Author: Josh Kinal

What do you do?

I met a woman on Monday night whose answer to that awkward introductory question was “travel.” She’s staying in Melbourne for a while so she’s changing her answer to “I’m staying until I travel”.

It’s a horrible question and it really means “Who are you and what common ground can we find quickly? How can I fit your experiences into my areas of knowledge?”

I hate answering that question because people expect a job-related answer, or so is my understanding. I do lots of things. The things I’m most passionate about are not actually the things that make me the most money. If I hear that question from you I’m going to assume that you are a boring person or, at the very least, unimaginative.

When I was in high-school the question was: “What bands do you like?” That’s so much better. We can get a great sense of people from the art they appreciate.

I’m 36 years old and there seems to be an expectation that in the last 18 years I’ve devolved from being a complicated person with emotional connections to art to being summarised by referencing a single task.

Maybe, though, I’m so antagonistic and petulant about that question because I’ve strayed so far from my area of expertise that I don’t know the answer anymore. I’ve bumped into jobs where I could use my skills to sustain myself financially.

Last weekend I wrote for the first time in ages. I wrote a 900 word piece over several days, doing numerous rewrites. That felt really good. That felt like what I should be doing. That’s not what I get paid for, though.

So I’m doing something wrong. Thanks for pointing that out with your stupid we-just-met-each-other-at-a-party question.

The MICF 2011 Gut Shot reviews

I started reviewing MICF shows in 1993. I didn’t know what I was doing then. What I realise at the end of this Comedy Festival is that very few people know what they’re doing when it comes to reviewing.

The gut-shot reviews started as a challenge to myself. I wanted to see what kind of review I was able to spew out with as little time as possible passing between the show ending and the review being published.

When I was Entertainment Sub-Editor at my university newspaper, a first-year student asked me how to write a review. I was flippant about it and made it sound easy. “Just say whether or not you liked and why you did or didn’t like it,” I said. At its essence, that’s what a review is: a reasoned opinion. At least, that’s what I thought.

The part reviewers so often get wrong is the reasoning. We’re great at forming an opinion but why we formed that opinion takes a lot of reflection. I never liked star-rated reviews because they can’t convey the nuance required in creating a review.

The gut-shot reviews were never reworked or rethought. They exist as a reminder of the lack of intricacy that goes into a first draft and an initial reaction to a show. The initial reaction to a show is usually not a review but often just a judgement. It’s important to capture that judgement and use it as a guide to help us work out our biases and try to form a piece of journalism that will inform our own audience of the relative values of the show we are reviewing.

So often in the past I would write a review moments before deadline. I’d bash it out in a text file and email it straight to my editor, doing little more than passing it through a spell-checker as a form of editing. There was no refining of concepts and sometimes I was more concerned with clever word-play than actual substance.

Often I wrote a review moments before deadline because I spent all that time in between seeing the show and writing the review trying to get my thoughts into words that could accurately convey my reasoned opinion to the reader. I almost never wrote a review and then reworked it later. Once it was written, whether rushed out or thoughtfully extracted, it was done and I was onto the next piece.

The difference between my work in the past and the gut-shot reviews I published on this blog this year is only in time. I think back about my attitude to reviewing and I feel a little bit of shame for not taking it more seriously.

The reviews I published here are little more than post-show notes. Sometimes they’re coherent and sometimes just rambling phrases. I wanted to capture my emotions, feelings and understandings of a show as quickly as possible. It’s something I’ve never done before. I always thought it would be best to just let the show be absorbed over a couple of days and then bash my review out. Time, however, makes us less-reliable witnesses.

Performing this little experiment for myself I learnt a lot about my own writing practices. I learnt that the minimum amount of work for a well structured piece is to go through the process of capturing thoughts, emotions and ideas, then putting those into some kind of order, then writing them out and expanding on them. This whole process might take a few days but the capturing part, which is what I published on my website, really needs to be as close to the original event as possible.

That being said, I’ve never really been one for writing notes while sitting in a show. I think that’s just rude. By writing notes during the show I’m paying less attention to the show itself and more to my eventual review. That’s doing the performers a disservice. Nobody wins that way, but it’s definitely worth taking 5 minutes after a show to scribble down some notes.

I’ve thought a lot about the process of reviewing this year. There’s a piece I wrote for Crikey (which I’ll link to if it gets published) about the difficulties in reviewing comedy in Melbourne. It was inspired by a number of factors:

I discovered that laziness is the enemy of good and lack of understanding makes for bad writing. This might all seem obvious but it’s something we all forget from time to time. Writing is a many-staged process and nobody has gold come out of their pen on a first draft. Excuses don’t make the writing any better either.

2011 Comedy Festival Picks

I've seen a whole bunch of shows this year. You may have read some of my gut-shot reviews. In those I was trying to get the most instant feeling about a show as possible. Get them down and get them published. That's by-the-by.

Right now I just want to tell you about shows you need to see because they are really clever and funny.

Yes, two things: clever and funny.

Justin Hamilton - Circular

Ignore pretty much all the reviews you've read about Justin's show. This is so much more than just a straight stand-up show. He plays with the structure of a comedy show in a way we haven't seen before. It's a genius concept carried out with a light touch. Also, if getting all meta about comedy structure isn't your thing, then just enjoy the jokes. There are so many ways to enjoy this show and it will be your last chance to see Justin in Melbourne for a while.

