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steve hughes Hughes is another metal head, but where O’Neill wears heels and talks about the outdated and outlandish vision of what it means to be male, the Aussie comedian, now relocated to the UK, still thinks a man should steer clear of Starbuck’s, pull up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.

MICF: Sarah Kendall and Daniel Kitson

It was the night for intelligent comedy at last night’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival outing, with pre-show drinks at Cabinet and a pleasant dinner break at Time Off in Fed Square where Massive Attack and Joy Division albums were on the stereo. Oh yes.

sarah kendall First up was Sarah Kendall at the Victoria Hotel. Kendall, 35 (there’s some laughs in that), resident in the UK for the past 12 years, tells us she’s that woman with the screaming toddler on the jet plane. Her Persona show reveals a dry delivery and acid wit — and incredibly expressive eyes — as she explores the world her daughter is growing up in. Some subjects covered are pole dancing, banana innuendo, depictions of women in advertising and, most wonderfully, a nighty-night sequel to the ugly duckling fairytale in which growing up to be pretty is not the answer to being bullied and marginalised.

daniel kitsonAfter dinner, with ‘Disorder’ still whispering in my mind, we headed down to the Arts Centre for UK comedian Daniel Kitson. Kitson’s mission in Where Once Was Wonder is to share his thoughts on the meaning of life, exemplified in three stories, taking 90 minutes. Intellectually arrogant, confronting and very bloody funny, Kitson is an unreliable narrator but sure knows how to string a yarn together. Suspense, divergence, segue, meta references and ‘denial’ river puns, all combine for a superlative performance.

He makes the audience complicit, whether about vegetarianism, ideology, typecasting or the bleeding obvious. ‘I’ve got a lisp, don’t know if you’d noticed. I’m very brave.’ Or words to that effect.

By the end of the show, he’s undercut the diatribe he espoused at the beginning; he’s shared thoughts about image and personality and character, about certainty and uncertainty and seizing moments and living with principles and undermining those principles when it’s convenient or easy to do so; the audience is highly amused and guilty and guiltily amused.

A dangerous pair, Kendall and Kitson; though chalk and cheese in delivery, they both manage to get the message across amid the laughter. Brilliant stuff.

MICF: The Underlads

underlads comedy duoWe hit the awesome warehouse space that is 1000 £ Bend last night to catch The Underlads — a former Townsville duo fairly recently (I gather) moved to Melbourne — conjure a haunted house tale as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Living on Limbo Lane uses an array of techniques to bring the story alive: mime, hand puppets, marionettes, video, slapstick, night vision cameras, songs. There are more homages to movies and video games than you can point a ouija board at.

Shrub and Wearnie are likeable, engaging performers, but the show — for all their energy — never really takes off. Over-ambitious, perhaps, but the Ed Wood level of staging and effects, while charming, is too often less effective than it might’ve been, and the underpinning material relies too heavily on old gags and tired tropes.

The pair have got some great comedy chops, but this show was perhaps a street too far. An act to keep an eye on.

MICF: Victoria Healy and Lisa-Skye

Two Melbourne comedians, two sides of the same self-empowered coin in last night’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival outing.

comedian victoria healy

Victoria Healy

First up was Victoria Healy, taking the stage at an intimate upstairs room at the wonderfully downbeat Rue Bebelons — out of the cafe, down the alley, up the wooden stairs … and Healy’s journey was even more entertaining.

Entitled Independent Women Part 2, Healy’s show offers the soundtrack to her understanding of what it means to be an independent woman. Starting with the Spice Girls in Year 7 and including Shania Twain, Black Eyed Peas and the titular tune from Destiny’s Child, there are six or seven songs that serve as milestones along the way.

Through a timeline featuring high school dorkiness and learning to be a team player, a spate of loser boyfriends, becoming a fashionista and a competitive sex object, Healy, in jeans and sleeveless blouse and armed with telling character voices, delivers observations and laughs at a conversational and endearing pace, brought to a close with disappointing abruptness. And damn if I couldn’t see the signature hoop move that made her the star of the rhythm gymnastics team…

comedian lisa-skye

Lisa-Skye

TAKING a different approach to the subject of self-awareness and fulfilment is Lisa-Skye, holding down a spot upstairs at the John Curtin Hotel.

Lisa is ‘a glittery drag queen in a tubby goth real-girl’s body’ who delivers a multi-media exploration of sexual desire and individualism par excellence in Ladyboner. She enters the stage with a walk through the audience while reciting Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’, and you just know you’re in for a treat.

Performance poetry, slide shows and video clips complement her search for a girl of her own. There’s the dad dance, the animal kingdom’s mating rituals, her nan’s passions, love requests from a telephone dating service, an audience Q&A on BDSM; all interspersed with beautifully delivered performance pieces set to the beat of a metronome.

Thirty and married and living in the ‘burbs in her nan’s ‘wog house’, Lisa-Skye is going her own way and taking us along for the ride. She’s personable, honest, acerbic, with great character pieces and spot-on timing. It’s an accomplished performance and wickedly funny.

If you ever wanted to know what it sounds like when doves cry, Ladyboner is for you.

MICF: Tim FitzHigham’s The Gambler

tim fitzhigham in the gamble comedy showTim FitzHigham’s The Gambler is playing at the upstairs bar at the Victoria Hotel as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, giving it quite the home movie feel. Which is perfect, as the gregarious and energetic Englishman narrates his latest zany exploits to the accompaniment of a slideshow and video clips.

