Puzzle Boy Lawrence

Published in The Pun, Issue 3, April 2006

To anyone who has ever ‘solved’ a Rubik’s cube by peeling off the stickers and rearranging them – go to Lawrence Leung’s show, The Marvellous Misadventures of Puzzle Boy. Lawrence has spent the last twenty years trying to learn the secret behind solving the iconic 80s puzzle toy. ‘There are hundreds of different methods, but they all require a lot of memory and pattern recognition, and the most important thing is patience,’ he says. So has he cracked it?

You’ll have to see the show to find out. Puzzle Boy covers autobiographical terrain such as high school, retro toys, crushes on goth girls ‘even though I wasn’t very deep or cynical’, and a suitcase full of love letters never sent. ‘I found this suitcase last year and when I read them they were excruciatingly, embarrassingly angsty,’ he says. ‘But because of the space of ten years between when I wrote them and now, I can look back on myself and go, was I really like that?’ Lawrence decided the letters would be good material for a comedy show, inadvertently bringing about a mini-renaissance of writing. ‘I talk about the lost art of letter writing, because nowadays everyone’s texting and emailing but no one’s really writing a good letter anymore,’ he says. ‘I feel like it’s really struck a chord – people have sent me some nice letters.’

Puzzle Boy is a more personal show than his previous work. His 2001 Melbourne Fringe Festival show, Sucker, recently received government funding to be produced as a feature film. Sucker, which won the Best Solo Show award at the Fringe, is about card sharks, scams and con artists. His 2003 Comedy Festival show, Skeptic, covered ghost hunting and John Edwards-style celebrity psychics. ‘That’s what I used to do, almost a comedy lecture,’ he says. ‘But for Puzzle Boy I decided to go back to my roots of stand up and storytelling and do a more personal show. It’s very gentle.’

Those roots are firmly planted in Lawrence’s university days, where he formed a comedy theatre group with Comedy Fest colleagues Andrew McLelland, Christina Adams and Adam McKenzie. According to Lawrence, university is ‘a chance for people to postpone their adolescence before they figure out what they really want to do.’

‘I’ve got friends who were doing law degrees and have quit to do comedy, like Charlie Pickering and Sammy J. I think it’s quite honourable to see people risk big money-making professions to do something people love. There should be more comedy out there, it makes the world a nicer place.’

Nothing is nicer for Lawrence than chatting about his favourite topic, the Rubik’s cube. Inventor Ernő Rubik still lives and works in Hungary, but Lawrence isn’t holding out for any new breakthroughs in puzzle technology. ‘Rubik never improved his work after he built the cube,’ he says. ‘He was always trying to make other puzzles, but nothing beats the simplicity of its design and the complexity of its execution. There’s been a lot of imitators since, but the Rubik’s cube is amazing. It’s amazing.’

Lawrence geeks out for a minute, begging the question – what’s with all the geeky themes at this year’s Comedy Festival? Lawrence’s theory takes us right back to high school again.

‘Maybe there are two types of comics. One is like the class clown, not the bully but the popular kid who just made everyone laugh at school. And the other is the person who was probably picked on at school because they were sort of not normal. Maybe they’re all outsiders, not participating but just watching the world and thinking, and they become comics. The geeks shall inherit the earth, as they say.’ In this technological age where the art of letter writing is all but lost, the geeks shall indeed inherit the earth. Let’s just hope the Lawrence Leung inherits Melbourne.