Things Learned From the Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Listed in order of seeing them, here are the acts and things I learned during the 2017 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. These thoughts and observations are my own, and as with all advice, it is most applicable to the person giving the advice. Feel free to add you own opinions, advice or corrections in the comments section below.

Dan Connell – Stacks On

The dry voice. There’s a beat to Connell’s delivery. Many comics, and this is not a negative, work at a high tempo. They smile and laugh, intending to encourage the audience to smile and laugh too. Connell doesn’t do this. He does grin (almost winks), with a knowing nod at the punchlines, but he doesn’t bounce around. His delivery is calm, paced, and perfect for his material (more on that later).

Michael Williams – Escape from a 90s Educational CD ROM

Awe inspiring. I’ll be honest, as much as I enjoyed this show many in the audience did not. Williams created a world with a story, and he went through it with character development and analysis – the funny kind. It was not stand-up comedy, but it was a terrific creation with video interaction and effects. It was probably pushing what an audience expect from comedy (again, more on this later), but I thought it great writing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Factious – Pants Down Tour

Fart jokes and dick jokes. I know that sounds disparaging, and I have no intention of being such, but I saw this show directly after Williams’ and the difference was stark. The Factious trio are new(ish), and produced a show of sketch comedy with occasional stand-up routines. They entertain, and on the night I attended they had more laughter in the crowd than the Williams gig I attended. They also reminded me that polish takes time in front of an audience (more on that later). It will be interesting to see how they develop their show the more they preform.

David Quirk – Cowboy Mouth

Detail is funny. As with Dan Connell, the comedy does not come from engaging the audience – though it’s clear each performer can do this. Instead large parts of their humour is in the events and mundane elements of life – our quirks (if you will). This is also what makes Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell a funny book in parts. It is the odd detail in our bafflingly silly lives.

Danny McGinlay – Banner Man Live

Here’s a guy who can work a crowd. Danny is the endearing comic who wants to make everyone laugh. He had over 200 people in the hall laughing with his crowd interactions and performances – the acting out of comic characters which he sometimes created on stage. He had genuine excitement at showing some of the football banners he had made, and retelling the events around them. There’s not much to be learnt from a Jedi master of this kind of stand-up – except the importance of characters in comedy. Mostly he’s a funny bugger. You can’t replicate that.

Ashley Greblo, Shaun Rosaia, Cody Jones – Three’s a Crowd, not an audience

Practice, practice, practice. Again new(ish) to the scene, these three stand-up comics joined to perform approximately 16min of material each. I have seen them perform regularly, and each act included well-rehearsed (aka often-used) parts in their set. I know from experience that regular performance tightens material, as parts that don’t work for the performer or the audience are removed, and even some parts are expanded on. This gives the act confidence, which adds to the performance. While they have different styles, each knew how to pace their delivery for the punchlines they knew would work.

Sammy J – Hero Complex

A story structure pulls people into the act. Right from the start Sammy J pulls the audience into the narrative by outlining a high stakes mystery. This introduction reminded me of PG Wodehouse, and how those books often use a hook at the beginning. From there Sammy J smiles and performs though a narrative about a series of unlikely connections in a bafflingly real life story, using video and musical elements in the performance. He also interacts with the crowd (at one point making a sexist remark, he reached out to me in the audience for a high five. I didn’t want to but I couldn’t leave the guy hanging so I reached back. He then admonished me for laughing at the joke, thereby making the audience feel better about themselves and getting a bigger laugh from the audience, and also ruining my chances with the three single women sitting next to me. What a jerk. Good show though).

Alastair Trembley-Birchell – F%*# a Duck, Here We Go

Professionalism. ATB (as we like to call him) nails every part of stand-up. Great writing with a smiling, playful, almost whimsy delivery – a blend of the dry and happy. His story about buying his family tortilla instead of pancakes was the funniest thing I saw all Festival. He bumbled a couple of sentences, and forgot a section of his routine so stopped to include it. It was because they were enjoying the fact that he clearly knew what he was doing. A bump in the highway doesn’t ruin a scenic holiday, or some such analogy. Equally, when there are big laughs the audience might think the comic will stop for the adulation, but no, ATB continued because that gives trust that there is more to come. Plough ahead, when the going is great and when the going is tough. That’s professionalism.

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