Get us in your inbox

Search
picture of audience members laughing
Jim Lee

Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2023 reviews

Which shows have us rolling in the aisles this festival? Time Out reviews the best of MICF 2023

Saffron Swire
Written by
Saffron Swire
Advertising

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is well and truly in full swing, with more than 600 shows lighting up more than 140 performance spaces across the city.

With so comedians to see and not enough time, we have sent out a batch of reviewers to dig deep and suss out the best of the fest this year. Whether it's a big international act, a national treasure or a rising star, check out our reviews and see what tickles your fancy. 

Want to review the show over a drink? Check out the best late-night bars in Melbourne.

Time Out reviews the Melbourne International Comedy Festival

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

An irresistible cocktail of spicy, sweet and sexy, Reuben Kaye’s variety extravaganza, The Kaye Hole, had us addicted from the first hit. We were welcomed into the holy church of Reuben Kaye with open arms and naked butts. It was a delayed service, with the audience on the edge of their seats, frothing with anticipation. However, we all know good things come to those who wait (and that we queer folk are fashionably never on time). 

Smiling with a devilish grin, Kaye was hauled onto the Forum stage by “the tail of Satan”. The tail, in this instance, was a rope hooked under a man’s penis, and not the tail tucked into the back of Posie Parker’s pants. Dressed head-to-toe in a ravishing red, Kaye extended the official welcome to “his hole” with a sinfully-charged rendition of 'Celebrity Skin', met with symphonic praise. 

Unlike many religious/cult leaders, Kaye’s moments were laced with candid self-awareness. Addressing his recent controversial appearance on The Project, he lamented that his longing for an illustrious television career was cut short. He cooed with exposed chapless cheeks, “baby did a boo boo”, and shamed the media for “crucifying a Jew this publicly so close to Easter”. 

The Kaye Hole was a variety show true to its name, as all the acts were deliciously ripe with diversity. The first cab off the rank was the comedian Michelle Brasier. In her performance of the 4 Non-Blonde’s classic, “What’s Up”, her vocals were powerful, and her adlibs playful.

The comic Jay Wymarra was then pulled in on a kiddie’s tricycle by “two white sluts” and referred to Kaye as the world’s “gayest reptile”, perhaps explaining his need to live under bright stage lights. Touching upon his Torres Strait Islander heritage throughout, Mymarra strummed out a fabulous rendition of 'I Wan’na Be Like You' from the Jungle Book, ukulele in hand and affectations aplenty. 

The guest appearances didn’t stop there. Dressed as a scantily clad superhero, Bettie Bombshell showed she is as flexible as many inner-north ‘vegans’ and shimmied not only titty tassels but tooshie tassels too. Afterwards, Malia Walsh mimed a performance piece to Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’, splattering a white dress in tomato sauce in her comical take on menstrual mayhem.

Next up, was it a bird? Was it a plane? Was it one of Kaye’s lost bags? No, it was the MICF best show nominee. Jordan Gray (read our five-star review here). Gray gave us a taster of her electric show with an original song that sparked a constant current of laughter. 

After being stunned into silence by the aerialist Leopold Pentland’s gravity-defying act, we snapped, crackled and popped into a frenzy over an X-rated performance to ‘Popcorn.’ The hula hooper spurted popcorn like artillery from her head before she lathered up her naked body with butter and plucked a SAXA salt shaker from her netherregions – hmm, salty and sweet. 

It was a show with golden nuggets of hilarity that, in Kaye’s own terms, could be misunderstood by those unfamiliar with arsehole politics. But listen up octogenarians, the great news is, you’re never too old to learn. In and amongst all the sordid sin, Kaye left us with a very important message. “Go and see art from people that don’t look like you and don’t think like you,” he said. 

In a less important message, I will be ordering bags galore and horses to boot because I never want to crawl out of this Kaye Hole.

Want to kick-on afterwards? Check out the best nightclubs in Melbourne.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Comedy

It’s no secret that the “one-woman show” is in its Fleabag era. Like the avid little theatre critic that I am, I saw at least five one-person shows in the latter half of 2022 (and tried my best not to tire of them).

At fringe festivals worldwide, confessional monologues written and performed by women are being lumped into the 
Fleabag category by critics and audiences alike (despite them only featuring a woman and some trauma). Any form of entertainment that features a woman making a wryly funny aside is eagerly compared to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s uncanny style. It was only a matter of time, then, before someone decided to bring a meta-theatrical parody sending up the old “confessional monologue” to Melbourne.

And boy, does Liz Kingsman bring it. The Australian writer and performer’s One Woman Show was received on the West End with wild enthusiasm, and now she’s brought this show-within-a-show back to home shores to show us what all the fuss is about. In One Woman Show, Kingsman is messy, funny, and sexy – just like her unnamed counterpart in the monologue she performs as she tells us she’s performing it, hilariously named Wildfowl.

The parallels to 
Fleabag are difficult to escape – with Kingsman dressed in a striped t-shirt and a black jumpsuit, like this scene of the tv show, and a singular red chair placed in the centre of the stage, like the original stage version. But this is not a “take-down” of Fleabag or a “warning” for those of us embracing our messy hot girl eras. Rather, it celebrates the inherent silliness of making art and entertainment while simultaneously calling that silliness into question. 

...a delightfully precise experience that never lets you forget that this is all made up

The show begins with Kingsman telling us she’s having this version recorded for an unnamed TV commissioner, who needs to decide which woman will be successful this year. She then launches into Wildfowl, a monologue about a woman who is so “messy” and “quirky” that she doesn’t quite know what marketing is, even though she works in the marketing department of a wildlife charity that tracks endangered species of birds. She pulls together every manic pixie dream girl trope you can imagine, plus the “voice of reason” in the form of her hand-on-heart Australian boss, and the woefully two-dimensional best friend who is constantly rolling a cigarette and giving advice that “Wildfowl” ignores.

Kingsman’s jokes, paired with Adam Brace’s direction, range from brilliant character work to more subtle visual gags: having a sip of water on stage, a creaky video camera, and even stagehands pointlessly moving around objects before the show has really “started”. The wistful uttering of the line “I’m having a remember…” paired with a shift to orange lighting and melancholic sound design is a hilarious highlight.

There’s even an earnest moment of “truth”, but I won’t ruin that for you. Every beat and every lighting cue is as sharp as Kingsman’s wit, which makes for a delightfully precise experience that never lets you forget that this is all made up. Often you won’t know which way is up, but it’s such a thrill to follow Kingsman down her cunningly crafted rabbit holes upon rabbit holes. 

With the “frazzled English woman” aesthetic and Fleabag eras making the rounds on small, rectangular TikTok screens everywhere, One Woman Show is an all-too-familiar romp into the brain of the dissociative feminist. Tell your mum it’s “whip-smart” and a “five-star comedy”, and get her to buy you a ticket to the funniest, trickiest trainwreck in town.

This five-star production was reviewed at the Sydney Opera House in February 2023. Book tickets to see it in Melbourne on the Malthouse Theatre website here.

Love theatre? Check out the best theatre and musicals in Melbourne this month.

Advertising
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Every year at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, there are a plethora of really lovely shows, including those charming comedians you can have a giggle at without really engaging your brain. And that’s totally cool. A lot is going on in the world.

Switching off with a little silliness should be bulk billable on Medicare. But every once in a while, a revelatory show swings in like a superhero to save the day with an unforgettably brilliant game-changer that’s not only hysterically funny but also feels like the answer to some of that troubling stuff niggling at the back of your brain.  

If you’ve been worried by the increase in attacks on the trans community of late, I cannot stress enough how good it will be for your soul if you make like Batman and cape-paraglide into the Town Hall’s powder room to see all-singing, all-dancing superstar Jordan Gray. The irrepressible British comedian and singer-songwriter is one of the funniest, fiercest and freshest forces to touch down in Melbourne in many a year. A proud trans woman who hosts the popular podcast Transplaining, she has a simple question to ask.

If the folks who bombard her with vile attacks online can turn out in droves for superhero movies like Chris Nolan’s Christian Bale and Heath Ledger-led The Dark Knight and are totally fine with Bruce Wayne identifying as a bat, then what the hell is their problem with actual real-life humans hoping to find happiness by embracing their true gender identity?

The show name, and a telephone booth in the background, are a neat nod to this playful central premise. Working on two levels, it calls to mind the Superman catchphrase and also the mean-spirited doubt of some audience members who won’t accept the “husky-voiced” Gray for who she really is. The same sort of person who will call Gray out for being mean to, I shit you not, Hitler. Of course, this line was in the show when she performed it at the Edinburgh Fringe. Tragically, it’s taken on greater significance following TERFS standing side-by-side with Nazi’s saluting in front of the Victorian parliament. 

If you’re a wee bit worried the show will be too heavy going, fear not. It’s the exact opposite. A bundle of unbridled joy, Gray is a turbo-charged ray of sunshine who soars across the stage, pulling shapes like a particularly balletic superhero. Working up a sweat as she expertly turns transphobia on its head, she has the kind of vocal ability that saw her appear on The VoiceShe can play the keyboard like a whizz and has a wicked way with witty rhymes. The Easter-themed opener, questioning which kind of undead creature Jesus was, is uproariously good/naughty. By the empowering closer, your heart will be fit to burst free, much like your guffawing snort laughs.

An all-inclusive performer, Gray worked beautifully with a willing 33-years married man and woman in the front row the night we saw the show. She’s not here to make fun of folks who may not know much about transitioning. Like the very best superheroes, Gray wants us all to stand strong together, whether you’re cis, trans, non-binary or a bat. 

Catch Is it a Bird? at the Melbourne Town Hall until April 23. You can book tickets to see Jordan Gray on the MICF website here.

After some more side-splitting comedy? Check out the regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

Paid content
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

With nearly 25 years of performing under his belt, David O’Doherty is no stranger to the stage. But while the years have flown by and much has changed, a few things have remained the same: O’Doherty’s style of dress (similar to that of a child just starting to pick out his own clothes) and the miniature electronic keyboard that’s as much a part of his routine as he is. 

