DeAnne Smith – Livin’ The Sweet Life

DeAnne Smith pitched her entertaining show Livin’ the Sweet Life last Saturday night to a full house at Trades Hall.  Canadian and slightly left of centre, her stand up, in particular her story telling, is engaging and funny, with a lot of surprising and dirty thoughts coming out of her self-described adorable mouth.

The title of the show, Livin’ the Sweet Life, refers, by the narrowest of margins, to Smith reflecting on her attempts to live her life as a good, socially conscious (read vegan, doesn’t own a car) life, and how the smallest of luxuries now cause her to go into a stupor of hedonistic delight.  What might snap her out of this idea is going on a ten day silent meditation retreat, where, she discovers, actually trying to have a good time and, you know, talking to people, is, in fact, living that sweet life she never thought obtainable.This kind of neuroticism is the bread and butter of the stand up.  Their experiments into self improvement and self regard is the cornerstone of many a stand up pitch.  That Smith comes at the same battle for self knowledge, but with a different background to many of the stand ups you encounter, is refreshing, and her disarming manner opens doors to a lot of silliness and the aforementioned dirtiness.The best part of the night, however, goes to the story she tells in the middle of her show that involves a woman she went home with, a case of one-upmanship, and, in the end, a night in emergency.  Her knack for telling about her own skewed logic, a joke getting out of hand, and the open-endedness of the story was utterly engaging, leaving you half wondering what was going to happen next, and half how she was going to tell us about it.DeAnne Smith holds a lot of strong cards and deserved the very busy house she had on Saturday night, and her stand up was best when she was not so much trying to figure out what sort of person she was, but when she was telling us about the kind of things she does.

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Ali McGregor’s Late-Nite Variety-Nite Night

Ali McGregor returns to the Melbourne Comedy Festival with her Late-Nite Variety-Nite Night, a splendid way to check out all the acts MICF has to offer while not risking your bank balance on top of your patience.

Nestled in The Famous Spiegeltent, opera singer-cum-cabaret chanteuse McGregor, along with her butler Saxon MacAlistair (alter ego of the surprisingly canny and versatile Asher Treleaven), presented a truly varied number of acts, starting with US stand up Deanne Smith.

Smith cut right to the chase, effortlessly making sometimes uncomfortable social commentary on Australian life as an outsider whilst still making us laugh. And the fact that she made no attempt to win over the diverse yet (as usually comes with the Comedy Festival) relatively conservative audience in relation to her queerness or political bite, won the audience over in itself. She did play the very fashionable ukulele in her act, but you couldn’t hold it against her. Deanne Smith plays at the Victoria Hotel every night of the festival.

The incredibly chaotic magic act produced by Sweden’s Carl-Einar Häckner belies a very clever structure that had the audience slightly confused, but once hooked, in fits of laughter bordering on tears. His act relies on a great deal of clowning, as well as the wordplay that comes with having English as a second language. His surreal bent works best (as it always does) when it’s not highlighted as an integral part of the show. Carl-Einar Häckner performs every night of the festival in The Deluxe at Federation Square.

Irish comedy rockers Dead Cat Bounce have made a massive splash over the last couple of years. Tonight’s short stint may have suffered from their having just finished their own complete set at The Spiegeltent only an hour before. Even so, they’re an entertaining group that are as much about the tropes of an 80’s rock band as the lyrics that go with it.

McGregor herself is a dazzling and accomplished singer, and the main attraction for many of the attending audience, not only for her musical prowess, but for her self admitted love of increasingly elaborate shoes. She’s also an incredibly generous performer; with Saxon MacAlistair bouncing up and down behind her, throwing in a running commentary on the proceedings, she lets him run off his mouth to a great extent, to the benefit of the night as a whole – although recovering from the hilarious trauma of MacAlistair’s diablo act demonstrating ‘How to do Sex,’ will take some time.

