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.