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Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Photograph: Jim Lee

Your guide to Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2022

Which shows have us LOLing in the aisles this festival?

Cassidy Knowlton
Written by
Cassidy Knowlton
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There's something absolutely electric about Melbourne during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The festival takes over the city like no other, and you're guaranteed a good night, whether you book a big headliner or just take a punt of a name you see on a flyer at Town Hall. Our reviewers have been sussing out the best of the fest this year, from big names to newcomers to watch out for. Here are some of the best shows for MICF 2022. 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

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

Reader, I have seen a lot of comedy this Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It's one of the perks of this brilliant job. I've seen some very good shows, but I'd yet to find anyone who had that certain something I'm always looking for in comedy, the ability to make me laugh until my stomach hurt and tears were threatening my mascara. Was I being too harsh on comedians who hadn't performed in two years? Should I be grading on a curve? We have a saying at Time Out, "you'll feel a five-star show in your waters". And finally, here it was: Gentle Man is a five-star show.

Chris Parker is a household name in his native New Zealand, but this, surprisingly, is his Melbourne International Comedy Festival debut. And what a debut it is. Parker has boundless enthusiasm and a rapid-fire delivery that brings to mind Rhys Nicholson at his finest. He's constantly in motion, using pointed side-eye and constant mugging to emphasise his points. Unlike most of the shows I've seen this year, this show isn't about lockdown or Covid-19, and its timeless material therefore feels more fresh and vibrant than the tired "remember when we had remote learning" schtick of many of this year's shows. 

There are a few too many F-bombs for this to count as a family-friendly show, but Parker isn't a comedian who has to work blue to land his jokes. Somehow everything from book week dress-ups to his grandmother's funeral to his childhood obsession with Anne Frank is both fresh and screamingly funny. His delivery is pitch-perfect, with a high-octane energy that never wavers. Here, at last, is a show that had the audience scream-crying with laughter. Parker will make you laugh until your stomach hurts. Wear waterproof mascara. 

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy

James Cameron's 1997 epic Titanic is a pretty great movie, but wouldn't it be better with way fewer annoying women and more sick dance breaks? That's what Dazza and Keif (the male bogan alter egos of (Keely Windred and Danni Ray) thought when they were stuck in lockdown with nothing but a Blu-ray of the film and their imaginations. 

The setup leads to the mind-bending gender politics of women playing men playing women, a conceit Windred and Ray have great fun exploring. Dazza and Keif are male archetypes of toxic, if pleasant, masculinity, the type to say "boys boys boys" and "no homo, but". The drag king reversal of queer women playing straight bros is shared with another of this year's festival's brilliant shows, Zoe Coomb's Marr's Dave: The Opener.

But this show isn't a a thesis on the rigidity of gender roles and the harmful effects of toxic masculinity (it is), it is about Titanic (it also is). Or "Titt-anic", as Dazza and Keif call it. Dazza takes on the role of Rose, donning a pink plastic flower crown, sequinned bra and tutu over his streatwear of oversized singlet and baggy shorts. The double sunglasses - one over his eyes and one perched on his head - remain. Keif switches between Jack and Rose's fiance Cal Hockley. They are joined onstage by Dazza's long-suffering cousin Jordan playing locations, props and furniture - the ship itself, the chaise lounge on which Rose is drawn like one of Jack's French girls, the car with the famously fogged windows, that piece of floating wood that definitely had space for both of them.

Each pivotal scene is capped off with a dance break, with Dazza and Keif adding Beyonce's 'Single Ladies', *NSync's 'Bye Bye Bye' and other pop hits from the era into their retelling of the film. Dazza and Keif are fantastic dancers, and these interludes provide the twofold purpose of showcasing talented performers busting moves from dabbing to flossing, the worm to the iconic 'Single Ladies' dance and being very, very funny.

This show is tailor-made for anyone who spent much of the late '90s obsessed with Jack Dawson, Rose DeWitt Bukater or both, which is a demographic that dovetails pretty perfectly with many of the Millenials and Gen Xers who constitute the majority of MICF's 2022 audience. It plays on nostalgia, and a decent working knowledge of the film is probably a must to understand most of what is going on. A dash of feminism and a healthy disdain for the Morrison government's handling of the pandemic will probably help too. If you come armed with all three, you'll leave with cheeks that hurt from laughing and that damn Celine Dion song stuck in your head for days. 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

The sights, the sounds, the fights outside the Swanston Street Macca's: Mark Watson has missed just so much about Melbourne. After three years away, he’s back with a new show and a fresh take on life as a working dad in a Covid world. In This Can’t Be It, Watson is chaotic as ever, moving rapid-fire between stories about flight delays, pandemic gigs, ageing concerns and existential dread. Alongside all this, he interacts with his crowd, makes a superstar out of his Auslan interpreter, and generally reminds us why comedy is good for the soul.  

Watson’s energy is infectious. From the meta-opening in which he pops out from behind a curtain to chat about his pre-show prep, Watson keeps the vibe here astronomically high. This is a genius-level comic doing what he does best. Watson takes the obvious and the everyday and builds layered gags that are as surprising as they are hilarious. He works the crowd like they’re old mates and tosses out one-liners and call-backs with barely a beat. In Watson’s hands, gags about Zoom meetings and Twitter seem new again, and you feel almost disappointed when he cuts off his own stories mid-tangent because he simply doesn’t have time to follow every thread his mind attempts to untangle. It’s magical to watch, and just so funny. 

The best moments in the show, though, feature Watson reflecting on his response to lockdown. The comic turned 40 during the early stages of the pandemic, and his stories here about questioning his place in the world and considering his mortality during that time are truly affecting. To reveal just where these conversational roads lead Watson would be to give too much away, but it’s something to behold when a comic can bring a riotous crowd to silence. It’s a quick moment, but it demonstrates the extraordinary skill at work here. You can’t help but agree with Watson’s mum, who reckons he’s the best comedian in the world (even if no one’s asked him to appear in Poirot).  

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Like most of us, fabulous First Nations comedian and all-round legend Steph Tisdell had grand plans for how she was going to make the most of Melbourne’s seemingly never-ending lockdowns. Fixating on baby names, she discovered that the once-beloved moniker Beryl was close to becoming extinct, having not been deployed in 14 years. Which means there’s a teenage Beryl doing the rounds out there. If only she could track her down, maybe there’d be a show in it? Again, though, like most of us, Tisdell didn’t really pursue her early goal. As the months wore on, she instead focused on managing her mental health and the end of a toxic relationship.

Which led the sometime Deadly Funny National Grand Final winner, Total Control co-star and regular panellist on Hughesy We Have A Problem and The Project to try a different approach for her newest comedy fest show. Chucking out the aborted script, she instead channels an old-school, rawer brand of stand-up comedy. One that follows the flow of her quick-witted brain and big heart, asking for audience members to share their innermost thoughts with her.

There are a few preloaded stories here, including a rock-solid closer that will give you a surprisingly honest insight into her most closely guarded truths. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get to chuckle at her prudish but not perceptibly judgemental amazement at the paraphernalia of sex shops, and specifically the eye-opening use of sounds. But for the most part, it’s a free-flowing evening that showcases just how adept Tisdell is at working a room without freaking anyone out. 

We’re in good and kind hands. Apparently Tisdell’s childhood dream was to be Oprah Winfrey, after all. That kinda comes true when she devotes the second half of the show to interviewing an audience member about any story they want to share, plus mining their guiding nuggets of wisdom. Ours was a heart-tugging tale from a widower that tied into a cherished memory of a happier day at the Town Hall. Whatever happens the night you rock up (and you so should), I’m sure you’ll witness just how generous, sassy and skilled a host she is, even if you don’t walk away with a free car. 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

With a Netflix special, bestselling memoir, multiple podcasts, and a tour set to go global, Phil Wang has gone from a recognisable face on UK TV to one of the fastest-rising international comics around. His new show, The Real Hero in All This, highlights his ability to blend incisive, informed comedy with utter silliness in an hour that features explorations of race and multiculturalism, social media and the complexities of parental expression alongside hilarious chunks about nipple freedom and bellends. It’s with good reason that Wang is everywhere right now. 

Wang returns to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the end of what he refers to as ‘the thing’. The thing, of course, is the pandemic, and Wang marvels as much at Melbourne’s exquisite coffee as he does at the city’s ability to withstand the world’s longest lockdowns. He commiserates before skewering the UK’s response to the situation, which he calls ‘less lockdown-y’ and led by groups comparable to a death cult. The ‘thing’ looms large in this show as Wang dissects everything from doom scrolling and closed borders to the apparent helpfulness of banging on pots and pans outside apartment windows. 

He doesn’t linger on the pandemic, though. There’s too much other stuff to get to, like why Aussies find it necessary to shorten serious words into cute abbreviations, and why white people are so utterly terrified of reheated rice. There’s a funny and affecting bit about a reunion with his dad, and a deep dive into the finer points of life in the UK as compared to Borneo where he grew up. All of this, of course, fits around a lengthy piece on penis measurement. 

As it must. In proper Wang style, the comic gets us laughing with dick jokes while building connections through intimate, engaging storytelling. The Real Hero in All This is inspired work from a comic who just gets better and better. 

