in shows such as Fat Pizza and Swift and Shift Couriers, as well as appearing on The Footy Show.

The charm I’m talking about is in the way he relates to his audience. He wasn’t having a big night, but the audience was receptive. They also were a major disruption since half of them turned up at different times during the whole act. Salame dealt with this very well, welcoming them without harassing them too much. This extended to his whole act, where his central character was shy and hang-dog, talking about his family and upbringing in the western suburbs of Sydney, Cronulla, rap music, video games and, of course, sex.

Salame delivers his act in a series of one liners, and they come pretty quickly, so if you don’t pick something up or find something unfunny, he usually comes up with the goods at another time. And there were people in the audience who got a lot of material that I didn’t. He also goes through quite a few impressions that are very good – Sylvester Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Al Pacino – but they are very much blink and you’ll miss them as he very quickly moves on to new material.

Salame is a comedian that is good at what he does, and entertained the audience. He was a little awkward when a joke didn’t work, but delivered solid show otherwise.

Anthony Salame – One Night Stand: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Date: 7 – 19 April

Times: Tue-Sat & Sun 19 7.15pm

Duration: 60 minutes

Venue: The John Curtin Hotel
29 Lygon St, Carlton

Prices: Full $19
Concession $17.50
Group (6 or more) $17.50
Preview $15
Laugh Pack $17.50
Tightarse Tuesday $17.50

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The Small Poppies in Poppycock!: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

The Small Poppies in Poppycock!: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

The Small Poppies in Poppycock! – Adam Brodie-McKenzie, Caitlin Croucher and Andrew Nichols – originally hail from Canberra, performing in ANU’s comedy revue before moving down to Melbourne. They have one previous show from the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, 2008’s Think Inside the Box.

They make a crucial mistake in their political comedy. An acute observation of a political situation is not inherently funny. Lampooning something by exaggerating its characteristics is not the same as satire, especially when the main style of highlighting all of these observations is by putting on a funny voice. The most obvious sketch to highlight this had Croucher as a current affairs reporter interviewing Nichols as a leading economist. The economist was one of the few characters that worked well, mainly because he was reactive and didn’t give his game away in the first few seconds of being introduced. This was in contrast to the current affairs reporter who literally introduced herself as a smarmy sensationalist, all the while doing a funny voice.

The troupe consistently presented the audience with the premise of each sketch far too early. Each character and their purpose were outlined almost as soon as they walked on stage, and sometimes even beforehand with an over-use of voice-overs. At first I thought these voice-overs were an attempt to maintain some sort of flow to the night, as revue often calls for repeated costume and set changes. But through the clumsy and repeated raising and lowering of the projection screen for the episodes of Technical Tom, a pretty good character that consistently bogs down situations by explaining technicalities, as well as the extended blackouts and lights up on an empty stage, it turned out that this wasn’t the case.

Intellectual comedy is hard to pull off. It, in a conservative environment, presupposes a highly critical approach towards what is seen as the ‘mainstream’. As was said in this show, they were making fun of ‘stupid people’. The problem was that the writers were so far entrenched in their lampooning of everyday life they forgot that the audience was there to take part in that same satire, and so treating them like they need the humour explained to them is frustrating. Letting go of highlighting the direction that these sketches are going to take would free the performers up to elaborate more in what they are trying to say, allowing them to take more risks, rather than plodding through a running commentary on why they are right and everyone else is wrong. Small Poppies would be capable of achieving better things by taking a step back to stop being so engrossed in their political pretensions, and being more generous towards the intelligence of their audience.