As the saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ - and with Tiny Piano Man, the self-described ‘dishevelled prince of the $15 eBay keyboard’ proves there’s a strong appetite for what he’s serving. From the moment O’Doherty steps onto the stage and sits with his comedy partner on his knees, there is rarely a moment when the audience isn’t buckled over in laughter. 

O’Doherty is masterful in giving a tight, well-crafted set the same organic, relaxed feel of a mate regaling you with stories at a pub. In this set, O’Dohert lampoons vapers, leans into self-deprecation, vents his frustrations of having boomer parents or, worse, a father who’s also a creative. He even touches on futurism with a foreboding yet humorous tune about climate change. And while he admits he’s not particularly into crowd work, he still shines in the moments when he strays from his rehearsed material to jab at latecomers who had no better excuse for their tardiness than "dinner". 


If you hear the words ‘musical comedy’ and your immediate impulse is to run for the hills, we get it: when done poorly, it can be pretty cringy. But while there are tunes aplenty in this hour-long set, you’d be remiss in putting O’Doherty squarely in the musical comedy box. O’Doherty isn’t so much a musical comedian as he is a comedian utilising music in his routine; catchy tunes are punctuated by moments of physical comedy and straight-up stand-up. It’s a set you won’t want to miss this season. 

Want to know which shows have us LOLing in the aisles this year? Check out our guide to Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2023.

Advertising
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Technically there are only three jokes in Rosie Jones’s uproarious new show, Triple Threat. Or, so she tells us. The UK-based comedian - who last wowed Melbourne audiences in 2019 as part of New Order – firmly believes in the ‘rule of threes’, or a comedy triple; a staple for any good stand-up comedian. The rule is simple: tell audiences a joke once and they’ll laugh, but tell it in variation three times and you’ll strike gold.

Thankfully Jones’s carefully crafted sixty minute set has much more than three jokes to its credit. Packed to the brim with bawdy witticisms, cracker punchlines and her signature brand of brash confessional humour, it is a shining example of expert comedic timing matched by skilled delivery. But her tongue-in-cheek promise of three jokes drives the show. In fact, while we wait for our three jokes, Jones - with a mischievous grin - tells us to expect three expletives too. 

Jones has made a name for herself since 2019 with star-making turns in the writers' room of Netflix’s Sex Education and Channel 4’s Disability Benefits, among others. Her stand-up centres her experience as a gay woman with cerebral palsy with fine-tuned wit and an unapologetic lewdness. She’s a triple threat; she tells us: ‘gay, disabled, and a prick’. 

She’s also a ‘national treasure in waiting’, anxiously awaiting the passing of David Attenborough so she can assume her rightful title. But if she can’t attain national treasure status in her home country, it’s only a matter of time before she achieves it here. The audience in the Westin One followed her every word. Jones is simply magnetic to watch; her charisma comes in spades as she delivers a tightly wound routine of well-structured and sardonic bits, completely unafraid to mine her audience’s sensitivities. Punchy one-liners come one after the other while anecdotes - from buying a flat to having her heart broken – are recounted with mischievous live-wire energy and an ever-present grin. 

Triple Threat is a dazzling testament to Rosie Jones’s enviable skills as a stand-up and a near-certain promise of a national treasure title to come. Fresh, unpredictable, it’s expertly written, paced and delivered; a real highlight to this year’s festival and a show worth seeing again and again – three times if you can muster.

After some more rollicking comedy? Check out the regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Things have changed a lot since Ed Bryne’s triumph of a show, If I’m Honest, first appeared at Edinburgh Fringe Festival four years ago. Game of Thrones is no longer culturally relevant, and various prime ministers have come and gone. Byrne’s kids have also changed; they’re older, more annoying, and more like him. What remains steadfast is Byrne’s fixation on one question: what have I passed onto them?

The Irish master of observational comedy grapples with this question with a frenetic energy that has defined his brand as a stand-up for over two decades. His hour-long set is packed to the brim with well-observed rants and personal anecdotes ranging from the pains of parenthood to hot takes on pop culture. For example, Paw Patrol is televised trash and middle-class interior design is inane torture. 

All the while, Byrne - as spritely as ever at 51 - gallops across Malthouse Theatre’s Beckett stage with a permanent grin and near-boundless supply of energy. He’s the comic equivalent of dropping Mentos in a Diet Coke can; sweet, bubbly, explosive. An unbridled live-wire, he propels through every transition and punchline with breakneck speed and well-honed instincts for comedic timing and pacing.

There’s nothing more magnetic than watching an established comic at the top of his game. Between sharp observations on fatherhood, child-rearing and the glorious tedium of triathletes, Byrne returns to moments of self-degrading humour with the endearing self-awareness and infectious chagrin that has endeared him to audiences for years. 

Despite the emotional potential of the show’s opening question, you won’t find If I’m Honest ending with the earnest turn in the final act that has come to define much contemporary comedy since 2019. Byrne stays true to his skill set, delivering a tried and tested formula he’s spent years perfecting. A master of his craft, you can expect a tight, funny hour of well-crafted comedy. 

After some more side-splitting comedy? Check out the regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

Advertising
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Melbourne, is it possible that we might be taking Tom Ballard for granted? He is a comedy scene mainstay bordering on veteran – given how much he has packed into his prodigious career, it is mildly astonishing that he is 33 – the attendance at his show tonight is perfectly respectable but frankly disproportionate to the quality on display.

Anyone assuming they would be in for a variation on a political rant they’ve seen before might be pleasantly surprised by the more personal nature of this show, noting that the ever-righteously indignant Ballard does not spare the horses (quite literally at one point) when aiming his bête noires.

He mines some excellent material from the underwhelming impact of his stand-up special (tragically available on Paramount+) and his recent book (which inspires some masterful interaction with the sole member of the crowd who bought it) as well as society’s apparent determination to regress to 2002 while simultaneously going all in on AI.

Meanwhile, an extended routine on Australia’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to aged care builds to a dark and delirious crescendo that provides a litmus test for who in the room is fully on board for Ballard’s strafing, unsparing approach. His thoughts on the late George Pell, Rupert Murdoch and Australia’s (ahem) biggest billionaires will not surprise anyone familiar with his previous work, with the only question being how far he’ll go (spoiler alert: far out, pretty far).

The most consistent target throughout is the late Queen Elizabeth II and the monarchy in general, which could make this a dicey proposition for a multi-generational night out. The scale of the reaction to her death last year may be a somewhat obvious target, but Ballard amply justifies his effective and consistently entertaining insurgency.  

Previous shows have been marvels of multimedia, but this is uncut, sweaty, manic Ballard, with nothing to distract from the power and the fury of his performance. Somehow his mic-bashing is more endearing than unsettling, a testament to the deftness of his timing and self-deprecation and the remarkable strength of his writing – no tag is wasted as he pummels the audience with extra punchlines that are all worth the considerable effort.

It makes for a raucous hour with a surprisingly sweet throughline as Ballard ultimately pays tribute to his recently departed centenarian grandmother. Who would have hated this, obviously.

Performing until April 23, book tickets to see It Is I on the MICF website here.

Stuck on what to see? Check out our guide to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2023. 

 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Fresh off the back of winning last year’s prestigious Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Newcomer, Lara Ricote is making her Melbourne debut amongst great expectations. Thankfully, her mile a minute set certainly lived up to the hype.

Lara says GRL/LATNX/DEF is her “minority show”, covering all the ways in which she’s marginalised by society. She hints that future shows might not be so heavy on these subjects, but to that, I say keep going! Lara’s multi-layered identity as a woman who’s equal parts Mexican, American and Venezuelan and also hard of hearing affords her a distinctive perspective – something Australia’s stand-up comedy scene could certainly use in spades. 

No taboo is off limits for Lara, who seems to take pleasure in making us just a little bit uncomfortable as she muses on the likes of our planet’s impending doom and what it’s like to “pass” as white and able-bodied when you’re actually brown and “disabled lite”. Her personal stories might be niche, but they’re brimming with lessons we should all keep front of mind (“He’s not funny, he just has blue eyes and you have postcolonial trauma”). 

The Westin, in all its Gatsby-esque luxury glory, made for something of a stuffy setting for Lara’s freshening barbs, which could have easily brought down the mood. But she was having none of that, instead playing into the awkward pairing with the skill of a true professional, pondering whether her jokes were too dirty for a place with “bendy stairs”. 

Lara is the comedic equivalent of a tightrope walker – she gets as close to the line as humanly possible without losing her balance. This is exemplified by the parallel she draws between abortion and the wisdom of Marie Kondo… I’ll let you do the maths on that one. Each time she donned a pair of sunglasses, her much more serious alter-ego appeared, judging her every move and berating her for caring deeply about the climate crisis yet still focussing on comedy and doing “very little work” to help the earth.

She may joke about sounding like someone put her on 1.5 speed, but her frenzied demeanour was perfect for my busy brain, leaving me still processing well into the next outlandish anecdote. Her sharp notes on womanhood (“Birth control is like microdosing depression”) are counterweighted with long asides that could be mistaken for sub-optimal pacing. However, I reckon Lara knows exactly what she’s doing. You’ll leave feeling just a bit weird, but that’s the point. Spoilers: you might just get a flyer full of actual resources to tackle the climate crisis on your way out.

After some more knee-slapping comedy? Check out the regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

 

Paid content
Advertising
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

To some, a nine-minute opening song about the joys of netball (complete with a ridiculously catchy chorus chant of “net fucking ball”) would sound unhinged. To the Golden Gibbo-nominated pairing of Mel O’Brien and Samantha Andrews, it’s all fair game.

Following sold-out Melbourne International Comedy Festival showings of No Hat No Play! The Cabaret (2021) and Shit-Wrecked! (2022), the pair have unleashed High Pony, an hour-long deep dive into their “craniums” that is high on queer energy, hilarious skits and musical masterpieces – seriously, the way these two churn through banger after banger without missing a single high note (or even raising a sweat) needs to be seen to be believed.

