The Melbourne International Comedy Festival returns in 2012 with over 400 shows. It’s a shaggy behemoth, Australia’s largest arts event, and it’s ready to crush all but the most intrepid reviewers in its giant maw. Helen Razer has a good survival guide to the fest here. Naturally, I’ve already seen quite a few acts. Here’s a quick selection of reviews, with more to follow in the coming weeks.
DELAYED, Celia Pacquola, 4 stars
Melbourne Town Hall, Tues-Sun, 8:30pm (7:30pm Sun), Until April 22.
The English language has silly words it doesn’t need except for Scrabble purposes. Words like ‘vejazzle’. Then there are the words it lacks but should contain. A term that refers to a gay man’s crush on a straight woman, for instance, would be useful to describe how I feel about Celia Pacquola.
The best stand-up comedians resemble trapeze artists, leaving you alive to the knife-edge daredevilry of what they do while making it look effortless. Pacquola is in that league. Her ebullient stage presence and mischievous humour make you want to giggle from the get-go.
Pacquola offers an original blend of garrulous digression, whimsical verbal intelligence, and protean physical humour, all delivered through a persona that radiates more awkward effervescence than accidentally getting champers up your nose on a first date (which Pacquola has probably done, if her ugly dancing, self-deprecating anecdotes and romantic hijinks are anything to go by).
The one thing she isn’t good at is endings, and the last ten minutes of the show wobble and strive in a way that makes you appreciate the inspired high-wire act of the rest of it.
I’m being hypercritical, but only because Pacquola has the talent for five-star stand-up, and that is exceedingly rare. For hilarity and quirky charm, you can’t go past her.
#SHITMICKNEVENSAYS 3.5 stars
Roxanne Parlour, Tues-Sun 8:30pm, until April 21.
Stand-up comedy with a live Twitter feed. Perfect chance to i-Heckle, right? Well, not really. Mick Neven’s stand-up is so slick you don’t want to heckle, making the whole Twitter angle little more than a thematic hook.
Neven riffs energetically on absurdities amplified by changes in communication tech, from Twitter pouring kerosene on the tinder of public outrage, to the internet porn explosion and the increased demand for genital cosmetic surgery.
The argument against tech is almost made for him from the start. You enter to find Neven tapping away at his iPad, twitter feed projected on the wall, half the crowd futzing with smartphones. It’s the opening night of a stand-up gig. The room is packed. And it’s church-quiet. Never seen anything like it.
But Neven soon has the crowd snorting with laughter. He’s funny and worried about this stuff, and if you don’t mind a bit of blue language, you’ll find his comic comparison of pre- and post-internet worlds seriously entertaining.
THE DIVINE MISS O, Fiona O’Loughlin, 1.5 stars
Forum Theatre, Hi-Fi Bar, Melbourne Town Hall, Mon 8:15pm, Tue-Sat 9:45pm, Sun 8:45pm
Some stand-up is doomed from the start. In The Divine Miss O, an opening microphone hitch left veteran comedian Fiona O’Loughlin stranded and inaudible, in a Cher wig, two bars into a rousing rendition of Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves. She had to resort to roly-poly interpretive dance to fill out the number. There’s something transfixing about this sort of stage disaster, and you watch with morbid fascination and mounting schadenfreude as it goes from bad to worse.
Nominally, the show is about nasty PR consultants reinventing Fiona O as a gay icon. Save diverting video segments, it’s a wafer-thin excuse to whack in some cabaret. The brassy, drunken cynicism O’Loughlin brings to Sondheim’s The Ladies Who Lunch does the song proud – then she mistimes the The Rose, and we’re back to roly-polies again.
You’d expect these misfortunes to sharpen the dagger of O’Loughlin’s misanthropy; they dull it. Her material seems thin and stale. At worst, it comes across as mean without being funny.
The show will have better, less cursed-by-God nights, but the annoying lack of integration between songs and stand-up is there for keeps.