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Sammy J has come a long way. His new show, Symphony in J Minor, features songs and poems marking key moments in the comic’s life, from his early days duetting with himself in his bedroom to the birth of his daughter and Melbourne’s recent lockdowns. Sammy notes his joy at finally bringing the show to Town Hall after a two-year Covid-related break and marvels at his move from the much smaller Regent Room as a young comic to the glorious Main Hall stage. It’s a dream fulfilled, he says.

A born performer, Sammy commands the larger stage. His songs about the social and political sticking points of the day are hilarious and provocative. He sings about government apathy in the face of climate change and turns a dubious national catchphrase into a defiant lament. He moves effortlessly through songs and soliloquies on toilet paper shortages and embarrassing Uber conversations to gags about drawing dicks on electoral ballots and the omnipresence of crotch sweat. His natural ability and his skills on the piano make just about any topic relatable and worthy of a sing-along.

Joining Sammy J on stage here is classical cellist (and old schoolmate) Richard Vaudrey. Vaudrey’s accompaniment and musical riffing is a show highlight. A gag involving Sammy and Vaudrey duetting on Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in G Major is a riotous vaudevillian throwback and a testament both to Vaudrey’s extraordinary talent and Sammy J's flawless timing. 

This is solid entertainment from one of Melbourne’s best. That young comic honing his talents in the Regent Room should be so proud. 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

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. 

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Pandemic gags are almost a certainty at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and while other comics might consider the political ramifications of Covid-19, or the existential quandaries of a regulated two-year break from pretty much everything, Dave O’Neil takes a different approach. Bounding on stage in a surgical mask, O’Neil lets us know he’s not wearing it for protection; he just finds it slimming. From here, the comic reminisces about the “good old days of lockdown” and the convenience of using click-and-collect for a Bunnings sausage. A casual link between Covid case numbers and John Farnham’s ubiquitous Whispering Jack album is a uniquely O’Neil-ian take and sets the scene for a night of old-school comedy from a veteran clearly in tune with his crowd. 

There’s an unremitting affability to Dave O’Neil that allows him to build fast connections with his audience. He then links those connections so seamlessly throughout his show that you’d be forgiven for thinking the whole thing was entirely off the cuff. In this night’s performance, a 19-year-old student completing a bachelor of arts gives O’Neil the perfect jumping-off point for stories and one-liners about his own uni experiences and those of his wife and son. A real estate agent in the front row links jokes about everything from new Covid strains to retirement homes and a hilarious bit about O’Neil’s purchase of a beach house in Lorne. 

There’s rarely a beat between what the crowd offers and what O’Neil has to give. Teachers, parents, a nut expert: everyone engaging in O’Neil’s call-and-response becomes a part of the show. In turn, O’Neil becomes everybody’s mate, and we relate to his self-deprecation and relish his casual confidence when discussing his age, his weight, the CPAP machine he sleeps with at night, and his than less-than-stellar career moments. “You’re lucky to have me here, to be honest,” he says. “I could be doing the Warragul Greyhounds.” 

And he’s right. From references to Elle Macpherson and Gravox to Galaga and Leo Sayer’s perm, Best Hair in the Business is joyful way to spend an hour. The good old days, indeed.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Musical comedy

Reuben Kaye opens The Butch is Back wearing a sparkling-pink jacket and waistcoat with a nearly-too-wide pannier hoop-skirt that reveals perfectly high-cut black pants and cummerbund. As he sings ‘Pynk’, Janelle Monae’s 2018 feminine and feminist anthem about the pinks that unite humanity, the comfort, or fear, of the queer space is defined. But what follows becomes a blistering and empowering exploration of gender and masculinity.

Kaye left Melbourne for the UK about a decade ago. Those of us who saw him in the late 2000s knew that he was destined for far more than cramped stages. He was magnificent. And that magnificence has expanded so much that containment is no longer possible and everyone who sees him may never get the glitter out of their hearts. 

With his live band, swishing microphone horse tails (what could they mean!?) and a presence that demands undivided attention, Kaye would be sold out and gushed over if all he did were sing with a voice you feel in your guts and tell outrageously blue jokes. But cabaret was never meant to be safe, conforming or easy.

His early list of why the world is broken – it’s too long to begin to quote – should become the policy list of most governments. But his anger and frustration at the seemingly obvious leads into reflections on the ongoing trauma of being labelled something negative before you even know what it means.

Returning to the Cure’s 1979 ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, he tells his story of growing up white and privileged in Melbourne and of coming out as a teenager to his Jewish family, with their own generational trauma. This deeply personal account is told with understanding, love and high-camp impersonations of his mum, as he also reminds us that a generation of queer father figures and role models died in the 1980s and '90s.

There’s a universal truth found in personal stories. Dropping barriers allows for connection and recognition. While he lets us know why his make-up, with all the eyelashes, is not a mask, there’s space for even his most resistant listener to break for a 14-year-old sitting in his dad’s car – and for his dad.

There’s not a moment of The Butch is Back that isn’t structured to create empathy. The audience hands over their emotional control with joy as he takes us into the dark and shows us that the glimmer of light is really a place so damn rainbow bright, diverse and accepting that finding your way to this world is inevitable. It’s hard to know what tears are for him, yourself, your friends or simply because you’re laughing so much that you’re using your spare face mask to wipe away snot. 

Or simply go for a story that will let you smile knowingly every time you think of that church buying Melbourne’s beloved Festival Hall.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

To Shapelle and Back is a kaleidoscope lens reconstruction of the Australian obsession with a young woman who spent nearly 10 years in prison in Bali.

Alex Hines won a pile of awards at the 2021 Melbourne Fringe for her magnificently frenetic online show Juniper Wilde: Wilde Night In. Her work is a surreal, astute and dark exploration of being in the generation who grew up in a world where being online and wearing glitter became everything.

This story beings in 2005, the year after Shapelle Corby was arrested with 4.2 kg of cannabis in her boogie board bag. Hines wasn’t having a good time in high school when she saw a woman on TV who looked almost like her twin. This woman was also suffering and in the media a lot.

In 2005, social media and smartphones were the future and we sucked up lies, gossip and speculation from tabloids, magazines and night-time current affair shows. There were so many stories about Corby, and along with the abundance of theories, investigations, interviews and sneaky photos, there were jokes. So many jokes about her upbringing, intelligence, looks, family, past, name and gender. The laughs were easy and even came from those who supported her.

Hines has distilled the media and her personal obsession into a story about her and Shapelle being cursed double spirits who must never meet. It helps to know Corby’s story, but if, like me, you didn’t know she was recently on reality TV shows Dancing With The Stars and SAS Australia, Hines gives enough background and context to catch up and understand the references.

It’s not a narrative or a confessional but something like a psychedelic nostalgic trip into her and Shapelle’s subconsciouses, which visit an RSL floor show, prison, YouTube, high school, Instagram chats and a spiritual beyond, all with a millennial pop-culture soundtrack.

It’s confusing at times but always fascinating as it takes the exploitation and tabloid story and sees it with a mix of compassion and obsession that focuses on mental health and trauma. There are still lots of laughs, but they come from release and recognition rather than from the dismissal of a young woman’s suffering.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Stand Up

The last few years have been particularly rough for Japanese comedian Takashi Wakasugi. The global pandemic made his comedy career unviable, he couldn’t get government assistance as a visa-holder, he had to live with his girlfriend’s family for nine months, and that girlfriend subsequently broke up with him. This unfortunate series of events is what fuels Wakasagi’s new show, Stay Home Stay, but instead of wallowing in misery, he exudes contagious optimism and charm, and a mostly unwavering love of Australia.

Wakasagi takes the audience through those nine gruelling months spent under his girlfriend’s parents’ roof, taking care to mention how grateful he was to have a free place to stay as an unemployed comedian. In saying that, he still had his complaints; but in classic Japanese form, he’s incredibly polite about it, finishing every complaint with a big smile while saying “...but I can’t complain.” 

Most of the show’s humour hinges on the cultural differences between Australian and Japanese society, and hearing Wakasagi relay hijinks through this lens adds a whole other layer of humour. The crowd absolutely loses it as Wakasagi shares the discovery of his girlfriends’ parents' shameful guilty pleasure of convenience store sushi, or as he shares some not-so-traditional haikus. 

There’s rarely a moment that the crowd isn’t at least chuckling, but more often buckled over in laughter, at Wakasugi’s clever and often quirky observations. While he sometimes fails to let the bits speak for themselves and is quick to walk you through what’s funny about it, there’s no question that he has a natural affinity for storytelling. He’s clearly at ease on the stage, with a knack for comedic timing and a demeanour that makes you wish he was one of your friends. 

See Stay Home Stay at Trades Hall until April 24, or catch Wakasugi hosting Asian Persuasion at Kicks until April 23. 

Want to know which shows have us LOLing in the aisles this year? Check out our guide to Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2022. 

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Lou Wall’s had enough of making shows about depression and mental health. So, after setting the standard for online brilliance during lockdown, they are back on stage with a live pop album. An album about being gay, not being sad and embracing the pleasure of being a minor menace.

Bleep Bloops are the oops, how-did-that-escalate and so-embarrassing-that-it-belongs-in-a-pop-song moments in life. While not as personal as their extraordinary 2021 That One Time I Joined the Illuminati, this new show draws on similar themes and re-visits past highlights like a new verbatim singing of a social media conversation.