There’s barely a second to recover from the aforementioned powerhouse opener (which also includes the iconic line “netball for all, pussy for all”) before it’s straight onto the next showstopper of a tune: an emotional, tug-at-the-heartstrings ballad about Where’s Wally. He just wants to “be seen”, you know? And despite the hysterical costumes (if Mel’s slightly askew glasses and too-small beanie don’t make you smirk at the very least, it's time to get your funny bone checked), by the end of the song, you’ll be ready to pour one out for the sad, stripy fella.

There’s a fun little ditty about lesbians not getting the ick (“that’s science!”, according to the pair), a song-and-dance number called ‘Babies Are Cancelled’ that samples the Rugrats theme and a musical homage to the much-maligned eshay. Among these moments of musical chaos, there are short snippets of sketch brilliance: the uncanny impression of two water slide attendants is spot on, and the pterodactyl skit is gloriously insane.

Even with a tech issue that resulted in the music cutting out about 45 minutes into the show, the pair soldiered on with a quick-fire spray of side-splitting (and completely improvised) quips that belie their short few years on the comedy scene. “It’s a beautiful day to do some crowd work,” declared Mel, and for an adoring audience who were relishing the extra minutes on stage, never was a truer word spoken.

There’s no rhyme or reason (and certainly no overarching theme) to High Pony, but therein lies its beauty: it’s simply 60 minutes of madness, midriffs and the most majestic melodies you’ll hear at the festival. 

Catch Mel and Sam at the Capitol Theatre until April 12. You can book tickets via the MICF website.

Want more LOLs? Check out the best reviews of the 2023 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Is there anything Kitty Flanagan can’t do? Aside from her glittering stand-up career, Flanagan has written three books and acted in both film and television roles – her most recent, and perhaps most notable, as the titular character in ABC’s Fisk. And so it’s no surprise she’s greeted with rapturous applause on a gloomy Sunday afternoon at the Athenaeum Theatre, for what is her seventh appearance at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

As it seems to be part of the official T&C's for taking part in this year’s festival, Flanagan begins by discussing the good ol’ pandemic. She finally made the permanent move to Melbourne in early 2020, and the rest is, well, history. It does lead to an amusing conversation on the age-old Melbourne versus Sydney debate, which is always a crowd-pleaser – especially when comments like “Sydney people only care about themselves” are thrown around.

Flanagan recently had a health scare – the type that makes you “reconsider whether you should buy the green bananas because maybe you’ve only got weeks to live”. Thankfully, she’s still alive and well to tell the tale of just how mortifying those backless hospital gowns can be, which somehow leads to a bit about pubic hair, and how women have been scammed into unholy levels of maintenance that have caused them to “rip out the whole backyard and replace it with a Japanese garden – bare with nothing but a few pebbles”.

There’s an underlying theme of mortality and growing old in Flanagan’s set, highlighted in the sections where she talks about her mother, who is aware “90 per cent of the time”. The other 10 per cent? That’s when “Coco the monkey is in charge”, and she goes off on random tangents, leaving Flanagan feeling like she’s Jane Goodall observing a primate in the wild.

There’s a lot to dig for in this particular comedy mine, with laughs aplenty rolling in thick and fast when Flanagan mentions how old people only like their coffee “piping hot” or when she identifies that there are only two demographics who appreciate the iPad: “toddlers and seniors”. In a crowd that skewed on the older side, Flanagan’s impersonation of an elderly person overfeeding their dog is met with both feigned shock and knowing chuckles.

A musical interlude comes in the form of a sweet duet with her sister Penny, doubling as a loving ode to the humble underpants. Flanagan can (surprisingly) hold a lovely tune, and there’s a very high chance you’ll have the chorus of “my big underpants, my great underpants” stuck in your head long after you depart the theatre.

The second half of the show is just as loaded with witty, punchy insights into ordinary life – think gags about filming people at the dog park who don’t pick up their pooch’s poo, mandatory vasectomies (“nothing good comes from wizardry old jizz”) and how “if you’re ordering rum and raisin ice cream, it’s time to get your affairs in order”. 

Flanagan has the ability to spin magic from the mundane, and if you need proof this sovereign of sarcasm and snappy comebacks really can do it all, this is the show for you.

See Kitty Flanagan at the Athenaeum Theatre until April 23. You can book tickets via the MICF website.

Want more LOLs? Check out the best reviews of the 2023 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Advertising
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

This review was written in 2022. Rhys Nicholson is returning to MICF 2023 with the same show on April 14 and 15. Book here

I had a moment of trepidation when perusing the program for this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Would the great Rhys Nicholson, missing from last year’s program and now a bona fide television star with both a Netflix special and a starring role as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, be too big to do a MICF show? But luckily for Melbourne audiences, Nicholson is back, bringing their signature dry humour, arch sensibility and slightly oxymoronic combination of manic energy and world-weary ennui to a packed-out Forum Theatre.

This show both is and isn't about the pandemic and the past two years, as the neat praeteritio trick of "let's not talk about it, I don't want to talk about it, but..." lets Nicholson both respond to and ignore the lockdowns and attendant trauma. Like a lot of people, he used the lockdown to do some introspection and came to the conclusion that they were non-binary (Nicholson's preferred pronouns are either he or they). The show isn't really about that, but it is a jumping-off point for stories and jokes, including a side-splitting protracted bit about his childhood decision to lean into his own creepiness and call their mother "Mother Dearest". Bits about going to the gym or friends in bad relationships could be tired in another comedian's hands, but Nicholson makes them fresh and delightful. Thanks in part to the speed of their delivery, this is probably the MICF show with the highest number of laughs per minute.

Nicholson is an absolute master of the form, weaving in and out of jokes and stories while continuing to insist "the show hasn't started yet. Actually, there is no show". It's another neat Nicholsonian trick from someone who has perfected the art of stand-up. It's not a reinvention of the form, but when someone is this good, it doesn't have to be. We hope Nicholson's star continues to rise for fortune and glory. Just as long as they still come back to delight us at MICF.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Is there anything better, more life-affirming even, than seeing a comedian who is at the absolute top of their game? After seeing Anne Edmonds in full flight at the Comedy Theatre as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, probably not.

The much-loved entertainer (perhaps best known for her alter ego, the slightly unhinged, sarong-wearing Helen Bidou) dances on stage with a swagger and a smile that is instantly infectious. She’s already laughing at the fact that so many of us would be here at 4pm on a Saturday arvo: “Ooh, the matinee crowd”. 

There’s the obligatory warm-up chat that touches on Covid (“did you know there are still anti-vaxxers around – it’s cute!”), before she launches into the main premise of her show: why is her bag all wet? Thanks to a show of hands, it’s clear this is a universally shared phenomenon, and Edmonds labels the few who have never had the misfortune of a leaky water bottle dripping in their bag as “sociopaths” who must be in cahoots with Frank Green.

From there, Edmonds dives into her life as an older mum (or a late-in-life mum aka a LILM, which she repeats over and over in an increasingly hysterical voice) and jokes about “trapping” her partner – fellow comedian and Welshman Lloyd Langford – in the country during the pandemic, then conveniently falling pregnant. 

The trials and tribulations of motherhood are an ongoing theme across the hour-long set, with Edmonds regaling us with a horror story about destroying her daughter Gwen’s birth certificate via – you guessed it – a leaky water bottle in her bag. She also talks about filling Gwen’s head with parental propaganda (“you’ve got the hottest mum in Australia”), close mother-daughter relationships giving her the ick (“no thank you, not for me”) and the intoxicating allure of the indoor play centre – where the inevitable bout of gastro is worth it just to score “ten minutes of beautiful, uninterrupted scrolling”.

But it’s when Edmonds (quite literally) throws herself into more physical skits or adopts different personas that she transcends from highly amusing to hilariously deranged in the best way possible. Her reenactment of one of her favourite pastimes – “sliding down the wall crying” – hits a little too close to home for many in the crowd, who by this stage are cry-laughing at its accuracy. Then a story about the time she travelled to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival and needed to buy a high chair off Facebook Marketplace, only to be confronted by a hag-like Scottish woman screaming, “I canae find the tray” is enough to keep those waterworks flowing.

But the show reaches its crescendo when Edmonds divulges the time she shit her pants (yes, really) in a two-storey Coles Local. The unfortunate tale is a gold medal-worthy finish by any standards. Still, after an audience member dares question Edmonds’ claim that only a city like Sydney would be home to a split-level supermarket, she savagely shut him down by yelling, “don’t mansplain Coles to me”. Chef’s kiss, no notes – let that be a lesson for hecklers.

The juxtaposition of Edmonds is intriguing: she’s as relatable as she is outrageous, and her particular brand of comedy swings from almost sincere to full-blown acts of insanity. But above all, she’s just really, really funny – what more could you want than that?

Love to laugh? Check out these regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

Advertising
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Choo choo’ing onto the Athenaeum Theatre stage in a leopard print romper, stand-up comedian and podcaster Joanne McNally is greeted with a chorus of woos and whistles. “To us”, she toasts, gesticulating about the stage before pausing to notice an outlier: a man. “I don’t know what you’re doing here. A straight man? In the front row of The Prosecco Express?”

As you may have guessed by the show’s namesake, The Prosecco Express is more for the lassies than it is for the lads. It's well and truly an hour "for the girls" and what seemed to be the entirety of the Emerald Isle diaspora – and the occasional long-suffering boyfriend swept along for the ride. 

The Prosecco Express was ideated by McNally in her mid-thirties when she was "single unfertiled" and found herself raising a glass to back-to-back marriages, christenings and communions. Where was she all this time? Going "barren" in Zara.

You can expect ruminations on this but more so, an hour of wine natter where McNally tackles everything from the pill to avoiding eye contact during sex (eyes are for family and friends, and family and friends only), UTIs and "Chornobyl-level" toxic boyfriends. And with each stinger of a one-liner, the audience is left weeping their mascara off with laughter. 

McNally is an effervescently electric storyteller. In particular, her stories about living in her mum's attic in lockdown – which can often fall flat on Covid-weary audiences – left theatregoers swinging back and forth in giddy-eyed glee.