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A dinner to die for

A Dinner to Die For, part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, is a very specific type of show that will appeal to quite a few, but not all, festival goers this year.

In the tradition of the murder-at-the-English-country house narratives à la Agatha Christie and all of those derived from it, Bare Elements Productions puts on a chaotic, funny, borderline too cheesy, camp crime drama that strives to include the audience –who are all given roles to play – in the action.

The show takes place predominantly in the function room at The Retreat hotel in Abbotsford, a gorgeous little pub that was used as a set for the classic Australian soap The Sullivans (a little before my time, unfortunately, but copiously referenced in The Late Show, which was definitely during my time). From the moment you walk through the door you are greeted by a throng of punters dressed in their best, or closest to, twenties period gear, name tags blazing and ready to go. It is the audience that is the most unpredictable part of the evening: a certain amount of enthusiasm needs to be created and maintained, so don’t bring your grumpy friends, or you’ll regret it.

The cast of seven have varying abilities to hold a room that is being distracted by the dinner and drinks and plotlines that are firing across it. The most successful of this was the McDaventry/Braithwaite Ramsey characters/actor, who served as a sort of narrator, and therefore needed to be able to command attention. Lord Daventry gave a more subtle performance, a vehicle to pad out the story a little more, but you had to work harder to get information out of him.

You cannot get anywhere near a sense of complete consistency, let alone period consistency, when you are directing, cajoling and reacting to thirty increasingly lubricated diners, all with various abilities at participation. The actors involved did a stellar job of making the guests feel they could contribute to the story, put on silly accents, make silly quips and double entendres, and generally throw themselves into the night. By the end most of the audience was participating in sing-alongs and catchphrases, seaside concert hall style.

That being said little niggling details could have been fixed up to make a more cohesive late 1920’s atmosphere, most glaringly to me was the music chosen; very hot jazz that seemed out of context. But I suppose the delicious parma that I was eating would therefore had been disqualified as well, and I wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice that.

In short, bring friends to this event, but only ones that are willing to play. Those there on the night who were obviously dragged there, stuck out of a group of patrons who wanted to do something a little different with their dinner out.

A Dinner to Die For

Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Date: 27 March – 10 April

Times: 7.30pm

Duration: 180 minutes

Venue: The Retreat Hotel *
226 Nicholson St, Abbotsford
* Licensed venue. Under 18s must be accompanied by a Parent or Legal Guardian.

Prices: Dinner and Show $80

Bookings: Venue Bookings 03 9417 2693

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John Waters – This filthy world

John Waters’ This Filthy World, was a one-off, one man show playing Hamer Hall, with the speaker covering his long, trash-addled career at a speeding, frenetic space. The show was less of a polished act than an open acknowledgement by audience and speaker of the significance of a life lived in a less than conventional way. It was presented as a celebration of the sidelines of life, the gutter and trash that we all watch, but hate to admit that we love. Waters discussed some of his most significant films as a chronology, moving from his early influences of Fassbinder and William Castle, towards his breakthrough to the mainstream with films like Hairspray and Serial Mom.

Waters has had a long career and there is a lot to cover in the hour and a half show, so it was expected that he would only be able to skim over some of the events and films that have meant so much to so many varied groups of people. There is something about Waters’ show that is less than engaging, however. He is sharp almost to a fault, running with films, people, ideas that you can tell have raced straight from script to mouth, with little shaping or editing done in between. The show was a FAQ, a set of answers to questions that he has been asked again and again. Having decades to refine his response, Waters emphasises the anecdote and plays down the tragedy, so that by the end you feel that you’re not getting as much of an emotional attachment as you’d hope. The most obvious of this comes with the figure of Divine, who is often mentioned but rarely recounted with any level of intimacy, a few crumbs being fed to a hopeful audience, his character and stories kept secret. And who can blame Waters for that? An ageing man who makes films as easy as breathing, but, like so many of the survivors of artistic movements and events, are expected to be the storytellers, the chroniclers of an era, their own personal involvement stripped down to anecdote, to the recounting of forty years of filmmaking in a ninety minute show.