In a lime green shortie tracksuit with cobalt blue stripes, Lou is ready to rave and be comfortable. And despite their own bleep bloops, this is a show about being comfortable even when things are awkward. There’s a song about anti-depressants – that should be played to anyone who doesn’t understand that mental health conditions can be treated – one about their love for short kings, and an anthem that might become a theme song for many festivals: “Gays are always late”.

With the kind energy and enthusiasm that’s as contagious as that damn thing that is still causing shows to cancel, Lou treats their audience like a best friend who they haven’t seen in ages. And we’re so happy to see them that singing along is easy, even when songs have layers of meaning and revelation that sneak up and remind us that being comfortable and happy isn’t as easy as it sounds in a pop song.

If Lou Wall stood on stage and read Ikea instructions, it would still be unmissable. They are developing an original comedic voice that’s blasting away any remnants of dull, straight and blah comedy and declaring the future as glorious, queer and full of wonderfully embarrassing bleep bloops.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

What’s more meta than your (a)typical Zoë Coombs Marr comedy show? A Zoë Coombs Marr show in which she opens for her heinous alter ego – neckbearded dudebro comedian Dave –occasionally wresting control back of her/his body during various Russian Doll-like time loop shenanigans fuelled by (not so) micro-dosed acid. 

It’s a riot, in other words. But one that’s impeccably crafted to seem totally out of control while being devastatingly trained on its prime target. And that is the awfulness of some comedians who have refused to move with the times since Dave last appeared in 2016 (here’s looking at you, recent Grammy winner, and you, Netflix special type who just loves punching down on trans folk). 

It’s the sort of rule-upending gig where Marr, wrapped in a dressing gown, delivers a trigger warning for anyone unfamiliar with Dave’s dickhead schtick. Flagging his penchant for bodily fluids before spurting some fake blood of her own, she blurs boundaries from the off. She also spoils the show’s finale early on, and yet said spoiler will still crack you up when it eventually swings around. That’s the mark of a smart comedian, that they can fool you twice. 

The deliriously fun way into this mayhem, nestled in the Arts Centre’s Fairfax Theatre, is that Dave fell into a coma shortly after we saw him last. So he’s wrestling with some pretty massive shifts in thinking. As Dave reads it, the #Metoo movement is a wave of solidarity supporting Harvey Weinstein and his fellow abusers, one that rails against the cancel culture of mean Twitter feminists. 

Of course he does. His ridiculously dumb handle on things constantly underlines what Marr’s really thinking. It’s a reverse-horror movie when she repossesses the conversation, and Dave just can’t handle it. Mind-melting in the very best way, The Opener is yet another powerhouse performance from one of our finest (and one of our worst). When a certain slap makes its way into their set, let’s just say it’s Oscar-worthy. 

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Wil Anderson’s new show is about survival. From Covid-19 and the NSW floods to the Ukraine war, Anderson’s subjects are heavy ones, and, at times, the comic’s outlook is unreservedly bleak. “I’m fucked,” he says, almost as soon as he takes the stage. “The world’s fucked, everything’s fucked.” It’s clear from the jump this is not your average hour of comedy. True to form, though, Anderson finds the funny in the weightiest of topics. We laugh in commiseration, in recognition, and with stark empathy because, let’s face it, we’re fucked, too. 

Just how fucked? Well, that’s different for different folks. The point is we’re all fucked together, and how we get through will often depend on those around us. If Wilogical has an overriding theme beyond measures of fucked-ness, it’s how community sustains us, even if such a thought may not seem likely at a glance. Case in point is Anderson’s move to rural NSW and his attempts to fit into an area where reason appears scarce: “I moved to the anti-vax capital of Australia at the start of a pandemic,” he says, before proceeding to deconstruct the anti-logic of locals who resist mask mandates, contest science, and share misinformation with the disclaimer that they’ve “done their own research!” Despite all this, Anderson’s new community will surprise him.

While clear in his stance that anti-logic is lunacy, he gives credit where it’s due. He marvels at the fortitude of flood-affected residents and notes community bonds as the key to their resilience. No one else, he says, came to help those managing the catastrophe, so they helped themselves. In encounters with local doctors, neighbours, friends and residents reconstructing a damaged bridge, Anderson reveals the wisdom within the rhetoric. Even if we’re not stupid enough to believe, as some in his new community do, that vaccines erase the memories of children, he’s quick to remind us that we’ve all believed in dumb stuff and grabbed on to hope in extraordinary circumstances. 

Wil Anderson is a master at finding humanity in the strangest things, and while there may be a few easy targets here (Joe Rogan, Q-Anon, crypto-bros), they support his prevailing point. We’re almost certainly fucked, but if we band together, you never know what bridges we might build and rebuild. 

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

What if Oliver Coleman were just another pale male stand-up comic? As if that would ever happen! He’s known for winning hearts and confusing souls with bad cardboard props, nonsensical plots and surreally stupid sketches. Until now.

Sublime is Coleman in jeans and a nice dark-green button-up shirt in front of a black curtain with only a microphone.

Really.

No, of course, it’s not. I mean it is, but this stand-up is a deconstruction of stand-up that includes so many clichés of stand-up that it’s almost perfect stand-up. Except it isn’t.
While many artists satirise being in an industry that’s still perceived as blokes in front of a microphone telling jokes about tits, few do it this well. Coleman understands how stand-up and stand-up characters work and why it can be so infuriating for performers to be compared to blokes standing in front of microphones. And he trusts that his audience will get it and go with his jokes about sport and not yell out that they are bored … unless they are bored.

Sure, he’d rather sit around and have a chat and share his tray of Arnott’s biscuits, but he knows that audiences want relatable jokes, some forced intimacy and to film him taking down a heckler.

Sublime takes so many unexpected turns that it’s hard to know what’s real, set up or joke. It could have gone so wrong, but Coleman is so in control that it hints of genius … before stumbling back to a joke about Eddie McGuire.

And there’s a person in a shark suit sitting in the back row. But don’t worry about that.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Laura Davis left Melbourne in 2019 to live in London, but If This Is it isn’t her story about the decimation of our industry, getting stuck in New Zealand – in the woods – and watching her landlord pack up her flat on Zoom.

It’s not even about being potentially cancelled if stupid people decided that the sight of her breast was offensive and corrupting. Or about an artist who continues to explore her own voice and develop new work that surprises in its originality and hurts in its complexity.
Wearing black jeans, a T-shirt and a jacket, Davis appears to understate every thought as she explains why we don’t get to see her show about animals and the unexplainable beauty of coral. It might have something to do with stupid people, but blaming them would be as easy as laughing at the stupidity of an electric pepper grinder.

She sounds awkward and rambling but, every – EVERY – word is vigorously crafted to tell a story that’s as much a deeply personal reflection on a 14-year career as a gut-felt unravelling about women still struggling to be listened to on stages, and in life.

It hurts to laugh when you don’t know if you should laugh because the joke comes from frustration, anger and despair. But this is laughter that takes power away from the darkness, people and constructs that feed despair. So, if this IS it, laugh when it hurts, laugh when it’s awkward and laugh when you wonder if you should give up.

Laura Davis is IT and more.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

"You have to pay attention in this show, because I go off on wild tangents," Ross Noble admonished a woman in the front row who was, inexplicably, reading the ingredients of her drink can in the middle of his set. "You drift off for one minute, you're fucked."

In fact, there are so many wild tangents it ends up feeling more like tangent than prepared material, which is the mark of a true master of his craft. A bit of easy crowd work leads to a sidesplitting bit about Peter Andre and just for whom the song 'Mysterious Girl' was written. Noticing a woman's work lanyard leads Noble to a very funny conjecture about the nature of thresher machines and security systems within thresher machine companies. And there's a bit about monkeys, dead and alive, that leads to some actual screams in the audience. 

I have no idea how many of these were actually written bits and how many just occurred to Noble in the moment, based on responses from the crowd. Noble is so comfortable on stage and such a consummate professional he has absolutely nailed the 'oh, I just thought of this' off-the-cuff feeling. It's not the setup-joke, setup-joke style you see with less accomplished. comedians and much more of a mad, very silly journey through his mind. During some of the funniest parts Noble didn't even say anything at all, using gesture or facial expressions to telegraph what he wanted to say. Not everything landed, but he is such a pro he can turn even stunned silence around.

If you want a comedy show that is guaranteed to have you laughing, you're in good hands with Ross Noble. But don't drift off.

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Herman Melville’s gargantuan masterpiece Moby-Dick is one of those unassailable classics of popular culture; it will survive any shit thrown its way. Which is just as well, because Lano and Woodley (Colin Lane and Frank Woodley) throw a lot of shit – in the form of juvenile oneupmanship, silly costumes and a series of almost endless comic distractions – at the story of Captain Ahab and his pursuit of the white whale, not so much adapting it for the stage as face-planting at the foot of its opening line.

Part of their well-established schtick is a daring flirtation with failure, a sense that the comic duo are always underprepared, their shows fatally undercooked. So even when problems with the mics grinds the show to a halt – with Colin standing awkwardly on stage as Frank has his mic fixed in the auditorium – they somehow manage to absorb the dead patch and fold it into their central argument. Everything in a Lano and Woodley show is “a little bit shit”, careening towards a kind of reassuring chaos.