The Irish stand-up comedian and podcaster is a master of no-holds barred sort of craic; everything and anything is up for grabs. The show is a perfect excuse to rally the troops and pop a few bottles to celebrate womanhood and friendship. But remember, “we don’t celebrate love here at The Prosecco Express,” McNally reminded us, “this isn’t The Lion King.”

Catch The Prosecco Express at the Athenaeum Theatre between March 30 and April 9. Book tickets to see the performer on the Melbourne International Comedy Festival website.

Has all that rib-tickling laughter left you hungry? Check out the best cheap eats in Melbourne.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

This review was written in 2022. Geraldine Quinn returns with 'Broad' for MICF 2023 with shows until April 23. Book tickets here.

There is an astounding reveal involving a bottle of shiraz in Broad, Geraldine Quinn’s first cabaret show in four years, that this magnificent queen does not want spoiled in reviews. And who am I to argue? 

All I’ll say is this: it is a gloriously anarchic reclamation of the unadulterated power of a mighty woman who, fast-approaching 50, refuses to care a moment longer what sexist, ageist imbeciles make of her. The sort of electric thunderclap that inspires audience members to hoot out loud and bump the air with their fists in empowered solidarity, it lays down the gauntlet for the moment to beat this comedy festival. 

Donning kaftans since her teenage years, and noting that the irony has long since passed, Quinn has always aspired to be a bold and brassy woman. She didn’t identify with the orphan when she watched Annie as a kid, despite sharing her wonderfully wild red hair. Nope. She wanted to be Carol Burnett as the gin-swigging Miss Hannigan. And huzzah to that, because it’s led to this joyous celebration of the iconic broads who inform Quinn’s remarkable brand of showbiz blues. That includes local hero Rhonda Burchmore (fabulously, the pair once compared bunions in the backroom of a gay club).  

Accompanied on the teeny Quilt Room stage at Trades Hall by the dashing Cameron Thomas on keyboard, the instrumentally gifted Quinn is a whirlwind of wonder standing proud on sparkling golden platform heels. A performer at the top of her game, she commands our attention, even pausing premature applause the night we attended in order to hit, uninterrupted, the glorious finale of one spectacularly sassy song with a built-in dramatic pause. There isn’t a wrong note in this one-hour ode to the sisterhood that you absolutely should snap up tickets to see. Sing along and leave on an almighty high. Maybe after sinking a glass of shiraz or two. 

Has all that rib-tickling laughter left you hungry? Check out the best cheap eats in Melbourne.

Advertising
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

With more than 200 MICF shows under his belt, Mark Watson is not just a veteran of our festival - he’s also basically an honourary Melburnian, well-versed in all of the “Melbourneisms” of a resident. As the show gets started and a few latecomers wander in, he knowingly quips about our city’s broken infrastructure and how, despite its proximity, Chin Chin is, in fact, not a quick pre-show dinner. 

In fact, he has so much to say that it’s hard to tell when Watson’s introductory small talk ends and his planned material begins. It’s made even more difficult because, on this night, there was an unexpected two-for-one deal: Watson was joined on stage by an extremely animated Auslan interpreter who was funny in her own right. Having someone there who had to translate his every word (the Auslan translations of ‘dildo’, ‘Hobbit’ and ‘jacking off at a picnic’ are admittedly amusing) was a continual distraction for Watson, but still hilarious. 

About a quarter of the way into the hour, it’s finally clear he’s back on track. The Taskmaster star is known for his fast-talking nature, and while it does add to his dorky charm, it can sometimes make for a brain-addling listening experience. He’ll start a sentence then drop it because he’s had another thought or backtrack to finish something he’d said several sentences ago; perhaps partly his trademark style but also partly as a result of trying to catch up in a show that was running behind. Regardless, one thing’s for sure: when he does manage to get the story out, it’s well worth the wait. 

In Search, Watson comes to terms with the realisation that as his children age, he is no longer their human Google. Access to phones and the internet render his knowledge obsolete, and while he jests about this, he approaches it with a level of endearing vulnerability. This, plus his feelings around a recent and apparently messy divorce, contribute to his desire to “search” for meaning in life wherever he can find it. 

There’s rarely a moment without laughter as Watson tells the audience about antics like a drunken Zoom call gone wrong and about how a rude man at the fruit shop he worked at as a teen has elicited a lifelong desire for revenge. All in all, it’s an excellent hour - and on a session when he’s not joined on stage by a spirited interpreter, we’d wager it’d be more coherent. 

Want to know which shows have us LOLing in the aisles this year? Check out our guide to Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2023.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss is not afraid to remind you of your worth. When ranking professions on a sliding scale of palatability, he puts stand-up comedians low, magicians lower and travel-sickness-sufferers even lower. The lowest of them all? Journalists. 

“Scum of the Earth,” the comedian affirmed as he fired the pistol point-blank. It happened to be a tempestuous evening in Melbourne when I crawled out of my cave in the netherworld to review Sloss’s show Can’t. The clouds that night purged rain as if they needed to get something off their chest and in the shelter of the Plenary Theatre at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, thousands of people descended to watch the comedian do the same.

The nub of Can’t is Sloss’s rejection of the idea that comedians can’t say anything in the so-called age of cancel culture. As he told us, he has spoken about paedophiles, abortion, religion and addiction and, like Elton John, is very much still standing. How, you might ask? Because apparently, the secret to offensive comedy is a “twinkle in your eye” empathy. He gives us an example: “I’m glad the Queen is dead,” he states with a deadpan stare. “See, it’s almost as if I meant it,” he then smirks.

This is the sort of irreverent humour you can expect from the self-coined “Steve Irwin”’ of comedy. He approaches comedy like Irwin did zoology, with an infectious curiosity that could cost him his life. The 32-year-old comedian wonders what “stingray” joke will be the nail in the coffin. Paedophiles? Rape? Religion? No, it’ll likely be something anodyne, like “wallpaper”.

Not as well versed in Sloss’s schtick as my plus one, it soon becomes clear how he uses dark comedy not only as a coping mechanism but also to socially critique and spotlight taboo topics. In his hit special X, he tackled the assault of one of his closest female friends, and in Jigsaw, he honed in on relationships and how often people are better off alone (prompting hundreds of thousands of break-ups – so many he has now lost count).

In Can’t, this prickly pear is noticeably softened by newfound fatherhood and has descended into a gooey “marshmallow”. Throughout the show, Sloss hovered between a chair and the stage, often sitting down with a whisky to contemplate life like Rodin’s The Thinker before remembering it was a comedy gig and leaping about the stage to hurtle insults and observations.

From his hilarious observations about the reality TV show Temptation Island to his drug-fuelled benders in Edinburgh and envisaging a Colosseum fight with Joe Rogan fans, he fired the sharp-witted gags like artillery with the audience lapping up almost every hit – a shot too close to the bone for some. 

While the latter part of the show could have been tighter, Sloss’s rambles about pregnancy and parenthood had us spinning on a merry-go-round of emotions. We winced, laughed, squirmed and dug our heads into our hands as he crossed the line, crossed it again and crossed it once more. Still, somehow, this Scotsman’s narrative delivery and innate sensitivity seemingly got him off scot-free. 

While the feeling may not be mutual, it was a joy to see such a visceral performance; one that denoted insult bombs like it was the Blitz but managed to be deeply sentimental. It is as if Sloss has the circus skills of a funambulist, straddling the tightrope between darkness and light while delving into life, relationships and human suffering but never managing to fall. Well, that is until he brings up wallpaper. 

After some more knee-slapping comedy? Check out the regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

Advertising
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

If you live in Melbourne, you’d struggle to find a cafe within a 10km radius of the CBD that isn’t hawking plant milk as much, if not more, than the plain-old moo juice. But German-Cameroonian comedian Aurelia St Clair wants to set the record straight: just because you take your flat white with soy, almond or oat milk doesn’t necessarily mean you’re non-dairy presenting. 

So, what does it mean exactly? St Clair uses her show, Non-Dairy Presenting, to highlight what qualities spiritually align you with dairy drinkers or plant milk drinkers, and in doing so, shares razor-sharp insights about our city’s culture. Fitzroy, bisexuals and those who work remotely? Non-dairy presenting. Landlords, St Kilda and heterosexuals? Dairy-presenting. You get the gist. 

With crowd work, comedians are really rolling the dice on their crowd’s energy and engagement levels. St Clair cleverly removes that variable by turning all of her instances of crowd work into game show-type exercises that require minimal effort (a raised hand or lowered finger) and allowed the audience to feel like active participants. Oh, and don’t let the smile perpetually plastered on her face lull you into a false sense of security: the knives are out, and if you call Melbourne home, you will feel called out once, if not several times. 

You may already be familiar with St Clair from her podcast of the same name, or perhaps from her TikTok where she’s carved out a following for her astute takes on suburban stereotypes. If the latter, you might find yourself a bit underwhelmed; a couple of segments feel like drawn-out versions of social videos you’ve likely already seen - an assessment made of last year’s show, too. 

There are a few notable drag points, particularly when she makes a poorly received joke about deaths from Covid and in a weaker segment about ASMR. But overall, St Clair’s delivery is warm, clever and fun, and it’s a stronger show than last year, made even clearer by the abundant laughter throughout the hour and the sold-out crowd. 

Want to know which shows have us LOLing in the aisles this year? Check out our guide to Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2023.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Not many people would get away with making light of playing heavy metal music before a Welcome to Country, but then again, Ed Gamble isn't many people. He's a man of hysterical contrasts. For example, the British comedian and podcaster may love Slipknot and have the tattoo sleeves to prove it, but his doe-eyed "vicar at a youth camp" face offers up an on-stage incongruity that makes for comedy gold.

This conflicting persona of a middle-class metalhead is the backdrop for Electric, where the comedian vents his frustrations about wanting to cultivate a harder image when the fact is, he is about as edgy as a circle. His opening night at the Athenaeum Theatre saw Gamble fresh off the back of an AFL game where he divulged to his "guinea-pig" audience that he had never toured Austalia nor seen so many "non-ironic mullets" and shoulder-baring "big boys" – a tale accompanied by enough huffs and puffs to turn an asthmatic a whiter shade of pale.

