Dr Neal Professor Portenza: Catchy Show Title

Dr Professor Neal Portenza (real name Josh Ladgrove) is in the thick of the Adelaide Fringe when I speak to him. His character, a generous creator of laughs behind a multi-title name, is having its fifth outing at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The most important thing for Portenza is that the audience is willing to join in on the comedy. “It’s just an extremely interactive show, I mean the way it was described here in Adelaide the other day was ‘collective comedy’, which is really interesting. So it’s character-based, some people say it was a little bit ‘clowny’, I’m not sure I agree with that but I think that it’s character-based, interactive comedy that’s supposed to be fun, and funny.”

The abstract nature of Catchy Show Title means it’s difficult to pin down what the show is actually about. “The show is never really about anything, which is not a pretentious thing to say, but, you come, some stuff happens, then you leave hopefully smiling. There’s no plot, there’s no story, there’s no arc, it’s just an hour of very different, interactive, fun.”

Interactive can sometimes be a bit of a scary word for audiences, but Portenza is reassuring about his definition of audience interaction. “My number one rule is ‘never make people feel like idiots’, that cheap, crass, kind of interaction does feel awful and does cause a lot of anxiety…one of the comments I get from time to time is ‘I really hate audience interaction but this was great I felt really comfortable’. Really, really early on I try and make the audience feel really, really comfortable.”

Portenza leaves his shows open to the possibilities of the night, but he still turns up with a literal bag of tricks to go with the figurative ones. “I started the Adelaide Fringe with not very much of an idea…but at the end of the festival, and by the time the start of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival comes around, there’s really good structure in place, and so whilst I improvise to get from A to B it’s not like organised improv – it’s certainly not the American style of improv, it’s just very specific to that night’s audience, so no two shows are necessarily the same, how I arrive at those points though varies pretty wildly depending on the audience.”

When listing his influences, it’s good to hear they’re mainly Australian. “I think the main influence is someone like Shaun Micallef and Sam Simmons, but then older things like Graham Kennedy, really was the king of looseness, and that sort of style of just being really with the audience, not just grinding through my material hoping that every audience is going to be the same from night to night, working hard to find what is funny about this specific moment.”

Throwing Lano and Woodley in there as well, Portenza gives big props to American comedian Dr Brown. “Dr Brown has been pretty instrumental in kicking my arse actually.” I ask if that’s personally or on a more metaphysical level. “On a more metaphysical level, letting me have the belief in myself to take the show to places where it couldn’t necessarily get if they were just written sketches.”

MICF is a time to take a bit of a gamble on your comedy, and it’s something that inspires Portenza. “When the audience are up for something a bit different, you can go to some really interesting and special places, and it can be an extremely fun night. It’s for someone who wants to see something a bit different, a bit off the beaten track. It’s a pretty good choice I reckon.”

Venue: Melbourne Town Hall – Backstage Room, Cnr Swanston & Collins St, CBD
Dates: March 26 – April 19 (except Mondays)
Times: 9.30pm (Sundays 8.30pm)
Tickets: $18 – $23

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Jekyll X James: Cactus Blastus

Jekyll x James return to Melbourne with their own unique brand of musical storytelling in Cactus Blastus, a riff on the western genre. I asked Cameron James to fill me in a bit more on the flavour of the show. “Jared and I do music, comedy, sketch comedy and clowning all in one. We play live music – live hip hop and punk songs – and then we loop that music and we do sketches and stupid shit on top of it…last year’s show was horror-themed, this year’s show is cowboy and spaghetti western themed.” They’re covering as much of the genre that they can. “Our show is a live action peyote trip – the audience comes on a psychedelic peyote trip with us through the wild west.”

It’s the perfect excuse to get out the movies that made the genre, to get your teeth into some hardcore research, something that went a little bit awry in Jared and Cameron’s plans. “We’re both movie fans so we’ve seen a whole chunk of westerns in our time. We went to the video shop – I can’t believe they still exist – but we got out 15 westerns, and we started watching one, and then we just sort of stopped watching it and started watching YouTube videos of people being hit in the face or something – we lost interest in the research very quickly, and instead started riffing off the things we already knew, the things we had seen before and whatnot. It’s art.”