We do get a tiny bit of Melville among the inanity, and it’s quite delicious: Colin uses his briniest radio voice for some descriptions of Ahab stalking the Pequod at night, and there is a brief moment when Moby-Dick is spotted and the call of “Thar she blows!” booms through the theatre. But inevitably, Frank shuffles on with some ludicrous pretext for diversion and the wind literally drops from Colin’s sails. Most of time, the two are mucking around with giant squid costumes or knocking each other out with frypans. When the whale finally does turn up, he’s a hand puppet under a dodgy lighting effect.

Of course, audiences don’t come for Melville. They come for the love/hate comic dynamism of these two overgrown kids, and Moby Dick delivers plenty of opportunity for laughs even while it falls rather spectacularly apart as a work of narrative. Colin hones his tendency to impotent rage, while Frank fine-tunes his holy fool act, and together they make a ramshackle but utterly charming pair of nutters. Audiences might not get to the heart of the 19th-century literary classic, but they will have a (very stupid) whale of a time.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Stand Up

We all knew going into this year's festival that we'd be subjected to all manner of Covid-19 and lockdown-related jokes. As expected, 3RRR comedienne Geraldine Hickey kicks off her Now I've Got a Boat show with a rundown of her foray into lockdown hobbies like bread-making, pasta-making and impulsive purchase of a boat. It's a safe and relatable introduction, albeit predictable, but it leads into the true central premise of her show: Hickey's love of the sea. 

Hickey has been in the comedy game for two decades now, but it was only last year that she won the award for Most Outstanding Show for What a Surprise. Just like her career, her delivery style can be described as a slow burn: you don't always know exactly where things are headed, but the journey is engaging and the impact is rewarding and sometimes quite emotional. 

This time around, the journey is seabound and starts with a humble ride in a tinnie. From here, Hickey slowly and masterfully builds up to a poignant bucket list trip to swim with whale sharks. She's self-deprecating, and nearly every joke is at the expense of herself – and nearly every joke lands. 

If you like a side of shock and discomfort with your comedy, you'll leave empty-handed. There's nothing risky here, and Hickey is a master of relaxed and friendly comedy that feels more like a catch-up with your aunty than a stand-up comedy set. In between the laughs are moments that will have you smiling ear to ear, and while it might not be perfect, "it's very nice being here together".

Want to know which shows have us LOLing in the aisles this year? Check out our guide to Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2022. 

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

First to the question on everyone's minds: What is with the snail on the poster? Is this show conceived for malacologists (snail scientists)? Is it "a cultural thing", as Rajan suggests, putting herself in the place of a white audience member booking the show? Is it just silliness?

Rajan uses the premise of a video game to drop into multiple guises: a worm, a mouse at a wedding, a crypto bro at a party, a pyromaniac whale. These are absurd and surprisingly delightful, linking physical comedy with completely ridiculous premises. But she spends most of the show in the persona of a stand-up comedian, a framing device that lets her intersperse wacky animal impressions into a more traditional stand-up set.

In this post-Nannette world, Rajan says, comedy is therapy and therapy is comedy and everyone is on a journey together. She especially needs that kind of mental healthcare because she spent the entirety of Melbourne's lockdowns stuck in her parents' house in Perth, writing jokes in her childhood bedroom while Mark McGowan refused to open the borders to the eastern states. The therapeutic (or at least comedic) result of that experience is the conclusion of her show, an audience participation bit that is absolute gold and neatly ties up the previous hour with a perfect bow. And yes, you will learn what the heck that snail is all about.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

For anyone still finding it difficult adjusting to the unseemly burden of having to dress reasonably nicely and occasionally venture further afield than our five-kilometre bubble, living national treasures Judith Lucy and Denise Scott’s first post-lockdown show, Still Here, might just be the emotional reckoning you’re looking for. Part-confessional, part-exorcism, it’s all about the unruly descent into the madness of the mundane, aka the last two years. 

Directed by theatre whizz Stephen Nicolazzo, the show’s introduced via a scratchy vintage TV-style video. Projected onto the vast curtained backdrop of the Arts Centre’s Playhouse stage we see the pair decked out in (presumably fake) fur coats and arriving in a limo. They then take to two cosy armchairs perched onstage, either side of an ostentatious harp. After a spot of their trademark crowd work – props to the exceedingly chatty man who felt the need to share that he’d just lost a tooth at the footy – they set about divulging way too much information about how their lockdowns went. Expect a lot about unshaven body parts, small hours toilet breaks served with a G&T, and the excitement of arthritis-related medical trips. Also expect a lot of humorous props and withering looks. There’s even a fun bit about who had it tougher: a sex-starved Lucy shielding solo (who steals the show with a saucy bubble buddy joke), or Scotty, who had to put up with her hubby of 41 years 24/7? 

The duo are as droll as ever, and while there’s nothing revelatory here, it’s always a genuine joy to spend an hour in the company of this wisecracking pair. Particularly when Lucy roasts Scotty with a bit of beef over their disastrously curtailed Adelaide Festival run. A trio of dance breakouts – one liturgically themed, another a crochet-wearing exercise number and closing with an ol’ razzmatazz, cabaret-style hurrah – feel a bit extraneous. But there are bitterly funny truth bombs dropped here, about “fuckwit” protestors, the vagaries of the wellness industry, lockdown crushes and the hysteria of the void we all stared into. Lucy also provides a sharp reminder that many of these jokes only make sense in Melbourne. Which is why it’s so good to see them back on the Arts Centre stage. 

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Yes, Flo and Joan are real sisters (though their real names are Rosie and Nicola; the real Flo and Joan are their grandmothers). Yes, they write their own songs. Yes, they sing like sweet angels. And yes, they are very tired of your bullshit.

The musical duo have a knack for turning everyday annoyances into hilarious, catchy songs. Like Lily Allen, they have mastered the art of hiding biting lyrics in pretty harmonies and hummable tunes. Their songs cover everything from anti-vaxxers (a song they'd written in 2018 and had thought they were finished with but have discovered a new relevancy for, for obvious reasons) to why the only two things that truly stick with you are every cringe-inducing thing you've ever done and the colours, in order, of Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. 

Flo and Joan are unabashedly feminist comedians, and on the day we saw them the crowd was filled with a post-Grand Prix crowd who might not have been exactly their target audience. But for women - or anyone - who understands "putting keys through our fingers like Wolverine" while walking home to avoid getting murdered, Flo and Joan are both relatable and hilarious. Their show is tight and polished, their songs catchy and their delivery deadpan. 

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Sadly it’s all too common for comedy to mask the tears of a clown. First Nations legend and self-crowned “Faboriginal” Steven Oliver reveals, in his remarkably candid and deeply generous Comedy Festival debut, that it’s a phenomenon he’s had to navigate. The ABC sketch show Black Comedy brought his witty gift for writing and delivering snappy comebacks – a la “what’s this then, slut?” – to a national audience, but he also struggled with the fame that came in its wake. Indeed, he even got asked to say something funny while at a family wake. 

That aside is a jaw-dropper in what is a remarkably joyous show, despite Oliver touching on the depression, tragic losses, homophobia and racism both casual and not-so-casual he has faced along the way while carving an out and proud career. Prepare for a lot of butt-shaking and attendant anally fixated jokes in a queer celebration of the guiding credo that Black is beautiful. There are also incredibly tender moments, notably when he shares a beautiful memory about coming out to his mum the old-fashioned snail mail way. 

Rocking tuxedo pants and a scarlet velvet blazer, Oliver is a cabaret star with a gift for self-penned rapid-fire rap and show tune croons, plus smooth moves including a tap dance breakout moment. Playing guitar and the maracas, he’s a showman through and through who somehow manages to make the vast space of the Malthouse’s Merlyn theatre feel like an intimate lounge, with Michael Griffiths, artistic director of the Perth International Cabaret Festival, accompanying him on piano. You get the sense they are tight, both as best buds and performers. They certainly work magic together in a powerful hour that deftly leaps from darkness to light and back again. It all adds up to something extraordinary.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Her arrest, trial, conviction, incarceration and eventual release kept the nation on the edge of its seat from the moment she was stopped by customs officers at Bali's Denpasar Airport in 2004. And the saga of Schapelle Corby has been doing the same for theatre fans since the 2019 premiere of this musical biopic.  

Schapelle, Schapelle is proof that you don’t always need spectacular sets and big budgets to create a musical that hooks the attention of its audience. This is an engaging and well paced production brought to life by a pack of talented performers, with riveting songs and sometimes surprisingly complex choreography, all delivered with good humour. An on-stage band is separated from the action by a hip-height wall of brazenly yellow XXXX tinnies. With front-of-house staff dressed in tropical shirts and decorations crafted from boogie boards and disco balls, the vibe is set. 

This show is based on the true events surrounding the Australian woman who set off to Bali with a pocket full of dreams and, whether she knew it or not, a boogie board bag full of marijuana. Schapelle (Kelsi Boyden) and by extension her family are portrayed as naive bogans, concerned for Schapelle’s welfare, loving in their own ways, and occasionally taking up offers like swimwear shoots for lads mags to get by. There’s an endearing air of film classics like The Castle and Muriel’s Wedding to the dag-tastic Australiana of it all. The early 2000s references are that quintessential mix of nostalgia and cringe, with Roxy thongs and knock-off Juicy Couture tracksuits aplenty. 