His stories of the gym set the tone for the performance: waggish and deliciously provocative. Whether it was his gag about doing reps for Palestine (the amount he did made him look "pro-Israel"), the fact he had to adopt a diet that looked like Prince Andrew's love life ("pro-tein") to a deep-throat of a microphone, it soon became obvious that the audience was sliced up into the outright amused and the downright appalled.  

Like many comedians this festival, Gamble began to regale stories of lockdown – the 'C' word should be buried in a MICF crematorium next year – and how he had to cancel his wedding three times. While his stories of hosting his own hen-do for his wife and doing a strip dance while getting ready for bed by the panty-dropper of a name "Oral-D" had a few laughs, the material felt too rehearsed and frankly, a bit passé. 

It was the moments when the Off-Menu podcaster went off-script that really made him shine as a class act. He had a natural rapport with the audience (especially one shot-snapping member in the front row), and you wish he had done a more ad-lib to see his wit in all its whip-smart glory.

The electrical current in the show began to pulsate when Gamble – surprise, surprise – started speaking about food. His Off Menu podcast with James Acaster has seen him rise to the crème de la crème of the comedy scene, and after Gamble gave a brief (but spot-on) impression of Acaster, he caught the diehard fans' attention – hook, line and sinker. 

When it comes to dissecting all things digestible, Gamble stands up tall, which is why the highlight was when he unpacked the politics of a budget hotel breakfast, from the "dogstick" sausages to toast made on a "hamster crematorium." But it was his talk of the liquid/solid eggs and his fictional backstory about 'Maureen', a nonagenarian chicken who never got to cross the road as she was shacked up in a warehouse pumping eggs like cannonry, that had us clucking our way into the coop with laughter.


Gamble is a gifted stand-up, and there's no doubt this edgy circle of a comic is adroit at firing sharp observations and punchy aphorisms to make even the most trivial of things humorous. While some of the material for Electric could do with new batteries, his rambles about heavy metal music and food (his raison d'etre) still spark with infectious energy.

Want to know the man behind the mic? Ed Gamble on finding his funny bone, Off Menu, and his stand-up show 'Electric'.

Advertising
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

“Don’t worry, she’s really great,” whispers the ticket attendant as I line up outside the door of the Old Council Chamber at Trades Hall. It’s weirdly reassuring, especially coming from someone who I doubt is under any obligation to be throwing out positive reviews before a show.

And look, she’s not wrong – Bianka Ishmailovski really is great. The comedian, broadcaster and actor’s 2023 Melbourne International Comedy Festival show is called Like Godzilla, and it’s a candid, X-rated set about refusing to live the way society demands, defying expectations and “smashing the patriarchy”.

If you’re one of Ishmailovski’s 20,000 Instagram followers or a listener of her podcast Sad and Sexy, you’ll be familiar with her particular brand of straight-up, sassy comedy. Recently divorced, newly bisexual and ethically non-monogamous, Ishmailovski bursts onto the stage full of confidence, bejewelled water bottle in hand.

She’s keen to get the “goss”, which acts as a cheeky segue into her own piping hot tea: she recently “fucked an Olympian”. While she’s not naming names (the only hint we get is that the person was part of the Winter Olympics), in the cosy confines of the Old Council Chamber, Ishmailovski has the alluring ability to make us feel as though we’re all best friends being let in on a juicy secret.

There are tales aplenty of her erotic exploits, and if there’s a sexually conservative bone in your body, prepare to blush. Ishmailovski regales us with saucy snippets about getting down and dirty with a comedian (her reenactment of his dreadful signature move was spit-your-drink-out funny), the “admin” involved with being a sugar baby, being kink-shamed by a guy who wanted her to “use him as a toilet” and the horror of unintentionally going on a date with a nineteen-year-old who “learned about 9/11 in school”.

But it’s a graphic account about getting “intimate with a carrot” that really walks the tightrope of TMI, and will ensure you never look at the “odd bunch” (you know, the deformed veggies in the supermarket that go for cheap) in the same way. Oh, and the moment Ishmailovski realised that she and her mother had squirted during their own individual sexcapades, in “tandem”, if you will. “Like mother, like daughter”, she smirked.

There’s no denying there’s a lot of “depraved shit” packed into this one-hour sesh. But at the heart of this sexually liberating set filled with tidbits of her dating life, Ishamailovski’s core message is all about living your best life, despite what people may think – and that’s something we can get behind.

Love to laugh? Check out these regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Stand Up

It's been a difficult three weeks for the multi-award-winning cabaret extraordinaire Reuben Kaye. Since being unceremoniously ‘cancelled’ for a bawdy religious joke he told on Channel 10’s The Project, he’s had thirty five Daily Mail articles written about him and become a one-man lightning rod for conservative ire.

But Kaye, who made himself a household name with The Butch is Back and The Kaye Hole, is too strong of a comedian to let himself be the butt of someone else’s joke. With Live and Intimidating, he reclaims the narrative that has sprung up against him. Two minutes in and he’s already aiming the hypocrisies he has been subject to with intelligence, wit and his signature microphone trailing a long thread of horse hair behind him. Public outrage is a whetstone for a sharp tongue and there’s none sharper than Kaye’s.

Live and Intimidating sees Kaye at his most unbridled. The poise and wit we’ve come to expect from him is here, but it’s stormier, more unpredictable. He is a comedic live-wire; bombastic, furious and magnetic. Speeding through non sequiturs that range from anti-monarchy conspiracy theories to kinky hot takes on The Godfather, Kaye’s wry asides are punchier and more frequent. He’s given himself free reign for an hour to follow every impulse, offering a showcase of his killer natural instincts as a performer. Ad-libs are sharp as ever, and Kaye’s control of his audience – whether straddling, caressing or lovingly insulting them - remains unparalleled. 

Bawdy anecdotes and show-stopping songs – backed by his incredible three-piece band – are interspersed with confessional monologues fuelled by genuine anger and frustration. Reciting bigoted emails and online hit pieces, Kaye laughs at the hate he’s received. But behind punchlines and intelligent commentary, a real vulnerability shines through; a sense of the effects of being subject to such constant vitriol as a visibly queer person.

You could hear a penny drop during Kaye’s soulful rendition of ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’ following such descriptions of that hate he’s been subject to. Kaye might be known for his soaring top notes, but his baritone is equally smooth. And if the song were intended to be an explicit question for his audience, the 10-minute standing ovation that followed his last bow might offer something by way of a resounding answer.

Kaye’s taken all recent outrage in stride; and with heels like his, what a stride it is.

Live and Intimidating will run until April 23 at the Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne. Book tickets here. The Kaye Hole will take place on April 15 and 22 at the Forum Melbourne. Book tickets here.

After some rib-splitting comedy? Check out who else is performing at the 2023 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Advertising
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Prue Blake was never the popular girl growing up, spending her formative years “developing a personality” instead of bonding with the gals. From this premise springs forth Unfriended, a darkly hilarious meditation on the nature of friendship tracing Prue’s friend break-ups over the years. 

The show hinges upon one central metaphor. According to Prue, “friendship is like a marathon, pointless and no one cares”. Through detailing the heartbreak and strange relief of friendship breakups, Prue has a lesson to teach us. Maybe being a “difficult person” isn’t the worst thing you could be, and maybe not all friendships are meant to be of the everlasting BFFL variety.

This is Prue’s first solo show at Melbourne International Comedy Festival; however, she’s already scored accolades in the form of the 2020/21 RAW Comedy National Championship crown and a prestigious Moosehead Award grant for Unfriended. She also performed at Edinburgh Fringe last year - what a warmup for MICF!

Tonight, she’s in top form weaving a fast-paced web of personal history from the schoolyard to schoolies and her time as a town planner pondering problems like “How do you get people to ride the bus in Melbourne?” (you can’t). Outrageous quips like “I’m more than just my pubes” and “wet wipes are nature’s shower” fill the Town Hall’s intimate Backstage Room with uproarious laughter that bounces off the walls.

Prue keeps it light and snappy with one-liners and neatly matched callbacks galore, but there’s also some serious wisdom in here about self-acceptance and growth. And if you, like Prue, struggle to keep friends for the long haul, this show proves you’ve got other options. After all, Prue’s mum spent her entire childhood telling her, “I’m not your friend”, only to come crawling back when Prue was in her thirties, looking for a bestie.

Unfriended is on at Melbourne Town Hall until Sunday, April 23, and this is your official warning to snap up a ticket before it closes. If there was any show to attend by yourself, it’s this one, so stop waiting for your ‘friends’ to say yes and snap up a ticket. Or bring your mum, she’d probably love to hang out!

Read our interview with Prue Blake on tarot readers, niche comedy and when it’s worth shaving your legs.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

It was ashes to ashes, funk to the downright funky with Ross Noble’s Jibber Jabber Jamboree MICF show. The tousle-haired comic leapt onto the stage – and across all the fake jungle vines – and was welcomed by an applauding audience itching to see the reigning champion of surrealist improv.

Should you need to keep track of Noble’s stream of consciousness, it’d be wise to bring a map. Or, sit back and let the comedians undulating Geordie accent whisk you on a journey with enough diversions to leave a halo of twittering birds orbiting your head. In signature fashion, Noble somehow managed to squeeze all sorts in his show from Mother Theresa, the F1 (his sound effects deserve a show in themselves), Barack Obama doing mime, monkeypox, shoeing a horse, to having sex to the Ghostbusters theme tune. 

I saw Noble on the Adelaide leg of his tour, and he was hysterically funny, bouncing off the audience’s energy like a Duracell Bunny. This time around, something didn’t quite bite. Perhaps this was our fault. As is always the case with Noble’s spontaneous stand-up, the heckling and conversations with his audience are a big part of the routine. Fresh off being at the F1, Noble pressed some theatregoers about their experience, but they gave him crumbs to work with while the rest of us drifted off into the distance. “Don’t lose me!” Noble implored the audience as he tried to zap juice out of what may as well have been a banana.