The western is a large and varied genre as well, so the pair are trying to stick to the old-school tropes, rather than battle with such groundbreaking films as Wild Wild West. “I’m sure we had a big conversation about [the giant mechanical spider], but we decided that Will Smith already covered it so deftly. We’re more into the spaghetti westerns, the westerns made by Italians and all the westerns made by people who were taking LSD in the ’60s, that’s kind of the stuff that we’re more interested in.”

Jekyll and James circled each other in their own solo stand up careers before finally deciding to join forces, but the process was organic. “Jared would be onstage and I’d be in the audience and I would heckle him, and then it would become a sketch. We’d bomb each other’s sets and hijack each other’s shows from time to time, and then last year we wrote our first actual show…and that’s how we found our actual style…I think, that I haven’t seen anyone else do a combination of music and clowning.”

Although they’ve been compared to The Mighty Boosh and Flight of the Conchords, it’s hard to pin down the pair’s influences, as they prefer to continue working on their style, “It’s really about coming up with the best stupid idea – we put a high premium on stupidity in our writing.”

After Melbourne the pair are continuing to tour, but are also looking to work in another direction. “We haven’t really discussed this in depth, but we’re also thinking of making this the basis of a web series. I see it moving in that direction beyond being a live show, I see it becoming something new online. I haven’t really discussed this much with Jared.”
I point out that if I put it in the article then it will have to become true. “Exactly! There’s no argument with that.”

Venues: Forum Theatre – Carpet Room & Pizza Room, Cnr Flinders & Russell St, CBD
Dates: March 26 – April 19 (except Mondays)
Times: 9.45pm (Sundays 8.45pm)
Tickets: $15 – $18 

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Jonestown: Guinea Pigs

Nicholas Johnson is one half of Jonestown (the other half is comedian and ventriloquist Sarah Jones), the Moosehead and Golden Gibbo-awarded duo performing at this year’s MICF. Last year’s Pajama Party was a hit, and Johnson is looking forward to their latest installment.  “Guinea Pigs is a narrative-based sketch comedy show about Sarah and I being locked in a box against our will, and forced to perform a series of cruel and unusual psychological experiments. We call it Saw meets RadioLab.”

Although the world of psychological experiments is relatively new to Jonestown, stories heard in podcasts about the old, less-regulated days of scientific research really captured the pair’s imagination. “I’ve always been interested in that sort of podcast, you know that sort of This American Life: ‘Did you hear about that pop psychology thing they did in the ’70s?’ Like the Stamford Prison Experiment where they locked students up and pretended they were in prison, and then they all went slowly insane. Where the ordinary, mundane scientific experiment suddenly just becomes a weird off-the-rails kind of explosion.”

The most outrageous, and memorable of these experiments was too intense to be completely included in the show. “Harry Harlow did the ‘Wire Mother’ experiments on monkeys, where he asked: ‘I wonder what would happen if we put a monkey in a box with no light and no contact with anyone for months.’ And the monkey would go insane, and he would say, ‘Ah! Interesting.’ But now, rather than do it on a monkey, we do it on a pair of middle class comedians.”

Long-time friends, the pair developed their writing partnership by accident. “We’re both anti-social, so we would enjoy sitting in cafés [working and] not talking to each other, which was a very good writing partnership. We would just shoot ideas back and forth across the table at each other, until we realised that we were writing together, and writing sketches and other bits and pieces, and finally we put together our first show, last year, which was Pajama Party…it was a little like we’d made home brew in our basements and then found out that people actually enjoyed drinking it.”

They’ve also come up with an unusual way to market the show, by turning their Twitter account (@jonestowncomedy) into an story reminiscent of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. “It’s an extension of the show. People can go online and play – they can be locked in a room with us and try to escape.”

The first choice for followers is whether you are going to follow Nicholas or Sarah. Who’s getting more hits? “Definitely Sarah, it’s always something to do with her. We find in our shows if any sort of choice is involved people will choose Sarah.” Which he is totally cool with? “Absolutely! We’re both quite antisocial so the idea of not being chosen is pleasant. It’s been really interesting working with someone else, how audiences interact with different performers and how people feel much safer coming up and talking to us after the show, that sort of stuff. It’s interesting.”

The pair are looking at taking the show to all the major festivals, as well as some regional shows. “I think we prefer to take the path less travelled, and we don’t always do the same thing as other people…at the moment Sarah’s doing shows on cruise ships in the South Pacific somewhere. So we always have things going on that are different from what other comedians might do.”

