First published on RHUM and in The Pun, Melbourne International Comedy Festival April 2010.

RHUM loves The Sandz and Hopper Show @ MICF 2010


Published on April 2010

It’s a brave comedian that takes on two full shows in the one comedy festival, but late at night, in a tiny room at Trades Hall, Lou Sanz and Claire Hooper do just that. I’m here to report that The Sandz and Hopper Show is a slice of fried gold.

Under a shaggy haircut Lou Sanz looks like Breakfast Club-era Ally Sheedy, shooting a perpetual death stare at no one in particular. Claire Hooper, on the other hand, is upbeat: frothy and bubbly like the milk for a babyccino. It quickly becomes apparent that this sharp contrast in disposition is because Hooper is inherently evil, treating the writing of the show as an avenue for making Sanz her unwilling sexual plaything.

On the surface this is a sketch show, but a self-referential narrative weaves through it like a drunk in the traffic. The opening scene has Sanz onstage clutching a suitcase, coat buttoned to the neck, trying to extricate herself from her working relationship with Hooper. Hooper convinces her to stay and the show goes on, albeit with regular objections from Sanz at Hooper’s constant groping and condescension. Diary-style voiceovers between sketches reveal the comedians’ extreme frustrations over working together.

The sketches themselves are short and absurd: juice bar workers shake drinks with their cleavage; Sanz diffuses a bomb with nail scissors that are tied to Hooper’s bra; Hooper licks whipped cream off Sanz’s hard hat from beneath a transparent tarpaulin. Even when in character the girls are also playing themselves, discussing their careers and the writing process behind the show.

The simple props and casual pace give the show the back-to-basics vibe of a high school variety night, but it’s backed up by the performers’ considerable comedic talent and experience. The scene in which Sanz, dressed as Vegemite, apathetically chases Hooper, dressed as a Vita-Weet, around the room talking ultra dirty while honking a bicycle horn is out-and-out the funniest thing I’ve seen at the festival this year.

The freedom of a dodgy timeslot and a tiny venue has given them the opportunity to experiment and let their freak flags really fly. They’ve obviously made this show primarily to please themselves – Sanz breaks her deadpan glare only when overcome by laughter – but while it’s self-indulgent it’s also utterly, ridiculously funny.

Chuckle Factor: 9/10

RHUM loves Stand Up & Be Counted: Knows No Boundaries @ MICF 2010

Published on April 2010

It's a shame that Stand Up and Be Counted: Knows No Boundarieswas a one-night-only affair, because it was a ripper. Over two hours (and a bit), six female comedians brought the house down.

First up Melinda Buttle gave us a cracking impersonation of her ex-Navy Dad’s encounter with a beggar in Bourke Street. This was unfortunately cut a bit short when she had to scuttle off to her solo gig.

Stella Young is an absolute gem. A person of short stature with much to say about disability, be warned that she does make liberal use of the c-word – cripple. At 88cm tall she’s a tiny package but one that was chock full of sass as she riffed on public transport, the annoyingness of kites and being patted on the head by condescending "normal people". "I’ve realised that 'special' is a code word for 'shit'," she told us, and if that’s her definition of the word then I say she is anything but.

Canada’s DeAnne Smith failed to disprove my theory that every international comedian performing in Melbourne is obliged to do a Frankston gag, but apart from that her set was solid. She enlightened us to the fact that the birds in our country are "assholes", and introduced us to her hilariously racist grandmother.

The Northern Territory’s Mia Stanford, winner of the 2007 MICF Deadly Funny Award, treated us to some blackfella storytelling humour. Her mimed re-enactments of conversations with her deaf-mute foster brother (one of 27 foster siblings) were both funny and touching, and her seemingly endless story about life as a rosella at the Bird Bath Bar showed her incredible skill at dropping puns.

Adelaide Fringe Festival’s Best Newcomer award-winner Lori Bell was full of beans. Most of her material revolved around life as a redhead, or a "chutney crutch" as she instructed us to never call her, ever.

All this was skilfully hosted by bespectacled Taswegian Hannah Gadsby, who regaled us with stories of awkward encounters with short-statured fans and ended the show with a rollicking game of "you-shout-out-a-body-part-and-I’ll-tell-you-how-I’ve-broken-it", which included her left breast. What a smashing show.

Chuckle Factor: 9/10

David O’Doherty – David O’Doh-Party

Published on The Pun, 12 April 2010

American business guru Tom Peters says that the secret to success is to ‘under promise and over deliver’. Funny Irishman and tiny Yamaha keyboard guru David O’Doherty appears to subscribe to this advice.

His first song for the evening instructs the audience to ‘please lower your expectations’. Then he tells us how bad he is at telling jokes. Then he laments that every review he has ever received has essentially said, ‘It’s good, I suppose. If you’re into that sort of thing.’ And then he over delivers.