The truth of whether she is actually guilty of her crime is left ambiguous – this show isn’t about the moral or legal realities of Schapelle’s story. The true subject under scrutiny in this satire is the sensationalism of the Australian television media and Schapelle’s ascent as a modern-day folk hero akin to Ned Kelly or Kate Leigh. We follow the inner workings of the “Channel 19” broadcast crew who orchestrate the Schapelle “ganja queen” spectacle, and the lampooning of the Walkley Awards (the Oscars of Aussie journalism) as the “Wokeleys” is a particularly spicy dig. 

For all the spoofing and the topics left unprodded, this show weaves in some pathos. We see the toll of years of imprisonment and the media circus on the fictional Schapelle, who is helped through her darkest moment through a halucinatory encounter with two women who know all too well what it’s like to be tormented by the misinformed scrutiny of the media and the public – Julia Gillard and Lindy Chamberlain, of course. 

The introduction of the character based on Bali Nine member Renae Lawrence opens up another harsh truth – Schapelle’s position as a conventionally attractive young caucasian woman was a huge factor in earning interest in and sympathy for her fate. If this show was not so innately bound to comedy, you can imagine a theatre adaptation of Corby’s experiences unpacking this knotty issue further, taking to task the overwhelming white privilege that underpinned her elevation by the media to pop culture icon. But even with the narrative hitched to the LOLs, this show does manage to prove a point: as much as Australia is partial to taking down a woman, Australia also loves to idolise a criminal, especially when that criminal is a white person. 

References to palm trees in Queensland are definitely a nod to the viral pop song ‘Palm Trees’ featuring the real Corby on vocals. But the music in this production is more complex than the 2018 track mixed by a university student, which Corby shared with her then 200,000 Instagram followers. With songs including 'Queensland’s Not Waiting for You', 'It’s Just Unjust!' and 'Smuggling My Way to the Top', Schapelle, Schapelle was written by NYU-trained composer Tim Hansen along with Gabbi Bolt, Jack Dodds, Mitch Lourigan, Gareth Thomson and Abby Gallaway, who also directs this production. 

In the program, Gallaway explains that the script has been edited for each incarnation since its debut as a student production at Charles Sturt University in 2018, eventually adding in more of the human story of the Corby family to balance out the satirical edge for the latest incarnation. There was definitely room to go harder with references to the real Schapelle’s trolling of the media – the unassuming girl next door in this show is a leap from the bogan Bali barbie the media portrayed, it's even a stretch to reconcile the character as someone who would game the system and partake in reality television. But the entire point is really that this show isn’t about the real person at all, and just maybe, no other media portrayals we’ve ever seen are about the real person either. 

The cast are clearly all consummate professionals. As the action furthers and the songs become more meaningful, Kelsi Boyden brings some real emotive musical chops to the lead role. Ruby Teys brings great character work to Schapelle’s sister Mercedes. Alice Litchfield is a scene stealer as advantageous broadcaster Dimity, and shows a depth of range in supporting roles. Speaking of range, Emily Kimpton is a dark horse, giving us two sides of the coin as both Schapelle’s mother Rosalie and Renae Lawrence. Gareth Thompson and Mitch Lourigan nail that familiar sense of self-assured, male bravado typical of certain Australia media personalities, and Jack Dodds is convincing as the righteous graduate journalist intern turned sell-out. 

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

If there’s one thing all mortals should know, it’s that the wrath of the gods can be merciless and highly unpredictable. Perhaps, then, it was inevitable that ever-marvellous physical comedian Garry Starr’s uproariously silly Greece Lightning show would spiral into chaos. Tempting fate, he strides out semi-naked onto the Butterfly Club stage sporting lightning-shaped nipple tassels and his trademark whiteboy ‘fro to spin all of ancient Greek mythology in under 60 minutes. All with the aid of a plethora of props and game audience members’ unpredictable assistance.  

It’s fertile material. Tales of gods and monsters pack in barmy plotlines, including a musclebound hunk in search of golden apples, hangry Cronos gobbling up all of his kids, and rampaging soldiers stuffed into the belly of a wooden horse as sweaty as a Melbourne tram in summer. Spouting gleefully mangled malapropisms aimed with arrow-swift visual gags and ingenious use of lollies (you’ll never look at a bag of Allen’s Pineapples the same way again), the gig is a whirlwind hoot. The goddess of wisdom Athena’s name has never been taken in such stupidly funny vain. Gloriously inventive, Starr’s show will have you deep diving deep into your childhood mythological books when he deploys The Little Mermaid’s tuneful lobster for an ode devoted to an unfortunately renamed Plaseidon (god of the sea and afterbirth, apparently).

And then, like a crack of thunder from above, the clash of the Titans erupted and everything ground to a startling halt. Two rowdy individuals did not take well to a polite request to lower the volume so folks could actually hear the show and promptly lost the plot. It is a credit to Starr, the predominantly lovely crowd, and the valiant Butterfly crew that the offenders were swiftly removed and the show did, indeed, go on. All in attendance agreed that, by Zeus, our good night out was not to be thwarted by idiots. 

Hopefully your odyssey will be much calmer, because there’s plenty enough madness on stage, expertly wrangled by the lightning in a bottle that is bright shining Starr. It takes a lot to make mayhem this mirthful seem so seamless, but he threads us through the labyrinth with a lunatic’s charm, a cheeky flash and several jokes about Uranus. Bum rush right to the box office.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Musical comedy

Just whose bright idea was it to lock children in a room for 12 years and treat them all exactly the same, no matter their individual talents, interests and needs? And what happens to kids who are not suited to that style of education, or particularly good at the narrow range of subjects taught in that way?

Jude Perl has some answers to those questions (an advisor to the King of Prussia, in order to build compliant and efficient soldiers to fight Napoleon; and nothing good). The first answer might not be entirely accurate, but the second certainly is. Switching jackets to inhabit a pop star in a bullying PSA, herself in grade 3, a bully in her grade 3 class, a schoolteacher with boundary issues, and the aforementioned royal advisor, Perl has put together a show that’s smart, sharp, just a little bit sad and extremely, riotously funny. She interacts with a multitude of recorded voices to bring the audience back to the cringe-inducing days of sport carnivals, slap bracelets and Lisa Frank-palette shell jackets. Her younger self might not be particularly good at running (or basketball, or maths, or…), but she keeps turning up anyway, and sometimes there’s a reward for that.

She’s an accomplished and funny actor, but Perl has an ultimate secret weapon: she’s an extremely talented singer-songwriter, heading to the onstage keyboard to belt out satirical pop songs that have the audience in stitches. There are a lot of comedian-with-an-instrument acts in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, but Perl’s musical numbers aren’t just a vehicle for funny lyrics (though they are that, too). Perl has a voice that belongs in musical theatre, and she’s written genuinely catchy bops that will get stuck in your head. You’ll definitely leave wanting more, and then look up what you can on YouTube to enjoy more of her musical talent.  

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Annie and Lena are moving house because they are Different Now and want a change – and they need to use all those food delivery service boxes that piled up during lockdown.

As they make food delivery service jokes feel far fresher than the delivered food, Lena Moon and Annie Lumsden continue to develop their version of sketch comedy. This is their third live show, and they keep proving that the synergy of a partnership creates layers of complexity that can’t be achieved with a generic recipe.

Wearing short black rompers, Annie is a bit self-involved, Lena is dealing with her ADHD need to be constantly stimulated, and both know that they are different after the last couple of years. We all are, aren’t we? More mature, reflective, and accepting of aging and things we can’t change?

Yeah. Sure!

Lena is at least blonde now, and Annie might even admit that she’s 32 but being locked down for a couple of years hasn’t changed much. Women in their 30s still can’t make decisions, blokes still fake incompetence to hide laziness, and no matter what you do someone will always hate you – a song that should become a performer warm-up when critics are in the audience.

Seamlessly switching from sketch to stage characters, Different Now is far more than jokes about being in your 30s. It’s about being friends and balancing honesty and support, understanding that you don’t grow up when you become an adult, and asking your audience if your embarrassing life experiences are funny or depressing.

Annie and Lena deconstruct sketch tropes and make them their own. They reflect their lives and generation, but their work is supported by a much larger questioning of the world – especially about being a woman in our world – that reaches out honestly and widely.

Their vague and ditzy millennial characters can only be this hilarious because they’re honed with keen intelligence and insight. Sure, life can be depressing and embarrassing, but when we realise we have more in common than we expect, laughing together makes it all so much better.

Annie and Lena are the next generation of duo sketch comedy.

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

If you found yourself astounded that toilet paper turned out to be the most precious resource on our planet during lockdown, then fast-rising comedy star Lizzy Hoo has news for you. Apparently, the most valuable asset we leave behind us when we depart this topsy turvy world turns out to be shoes. Who knew? Hoo did, because her dad called her distressed that mumma Hoo was press-ganging him into wearing a bag-load of dead man’s footwear, as bestowed on them by a widower in her aqua-aerobics class.