Venue: Portland Hotel – Gold Room, Cnr Russell & Lt Collins St, CBD
Dates: March 26 – April 19 (except Mondays)
Times: 7.15pm (Sundays 6.15pm)
Tickets: $20 – $25

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Dates: March 26 – April 19 (except Mondays)
Times: 7.15pm (Sundays 6.15pm)
Tickets: $20 – $25

Hello My Name Is

“So this is a community centre.” I’m in the same studio space I was in last October, playing table tennis and drinking wine, my thumb on a hand held buzzer that I was to press every time anyone either talked about anything personal or heavy, or made an inappropriate comment. “This is no longer [tapping the tennis table] over there, it’s over here.”

Nicola Gunn is a dazzling theatre maker, relentlessly touring and developing her work here and overseas. Her current project Hello My Name Is is a partly solo work that takes place in a community centre and demands audience interaction on a very particular level. The latest incarnation of the piece happened with her season at the Blue Room in Perth last month.

 

“I really used it as an experiment with audience participation and I really push it and push it to just really make sure that I don’t like it. I don’t want the audience to be left to their own devices. It’s not the kind of show I want to make.”

 

Audience participation is a hard sell, which Gunn knows better than anyone. But rather than forcing the audience into the uncomfortable position of furthering the story, and ‘performing’ the work for her, in many ways they are there to keep her company. “I don’t like audience participation, but I also don’t like solo shows. And the great dilemma is that I am a solo performer. So it’s about using the audience to perform with me, and to acknowledge the fact that I need someone to talk to. And that, unfortunately, will have to be the audience.”

 

Gunn included a slighter level of this audience interaction in her last show At the Sans Hotel, for which she won The Stage’s best solo performer award at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Her shows in the past have included lonely characters in vacated buildings, desperate to reach out to a slightly bewildered, yet bewitched audience. These characters, she is slowly discovering, are part of a broader, more autobiographical work in progress. “I’m discovering this autobiographical thread, along with this sort of gothic sensibility. This is the first show where I’m actually being myself, Nicola Gunn, and not having a mask or a character or a funny accent. So I think every show leading up to this has been this gradual unmasking. And this is the final one where it is actually just me. It’s following this performance art tradition of making the artist the art. It sounds really self indulgent to say that well, I am what I’m making, but it is me.”

 

This self-consciousness she is discovering in her own performance, then, might be a reflection of the self-consciousness the audience feels when asked to participate in her show. “In Perth it was really hard because people wanted to act, and pretend they were in a community centre, and I really hated this, the audience acting and breaking the magic, so I had to explain ‘It’s not really a community centre,’ and then we’d have to get into this conversation. So this time there is this narrative of the audience arriving for a workshop called ‘How To Change The World Through Social Transformation,’ so I’m assuming that everyone wants to be here, it’s set up in this very bureaucratic way. Also out of an audience of 50, I only get maybe, 15 people up to do things, so there will always be people watching. So there is still the sense of a show and being watched.”

 

Which at least means the terminally shy have the option of opting out. Although this may also trigger a feeling of regret, or even jealousy that their shyness has inhibited them truly taking part in the piece. “The idea is that if people opt out of doing activities, I want people to leave going, ‘Wow, I wish I did something, I wanted to but I stopped myself,’ and that’s what I want, that’s the feeling that I want.

 

At the Sans Hotel tagged itself as a psychological detective story. The feeling that runs through Nicola Gunn’s work, the feeling that makes it so unlike anything else going on in Melbourne is that her shows, like mysteries, don’t actually have a complete story in them. It’s more that each character has their own fragmentary back-story that the audience investigates. The fragments that are there have a greater resonance.

 

“The show again is playing with that kind of form, because there is no narrative, and people really have to infer their own meaning. I had this eureka moment of actually realising what I was making was a retrospective of Nicola Gunn’s life and work, as if ­– not as if I was dead, but as if I was someone who was really important, because I’m interested in how we value things, and how we value and don’t value people. And that’s kind of when the show started coming together for me. Because I am personally going through a bit of a career crisis of actually just quitting. And so it’s about choices, and why am I doing this? And again, if I were to retire, this is the retrospective of my life and work at the age of 33.”

