First published on RHUM.org.au, Melbourne International Comedy Festival April 2011

RHUM Loves Brenna Courtney Glazebrook: OC/DC @ MICF 2011

The other week I gave Fiona O’Loughlin a five star chuckle factor for her show about her battles with alcoholism. Well, Fiona, you might have to shove over on the comedy therapist’s couch because Brenna Courtney Glazebrook’s OC/DC, which dives into life with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is fucking outstanding.

From the separation anxiety she suffered in childhood through to role playing stabbing her mother to death with her therapist, Glazebrook gives us the whole truth and nothing but in the story of her mental illness. At the time it was hell but she’s able to laugh about it now, digging out the jokes buried inside taking half an hour to lock a door or becoming obsessed with the idea of being raped by cartoon kangaroos.

Glazebrook makes being onstage telling a bunch of complete strangers all of her darkest thoughts look like the most natural thing in the world. She has confidence to spare and a great sense of fun that keeps the very heavy subject matter firmly grounded in the world of humour. The writing is sharp and her delivery is seamless. And she’s brave – very brave for facing her experiences head on and giving us an insider’s tour of her knotty mind.

You might need to have been a teenage girl in the ’90s in order to get a lot of the pop culture references, but other than that I can’t fault OC/DC. This show about hitting rock bottom is top stuff.

Chuckle Factor: 4.5 / 5

RHUM Loves Melbourne Museum Comedy Tour @ MICF 2011

Over the past four years Ben McKenzie’s Melbourne Museum Comedy Tour has become a fixture of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It’s a bit of an oddity, typically getting only average media reviews but frequently selling out nonetheless. It’s not exactly uproariously funny but it is a lot of fun – something about wandering around the museum after hours, treating the exhibits with irreverence rather than solemnity, is kind of appealing.

There are three sections to the tour, and the line-up varies from night to night. On the occasion of this review the audience was treated to a tour of the Children’s Gallery courtesy of Kate McLennan, a look at a room full of stuffed animals with Stella Young, and some serious nerding out over the evolution of planet earth with Ben McKenzie.

Kate McLennan does a convincing job of portraying six-year-old Sammy Simpkins, our tour guide for the Children’s Gallery. Sammy is on Ritalin due to an incident involving burnt tadpoles on sticks. She shows us the museum as a kid would see it, complete with potty humour, magic portals and mistaken facts.

Stella Young, formerly a Melbourne Museum tour guide in real life, leads us through part of the dinosaur exhibit (where she relates a story about going head to head with a prep kid on dino facts) and into a room full of taxidermied animals. (Did you know that taxidermy was invented by a vegetarian? These are the things you learn on a museum comedy tour). Young has a delightfully naughty sense of humour and revels in the weird sex lives of animals and the notion that giant pandas actually deserve to be endangered.

Ben is by far the biggest boffin of the trio, enthusing over fossils, red-headed dinosaurs and the use of fake Latin to name things scientifically. His resemblance to Graeme Garden of The Goodies makes him appear extra science nerdy.

The tour format is a bit shambolic and I imagine those at the back might have had trouble hearing. If you’re the curious type, and if you’re interested in this show you probably are, there’s also the constant threat of interesting exhibits pulling your attention away from the action. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable and silly evening for adults who miss school excursions.

Chuckle Factor: 3 / 5

RHUM Loves Headliners (line up #2) @ MICF 2011

I went to the doctor the other day and ended up having to do a pee test unexpectedly. Being a bit dehydrated I had a bit of trouble, erm, getting into the flow of things. It’s too bad the comedians from the second round of Headliners weren’t there with me – they would have had me weeing myself in no time.

Marina Franklin, by her own admission, is ‘not a high-energy act’. ‘I’m like the Ella Fitzgerald of comedy,’ she says. ‘If I could tell a joke and then nod off, I would.’ Her chillaxed delivery and smutty material hits the spot but she seems a bit unnerved by the audience’s equally laid-back response. It’s okay, Marina, we were with you all the way!

The vibe of the room does a 180 when Matt Braunger hits the stage and drags us aboard his runaway train of thought. Barely stopping to take a breath during his twenty-five-minute set, motor-mouth Matt races through ludicrous gags about pirate kittens, the killer instincts of owls, Chippendales and crotch glitter, the time he went on a clown pub crawl (on acid) and why women have no sense of strip club etiquette.

