Going metal at MICF: Andrew O’Neill and Steve Hughes

andrew o'neillEnglish comedian Andrew O’Neill wears green heels, jeans tight enough to show off an enviable pair of pins, black top, red lipstick and nail polish. His Melbourne International Comedy Festival show is entitled Alternative but the core theme is one of how easily he can be distracted: by the internet, by television, by shiny things. The show is filled with distractions — zany asides, mostly — and littered with pop and metal references. He has a Dr Who tattoo. He’s witty and intelligent and he has something to say and doesn’t mind coming out and saying it — about the class divide, about hipster appropriation of culture, about societal constraints on being who you want to be; in his case, he’s a lover of heavy metal, an overt transvestite, an athiest with a grudging respect for the Norse gods (just in case).

His own spruiker and roadie, he’s playing the suitably metal Pony, a small, slightly smelly club tricked out in red and black with an upstairs performance space cosy enough for the full house to appreciate his boss eye sight gag. The gig ends with a bit of a singalong in ‘Jesus was a Cockney’. Lovely dovely.

We gladly paid to see O’Neill; the tickets to Steve Hughes were complimentaries for review purposes.

steve hughes Hughes is another metal head, but where O’Neill wears heels and talks about the outdated and outlandish vision of what it means to be male, the Aussie comedian, now relocated to the UK, still thinks a man should steer clear of Starbuck’s, pull up his pants, grow a beard and not act like a faggot. Or a poofter. Yes, such people still exist, and they can fill the Melbourne Town Hall. It’s a strange world, Hughes says repeatedly, and listening to the chortles and guffaws as he harangues and postulates for 90 minutes, I can’t agree more.

What starts out as amusing anecdotes, deftly told in Aussie vernacular, descends into a diatribe of sometimes contradictory pseudo-spirituality, anti-establishment, pro-drugs anti-police conspiracy theory with all the subtlety of a bludgeon.

Clearly, Hughes’s take on the Big Issues isn’t for me. And I think, if I’ve interpreted the psychobabble rightly, Hughes will understand if I say it’s not me, it’s them.

Simply charming, Andrew O’Neill

I was comfortably numb from a very fine meal, accompanied by very fine wine, with friends at Stuzzichino in Lygon St when I rocked up to the Melbourne City Hall to see Andrew O’Neill strut his stuff as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Which probably isn’t a bad way to see a comedy gig, even one by a man whose descriptor is ‘occult comedian’: it sounds devilish, but he’s simply charming.

O’Neill is 30, he tells us, but still resisting the notion of maturing; it’s the least of his confidences shared during his set. There’s the obvious goth cheerleader look, for instance, his long black hair tied pack in bushy pigtails, the metal t-shirt and skirt completing the picture. Yes, he says, he likes wearing women’s clothing. And then there’s the metalhead aspect, inspiring a pleasant breakdown of some of the genres for the unitiated, which is tied into his active interest in the occult, in particular infamous Crowley and famous Newton.

He also relates how didn’t really care about pop music at all, until his outrage was ignited by the Jonas Brothers. This interview gives an idea.

(I think inciting the viewers to kill and rape the band is perhaps over the top, but you can understand the sentiments.)

Anyway, there is something very cool about sitting in council chambers surrounded by a mixed audience heavy on the metalheads listening to an erudite, passionate young man (in a skirt) expounding his belief that magic is fucked, but it works.

There are engaging — he’s an engaging guy, helped along by that English accent and occasional outbursts of ditty — anecdotes about being hassled by numbskulls for his fashion choice and a month spent in Adelaide to leaven his journey of interest away from Christianity into atheism and then into the occult; the latter journey being aided by black and death metal, that interest having arisen due to the influence of Metallica.

Satan, he says, gets the best music, and the best gags.

After more than an hour of his entertaining dissembling, I’m tempted to agree.