Fortuitously, the comedian stroke luck when an audience member called Shania piped up to say she had brought her mother with her – in a cremation box. It transpired that one of her last dying wishes was to sit at the front row and “heckle” Noble. Absolutely gazumped, Noble took the remains onto the stage. “This is the weirdest double act ever,” he jested. After teasing that he would scatter the ashes on stage to do a snow angel, ripples of laughter reverberated around the theatre. Saved by the box.

It wouldn’t be a Ross Noble if there weren’t moments in the show that caused you to bite your lip. That’s part of his provocative schtick. From gender politics to terrorists, you can’t help but sit upright at moments and wonder if, as Noble even asks himself, tonight is the show where he “gets cancelled.” But while he may tread close to the line, he somehow always somersaults back to safety. 

Perhaps more of a jibber jabber than a jamboree, it is well worth seeing for an insight into a wizardly mind where tangential thoughts run amuck. What’s more, only a comedy squirrel like him could somehow spin nuts, seeds and fruit out of someone’s grief. Noble stuff indeed.

Running until April 23, book tickets to see Jibber Jabber Jamboree on the MICF website here.

After some more knee-slapping comedy? Check out the regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

Advertising
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Josie Long's indignance is white-hot. When it comes to the powers that be, she can’t help but catastrophise about her country’s dismal-looking future. The British stand-up comedian is anti-monarchy, anti-landlords, anti-surveillance, anti-conservative, anti-London, anti-culture war and anti-The Crown. "Noooooooooo, not The Crown," the audience pleaded in the dimly lit cloakroom of the Town Hall. “I said what I said when I said it,” Long declared with tongue-in-cheek. 

Not afraid to ruffle a few feathers, Long has always been unashamedly polemic in her comedy, using the stage as her podium to finger-wag and hold the upper echelons of society to account – as she should. It has been a rough couple of years in ol’ Albion, and it is always refreshing to hear from someone who uses humour as a vehicle to raise important issues, from the cost of living to climate change and human rights.

In the past few years, the triple Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee has surfed rolling waves of change which has led to her show Re-Enchantment. She’s turned 40, had two children (she’s the first one to have done this, did you know), and after the “orangutan with peanut butter for teeth” (Boris Johnson) won the UK election in 2019,  she moved from London to Glasgow. The icing on the cake? She’s been diagnosed with ADHD. “I thought ADHD made me unique,” she claimed, “but it turns out every comedian has it.” 

Re-Enchantment took a while to kick into gear, and her stories of looking like a mafioso in lockdown – albeit a tad funny – felt past its use-by date. But it was when Long began to speak of politics and moving from her “haunted shoebox” flat in London to Glasgow that the coals started burning. A “self-coined socialist” (she can’t be arsed with all the reading that comes with communism), Long is considered to be the “bougie” one amongst her brothers in arms where, with a flat white and biscotti in tow, she sets out to right the worldly wrongs. 

In what felt like the same breath, the comedian lampooned right-wing politicians and woke-bashers, while whimsically describing domestic life from outdoor playgrounds to pesky indoor beetles. Swinging her mic back and forth nonchalantly, she assured us she wants her shows to be “good vibes only” and is even practising Buddhist compassion for her orangutang-looking enemies. But this is a comedian who can’t resist a spiel – or lacing her mantras with sarcasm. 

She’s convincing, too. After her hour-long set, you almost feel like flicking your fists up, heading for the barricades and painting the town red. But while this may sound like more of a putsch in a pub backroom than a comedy show, you’d be sorely mistaken. Long deftly compounds the political with the personal with her neat turn of phrase and musings on life and newfound motherhood. 

Whether it’s through her infectious enthusiasm, intimate rapport with her audience or the quips dotted slickly throughout the show, the comedian reminds us that even in the darkest of days, there’s always something enchantable to be found.

After some more knee-slapping comedy? Check out the regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

There's no doubt that Sammy J brims with talent and is supercharged with confidence. From the moment the comedian shimmy J'd his way onto the stage, the Forum Theatre sprang to life for his show Good Hustle

Opening the show with energy and pizzazz, Sammy J had the audience hooked from the offset, and we felt left in the hands of a true professional. Best known for his sketch characters on ABC, Sammy is truly jazzy, jolly and a Jack of all trades. 

As is the case for any ABC-focused content, there was the expected social criticism-focused line-up of jokes that covered the depths of all things Australiana. But for a politically disengaged Australian citizen like myself, a handful of references to politicians occasionally drifted over my little brain. However, for most of the sketch performances, the references did not matter, given the unbridled piss-taking of politicians that could easily be copied and pasted slapped onto the face of any ol’MP.

Even for those unfamiliar with his characters, the comedy of Sammy’s show pierced through all his well-adorned fake facial hair wigs, speedy outfit changes, and medley of accents. The sheer variety throughout the show meant that any flatter interpretations were quickly forgotten about with the next energy-filled hit of a take on stereotypes that local audiences know all too well.  

Part of Sammy’s magic was ignited by inviting us into his performances. Within the first few minutes, we were up on our feet doing Boomer-specific yoga stretches, such as "reaching for our fifth investment property" and "pushing Millenials out of the housing market". 

Another highlight of the night was a skit of absolute delirium and hilarity with the introduction of the Leader of 'Hookturnistan', which was Sammy’s sartorial take on Dan Andrews and the Victorian government’s lockdown restrictions. A booming national anthem filled the Forum as Sammy stomped onto the stage in his best Vic-tator garb, and we were demanded to stand, sit, and stand again. 

Sammy was accompanied throughout the show by his co-writer, the accomplished lawyer James Pender whose physical comedy got many of the night's biggest laughs. Transforming from a very hungry Barnaby Joyce, to a guitar-slinging and Bundy smuggling bogan into a dancing potato. James was woven in at the perfect moments to keep the audience alive as Sammy presumably changed into his next outfit. 

Sammy’s songs are really where he shines brightest. In weaving the wisest of witticisms into the catchiest of carols, Sammy got the audience invested with each of his snappy, singable tunes. The song “You’ll Never Know What It’s Like” was a crowd favourite and lamented the fact that Gen Z-ers will never experience childhood highs like rewinding a cassette tape with a pencil or everyone being cool with a man dressed in a clown suit hugging a child at a McDonald's-themed birthday party.

All in all, Sammy J served us exactly what we could have expected and we lapped up outfit changes aplenty, musical numbers galore, and even a surprise guest video appearance from the Anthony Albanese. It was a rollicking show that all hookturnistans will no doubt enjoy – restriction-free.

After some more side-splitting comedy? Check out the regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

 

Advertising
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

It’s one of the golden rules of seeing a comedy show: don’t be tardy, lest you want to find yourself in the firing line. Thankfully, after sneaking in five minutes late to Alex Ward’s show ‘Saving For A Jet Pack’ at the Comedy Republic, we stragglers were spared a spray of accusatory questions and instead caught the end of the happy news that Ward recently got engaged.

Is there an actual wedding on the cards though? It's a maybe, according to Ward, who would rather “spend our money on anything else, like eating burrata three times a week”. Ward is in a queer relationship, so she has thought of ways to cut down on the matrimonial costs, including telling potential vendors that the big event is simply “two sisters having a joint birthday”.

Ward’s nonplussed delivery, deadpan stare and storytelling panache are a deadly comedy combo, and she breezes through wild tales of being mistaken for Ricky Ponting in India to pretending to be her mother’s new husband after her parents divorced with an easy nonchalance that you can’t help but be charmed into a hearty laugh.

She talks about being at that “worst level of fame”, where she can (mostly) go about her normal routine but every now and then encounters a “person that thinks they know me”. Not for her comedy prowess though, more that she looks like she works for the “Boroondara Council”. Her mum gets another mention for doing “Boomer shit” on Facebook and wanting Ward to “run her account”, and a bit about quitting coffee only to abandon the strict stance because it’s “worth the anxiety” goes down a treat among Melbourne’s discerning caffeine-guzzling crowd.

Speaking of anxiety, the best moment arrives when Ward discusses the biggest stress factor in her life: her “anxious and depressed dog”. Thunderstorms trigger this perturbed pooch, whose favourite pastime is “fighting the sky”. It ultimately leads to an impressively immersive soundscape with recorded dog barks and flailing arm movements, all set to the classic banger ‘Sunchyme’ by Dario G.

There are a couple of times when it feels as though the pace is slowing, and a few of her jokes tie up a little too predictably. But it’s when Ward is simply herself – down to Earth, slightly sarcastic and intimate in her reflections with the audience – that she’s at her funniest.

See Alex Ward at the Comedy Theatre until April 23. You can book tickets via the MICF website.

Want more LOLs? Check out the best reviews of the 2023 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Stand Up

It’s that time of the year when you’re confronted with how little progress you’ve made towards your overly optimistic New Year’s resolutions. As the guilt and shame start to settle in, you might be tempted to use this as an opportunity to take a long, hard look at yourself; perhaps you’ll be inspired to buy a self-help book or enrol in mindfulness classes to try to make yourself a better person. But instead, why not save some time, effort and money by opting to attend this show by Lawrence Mooney on the merits of simply accepting that you’re a loser? 

Mooney is a self-described self-help addict and has unsuccessfully tried it all: books, classes, breathing exercises, mantras, influencers - you name it, he’s tried it. Armed with a giant flip pad, Mooney (who is perhaps best known for his spot-on Malcolm Turnbull impression) shares his top tips, including killing your dreams and accepting that you’re simply not good enough. 

On paper, that probably sounds depressing, but thanks to Mooney’s expert comedic timing, you’ll be laughing too much to realise the true depths of your despair. Across the hour, a few of Mooney’s jokes didn’t quite hit the mark; namely, some tired quips about the ‘woke left’ with no tie-in to the overarching theme of the show. But these moments are few and far between, with most of Mooney’s set leaving the audience in stitches. 

When the hour is up, you might feel two things: motivated to be your true (awful) self and unsure of where to go from here. Don’t fret: Mooney wasn’t sharing this advice out of the kindness of his heart; it’s also partly to promote his book of the same name, where you can get even more of his de-motivational tips. 

Lawrence Mooney’s Embracing Your Limitations is at the Athenaeum Theatre from March 29 to April 9. Tickets start at $35 and are available through the MICF website.

