It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The air fills with the sound of thousands of knitting needles and arthritic bones clacking as scarves are woven in various footy club stripes. Down the street you can hear the gentle scraping of the urban tumbleweed, or ‘discarded umbrella’ dancing in the breeze. And through it all, there’s constant laughter coming out of every bar, club and theatre across the city.
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is upon us, and the first sign of it kicking off is The Gala.
It’s a showcase of some of the festival’s hottest talent, donating their acts for free in the name of charity. Profits go to Oxfam, disadvantaged communities get much needed help, comedians get high profile promotion, and we get to laugh. It’s one big, feel-good night.
Our MC for the night is Dave Hughes. He didn’t bring the big song and dance numbers of previous years. No elaborate plot to kidnap Adam Hills, nor was he suspended in mid air for no discernible reason. You come to the Gala expecting a massive, elaborate show, but with Hughesy, you expect no-frills, straight-up comedy. It felt like a regular stand-up gig in the back room of a bar, only that bar is filled with 3000 people.
The set-list was a good mix of old favourites and new talents. If the country doesn’t fall in love with the likes of Matt Okine and Tommy Little, I demand an immediate examination of the earth underneath Uluru to find out if we have a heart. Loretta Maine from the US was a stand out for me, with her delightfully disturbing “love” song. Comparisons will be drawn between her and our own Tim Minchin, but she’s wonderful in her own right. Established comedians like Heliar, Wilson, Barker and Flanagan were right at home. They weren’t afraid to bring in some fresh material. Hannah Gadsby was one of the few rising stars that was brave enough to chart some unfamiliar and deeply personal waters, and absolutely nailed it.
Apart from some wonderful moments of comedic brilliance, the evening was punctuated by unsettling moments of awkwardness. Hughesy seemed a little out of his element carrying an entire show on his own, an off-stage mic fumble interrupted the flow of Urzila Carlson’s otherwise charming set, and it seemed the GNWTV team forgot to ship in their famous confetti cannons for the finale. Paul Foot seemed more entertained by a snack he brought on stage (and mercifully, so were we).
Despite the excellent standard of comedy you’d expect with this kind of supershow, it was let down by a few technical glitches and save for Dave Callan’s dazzling Bollywood shimmying, lacked the usual spectacle. Instead of finding superficial satisfaction in a few twinkling lights, you get warm fuzzies by knowing the apparent cost cuts means more money goes toward helping a poor community get clean drinking water. Not a bad trade off at all.
The comedy festival gets bigger and better each year, and 2013 will be no exception.
Contributed by Jennifer Law