As the name of the show implies, the basis of FitzHigham’s production is wagers: historically based and quite astounding ones. Such as rolling a cheese round 6000m in 100 tosses, or lasting 10 moves with chess master Nigel Short, or pushing a wheelbarrow over a marathon course in 6.5 hours.

As zany as the tasks are, it’s FitzHigham who makes the show, engaging the audience with his manic energy and awfully amusing anecdotes, and an expressive face just made for comedy.

He shook everyone’s hand on the way out, too; a gentleman and a scholar and a very funny man.

  • We also saw the Bedroom Philosopher’s High School Assembly variety parody thing last night at the Forum. Execrable, but I enjoyed the dancing.
  • MICF: Des Bishop Likes To Bang

    des bishop likes to bangCaught the Irish-American comedian Des Bishop at the Hi-Fi last night in our first Melbourne International Comedy Festival outing, and it was a bit disappointing. I’d hoped the humour would swing towards the Irish side — the multi-accented comedian’s got a big following thanks to television appearances there — but the material and delivery was squarely old-school observational New York style: fast, loud, self-aggrandising and not particularly witty. The kind that makes fun of yuppie Dubliners, exhorts sex in hotel rooms because you don’t have to clean up, that brags about banging groupies.

    The sell-out crowd lapped it up, though: there were a hell of a lot of Irish in the room and much of the material was directed to them, and I guess he’s been here enough to know that bashing Frankston bogans is always good for a laugh from a Melbourne crowd.

    It was the strangely disjoined show’s third night — maybe it’ll smooth out as it picks up steam.

    One point of difference came from a Roland electric drum kit, loaded with samples of dialogue labelled homeboy, paedophile and bogan, for instance, all mined well past their worth. There was some good laughs when the sound guy went AutoTune on Des’s vocals.

    The entertaining climax came when an audience member was called up to provide a chorus to go with Des’s hip-hop song — Des laid down a beat on the drums, Helen from Cork sang (and very nicely, too) a chorus from a Beyonce song, and Des unveiled his MCing with verses taken from the latest headlines: Julia Gillard, AFL’s late great Jim Stynes (of Irish background, so that explains that connection, perhaps) and Ben Cousins.

    Just why he had to intro the skit by saying he was going to show how easy it was to write a hip-hop song is a mystery, but not as great as the mystery as to why he felt the need, after the song’s completion, to go back through his lyric sheet and explain all the gags. It’s kind of unusual to have a comedy show with an epilogue of explanatory notes.

    As Des observed during the gig, if you’ve read the innuendo in the title, you know what to expect. What a shame he was bang on.

    Daniel Kitson, 66a Church Road: a lament

    daniel kitson

    English comedian Daniel Kitson ponders the meanings and makings of home in his production 66a Church Road: A Lament Made of Memories and Kept in Suitcases (on till January 31). It’s an interesting show, Kitson in tweed suit on a kitchen chair surrounded by suitcases, a ceramic mug at hand; a yellow lamp with shade above him, no microphone. It’s an intimate semi-circular space, the Fairfax Studio at Melbourne’s Arts Centre, and he doesn’t need a mic to reach the rear of the packed room. His monologue is interrupted by vignettes of recorded narration, each about an event that might have happened in Kitson’s eponymous flat, supported by visual aids housed in suitcases, and a piece of film illustrating the Crystal Palace section of London that he calls home. I was glad of our front-row seat, though he did make the aids available to closer scrutiny after the show.

    It was a clever piece of stagecraft, but it was Kitson’s musings — remembrances — of his time at this particular address, six years in what he describes as the longest relationship of his life, that set the mood and carried the night. Self-deprecating, hirsute, lisping, he’s an interesting performer, and his insights into just what made 66a Church Road so important in his life struck particular chords here, as we continue our search for a new space to call home.

    As Kitson says, a real estate agent might describe it as two bedrooms, close to the station, but what we — all of us — want in a home is ‘lovely’. We want the emotional spark, the security and eventually the familiarity. Home, he says, is memories, and while some might come from place, more often than not it is from people sharing a space, interacting with it, and taking those memories with them. The heart is where the home is, it seems.

    At times funny and sarcastic, sometimes quite damning of his landlord, with moments of melancholy and nostalgia, Kitson weaves a well-paced narrative about his relationship with 66a Church Road that is entertaining and thought-provoking.

    back in black album by ac/dc

    AC/DC’s Family Jewels: rock memories

    While we’re in memory-lane mode, I ducked into the AC/DC exhibition at the Arts Centre after Kitson’s show. It’s an impressive display of memorabilia tracking the band’s 35-year career, with nice big screens showing clips and some small screens showing very cool archival footage. I’ve had Highway to Hell in my head all evening.

    Which is probably part of the secret of the band’s continuing popularity. They know how to write a hook. I can’t help feeling that the hook is getting a little worn out these days, but the fans keep coming, and have filled two walls with good old-fashioned hard-rockin’ praise for the band.

    My mate Andy introduced me to Acca Dacca back in uni, playing the Back in Black album on his record player. I remember buying it on tape in Toronto, of all places. It remains a great rock album, anthemic for some, and a testament to AC/DC’s acumen and dedication in being able to bounce back with gravel-voiced Brian Johnson so soon after the death of that wonderful imp, Bon Scott. We saw them in concert way back when, and they put on a great show. But I don’t think I’ll be fronting up when they tour Australia with their Black Ice show in February. More memories in the making for those about to rock, but I’ll keep mine in the suitcase of the past (for now).