Tig Notaro

She was nominated for the Barry Award but don't let that stop you from going to see her. In this case, believe the hype. Her style of comedy is unlike anything I've seen before. She uses silences to bring the audience to her. Take all the expectations you have and just let them go. She's one of those one-of-a-kind geniuses that others will try to emulate in years to come.

Maria Bamford

Let me ask you one question: Do you want to see one of the best comedians in the world in a fairly intimate setting?

If you answered "Yes" then you need to see Maria Bamford.

She won the Barry in 2004, which is before it became tainted by Nina Conti's stink. She swaps characters effortlessly and says the things that most people only think, all-the-while being super-conscious of everything she is doing to the audience.

Update 19 April, 23:29.

I'm reliably informed that Maria Bamford's run finished last Sunday. You've missed out and you only have yourself to blame. Sorry for giving you a bum steer. I'm going to see Bob Franklin's show later this week. You should try to get tickets to that. I haven't seen David Quirk yet but he's been excellent in past years and Josh Earl's show is delightful (and conveniently on at the same time as Bamford's was). Also, Sammy J and Randy have put on a couple of extra shows and they're doing great work.

Disclaimer

Justin Hamilton is a friend of mine. Sometimes we hang out and talk about comics and Lost. I've got plenty of friends with shows in MICF. Justin's is something so completely different, it needs to be seen. At the time of writing, Justin does not follow me on twitter. Make of that what you will.

Round 4: I’m Already Bored

It takes a lot to keep me interested in a tipping competition. Last week my stupid dice only tipped 4 out of a possible 8. That's not the magical results I was hoping for and I'm starting to get bored.

Incidentally, the dice I'm using are in an iPhone app called Diceshaker. Is that more or less nerdy? Am I relying on an unreliable randomiser?

Anyway, I might venture into a store this weekend and get myself a couple of actual d100s to use and see if that makes any difference.

In the meantime, here are my tips for this week:

  • Richmond to beat Collingwood by 37 points
  • Hawthorn to lose to West Coast
  • Carlton to beat Essendon
  • Sydney to beat Geelong
  • Port Adel to beat Adelaide
  • Gold Coast to lose to Melbourne
  • Fremantle to lose to North Melb

Simon Munnery: Self Employed

IMG 29059:30pm 14 April, Bosco Theatre, City Square

There was a time when Simon Munnery was probably in the top 3 comedians in the world. The first half of this show is a reminder of that time.

Each line Munnery utters has multiple levels to it and is probably also interrupted by an aside that adds a couple layers more. It's a pleasure to watch. It's the mastery that we saw in Alan Parker: Urban Warrior and The League Against Tedium, but he stood before us in a two-piece suit doing what was essentially straight stand-up; That's something I haven't seen him do before.

Unfortunately he can't keep that energy up for the whole show and the second half starts to drag. Even when watching a Simon Munnery show drag, it's still better than pretty much anything else you could see.

A note about the venue: The Bosco theatre is just a tent. It's a tent on one of the noisiest corners Melbourne has to offer. It's ridiculously unfair to the performers and the audience. Nobody should ever have to compete with the ridiculousness of a man, dressed as a rabbit, playing the bass guitar. It's possible that the lag in the show was due to the noise or maybe Munnery just doesn't have the stamina he did 8 years ago. A lot has happened to him in that time. His material relies so much on pointing out the absurdity of real life but sometimes reality is too powerful to compete with.

Written using Plain Text, after getting home and while watching Top Chef Masters.

Maria Bamford

IMG 28997:00pm 14 April, Lower Town Hall, Melbourne Town Hall

We are so lucky to have both Tig Notaro and Maria Banford in town in the one festival.

For all those pathetic humans who say women comedians just aren't funny, they can keep their unfounded beliefs. I'm yet to see a man as talented and diverse as those two this year (but I'm seeing Simon Munnery this evening).

Maria Bamford is back with her particular brand of internal monologue said out loud.* She flits from topic to topic and performs little plays using only her hands.

Bamford is a genius who acts like a child while exposing us to her psyche. It's obscure, particular and extraordinary.

She has the ability to bring us emotionally on stage and then slap us back down to our seats. Everyone is mocked or might be. It's a personal show and it should be taken personally. That's how she means it because that's why it matters.

She closes with a stab at a particular kind of female comedian and it really is a stab. Take that. Bam. She knows what's going on. She's smart, she's funny and she's better than pretty much everyone else out there.

Written using Plain Text, mostly outside the venue before heading out to dinner.
* Everything after this point was written after getting home and while watching
Top Chef Masters.

Marc Maron

IMG 28818:15pm 13 April, Supper Room, Melbourne Town Hall

I had to forgo a couple of shows last night because of this god awful cold that makes me just want to sleep all the time.

Tonight I forwent seeing Headliners but managed to get my aching bones up four flights of stairs to see a very competent professional American comedian perform some well-crafted material.

There's not much more for me to say, partly because Maron somehow manages to be generically very good and partly because the pseudo-ephedrine is wearing off.

He's good. I'm sick.

The end.

Written in Plain Text while sitting in the passenger seat of the car on the way home, barely able to lift my own head.