Want to know which shows have us LOLing in the aisles this year? Check out our guide to Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2023.

Advertising
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

To the floor-filling tune of Kylie Minogue and on the grounds of the Queen Vic Market, the backdrop was set for a night of bacchanalian revelry. Our stewards for this voyage? The comedy duo Sweeney Preston and Ethan Cavanagh who whisked us away on a journey of wine, wit and whimsy.

“We can get a bit loosey-goosey around here,” Captain Sweeney warned me with a cheeky grin. And in fairness, the night was just that, a gaggling hour of no holds barred fun. Nestled adjacent to Queen Vic market, ReWine made for the perfect intimate space. The cosy venue undoubtedly contributed to the overall flow of the evening, where the audience was invited to engage (and mock) not only the hosts but one another. 

Starting the night with bottles of energy, Sweeney and Ethan offered up vines-worth of jovial, banter-heavy jokes and introduced us to the “bullshit bell.” The little prop was given to an audience member, with the permission to ring anytime there was any instance of, you guessed it, bullshit. Safe to say, the room reverberated with a symphony of rings throughout the show. 

After a quick round of questions to gauge our level of vino-based knowledge, our hosts boasted that they were no experts themselves. In their words, this was the one instance where going to see non-experts do something is successful, telling us, “You don’t go to a shit dentist for fun”. Although for many this may be true, witnessing non-experts give authority on strange topics is what our world is built on (hello politicians, hello influencers), and the thrill of a tooth drill will never not get me going. 

For the same reason, we don’t go to school to drink; we don’t go to a comedy show to learn, so their lack of expertise only added more grapes to the humour. However, fret not, my knowledge-hungry winos; you will leave satiated. The venue's resident sommeliers, Jordy and Mel, were on hand to discuss the qualities of the wine imbibed.  

Although some of the jokes had hints of corniness, they were done with enough charm that we still laughed along the way. Plus, the ingenious combination of wine and comedy meant that some flatter jokes became progressively funnier with each glass knocked back.

One highlight was Sweeney’s analysis of the difference between human behaviour after a bottle of red versus white: “Bottle of red: go to bed, bottle of white: text him” – something to which many of us can sadly relate. The songs played in the pauses in the show appealed to the millennial palate with their selection of late 90s and early 2000s pop bangers that left our heads spinning around – or was that the shiraz?

Perhaps more performative than informative, this show is perfect for those looking for a rollicking night of comedy and wine – with a few fun facts chucked in. While some of the jokes may have come out a bit corny, they sweetened the audience with an affability that left us walking on cloud wine.

After some more knee-slapping comedy? Check out the regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Wordplay is clearly very dear to Dilruk Jayasinha’s heart, so he must have been delighted to discover that his first name translates from Hindi to English as ‘heart-stop’ (even if he’s actually Sri Lankan).

Because another thing very close to Jayasinha’s heart is a stent inserted during last year’s festival when an 80 per cent blockage was discovered in one of his arteries, known evocatively as ‘The Widowmaker’. Presumably a terrifying experience, but also a gift for someone who excels at storytelling and Jayasinha relays the tale of how a minor pinch in his arm turned into a near-death experience with no shortage of aplomb.

Proceedings begin with a few minutes of crowd work as Jayasinha asks audience members what their names mean, which reaps the former accountant plenty of dividends as he handles the room expertly and deftly weaves the resulting exchanges into later passages of the show. The heart attack yarn unsurprisingly takes up a significant chunk of the remainder, with Jayasinha also riffing on some familiar topics like his overly supportive family and his struggles with weight and dealing with a negative inner voice.

Whatever past battles with self-esteem, one thing Jayasinha is not short on these days is confidence, and he does carry over some faux-arrogant flourishes from his early days when they felt a little bit more enjoyably ironic. He also can’t seem to resist a puerile gag or genitalia reference, which mileages may vary on, culminating in an excruciating (in more ways than one) account of an unlikely bikini wax. A classic case of the reviewer being out of step with the rest of the crowd perhaps, given the rapturous reception it received.

It’s difficult to fault the skill and execution on show here or the energy level that Jayasinha is able to build and sustain in a large room. Even if not all of the material worked for this particular audience member, the majority response was undeniable.

After some more knee-slapping comedy? Check out the regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

Advertising
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Guy Montgomery is as shocked as anyone to realise he’s considered a man now. But despite being a 34-year-old stepdad, he hasn’t lost any of the boyishly oddball charm that has powered his ascent from cult favourite to minor TV stardom in this part of the world.

Montgomery’s trade is off-kilter observational gear heightened by strange and sometimes daringly surreal flourishes. It’s a method that leans heavily on his affable weirdo effect, and he generally does a remarkable job of bringing an audience onto his undeniably unique wavelength.

Off the top, he tests the waters with a little deconstruction of the stand-up show ritual before some exceptional riffs on well-worn topics like advertising and not being good at parties; the dexterity with which he juggles (and sometimes blends) the personas of baffled everyman and a buffoon entirely lacking in self-awareness is quite remarkable.

The show continues with straightforward musings and personal experiences alongside more bizarre stoner-ish thought experiments. Given his inimitable perspective and the degree of difficulty he sets for himself, it’s perhaps inevitable that not everyone gets on board for all the rides. Montgomery does have an unfortunate habit of refusing to shut a yarn down before it has overstayed its welcome (even he cheerfully admits a routine about business-fish goes on too long).

But when he does hit, the results are spectacular. A restaurant’s somewhat ambitious mantra to redefine what it means to eat gets what it deserves to magnificent effect. Montgomery’s predilection for an unexpected gear change – most memorably, a passionate rep for the allegedly underrated delights of Cremorne, where he is staying – keeps the audiences on their toes and the mood buoyant throughout.

For all his youthful exuberance, Montgomery is clearly also relishing life as a family man, with the clash of his mature and immature modes informing the show’s closing yarn. But as happily settled as he is, it’s hard to imagine this Guy ever truly growing up. And we’re all the better for it.

After some more knee-slapping comedy? Check out the regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Have you ever imagined the title of the unnecessary novelisation of your memoir? Probably not, unless you’re a ragingly hilarious Gen Z narcissist like British comedian Leo Reich’s not-bothered, nihilistic alter ego of the same name.

For the ignominious record, he named it A Portrait of the Artist as a Ripped Slut. We know this because Reich proceeds to read from the comically oversized tome on stage. Honestly, why bother consuming the thoughts of anyone else but yourself? This should establish the tone of this razor-sharp satire, lancing our extremely online times in a savage hour that’s all Leo Leo Leo in a supremely LOL way. 

Nominated for Best Newcomer at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, abundantly queer thirst trap Reich appears sporting a skin-tight gym lycra top, short shorts and hefty leather boots that live in that liminal space between athleisure and club kink. Assuming we’re all on board with the world revolving around him, he’s unbothered by decorum, morality, politics, protest or anything other than getting laid by guys who hate him.

Bounding around the stage with abundant bad energy, Reich punctuates his schtick with side-splitting techno-pop musical interludes as lit as his eye makeup. Using and abusing terms like gaslighting and gatekeeping, he tosses out fake apologies for outré asides and silences every applause (there are many) with a harried, “We don’t have time.” 

A gloriously bonkers piss-take variant on the “youves of today” narrative, the Reich of Literally Who Cares?! isn’t the same as the real-life comedian. The latter conveys a terrifying sense of impending doom underlying the show, sped up by the pandemic and exacerbated by the climate and cost of living crises. Any twentysomething has every right to ask what the point of it all is if we’re not even sure of a future? No wonder so many perform bits on TikTok, a platform that, just like Reich, allows them to say smart stuff about identity and anxiety through the medium of seeming silliness.  

Also Jewish, apparently Reich’s asked every night if anyone else in the crowd is and has been met with resounding silence. Until the night we see him, that is. He impeccably rolls with a sassy clapback from a fellow Jewish dude who wonders if the no-shows might be down to Reich’s name… (You can tell where we’re at in the world when Nazis are a recurring theme this Comedy Fest). 

Reich may act like the push for minority rights is boring, but we know he knows it’s not. This stage exaggeration is the monster we have created, and rather than retreating to a safe space, we should stare into the abyss because he’s dishing out the wicked good stuff. 

After some more side-splitting comedy? Check out the regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

 

Paid content
Advertising
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Bearded, silver-haired and playing in much smaller rooms than the theatres he performed in for years, you could be forgiven for thinking that the now 52-year-old Dave Hughes is taking stock and wants to return to his club comic roots. Perhaps an unplugged version of his usual livewire act, a gear change from his usual ‘my family are driving me mad!’ schtick, something more nuanced or unguarded perhaps.

Not so much. Hughesy is as Hughesy does and this offering will not disappoint or alienate anyone who came for rants about Uber Eats, road works in the CBD or those crazy Covid restrictions. And as low-hanging as such topics might be, Hughes’ finely-tuned ‘angry everyman’ energy rarely fails to deliver decent laughs.

Hughes’ gift is being able to make considered and well-structured stories sound like they’re being told for the first time by the funniest bloke down the pub, as well as demonstrating a constant, crippling need for self-validation and seeming baffled when people laugh at this.

Wanting to be recognised by everyone you meet is a deeply weird ambition to share - jokingly or not - but Hughes does a remarkable job of occupying a liminal space between household-name celebrity and relatable normality. For example, his alleged horror when nobody in his crowd admits to watching The Masked Singer (easily the best moment of the show) is quickly followed by him slagging it off and getting in on the joke with everyone else.

Some early material on the recent deaths of his pets (which have clearly had an emotional impact) hints at a more interesting, vulnerable offering but this isn't built upon. Meanwhile, the inevitable whinging about his objectively enviable home life rarely gets out of first gear, not helped by how well-worn the path is (one bit must be half a decade old) and how downright mean it can sometimes be, which your mileage may vary on. There are also some riffs on the royal family, being clueless about what pegging is and taking up vaping as a mid-life crisis crutch, all given the wide-eyed Hughesy treatment, but none of which are elevated beyond the ordinary.  