Many one man shows are aware of this pull, of stories complex by their very existence refined into a digestible format for public consumption. Maybe this it the transaction that the audience enters into when they take their seat in the auditorium. Maybe that is why the most successful one man shows embrace that inability to convey a whole experience, to translate the memories into a story that captures the feeling of certain events. Maybe this is where Waters falls short. Instead of a story we are presented with a chronology. An interesting chronology, but recounted at such a scripted and frenetic pace that we are not allowed to connect with the characters Waters is speaking of, let alone Waters himself.

Nevertheless Waters is a strong and shameless figurehead of trash, of the creators of art that will always remains in the sidelines. He reminds us of the respect that should come with a trip into this filthy world, a point emphasised during the question time at the end of the show. Traci Lords is a former porn star who acted in many of Waters’ films, and when an audience member boasted to him about owning the video pornography she had made when still underage, Waters reminded her of Lords’ life now, quiet, with a husband and children and books to her name, of the distance she has travelled from an exploited youth. The love Waters has for his artists is great, something that didn’t always hit the mark with the audience.

John Waters – This Filthy World
27 February 2010 
Presented By: Maggie Gerrand
Venue: Hamer Hall

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Back to the Bathhouse: Wet on Wellington

Back to the Bathhouse: Wet on Wellington

Mzzz Erin Tasmania is a stalwart of the Melbourne cabaret circuit and her new show, Back to the Bathhouse delivers in all its trashy high camp glory. The show is based on Bette Midler’s early career as an entertainer in New York’s Continental Baths, a gay sauna. Tasmania tells the story of Midler’s early days, and her transition from singing what was essentially background music to her creation of the Divine Miss M and her subsequent success. Tasmania, along with her accompanist Tom Williams and the backup Dancing Fagettes (Anthony Cleave and Brent Fox), recounts these stories along with her own recent forays into the casual sex scene.

Madame Brussels is the main venue for the show, but one show a week is performed in an operational bath house, Wet on Wellington. Unfortunately because this venue is still running during the show, and despite Tasmania’s best efforts, these particular nights of the run are male-only affairs. This does make you feel like you are missing out on an extra colouring to the show, but no matter, Madame Brussels with its opulent salon room and camply-dressed bar staff make up for the lack of a hark back to the original venue of Midler’s bathhouse shows.

There is a handmade quality to Tasmania’s show that belies the enormous talent of not only herself but her supporting team. Hannah Cuthbertson has created a fun and diverse costume for Tasmania and the dancing Fagettes, who relish their role as the camp supporting dancers. Williams seems to be slightly shy of his half dressed state while accompanying the group, but is still a talented and personable player. Mzzz Tasmania’s voice has incredible and surprising range, allowing her to cover many of Midler’s songs and moods with ease. The emotional range of the material is diverse, from the cute The Tale of an Oyster by Cole Porter, to the double entendre filled Hot Wet Tight Bald Pussy, and the surprisingly moving Midler cover of Beast of Burden.

Back to the Bathhouse is a chatty, informal evening of song and dance that leaves the audience feeling lively and involved. Mzzz Erin Tasmania has produced another soiree that showcases the many talents of Melbourne’s queer scene.

Back to the Bathhouse

Shows at Wet on Wellington, 162 Wellington St Collingwood.
Thurs 10, 17, 24 Sept at 8:30pm Tickets $18 at the door.
(MEN ONLY. Clothing optional.)

at Madame Brussels (up the rear), lvl 3, 59-63 Bourke St.
Fri 11, 18, 25 Sat 12, 19, 26, Sun 13, 20, 27 Sept at 6.30pm. Tickets $20/$15
(ALL SEXES welcome. Clothing encouraged.)

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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: 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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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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