The Small Poppies in Poppycock!: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Date: 2 – 25 April

Times: Thu-Tue 9.45pm (no show 16 & 23)
Duration: 60 minutes

Venue: RMIT Kaleide Theatre
360 Swanston St, Melbourne

Prices: Full $20
Concession $15
Group (3 or more) $15
Preview $15
Laugh Pack $15
Tightarse Tuesday $15

Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 660 013
& at the door

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Melbourne International Comedy Festival: CJ Jenkins is a Freakshow

Melbourne International Comedy Festival: CJ Jenkins is a Freakshow

I went to CJ Jenkins is a Freakshow expecting some sort of zany burlesque. I was, however, surprised to find that it is actually a candid, funny and moving one woman show, with CJ playing herself, telling stories about her upbringing and her disability.

Host of Channel 31’s The Comic Box, with extensive experience in Melbourne’s comedy scene, the pink-haired CJ Jenkins initially presents herself as the all singing, all dancing variety performer, entering the echoey gallery space of Dante’s upstairs, twirling her walking stick to circus music blaring out of a tinny portable stereo. However this small performance at the start is used to set up for the central show, CJ under a single light, sitting in a chair, telling us stories from her life. She sits as close to the audience as possible, squaring each member with a straight stare. Her story may not be pretty, but it has to be honest and funny.

Born with cerebal palsy and spina bifida, CJ has in recent years developed rheumatoid arthritis. She tells us what it was like to be the first disabled child in Victoria to attend a ‘normal’ school: the taunts of the bullies, the inability to play like the other kids played. She instead had to make her own fun. A child who fell over a lot, for example, she describes the science behind falling over in hilarious detail.

Moving on to her family, she describes what it was like to live with her homosexual drug taking father and mentally unstable religious zealot of a mother, who, after turning to the Pentacostal church, came to believe that CJ could be ‘cured’ through exorcism and speaking in tongues. This whole section is hilarious in its absurdity, but equally heart breaking.

CJ Jenkins is a Freakshow is hilarious and vulnerable and incredibly well performed because this is Jenkins performing as herself, presenting a painful life in progress in all its absurdity. One moment she has you dancing along with her, another you are moved almost to tears, all because she is letting you into a very intimate story that she has made very very funny. The glibness that seems to be required of the Comedy Festival guide simply does not reflect the complexity and beauty of this show.

Melbourne International Comedy Festival: CJ Jenkins is a Freakshow
Tuedays, Thursdays and Saturdays at Dante’s in Fitzroy until the 25th of April

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Melbourne International Comedy Festival: Welcome to the Freak Show

Melbourne International Comedy Festival: Welcome to the Freak Show

Welcome to the Freak Show is musical comedian Darren Freak’s first outing in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Originally from Adelaide, part of his show is commenting on his life in Melbourne since moving here two years ago, as well as some spoken word sections revolving around his family and childhood in Adelaide.

One of his strongest songs was about listening to people who call in on talkback radio. His string of I’m not a [something] BUT quotes came together well. Other highlights include a love song gone horribly wrong, as well as a song about airline safety – or the lack thereof. His set also included a brutally honest little ditty that he was hoping to send to tourism Victoria to try and inject a little more business into the economy.

Darren did garner a lot of laughs from a receptive audience. One aspect that he falls down on, which prevails throughout the show, is a lack of confidence in standing by his material. Let’s be honest, a lot of his material is low-brow – punchy and occasionally well crafted – but still low-brow. A bit of cockiness is needed for this type of humour, for it to be delivered with the middle finger sticking decidedly up.

I can understand why it may be hard for him to bridge that gap. The opening of the show has Freak being disarmingly truthful. He sings a song warning the audience that his guitar skills may be lacking, how he may every now and then forget a lyric. And instead of disguising the small venue in Misty bar on Hosier Lane, he points it out to the audience, asking them to participate in some group photography. He is obviously savouring the experience, while delivering with songs about the fears and prejudices of the white middle class. But it’s that confidence again; if you’re going to make fun of the middle-class, it’s hard to try and be friends with them at the same time. With a name like Darren Freak, he can afford to cultivate more of a character that he can attach these songs to.

Melbourne International Comedy Festival: Welcome to the Freak Show
Plays at Misty at 7pm, Tuesday to Sunday, until the 12th of April.

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