 

Here’s hoping that that doesn’t happen, because even through Nicola Gunn’s work is never going to be easy to describe, or always participate in, it is always going to be work worth seeing.

See the original article here

Headliners

Headliners showcases the best in up-and-coming talent coming out of the America’s gruelling comedy circuit.  There’s a wide range of comedians on offer, playing on a rotating bill throughout the festival. This all goes down at the Hi-Fi bar with acts including Moshe Kasher, Tom Segura, Sean Patton, Matt Braunger, Hannibal Buress, Marina Franklin and Garfunkel & Oates.


Out of the swathe of
Headliners acts I spoke to Moshe Kasher, the Californian comedian who was named Best New Comic of the Year by iTunes for his album Everyone You Know Is Going To Die And Then You Are. I asked if he had plans for Australia: “I’ve been here before. Both in actuality and in my imagination via the movies Australia and Crocodile Dundee so I knew exactly what Australia was like before I got here. While here I plan on going into the ‘outback’ on ‘walkabout’  and going ‘croc hunting’. Also I will be playing ‘didgeridoo’ whilst eating a ‘vegimite sandwich’. Also I will be snorting ‘cocaine’ off of a ‘stripper’s tits’.” Indeed.


His particular brand of hipster vitriol was named Best Of The Festival at Montreal’s Just For Laughs, Jamie Foxx’s Laffapalooza and the Aspen’s Rooftop Comedy Festival. Asked to describe his comedic background, Kasher replies obliquely: “I am a trained ninja assassin. That’s all I’m willing to say,” but when pressed goes on to add: “I am an angry effeminate Jew who likes girls.” Definitely angry. In fact, when asked about this anger and his propensity towards the offensive in his comedy, he replies simply: “Suck my dick.” This is going well.


On to safer territory, Kasher gives his picks for the festival: “You have so many stand-outs… Arj [Barker] is an old friend but you guys seem to have heard of him already. Marc Maron, Paul F. Tompkins and Maria Bamford are amazing Americans. I mean each one is a unique genius. Greg Proops is a master.”


Moving on to the lineup as part of Headliners, Moshe reels them off: “Of the younger bucks, Tom Segura, Hannibal Burress, Matt Braunger, Garfunkel & Oates, Sean Patton and the impeccable gentleman, Bo Burnham are all unmissable.”


Twee musical comedy-folk duo Garfunkel & Oates have definitely made a splash over the past couple of years, appealing to the indie crowd with their Youtube releases such as Fuck You (featured on US sitcom Scrubs), Sex With Ducks, and a personal favourite, Pregnant Women Are Smug (lyrics include: You’re just giving birth now/You’re not Mother Earth now), showing themselves to have equal stakes in the cutesy folk song and the potty-mouthed ballad.


Kasher isn’t the cleanest comedian either, as he has hinted at before. His tagline is a close indication of this: Comedian. Jew. Jew Comedian. OBGYN.


OBGYN? “Well I never got my official OBGYN paperwork so at this point, I’d say I’m more of an amateur enthusiast.”
And finally the big question, would you rather not wash your towel for three months, or your bedsheets for three months?Trick question, as I use towels as sheets and curtains as underwear. I smoke crack.”

Moshe Kasher, Sean Patton, Hannibal Buress, Tom Segura, Matt Braunger, Marina Franklin and Garfunkel & Oates perform Headliners at The Hi-Fi from March 31 – April 3 and at Melbourne Town Hall from April 5 – April 24. Tickets are $23.50 – $31.50 and available through Ticketmaster online, 1300 660 013 and at the door.

View the original article here: http://www.beat.com.au/comedy-festival/2011/03/30/headliners/america-s-gruelling-comedy-angry-effeminate-jew-aspen-s-rooftop-comedy-comedian-comedy-cen

Paul Foot performs Ash In The Attic

Paul Foot falls in with the past decade’s refreshing crowd of high surrealist comedians which, on this side of the world, is instantly associated with French duke darlings The Mighty Boosh.

In fact, the pedigree isn’t just a vague association, as Boosh-style guru Noel Fielding directed (in the broadest sense of the word) Foot’s current comedy show Ash In The Attic.

