The Melbourne International Comedy Festival – I highly recommend it if you like comedy! It is one whole month, with hundreds of shows all over Melbourne. It has grown and grown and now attracts comedians from all over the world, different styles of comedy, and a massive range of experiences. I went to everything from a stadium gig at the Rod Laver Arena with International American Comedy Star to a handful of people sitting in a little room up 3 flights of stairs in a bar tucked away in a city alleyway for a first-time performer at the festival. AND I had a good laugh in both shows.
But - What is comedy, what is funny? Surely, what tickles one’s funny bone is different for everyone. True, but there are definitely recurring themes and styles which quite frankly become a bit boring when you watch about 50 different comedians over 3 weeks.
Comedy has always liked to push the boundaries and easy laughs can be found in shock value. Topics we are not supposed to share in “Polite society” like poo/bum/fart jokes, don’t forget vomit, swearing, dating, sex, genitalia, sexual preference or identity, embarrassing or vulnerable moments for themselves or a loved one, physical flaws, pubic hair, and therapy. Comedians like their therapy. This stands to reason as it is brilliant training for talking about yourself for a whole hour. The biggest difference is instead of paying a professional you GET paid from strangers to say the same thing and call it entertainment. It’s not new, we have been laughing at these things for years. But we are exposed to so much these days that what was once shocking isn’t so much anymore. For example – “Cheating partners” - to my surprise still made some in the audience gasp with shock. Maybe it’s just me.
I was taught that good comedy should make you laugh, make you cry, make you horny and make you think. (Thank you, Tim Ferguson). All shows will make you laugh, make a funny face, swear a bit, and say something “shocking” about your sex life. So there’s the horny bit – they all seem to want to talk about sex, genitals, and dating. Tell a good story with authenticity and empathy and it ticks the “cry” box, it just has to make you feel something and change the pace a little. I did laugh so hard I cried at one comedian and admittedly it was a fart joke! But done SO well and with a Scottish accent! The element lacking in many is the ability to really make us walk away thinking about the show afterward. Which is fine, the average punter just wants to have a night out and have a giggle. Much like the gatekeepers of the film and television world – what makes it different, what makes it stand out? It could be the same topics of dating, sex, embarrassing parents/children but framed in such a way as to stand out. I enjoyed the comedians who embraced their personal differences and made it unique to them. They made me think and there were some great performances where I had my brain tickled as much as my funny bone.
Expectations and audience can make a big difference too. There were shows I was really excited to see but was left disappointed because I wanted to love it. Similarly, the random shows I stumbled upon impressed me because I had no prior expectations. Please be kind to your performers – Interact if they throw a question to the audience and please laugh out loud if you go to a comedy show! I saw people sit front and centre and barely react and I went to a show with 6 people in the audience. The performer handled it really well and it was nice and personal. It was fun and one of my favourite shows of the festival. Six engaged audience members were much better than the meek and mild 20 people in the other show.
Another observation is the increase in multimedia being used. Not just props and PowerPoint presentations. Short videos, and most interestingly a massive magnetic collage. The best use of a PowerPoint presentation was a show set up as a “how to” workshop on how to become a stand-up comedian. There is a skill and an art in entertaining an audience for an hour with nothing more than your wits and a microphone but in this age of shortened attention spans and social media, it's great to see other mediums being used well to enhance the shows.
One hour is a long time to speak for, and few can hold your attention for this long. Some may have a great 15– 30 minute set but transitions and dead spots need ironing out. But those are the ones still practicing their craft and those booking bigger theatres who have been performing for years did not disappoint and their experience shines through.
I am missing my daily laugh therapy now it is over but I’ll do it again next year!