Hoo delivers intimate overshares about the inner workings of her mortality-obsessed family with winningly deadpan charm. And it’s safe to say they give her plenty to work with, particularly her brothers. One ambitiously opted to become a YouTube travel vlogger during the global pandemic, while the other’s get-rich-quick scheme is so utterly ludicrous that I won’t spoil it here. What she never does, however, is take a mean shot (or excoriate her audience). Radiating goodwill, even Hoo’s most on-the-nose jokes are stitched into pure gold recollections. Like the time her dad took her on a trip to Malaysia to meet her dying gran and it was the best thing ever, because she got fully blinged up with so much jewellery she felt like Ja Rule. 

One of our most promising up-and-comers, Hoo recently chucked in the day job and relocated to Melbourne to pursue comedy full-time, lucky for us. But office politics from her previous gig still pop up, like that time they made her do a personality test that assigned her a colour, and she awkwardly got ‘Yellow’. Yikes. No wonder she skedaddled, though she’s still receiving weekly Seek ads from one ex-colleague who obviously doubts the validity of her career choices. Nothing new: she gets it from all sides but is taking it all in her stride, partly through kick-starting an acting side hustle. Because, as she says, drama queens are chock full of self-confidence against all the odds, unlike comedians who hate themselves. Hopefully this means we’ll soon be seeing heaps more of Hoo, because she’s grand company. Just bring your own shoes. 

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

There are very few absolutes in the world of comedy, but one thing that rings resoundingly true is that what we each find funny is entirely subjective. If you’re tickled by traditional stand-up, punchlines and observations, let us stop you right here: this show ain’t for you. But if you’re intrigued by weird comedic realms of bizarre ditties, oddball characters and LOLs that wallop you from left of field, welcome to your new happy place.

Glanc isn’t like us. He really isn’t like anyone. Sure, there are surrealist skits aplenty at MICF, but Glanc’s singular imagination is a pinball machine of strange setups and stranger payoffs that defy anticipation in a way that is entirely his own. The gig flips the bird to the conventions of the average comedy show from the off, by beginning, well, before it actually begins, with a toe-tapping fast-food jingle brimming with audience participation that blindsides us before the acknowledgment of country has even been played. Whatever nods to the norm there may be are merely opportunities for Glanc to spin a gag in the opposite direction – even stepping onto the stage with an armful of props is a chance to make a joke.

But it’s not just the unpredictability of Glanc’s comedy that makes it one of a kind. His rubber-faced delivery – at once larger than life and yet intricate in its details – makes the near-constant shifts in tone and intention absolutely clear. It’s a level of control that allows him to dip occasionally into more emotionally sophisticated territory, such as a surprisingly touching song about being a lonely tree (no really, it’s actually quite beautiful).

That’s not to say that every moment of the show works. There are odd diversions that are so brief yet fussy that the polite chuckles they draw seem hardly worth the effort, and other sections that labour their point just a little too long. But Glanc didn’t come here to fuck spiders (although he does make quite a few jokes about wanting to fuck other things, just FYI). This is risk-taking comedy at its finest – bold, batshit, brilliantly bizarre, and while not every gamble pays off, there are surprising rewards for those willing to stay the course of this wild ride. 

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Famously forthright ABC presenter Virginia Trioli is unamused by queer comedian Nath Valvo’s shtick. So much so that the memory of sharing the couch with her and News Breakfast co-host Michael Rowland some six years ago still haunts his recurring nightmares. By complete fluke, Valvo was booked to appear on the same morning as his hunky boyfriend, with the producers blissfully unaware of the connection. His partner just so happens to be an infectious diseases scientist who’s been in high demand this last couple of years (while Valvo mastered TikTok) but was then on to discuss advances in HIV treatment. 

Valvo, by comparison, chose those 15 minutes of fame to talk about a record-breaking assembly of folks dressed in cow onesies. The interview literally ended with Trioli telling him to stop talking and go away. It’s just one of many excruciatingly hilariously incidents the self-deprecatingly gifted comedian mines to induce raucous laughter from a predominantly straight crowd who can’t get enough of his Olympic-level face expression throwing and stage prancing.

If you’ve been to one of his gigs before, you’ll know what to expect. This time around you’ll also get kindy pics replete with a time capsule insight (care of his lockdown-hyper mum clearing the attic) into tiny Valvo’s favourite things. Back then they included: the colour pink and dreams of being a movie star (watch this call-out roll on into the sheer gold that closes the gig). His least favourite things were, in a perplexingly misanthropic turn, friends. Maybe young Valvo just wanted to be left alone, but it’s clear from the way he works his adoring crowd that he’s popular AF these days, whatever Trioli may reckon. 

Our worked-up audience lapped up his generous insights into the wilder excesses of a gay man’s life – a joke about why he’d be on his knees in a park is a hoot. But he’s also great at conveying just how humdrum life is in his late 30s and 12 years into a de facto relationship. Gloriously reinforcing that no one has to be coupled up to be happy and fulfilled, he does love single folks because they liven up otherwise dreary dull dinner parties with their self-shaming tales of slut pride. From post-Catholic jokes to over-the-hill pokes, Valvo stands and delivers. Back in the Habit may not reinvent the comedy wheel, but it sure turns the Max Watt’s basement into a big-hearted party.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Darryl, Vinnie and Berrick have enviable mullets. The best friends are part lost-boy bogans and part wanna-be drama nerds whose passion for making Darryl’s Shakespearean masterpiece, called Thy – Thus – ‘Twas, nearly compensates for their mother-son issues and lack of talent.

They are also the stars of the Travelling Sisters’s 2020 lockdown web series 'Meet the Mullets'. If you haven’t seen the series – I hadn’t – it takes a while to understand that it isn’t a sketch show but an ongoing story. Not that it makes it any less engaging, but Mullets fans in the audience were straight into the story while newcomers took some time to understand the world. 

The Travelling Sisters are Lucy Fox, Ell Sachs and Laura Trenerry. They met at uni in Queensland, studied the Gaulier clown school in France and toured the UK and Europe before setting in Melbourne. Directed by Kimberly Twiner, their combination of exaggerated controlled physicality and deeply developed characters is as much a discussion of gender as it is an absurd story about misfits who have found their tribe of three. The trio work together like they should never be apart, and their wonderfully unique characters are so authentic that they transcend their own parodies.

The sisters also play the boys' mothers, whose behaviours and attitudes ask and answer many questions about their respective children. 

The Travelling Sisters continue to develop clowning that never settles for an easy gag and builds characters who are easy to laugh at but even easier to love. So don’t be surprised to find yourself reconsidering your hairstyle and cheering for the shining magnificence of a gold tarpaulin.

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

A veteran of the world comedy scene, David O'Doherty is now often recognised on the streets, though people often can't believe it's really him, even if the venue is the lobby of his own show a few minutes before it starts. Once they realise it is, they always ask the same question: "Do you have your little keyboard with you?" 

The little keyboard is O'Doherty's calling card. It travels the world with him, and he punctuates his sets with songs he's composed on its plinkety-plink keys. It's part musical comedy, part stand-up and part wry observations spoken-sung over an instrument whose ridiculousness is integral to the schtick. 

This set, like so many at this year's MICF, is about the events of the past two years. O'Doherty heeded early medical advice that those most at risk should abandon cities and avoid crowds, so he and his octogenarian parent decamped to Achill Island, off the coast of Ireland's County Mayo. Population: 2,569. That period of his life is the fodder for most of the show, from what it was like to move in with his parents in his 40s to spending his 45th birthday attempting to obey lockdown orders but ending up in a bush. 

"You have to remember how to do this again," he admonished an audience member. "I do, too. We have to remember how to do this again." That might be true – after two years without performing, O'Doherty has to get back into the rhythm of live performance. His set is funny, but there are no belly laughs, as he has provided in previous years. But not to worry – he does indeed have his little keyboard with him. 

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! survivor Nazeem Hussain knows a thing or two about travel opportunities taking a turn for the worst. If it’s not eating maggots in the jungle for votes, it’s facing down passport control agents determined to out him as a would-be terrorist in literally any American airport. So irrepressible is his gift for the gab that he genuinely has a tough time, whenever travelling there for a gig, simply answering no to their ludicrous line of questioning. But while comic deflection is a powerful tool, it’s not necessarily the best approach when you wind up being interrogated by Homeland Security for four hours straight. 

His misfortune is our awkward gain. One of Australia’s most gifted comedians, Hussain has made a household name for himself poking holes in racist trolls ever since he first teamed up with Aamer Rahman in double act Fear of a Brown Planet. His solo career has skyrocketed, and his charmingly snappy repertoire works on two levels. POC audience members will undoubtedly identify all too well, while the rest of us are forced to sit in the uncomfortable hilarity of our laughter. 

Raised in Melbourne, Hussain also shares a hilarious aside about getting busted trying and failing to use a bit of privilege while touring his parents’ home country Sri Lanka. This knack for self-deprecation, and his evident love for his mum, make him winning company to spend an hour with in the lower Town Hall’s domed underbelly. There’s a razor-sharp crack at Alec Baldwin, a winning dig at the Will Smith/Chris Rock smackdown, and a roasting in store for the sort of ‘freedom fighters’ who proliferated during lockdown. If Hussain That? isn’t quite as tight as previous years’ sets, you can forgive him. He’s just been blessed with a brand-new bub and is seriously sleep-deprived, so we’re fortunate to have him at all. 

