Tag: micf2011

Reviews and opinions from the 2011 Melbourne International Comedy Festival

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.


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.

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.

Tig Notaro

20110407-213022.jpg8:15pm 7 April, Supper Room, Melbourne Town Hall

It feels like I've gone through my life only thinking I knew about comedy. And the.n Tig Notaro came to town and totally schooled me. Actually she schooled us all.

It's been a really long time since I've heard a whole room roar, snort, guffaw, yelp and sigh so much. She's listed as deadpan but that doesn't even begin to describe her. Descriptions will never do this show justice.

That might sound like a cop-out. "Come on, Josh. It's your fucking job to describe things so we know what to expect." The problem is that Notaro knows that the one important part of her job is to subvert our expectations. She is always one step ahead. Every single joke is perfectly crafted to mess with the audience.

There's no messing with themes to combine the show together. She's not a theme-style comedian. She moves too quickly for that and can't be tied down to a single concepts. Even her one liners take small diversions. I know what you're thinking: "But Josh, they're one liners. There's no room for a diversion." Let me tell you, friends. She's found a way.

She is an extraordinary user of her craft and an absolute pleasure to watch. My cheeks still hurt and I left the room 30 minutes ago.

Written using the WordPress iPhone App on the Pakenham train back to the station where I parked my car.

Read some of my other MICF reviews.

Doc Brown: Unfamous

Doc Brown at MICF9:45pm 6 April, Powder Room, Melbourne Town Hall

Doc Brown, not his real name, used to be a rapper in the UK, toured with De La Soul, Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, and Mark Ronson. Now he considers himself to be "unfamous" (rhymes with "infamous").

Through a combination of rap and stand-up, Doc Brown tells the story of his life to this point. Here are some answers to some pretty obvious questions:

  • Yes, it only takes an hour to get through some 30 years of life.
  • Yes, there is live and earnest rapping in a very intimate environment.
  • No, it's nowhere near as awkward as one would think.

In fact, it's so different to awkward that it's actually really enjoyable. He comes on stage and starts rapping straight away and it's almost rewarding; He is so good at it that he commands the room from the moment he steps on stage.

He swaps from stadium-style rap performance to intimate story-telling mode so easily and gracefully that watching him is an absolute pleasure. The narrative lacks a certain amount of cohesion and the jokes are not breaking any new ground but Doc Brown's charisma carries the show. If he can get the other elements working he'll blow minds but in the meantime he leaves the audience with smiles on their faces; In that respect his job is done.

Written the next day, using a combination of Mars Edit and Textmate, after some much needed sleep and getting some actual proper work done.

Melinda Buttle: Buttle & Buttle

20110406-235303.jpg 8:15pm 6 April, Lunch Room, Melbourne Town Hall

There was going to be trouble from the moment we stepped in the room. It's a small room and even then, it's barely a room. All those pipes and the proximity to the loading bay, The Lunch Room is, at best, the preparation area for catered functions.

Half way down the rows of seats was a woman applauding people coming in, saying: "Yeah, come in. Yeah, this is going to be great." She was unseasonably enthusiastic for before the show had even started. Also, someone seemed to have dipped her in rum.

The show starts and Melinda Buttle took the stage. She quickly identified the hooping and hollering. In only her second comedy festival show, it's unlikely she's had to contend with the kind of heckling that I've only ever seen in Melbourne: enthusiastic and supportive.

It got to be a bit much for MB and she didn't really know how to continue. The offender was eventually ushered out and the show could continue. Unfortunately it was now a little bit broken.

Melinda Buttle's been writing a blog for about a year. A lot of it is about her life living with her father and that's what this show is about. In fact, a lot of that material is the same. This is probably fair enough. A lot more people are likely to see the show and be introduced to Buttle's work through exposure at the comedy festival. It's a lot easier to be told the stories, and a lot nicer, than to sift through blog posts to read them.

And here's the kicker; The stories are funny. Melinda Buttle's dad is hilarious in his old man nuance. It's a nice change from the tired old "I never knew my real father" comedy routines we've seen so much of in the past. Unfortunately it's also a little bit "Shit My Dad Says" and stupid-father syndrome. So while the material is funny and really well performed, I'm a little bit fence sitty about it.

Still, nobody does gen y white-girl rap like Melinda B. She's the Princess of Self-deprecation and the Minister for Buffalo Stance. That gets her a pass in my book. Plus she was faced with a shitty situation, dealt with it and gave the people a show they paid to see.

She should have won best newcomer for her show last year and, while this isn't as strong as her debut, is still worth it to get a taste of the future of this country's comedy.

Written while lying in bed, having also seen Doc Brown in the meantime.

DISCLAIMER: Soupgiant created Melinda Buttle's excellent website.