Finally we meet Sean Patton, a New Yorker who is confused by our double-flush toilets and thinks that Vegemite is responsible for the Australian accent. He gives us a thorough academic critique of the work of Subway sandwich artists and some advice on what not to say when being strip searched by the police. After that things get quite dirty, and hella funny.

I daresay that the second line up in Headliners was even better than the first – three top notch comedians who perfectly complement one another and bring a whole lot of laughs. Here’s hoping they all return next year with full-length shows.

Chuckle factor: 5 / 5

RHUM LOVES Victoria Healy: For the Experience @ MICF 2011

After years of being set in her ways, the nineteen year old Victoria Healy decided to step out into the world and start trying things out ‘forthe experience’. Victoria's debut solo stand-up show is about the adventures she’s had in the effort to broaden her horizons in food, travel,  religion and work.

When she realised it was time to break out of her comfort circle, Vic canvassed friends and family for their own life experience wish lists. She found they often had one thing in common – a desire to re-enact love scenes from Patrick Swayze movies. Her own missions are a little more realistic – searching for the food high she experienced when she first tried coriander, or being titty hugged by an Indian spiritual guru at Pakenham Racecourse.

Vic may be one of the new kids on the comedy block, but she’s got skills. She has three years of performing with Impro Melbourne under her belt, which might explain her knack for character impressions. Her caricatures of the staff and customers at the witchcraft suppliesstore she used to work at are hilarious.

She has bucketloads of potential, but For the Experience does carry a few of the hallmarks of a beginner. The material provides more of a gentle chuckle than all-out guffaws. A lot of it could be pushed harder to make the jokes a bit meatier. Vic relies heavily on memorising her lines rather than loosening up and going with the flow, which causes a few fumbles along the way.

File this lively new performer under ‘one to watch out for’.

Chuckle factor: 2.5 / 5

RHUM Loves Max Sharam in Bushpygmalion @ MICF 2011

In 1995, three years after telling Bert Newton on New Faces that she’d shaved her head because of the lice, Max Sharam released an album, had a couple of singles make the top 40 pop charts, won one of the eight ARIAs she’d been nominated for, and then vanished. She’s popped up once or twice on the cabaret circuit in the last couple of years, most recently at Midsumma in 2009. Bushpygmalion is her latest autobiographical show.

The promo copy promises ‘opera, ballet, original songs, comic stories and video art projection’. What we get is an uninspired, self-indulgent slide night mixed with a few songs from her now sixteen-year-old album, A Million Year Girl, and bookended by some unrelated material about a fictional opera singer.

She blandly skims over her life story, which can be summarised thus: buggered off to Europe as soon as she was old enough; got a standing ovation in an Italian musical; came back to Australia to tell Bert she had lice; moved to LA and lived in a condemned hotel; met several famous people, including John Goodman; moved to New York because that’s where Woody Allen lives. There was nary an anecdote, none of the details to put the ‘life’ into ‘life story’. In short – no laughs.

It’s frustrating because it’s still clear that she’s extraordinarily talented. She’s got a cracker of a voice and can belt out a bit of opera as easily as a pop tune. She’s also a very cunning linguist, as evidenced by her song lyrics as well as a couple of clever spoken word pieces that appear in the show. It’s a shame she didn’t apply that skill to the rest of her narrative. She’s even not bad at making cute little computer animations to illustrate her stories, even if they do remind me of the Pancake Parlour ads.

Unfortunately, it would appear that she just sucks at throwing together a Comedy Festival show. This one was a bit of a trainwreck.

Chuckle factor: 1.5 / 5

RHUM Loves Zoe Lyons: Clownbusting @ MICF 2011

Zoe Lyons starts off one of her anecdotal stories in Clownbusting by asking the audience, ‘Has anyone here ever been to a nudist beach? Where was it?’ Apparently one night someone told her she’d been to a nudist beach in Canberra. Canberra, people. Guess what – I looked it up, and it’s totally real. Kambah Pool, on the Murrumbidgee River. The things you learn at comedy gigs.

Finding out there's a nudist beach in bloody Canberra is pretty hard to top in terms of comedic value, but Lyons gives it a red hot go. Her stock in trade is mostly observational humour, and that which she observes is taken in through a thick lens of crankiness, irritability and impatience. She stalks around the stage (occasionally in a leopard-print Snuggie) lambasting old people, next door neighbours, traffic jams, young achievers and vegetarian food that is shaped liked meat (‘If you don't want the meat, you can't have the shapes!’). Despite being an accidental drug-smuggler, Lyons declares that she is ‘too uptight to be a hippy’, which might be why her own nudist beach story is one of the most awkward you’re ever likely to hear.