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Being a comedian means living a life defined by both unbridled creativity and strict logistical admin, as you have complete artistic freedom but also have to run a small business. These two facets collide when deadlines for the titles of shows to be featured in a comedy festival hit far earlier than the show itself is written, which is why Fern Brady called her show Autistic Bikini Queen

She'd just received a diagnosis of autism, which she says brought an enormous amount of relief. She decided to write a show about having an autism diagnosis, particularly why "hot women are underrepresented in the autistic community". But when it came time to write the show itself, not a lot of neurodivergent material presented itself. So while there is a small section on her diagnosis, including a fear that audiences wouldn't believe that she had autism ("I wouldn't worry about that," a fellow comedian told her. "I don't mean to offend you, but it's pretty obvious that you do"), most of the show is about other topics, from her father's fear that she's going to be murdered to her utter revulsion at the concept of marriage.

Some of Brady's material, such as her aversion to marriage, her past job working as a stripper and a single abortion joke, would have seemed boundary-pushing a decade ago but is relatively tame in today's comedic landscape. Her delivery is comfortable, but rehearsed. She has a script and she's clearly sticking to it, lacking the natural ease some comedians have on stage. Most jokes land, though it's often more chuckles than howls. 

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  • Comedy festival

From the opening of Chasing Keanu Reeves: An Encore, Diana Nguyen feels like a close friend. By the end, she’s bonded with everyone over the universal themes of fancying Keanu and disappointing your mum, shared how hot (and hot) she is in her peach velvet jumpsuit, and convinced us that LinkedIn is the best dating app.

Nguyen begins with dancing, joy and infectious cheeriness. She is frustrated that the Comedy Festival still doesn’t represent the diversity of Melbourne and that she’s only cast as Asian hospitality workers on TV, but nothing can’t distract from discussing the impact of the Melbourne lockdowns.

This is an encore show – canceled in 2020, brief return in 2021 – but it’s not the one she originally created; being alone for months revealed that crushing on the spunkiness and generosity of a movie star isn’t all there is to making a show.

Not that anyone in the audience doesn’t respect a healthy obsession with Keanu; there are Keanu references for those who have Keanu-fested. And Nguyen moved on to watching porn, Dr Pimple Popper and The Crown. As her mum, who escaped Vietnam on a boat and came to Australia, named Diana and her sisters after British princesses, at least one of those was necessary viewing.

Her open, warm and generous performance ensures that the friendship strengthens. Once you’ve told someone about your favourite vibrator and worst date, you are bonded. And beginning to understand the impact of trauma on a family creates the kind of empathy and understanding that will eventually let our festivals and TV shows reflect the reality of living in Australia.

Chasing Keanu Reeves: An Encore would benefit from some narrative tightening and a focus on one rather than multiple personal stories, but this mixed focus also reflects the experience of lockdown. Nguyen knows how important performing is to her, and this makes it easy to remember that seeing live shows and bonding over stories with potential friends or LinkedIn contacts is something that we don’t want to lose again.

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Nobody deserves a good laugh right now more than the medical profession, and judging by the overwhelming presence of nurses and doctors in her Comedy Festival crowd, Georgie Carroll is just the cure for what ails them. Carroll makes a point of not grumbling about Covid in her show or making any political statements: she’s more interested in getting down to the juicy anecdotes about the Bristol Stool Chart (a classification system for excrement that’s fun to recite in a pirate voice), her three favourite things that fall out of humans, and a medical condition involving a crayon lodged in an unfortunate place. Laughter may not be a match for a jab of Pfizer, but as medicines go, we'll take it. 

  • 2 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Stand Up

When Melbourne came out of lockdown last November and we were slowly able to return to a sense of semi-normality, the weeks that followed were an opportunity to reckon with society’s less-than-hygienic cultural norms. Awkward handshakes and hugs ensued, and we might think twice before sloppily blowing out the candles on a birthday cake or hooking up with strangers we just met. 

This appears to be the time period in which The Great Australian Bake Off co-host Claire Hooper wrote her new show, Tea, because the content is, well, dated. About three-quarters of Hooper’s set is centred around trite observations about post-lockdown life – and while this might have been fresh and funny in November, it’s April now and we’ve heard it all. 

On stage, Hooper is also wielding a mug emblazoned with a photo of Prince William and Kate Middleton as well as a well-worn copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette, which she reads from periodically. She quips at one point that her husband saw the show and suggested she read from it a bit less – advice that Hooper would be wise to listen to. Throughout the show, there wasn’t much more than faint chuckling or broad grins from fellow audience members.

There were a few moments, though, where Hooper really did shine. When Hooper shared her hilarious observations about how her husband behaves around free things, and her tips on crafting a good dating profile – “don’t post your Gucci campaign, post your Best and Less” – she really got the crowd going. Perhaps next year, with lockdowns in distant memory, we’ll get to hear more personal anecdotes and fewer broad, sweeping observations. 

Want to know which shows have us LOLing in the aisles this year? Check out our guide to Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2022.

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  • 2 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

Writing a new comedy show must be an incredibly difficult undertaking at the best of times, and this is certainly not the best of times. Many comics take months to write a show, by which time who knows what the landscape will look like? In the past two years this problem is made significantly worse by the constantly changing state of the world but also its completely unignorable effect on our lives. So what to do? Write a show that ignored the pandemic completely and pretend it's 2019? Mention the pandemic and lockdowns in passing as a vehicle to get to other material that defines how we live now? Or write a show during lockdown about isolating with your family and ordering weird shit on the internet, then perform it in March and April as if it were still the world in which we live? Many of this year's shows have chosen the second route, and on reflection it seems like that was probably the best path. But Cal Wilson seems to have gone with option three, much to the show's detriment. 

That the show seems tired and dated when six months or a year ago it would have been cutting-edge is a testament to the speed at which we adapt to radically new surroundings and a complete upending of social norms and the pace of everyday life. It's not Wilson's fault that we as an audience have become jaded and bored of jokes about pandemic crafting and Zoom etiquette. But it is unfortunate that she didn't foresee such an eventuality when writing this material because it can often come across as stale.

Wilson's cheerful optimism and relentless good humour push things along, and there are chuckles to be had in her cats' refusal to use their orthopaedic food bowls correctly and her difficulty in following her brother's strict shower hygiene regimen. She is a determinedly inoffensive comedian, delivering gentle jokes with a big smile. She's comfortable on stage, warm and personable, and on the night that we went a few pre-show wines made a large portion of the audience quite receptive. But Cal Wilson is a household name, and with that fame comes an attendant expectation to deliver a show that's not just polished and well-rehearsed but genuinely funny and relevant to the current state of things. There was a time for this material, but unfortunately, that time is probably well past. 

  • 1 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy
  • Comedy festival

I went into the latest gig from Sri Lankan-born, Melbourne-based star Dilruk Jayasinha with high hopes. His previous comedy fest show, Victorious Lion, was an endearingly vulnerable insight into single life and his quest for self-improvement that felt generous and wise. Unfortunately, the creeping feeling that this was a very different show set in almost immediately. 

Upfront, Jayasinha cautions folks that they should not be fooled by his early, 6.30pm slot at the Forum or his recent good-natured appearance on Celebrity MasterChef. This hour will feature way more swearing. No biggie. Anyone put off by blue language is unlikely to escape the comedy fest unscathed. But within the opening minutes he also drops multiple prison rape ‘jokes’. It’s also deeply weird to hear Jayasinha justify adopting an African accent as the butt of a joke about an airport security guard. Questioned about his carry-on luggage massage gun, Jayasinha feels compelled to blurt out that it is actually a sex toy. He jokes that he workshopped whether it was ok to use the accent with other people of colour and got the all-clear. Good for him, but it’s difficult to discern why he felt the accent was important at all, especially when he goes on to talk about copping it in similar ways. Why perpetuate that stuff without truly unpicking it?

Jayasinha met a new partner via exclusive app Raya during lockdown, and there is a sliver of his self-deprecating humour in a reveal about the after-effects of a hernia getting in the way. But the relentless digs at her family, who hail from Mandurah about an hour’s drive out of Perth, lean into iffily classist jokes about “bogan” country WA folks. It’s a shame, because even as he takes time to praise their welcoming nature, he tackles some of her relatives’ confronting comments about his background. Again, it feels like an important point is muddied. 

Littered with lazy and immature stereotypes, the set works the sort of bottom rung blokey stuff espoused by Zoë Coombs Marr’s deliberately odious alter ego Dave in The Opener. Except that her show is an intelligent dissection of those tired and grimace-inducing comedy routines. Disappointingly, there’s not a whiff of that critical analysis here in what, to this reviewer at least, wound up feeling like a demoralising hour of punching down. Jayasinha’s better than this. Here’s hoping he will be again. 

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  • Comedy
  • Stand Up

When Prue Blake moved from Brisbane to Melbourne, she signed up for improv classes because she knew that that was how Abbi and Ilana of Broad City met. Four years later, she’s unfortunately yet to find her own codependent best friend, but she’s quickly carved a path for herself in the Melbourne comedy circuit. 