To be fair, we have no right to expect Hughes to change a successful formula, and it’s not as if he was a particularly edgy comic to begin with. Still, given his exceptional skills it would be exciting to see him venture beyond his own front porch a little more. For now, he continues to provide a dependably enjoyable hour of straight-up stand-up, like slipping on a pair of comfy slippers. We’re a great crowd who knows what it’s in for and we should never forget that. Good on him.

Love comedy? Check out our ultimate guide to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2023.

 

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Life’s going great for hugely popular comedian Geraldine Hickey. She scored the Most Outstanding Show Award at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2021 after narrowly missing out two years earlier.

Even better, she recently got hitched, with fellow comedians Rhys Nicholson and their partner Khyran Wheatley joining Nath Valvo as her flower girls. Celia Pacquola was in attendance, and country and western superstar Becky Cole as their wedding singer, with the magnificence that is cabaret queen Geraldine Quinn bringing her all into the band.  

Just in case you miss one of the many, many call-backs sprinkled throughout this Comedy Theatre gig, this glorious union also considerably boosted their real estate profile. Hickey and her partner now own three houses: a Melbourne crash pad, a country home and a beach house (where the wedding occurred). While lockdown sparked a love of bird watching for Hickey, her wife went the more unusual route of getting into carriage racing, as driven by Victor, a charismatic member of their menagerie of equine friends, hence the name of the show.

So, as you can imagine, Hickey’s latest gig is a loved-up affair, with plenty of chuckles to be had in an hour of wholesome normcore fun. And there’s absolutely no harm in that in these crazy days in which we live, when flicking on the nightly news is a never-ending mental health hazard. 

Certainly, the Comedy Theatre crowd lapped it up. You can feel the love in the room for a seasoned performer who makes it look easy, with folks blissing out to her thoroughly lovely tales of hush-hush red-bellied parrot twitching and pre-wedding rogue lawn moving. 

But if you’re hankering after a show that does a little bit more than deliver admittedly hearty pub chat, you may wander off a bit during a lazy set-up in which Hickey outlines the basic premise of the reality TV show Say Yes to the Dress. Granted, it does eventually lead to a glittering pay-off, but most of the gig will float away in the evening’s breeze as you leave. If all you want to do is switch off in good company, then hitch a ride with Hickey and let Victor do all the heavy lifting. 

With so many comedians to choose between, check out our ultimate guide to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2023.

Advertising
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

In a world with an abundance of performers and a shortage of medical staff, Jason Leong’s transition from doctor to comedian seems like quite the leap. As the old adage goes, laughter is the best medicine, but the opening night of Leong’s newest show, Brain Drain, left us feeling a little undermedicated. 

Dr Jason Leong is shockingly not just a PhD graduate flouting a doctor title for a reason to puff his chest, nor a talk show host delving into the problems of modern-day Americans à la Dr Phil. He is an actual doctor. Opening with his humorous desire to become Malaysia’s first uncircumcised prime minister, Leong emerged to his opening night set at the Greek Centre’s Mezzanine stage in a dazzling red suit, looking, in his own words, like a bank teller. His infectious enthusiasm made you want to root for him from the get-go; however, some of his material did not have the anticipated punch. 

We devoured his set at the Comedy Gala this year, but his longer opening night set did not have the same defibrillating hit we know him for. It could have been the crowd's energy on a dreary Thursday eve or the need to adapt the material to an audience that doesn’t understand the nuances of Malaysian rivalries.

Most of the opening content centred around racial stereotypes and the current political system in Malaysia. Some of the funny cracked through, but for those not so versed with the intricacies of the Malaysian comedy scene – albeit insightful – his jokes felt more informative than they were laugh-worthy. Much like a doctor’s waiting room, the build-ups to the gags often had a long wait time, and the often predictable punchlines didn’t get the room rolling into the aisles. 

Leong brought us all back into the fold by delving into the universally mock-worthy world of parenthood, referencing his belief that fur babies were just children with a horrible skin condition, and highlighting a comparison between the Bible and fairytales – which, content-wise, are surprisingly not that dissimilar. One of the best moments from the set came from Dr Leong’s analysis of the pathways to princess hood for the quintessential Disney princess. Leong gave us a sharp comparison of Mulan’s gruelling quest to save the Imperial Chinese Empire compared to the lazy and privileged antics of her white counterparts - most notably OG party insta-girl Cinderella, and her sheepish comrade, Sleeping Beauty. 

That said, although not his strongest night, Leong’s pivot from saving lives to mocking them has seen him fly from success to success. His recently released second Netflix special, Ride With Caution, is evidence enough that he is a talent destined for greatness, potentially even on the path to becoming Malaysia’s first uncircumcised prime minister. Although maybe he would be better suited to the USA, where the jump from doctor to celebrity into president wouldn’t be so shocking. 

After some more knee-slapping comedy? Check out the regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

 

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

If you’re unfamiliar with a Saturn return, here’s the gist: it’s when the planet Saturn returns to the exact position it was in when you were born, and some believe it’s associated with major life changes. It takes around 29.5 years for this astrological phenomenon to occur, and comedienne Jordan Barr has just passed that threshold and uses her newest show, Saturn Return Lol, to explore the milestones that have (or haven’t) been achieved. 

Like in last year’s show, Dreams, Barr is again equipped with a pastel-themed PowerPoint presentation that she talks around like a professor giving a lecture, and there are enough references to pop culture (Barr weighs in on the Diana-Camilla feud to the timelessness of The Sound of Music and her questionable aspiration to be a Dance Mom) to make your head spin on its axis. 

Despite the similarities, Barr doesn’t achieve the same unhinged wackiness as last year, and something is missing. In this set, Barr is strongest when she wields her impressive wealth of pop culture knowledge, shining bright with her niche knowledge of the real Von Trapp family and the royal family. But several sections are overworked and don’t quite land, like the series of questionable mocked-up Instagram posts she created to show how she’d announce major milestones. 

It’s still an enjoyable hour, and admittedly a lot of the material seemed to mostly hit home with the crowd that skewed younger (Gen Z, perhaps) than this Millennial reviewer. But no matter the generation you belong to, there are laughs to be had and the odds are high that Barr will pique your curiosity about Saturn returns and once you get home, you’ll be Googling when yours comes around.  

Want to know which shows have us LOLing in the aisles this year? Check out our guide to Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2023.

Advertising
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Anyone familiar with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival knows Diana Nguyen. Her signature blend of honest storytelling and gaudy wit (as well as her charming snort-laugh) has made her a festival staple since her first show back in 2016.

In Going All In, she emerges from a seven-year journey of self-discovery and soul searching. In the years since that first performance, she’s surfed the world’s most dangerous waves, fallen in love and even dabbled in holotropic breath therapy. Now, she’s ready to go ‘all in’ and dive even deeper into her past. And she’s taking us along for the ride.

Early on, Nguyen describes the show as a chaotic collection of moments of ‘fight or flight’ throughout her life, from a failed Australian Idol audition in 2003 to a near-death experience in Bali. With charm and charisma, she unpacks personal baggage and embarrassing memories with break-neck speed, like pitching her new app, ‘Dick Advisor’ and unpacking her fear of the ocean in the same breath, recounting her featured role on Bondi Rescue and exploring her experience as a second generation Vietnamese Australian in the next.

It’s fifty minutes packed with bawdy anecdotes, physical skits and original music that swings boldly between the outrageous and the sentimental. While it’s an incredibly personal show, Nguyen never takes herself too seriously. In her hands, ‘intergenerational trauma’ – a phrase she defines simply as meaning ‘we’re all fucked’ – can be found in the unlikeliest of places, from her love of hoarding vibrators as well as her refusal to learn to swim.

She speaks fondly of her childhood in Springvale as the daughter of a single Mum and evokes an eclectic array of memories with tongue-in-cheek impressions and exaggerated physicality. Her relationship with her mother – a Vietnamese refugee who arrived in Melbourne in the 1970s – is the beating heart of the show and the closest it gets to a narrative thread.

Some might struggle to follow the connections between each segment or tire of some jokes that recycle familiar comedic terrain, but Nguyen’s confidence ensures you’re in safe hands throughout. And her interactions with audience members make for many of the show’s best moments.

We are the waves she surfs on in Bali and the chorus echoing her loving anthem to boba milk tea, one of her 17,000 LinkedIn followers and the judges of her Australian Idol audition. At every opportunity, Nguyen pulls us into the show. If she’s ‘all in’, we’re right there with her. 

Stuck on who to see? Fear not; we’ve created an ultimate guide to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2023. 

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Having been described in his promotional material as a “dark”, “edgy” comic, it feels slightly incongruous to see Michael Shafar bound on stage and make friends with almost the entire audience off the top. Nothing in the rule book to say you can’t be affable and still flirt with crossing the line of political correctness, of course, so we wait to see what topics Shafar will dare to tackle that will presumably have a woke Melbourne crowd squirming in its seats.  

We’re still waiting. The affable Shafar deals in run-of-the-mill observational gear on topics like enjoying a quieter life as he gets older alongside some galaxy brain thought bubbles like how we should allow drunk women to drive themselves home as it’s the statistically safest option or how questionable the term ‘person of colour’ is when you really think about it.

The success of these gambits varies – not helped by tortured logic, unlikely set-ups or punchlines that can be seen coming from a suburb away – and as much as some of the material yearns to be controversial, it’s hard to recall a truly shocking idea or moment of genuine tension that you might reasonably expect from an alleged edgelord. A bit about how evil the queen must have been based on an innocuous fact is well delivered and gets one of the night’s biggest responses, but it’s tough to get past the flimsiness of the premise.

One hopes Shafar can relax a little and play to his strengths. He’s at his best when engaging the audience directly, referencing some effective multimedia, or giving his material the best chance to land without unnecessary recourse to affected delivery. As far as this offering goes, despite technical proficiency and some interesting starting points, this ends up being a lot less edgy, and a lot more middling.

After some more knee-slapping comedy? Check out the regular comedy nights in Melbourne.

Recommended
    You may also like
    You may also like
    Advertising