O’Doherty’s sense of humour is of the gently weird variety. His material always begins with observations of everyday life but he’s only ever a tangent or two away from something really surreal. His trademark shambolic plinky-plink keyboard songs are alternated with long ramblings about French pants and public transport experiences in the ‘quiet carriage’. These are also interspersed with extracts from the book he recently co-wrote with fellow comedians Claudia O’Doherty and Mike Ahern, 100 Facts About Pandas. (‘A blindfolded panda will always head north. This is due to the high iron content in the panda’s liver, which makes the animal slightly magnetic.’)

Fans of quietly eccentric observational comedy will dig this show, as will anyone with a penchant for vintage keyboards.

Felicity Ward Reads From the Book of Moron

Published on The Pun, 30 March 2010

When it comes to self-deprecating humour, Felicity Ward can deprecate with the best of them. Her performance at last year’s MICF, Felicity Ward’s Ugly as a Child Variety Show, contained a liberal sprinkling of anecdotes about her idiotic misadventures. This year she cracks open the Book of Moron, a hefty tome she has penned full of stories of her own stupidity.

Wearing a blazer and cravat and clutching a pipe to her mouth, Felicity sits in a comfy armchair and reads aloud from her book. Across the way onstage, fellow Ronnie Johns Half Hour/3rd Degree member James Pender accompanies her on guitar, dressed as a dog.

The stories themselves are funny enough but as is always the case with Felicity Ward, the real hilarity stems from her outlandishly physical delivery. As she is fond of telling her audiences, Felicity weighs 48 kilograms and has ‘big features on a small head’. Summoning every fibre of dorkiness within her, she flings her gangly limbs all over the place, contorts her face, stretches, bends and flexes in a stunning display of pure, untainted dag.

While Ugly as a Child was like being trapped in an anxiety-powered tumble dryer while laughing so hard that a little bit of wee comes out, The Book of Moron is a marginally more relaxed affair. But while her material is rather gentle this year, Felicity Ward is clearly one of the best comic morons in the country.

Reginald D. Hunter

Published on The Pun, 29 March 2010

The unofficial title of Reginald D. Hunter’s show is Trophy Nigga, owing to the media’s habit of booking him for commentary only when race-related issues are in the news. His response to such requests is to insist that he be introduced as ‘Reginald – King of the Blacks!’, which tends to be a dealbreaker.

He has a reputation for controversy and an obvious, deep-seated belief that everyone should get their thoughts, no matter how unpopular, out in the open. A recent profile in The Age said that he has been labelled a misogynist by some thanks to his ‘referring to rape in a punchline’. Actually, in this show he jokes about rape no less than four times. The profile paraphrases him as saying that anyone seeing a comedy show might assume that the performer is joking. You might also assume that in a room with more than, say, ten women in it, at least one will have experienced sexual assault.

It really doesn’t help that his performance is completely off. At the beginning of the show he tells us that as it’s the last preview night, he has to get all of the mistakes out of his system. (I guess no one told him it was also media night.) He struggles to find a rhythm, which is almost forgivable, but when he asks an audience member for the time midway through the show he looks crestfallen upon learning that he still has 25 minutes to fill.

After a hefty dose of dead air while he stares off to stage left waiting for a techie to bring him a beer, Hunter proceeds to lurch from one random topic to the next. Tiger Woods, anal sex, stupid people, the Matrix movies – wait a minute, the Matrix movies? If you’re going to clutch at straws, try to pick one that’s less than seven years old. They get brittle with age.

Reginald, you may be the King of the Blacks, but your work is off-colour in more ways than one.

Akmal – It’s Not My Fault

Published on The Pun, 29 March 2010

Born in Egypt, brought up in Sydney and banned in Rockhampton, Akmal Saleh’s stand-up show It’s Not My Fault is based on extracts from his recently-published memoir, The Life of Akmal. Musings on being raised in the Coptic Orthodox Church, battling through ‘special English’ class as a new Australian, and the early days of his comedy career give us a CliffsNotes version of the book.

Akmal calls it like he sees it – and then ducks. His quip that ‘the Lebs took the credit for inventing felafel, and they also took my car stereo’ is followed quickly by, ‘It’s a joke, relax!’ No comment is out of bounds but he delivers his offensive japes in such a gentle, unassuming manner that this reviewer rather wanted to give him a cuddle.

Before his career in comedy took off Akmal was a taxi driver, and he has that cabby’s knack for telling funny stories about what are ostensibly shitty situations – being held up in a service station by a junkie with a butter knife; getting punched in the face by a woman at the Rockhampton Agricultural Show. Even in the grandeur of the Athenaeum Theatre he seems less the untouchable star on stage and more like a mate spinning yarns at the pub.

In fact, in one anecdote about the second smallest audience he’s ever performed to he describes just that. There were so few people at the gig that he sat down with them and did the show right at their table. When it was over they very kindly gave him a lift home. I can’t say I’m the least bit surprised.