In 2020, Blake was named the Raw Comedy National Champion, and she was keen to use that win to propel her comedy career forward. Unfortunately, the next couple of years were derailed by the pesky Covid-19 pandemic, but she managed to still put on some shows – including two in previous Melbourne International Comedy Festival sessions. 

While she feels ready to take the stage again, there’s definitely some residual Covid-19 anxiety, especially since it’s already so common for people to get sick during the festival. “You’re so busy running around and you get run-down, but fingers crossed because I have my AstraZeneca and Pfizer cocktail and just bought a bunch of fancy masks,” says Blake. 

This year, you can catch her at ‘Comedy Zone’ as part of a line-up of young comedians from across Australia. The group is intended to represent the next wave of Aussie comedy, which Blake describes as mostly just being “a bit weirder.” 

“With the rise of TikTok and online followings, you can find your niche audience and you don’t have to try to appeal to everyone,” says Blake. “You can really, really appeal to a smaller selection of people, like the Miranda’s of a friendship group. This year, I’ve been working on a joke about pistachios.”

In addition to writing jokes about pistachios, Blake also used lockdown to finish her PhD in civil engineering and to start a fortnightly newsletter called  ‘I Shaved My Legs For This’. “I rate every day that I shaved my legs to decide whether it was worth putting in that extra bit of effort,” says Blake. “I think it’s not often worth it.”

When it comes to bigger decisions than shaving legs, Blake says she likes to seek out the help of a tarot card reader in lieu of therapy. “I’ve gone to therapy in the past, but I’m just not that in touch with my emotions,” jokes Blake. “[Tarot card readers] kind of say what you want to hear.” 

It’s fair to be a bit sceptical, but Blake said her go-to tarot card reader predicted that she would meet her next partner in nine months. They were bang on, and the relationship is still going strong to this day. Who would have thought?

You can catch Prue Blake at the Comedy Zone sessions at Trades Hall from March 31 to April 24. For more information and to buy your tickets, head to the MICF website

Want more opportunities for a belly laugh? Here's our rundown of what to expect at this year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

  • Comedy
  • Stand Up

British comedian Mark Watson has performed on Melbourne stages around 200 times now, so you could say that he's among our city's favourite comedians. He's back on Australian shores for the first time since before the pandemic, and he's brought a brand new show, This Can't Be It, with him for Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Watson is no stranger to the MICF circuit, with around ten seasons under his belt. He's on the record saying that Melbourne is his favourite city, and is keen on getting back to exploring the riverfront, seeing a footy game and "being yelled at by drunks coming out of McDonald's on Swanston Street after a show." 

"The [MICF] is special for all sorts of reasons," says Watson. "The Melbourne audience has always been super generous to me. There's the added buzz of being so far from home. The food is really nice (not that Melburnians ever go on about restaurants). It's basically just a real boost to mind and soul, and although the standard is high, the pressure on performers is lower than at certain other festivals."

In 2021, MICF went forward with a digital program and Watson used his stage-time to tear into how people were approaching the crisis. It was harsh and honest, fuelled in part by Watson's anger. This time around, Watson has a different approach.

"It would be strange not to mention the pandemic at all, but of course, we're also all keen to think about pretty much anything else," says Watson. "I'll try to situate the show in the weird context of 'here we are, back in something like normality again' without letting that swamp the entire evening."

There's a certain edge to the shows because on both sides of the mic we're maybe a bit more appreciative of what we had before it was taken away.

One silver lining from the pandemic was the realisation that comedy can be a lot more accessible to audiences through Zoom and digital offerings. That's something Watson hopes to maintain, even with the return of in-person shows. 

"I found a whole new audience as a result of doing things digitally, including people based in Melbourne who wouldn't normally get to see me on tour unless they paid an unjustifiable amount of money and made a 50-hour round trip," says Watson. "A lot of comedians have been much too hasty to turn their backs on online stuff, but now that we've seen how inclusive our work can be, it seems mad to un-learn that lesson." 

When Watson started out in comedy, he says there was a heavy emphasis on club-style comedy and old-school gags. But now, he sees the new generation of comedians doing more and inventive things with the one-hour format.

"MICF is a brilliant showcase for that," says Watson. "I try to see as many younger comics as I can and learn from them (steal their ideas and youthful energy, draining it directly into my own veins)."

While he does enjoy taking a page out of newcomers' books, you won't find Watson on TikTok. While a lot of comedians have found great success in that realm and its ability to thrust people into immediate virality, Watson claims he's "too old to be doing things like TikTok." 

There are many ways to do well as a performer, and a lot of them can be explored on the stage alone.

You can catch Watson and his fast-talking, quick-witted stage presence at the Melbourne Town Hall from March 31 until April 24. Book your tickets through the website

Looking for things to do in Melbourne? Check out our round-up of the best things happening in our city this week.

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  • Comedy
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Phil Wang is a Melbourne fan, and he's ready to indulge. A staple on the UK comedy scene and well known to Australian audiences through his appearances on Would I Lie To You, The Last Leg, Taskmaster and more, Wang takes the stage again at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival with a brand-new show and a brand-new book. 

The Real Hero in All This follows Wang’s hugely successful Philly Philly Wang Wang, a record-breaker at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe and now available on Netflix. Philly Philly Wang Wang showcases Wang’s ability to effortlessly blend incisive considerations on race, morality and the pandemic with jokes about farts and balls. The new show promises to expand on both with routines Wang considers some his favourites to date. 

Alongside his two-week run of shows, Wang will appear at the Wheeler Centre with comedian Jennifer Wong in a one-night-only outing to discuss his memoir, Sidesplitter. A 2021 Times Book of the Year, Sidesplitter is a moving and hilarious examination of Wang's British-Malaysian heritage that also offers extraordinary insight into the intimacy and connective power of stand-up.

Time Out interrupted Phil Wang’s sightseeing for a quick chat about his return to Melbourne.

First things first: please tell us your favourite things about Melbourne? What are you most looking forward to on this visit?

The food in Melbourne is insane. Maybe the best I’ve ever come across. I eat so much in Melbourne it is genuinely a detriment to the quality of my performances. I love how nice and sophisticated and good-looking everyone in Melbourne is. I love the perfect climate the city has during festival time. Just warm enough without being oppressive. I love the museums and galleries. What I’m most looking forward to of all is continuing my exploration of Chinatown. It has depths upon depths.


This will be the first ‘normal’ (or semi-normal) MICF in two years. How does it feel to be travelling again, popping to the other side of the world for shows? 

It feels fantastic. But a little dream-like too. It at once feels as though I was last in Melbourne a lifetime ago and yesterday. It will be weird seeing everyone again, all my Australian friends, largely the same just with a few new wrinkles (I have gained enough weight to smooth mine out). I will either be very emotional about it or robot myself straight back into Melbourne mode. Either way, I’m thrilled to be back.

What can we look forward to in The Real Hero In All This?

This new show honestly contains some of my favourite routines I’ve ever done. I just love doing them. And I can’t wait to come up with new Australia-specific bits during the run. I think my performance has gotten better since was last in Melbourne too. I’m a little sillier and more cartoony. Maybe the pandemic broke my brain.

We’re also seeing you this visit at the Wheeler Centre in conversation with the great Jennifer Wong about your memoir, Sidesplitter. How are you finding having a memoir out in the world?

It’s nice. People seem to be enjoying the book, and it is nice to have jokes and stories of mine out there in a different form than stand-up alone. I think it also shows a more sentimental side of me which I’m usually too embarrassed to show on stage. I think that kind of thing is more appropriate in the intimacy of a book.

How did you find the writing process in contrast to writing comedy?

I found it wonderful to learn more about my family in the process of writing the book. We should all write a book about ourselves if only to ask our parents questions we’d otherwise never think to! Because of the book I found out the names of my late grandparents on my father’s side. I’d only ever known them as ‘grandfather’ and ‘grandmother’ before. But because of the book I finally thought to ask. Writing a book is different to stand-up in that you get more time and space in the reader’s head to explore ideas more deeply. Stand-up requires you to stick to a particular rhythm of set-up and punchline – which I love – but which makes it harder to get more think-y and reflective.

Has the book informed the new show?

Yes. There’s a bit about my relationship with my father in it which I otherwise wouldn’t have thought anyone would care about.

There’s a beautiful passage in Sidesplitter where you link the ‘electric connection’ of stand-up and the confidence it’s given you throughout your career. How does that continue to impact your work?

Ah, I’m glad you liked that. Stand-up is addictive. Literally. A big laugh triggers the dopamine receptors in my brain like a drug, and I have to keep coming back for more. I think it’s the same with anything – the better you get at something, the more confident you become, and the more confident you become, the better you get. But both elements of that cycle can fall out of place from time to time. You just have to pick yourself up and get back on the treadmill. Because of that ‘electric connection’ of live stand-up, it’s one of the few things in my life I have never (and probably will never) get bored of.

Have you found similar connections with readers?

The feedback is not instant like with live stand-up, but people have messaged me saying they like Sidesplitter, which is wonderful. In particular, mixed-race people have gotten in touch saying it resonated with their own life experiences. That really makes me happy.

 

Phil Wang is, of course, The Real Hero in All This. He’s set to prove it on stage at Max Watt’s from 31 March until 16 April. He is also appearing at the Wheeler Centre in conversation with Jennifer Wong on 4 April. Book your tickets through the website

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