Despite being seen as the man who speaks a comic language from a galaxy far, far away (with a heavy dose of Shire horse-based humour on the side), Foot sees things otherwise: “My style of comedy is quite simple, I tell a few jokes, and then go home. Although they’re not really jokes, more like disturbances. I have characters too, such as Skeleton Johnson, Inspector Foot and Penny. Penny likes Australia; Penny is bi; Penny likes to take things to the next level.” Are Foot and Penny going to get up to much when he’s in Melbourne? “I’m going to make an effort to get out a bit more in Australia and maybe go on a rampage smashing beach huts with a golf club. I’ve been offered free surfing lessons but I’m not interested unless they can provide me with waterproof sudokus.” Fair enough.

Skeleton Johnson and co. all come up regularly on Foot’s website, a spidery rambling extension of his brain. “Originally Jemima Lozenge was my web editor, but she was so awful at hosting a website that I had to sack her. She couldn’t even host a small cocktail party in the suburbs of Southhampton. I currently edit my own website; it’s a nice way to relax after a week in the casino. Live by the slots, die by the slots, that was my Great Aunt’s motto before she died.” One section even categorises every joke Foot has ever told in a stand-up show, including how it went with the audience, and whether he is considering reviving it again. Maybe it’s an indication of the inner workings of a mind that completed a mathematics degree in Oxford before moving on to comedy?

But really the mainstay of the website is for it to act as a haven for Paul Foot’s ‘connoisseurs’, the exclusive name he gives to his ever loyal fans, rewarding them with secret gigs and much more: “Every year I hold the Annual Paul Foot Art Competition in which connoisseurs of my comedy draw me and the winner receives a hamper of objects from my house. You can see a video of me judging this year’s on Youtube.”

There really is something admirable about cultivating a following. “My connoisseurs are my lifeblood. Unlike other organisations, such as the Flansham Whist and Chatterbox Society, everybody is equal within the Guild Of Paul Foot Connoisseurs. The members are not fans of me; they are appreciators of my humour. They have no particular interest in me as a person and wouldn’t be bothered if I were run over by a bus, other than the fact that my comedy would end (after some brief laughs about the bus).”

Even so, Foot’s popularity has grown to such an extent that he now needs to hold “secret secret shows” for the old guard cream of his connoisseur crop.

Paul Foot performs Ash In The Attic at Melbourne Town Hall’s Cloak Room from March 31 – April 24. It’s at 9.30pm Tuesday – Saturday and 8.30pm on Sundays. Tickets are $23 – $29.50 and available from Ticketmaster online, 1300 660 013 and at the door.

View the original article here: http://www.beat.com.au/comedy-festival/2011/03/30/paul-foot-performs-ash-attic/julian-barratt-noel-fielding-paul-foot-mighty-boosh

Melbourne Fringe: Girls@Work

Theatreworks in St. Kilda have taken their opportunity at the Fringe festival this year to showcase the wild and wonderful women of Melbourne theatre, covering straight performance to Cabaret, from serious subjects to do with immigration and feminism, to the dissection of the female orgasm. Entitled Girls @ Work, and encompassing five separate performances, as well as two workshop-based events working with women in the business, it’s a large and diverse undertaking for the venue. I spoke to Angela Pamic.

“We’re celebrating our thirtieth anniversary and were going through the archives for the venue. It became apparent that the company itself had a strong female presence right throughout its history. The founding company members had some really strong women amongst them, one woman in particular, Kaz Howard who has since passed away.  She was, by all accounts, an amazingly fiery, energetic, charismatic, woman who kind of pulled the company together and created these amazing works and an ensemble… And so when we realised that we thought it would be nice to celebrate our thirtieth birthday about women and actually to celebrate the artists in the industry today, to give them a platform to show their work.”

 
Of the five works being shown, two are physical/dance pieces (PaPer Man & The 499th Day, The She Sessions), two are straight theatre (I Could Be You, Instability Strip), and one is cabaret (Le Petit Mort – The Orgasm). All of the shows are on most nights, which means that if you go, you might not end up seeing just one type of live theatre.

 
“We wanted a broad cross range of performances, not just theatre or dance.  An audience member could come to the venue and see three different things in one night, broadening their arts experience. This way they get to see things they might not normally see.”
 
GIRLS @ WORK
VENUE: Theatreworks
DATE: Various
TICKETS: See website

See the original article here: http://www.beat.com.au/festivals/2010/09/23/melbourne-fringe-girlswork/arts-australian-comedy-festival-film-fringe-fringe-festival-gig-girlswork-show-t