With a voice like a kitchen scourer and a withering glare that could melt cheese, Lyons delivers her material at a cracking pace. She’s got ample skill and owns the stage. And it’s a surprise to learn that even though she’s performed all over the country, this is her first time in Melbourne. She fits right in.

If you’re a fan of acerbic, shouty stand-up, get along to the show and make her feel welcome.

Chuckle Factor: 3.5 / 5

RHUM Loves Fiona O’Loughlin’s On a Wing and a Prayer @ MICF 2011

Regrets, she’s had a few. Fiona O’Loughlin hit rock bottom and joined the ranks of Australia’s best-known alcoholics in 2009 when she nodded off mid-performance and woke up the next day in hospital with the vague notion that she might have to be on Dancing with the Stars that night. On a Wing and a Prayer is her frank account of her battle with the booze. The show was a sell-out at last year’s Festival and this year she brought it back to Melbourne for one precious night only. And what a night it was.

Wholly honest and forthcoming about her lowest moments but never self-loathing, O’Loughlin recounted some of her standout memories of evenings where she had imbibed ‘nine glasses of personality’ and the crushing physical and emotional hangovers that ensued. One such anecdote had her three sheets to the wind after finishing a show at the Festival whereupon she decided (in cahoots with another comedian) that a midnight nudie run across Mark Watson’s stage was in order. Her sense of euphoria turned to crippling agoraphobia the following morning when she realised this was bound to turn up on YouTube, and she found herself trapped in her hotel room, unable to answer the phone or the door.

Interwoven through the narrative of her drunken downfall was story after story from her (enormous, Catholic) family, always a huge presence in her material. I’m sure secretly she loves them very dearly, but her tales of the parental neglect she inflicts on her children are solid gold comedy.

Her finale had me rolling my eyes at first. After two hours of belly-clutching laughs O’Loughlin humbly noted that despite all the funny stories, her drinking had actually hurt many people in her life. She left the stage and a family photo montage began with a backing track of her cousin Ronnie Tahini’s very earnest folksong, ‘My Photograph’. I groaned to myself. How mawkish.

I should have known better.

As the last family snap faded and was replaced by a picture of Bindi Irwin kissing a red panda, O’Loughlin came skipping out from backstage, completely naked bar for boots and a baseball cap, a great big gleeful grin plastered on her face. And, I must admit, that made me tear up. What a triumphant end to a flawless show. Bravo, Fiona, bravo.

Chuckle factor: 5 / 5

RHUM Loves Felicity Ward: Honestly @ MICF 2011

After last year’s highly-structured storytelling hour, The Book of Moron, Felicity Ward has returned to a simpler format this year in Honestly – straightforward stand-up filled with loads of unrelated but nonetheless side-splitting laughs. All of 47kg and with frizzy hair and a peculiar lack of skill in removing a scarf from around her neck, Ward is like a comedy machine-gun, spraying a hail of jokes into the cosy Portico room and leaving no survivors. Blam! Blam! Blam!

Topics that get the Ward treatment this year include old favourites such as her inherent dorkiness and love of junkies (her boyfriend calls her The Junkie Whisperer, which is a step up from high school nicknames Sewer Rat and Dicknose) as well as toddler tantrums, puns in shop names, and how weird it is to have a job where you have to back-announce yourself before arriving for work. She’s even found a cure for common mental illnesses – as a sufferer of anxiety and depression she’s discovered that popping a piece of bubble wrap can fix almost anything.

Oh man, year after year this girl just slays me. Her bad booty dancing, her rapid-fire delivery, her gawkiness, her dorkiness – I love it all. This year the stand-outs are her working through her hatred of Autotune by using an iPhone app to become the thing she hates, and the finale in which she sings a checklist to work if you’re a junkie.

She packs a lot into one hour and leaves little room for recovery between laughs. Take appropriate precautions if you’re incontinent.

Chuckle factor: 4.5 / 5

RHUM Loves Dr Brown: Because @ MICF 2011

When Dr Brown lowers his bathrobed body to sit on a terrified audience member's face, two guys at the back get up and leave. The venue is tiny, and packed - the vacant seats are quickly snapped up and there are still several people standing - so their leaving is conspicuous. Dr Brown notes their departure with raised eyebrows, to which they reply, 'Sorry mate, we've got to get going.' No matter - Brown picks up his permanent marker and adds two strokes to what we now understand to be a tallyboard.Because the show starts off innocently enough. For the first half Brown indulges in the kind of silent, silly mime that made Mr Bean famous. Much of it is funny only because it is so stupid - inserting chopsticks into his beard; eating a banana with a knife and fork. But just when you're wondering if that's all there is to it, the show takes a serious turn for the weird - and the incredibly awkward.

Donning a Beijing opera mask Brown enacts a love scene that turns rapidly from sweet to sexual to surreal. Then he does a Q&A session - in Chinese. One very enduring chap from the front row is serially embarrassed and sexually assaulted. Brown puts on a Starbucks uniform and starts taking coffee orders. Nudity is introduced. Let's just say that the show ends with us looking the performer right in the eye.

Nothing makes any sense whatsoever. It's unsettling, strange and brilliant. Leave your comfort zone at the door.

Chuckle factor: 4 / 5

RHUM Loves Andrew O'Neill - Out Of Step @ MICF 2011

Trades Hall is the perfect venue for Andrew O’Neill, because he’s a very right-on sort of fellow. He hates racists. He hates homophobes. In fact, he hates all people, or so he says. It’s as if he’s unaware of how sweet and affable he comes across onstage. And last week he tweeted, “I’m in Melbourne! Let’s go and have dinner!”, to no one in particular. Misanthrope, indeed.

Also, he’s a metal head. In 2008, Professor Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University in the UK completed a study that showed fans of heavy metal music are ‘gentle and at-ease’. O’Neill radiates these qualities. Frankly, he’s adorable. This image is further reinforced when, having been swigging from a beer, he apologises for contracting a dreadful case of ‘windy pops’. You could take him to meet your Gran for afternoon tea. She probably wouldn’t even mind that he’s wearing a skirt.

The material in Out of Step is a lovely blend of leftie social commentary and oddball flights of fancy. One minute he’s dissecting his reasoning behind his hatred of religion, the next he’s belting out a line or two of ‘What’s Up, Pussycat?’ or trying to establish a nonsense catchphrase in the modern lexicon. A love poem starts predicably with ‘Roses are red, violets are blue’ but veers off into a laundry list of all things orange. He claims that all things in the known universe can be divided into ‘goth’ or ‘metal’ and then proceeds to do so using examples provided by the audience, complete with thoughtful deliberations.

If you don’t like men in women’s clothing, diatribes against 'isms' or some gentle absurdity – basically, if you’re a bit of a dick – then don’t go see Andrew O’Neill. But if you’re cool with the above, you’re in for a treat. He’s a treasure.

Chuckle Factor: 4 / 5

RHUM Loves Headliners @ MICF 2011

Australia is over fourteen thousand kilometres away from the United States. Travel from one to the other takes around a day. And Melbourne is a city without a harbour bridge or an opera house. I mean, where is Melbourne, anyway?

Are these the barriers that keep young and emerging American comics from visiting our shores? Sure, every year the festival plays host to a bunch of the bigger name artists, those with years of experience under their belts and an existing Australian fanbase. But while hordes of British bootstrappers make their way here year after year, rarely do we see an American equivalent.

This year, MICF has made an effort to redress the imbalance by bringing out some new-to-us names from the other side of the globe. Headliners is their showcase event, giving the performers the chance to show us what they do best – finely-tuned routines that are short and punchy.

Headliners features three acts a night, with a line-up switcheroo mid-season. Until April 10 the show plays host to Tom SeguraHannibal Buress and Moshe Kasher, with a bonus performance from Garfunkel and Oates during the previews.

I missed most of Tom Segura’s act thanks to one of the aforementioned British bootstrappers running overtime at another venue. (Sorry, Tom. I’ve posted a YouTube video of you to make up for it. Sort of. You seem a bit racist.) Next up was Garfunkel and Oates, aka Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci. This perky pair gave us five songs with excellent ukulele stylings, including one called ‘Pregnant Women Are Smug’ and a no-holds-barred rap about not knowing how to give handjobs.

Laidback 30 Rock scriptwriter Hannibal Buress managed to appear cool and smooth even when explaining his scientific explorations of using leftover pickle juice to flavour sandwiches. Taking the evening to a close was Moshe Kasher, a Jewish, fey-but-not-gay firecracker who kept the jizz jokes coming like a spray of bullets.

If you can take a bit of boundary-pushing and lots of references to ejaculation, Headliners makes for a great sample pack of what the US have to offer. Stay tuned for RHUM’s review of the second line-up later this month.

Chuckle Factor: 4 / 5