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Natives Strikin' Blak

Natives Strikin' Blak

Show type: Melbourne 2006

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Original Review:

The best stand-up comes from oppression; whether emigrant Jews in New York, black Americans or simply victims of the schoolyard bullies. So given the raw deal – to put it mildly – meted out to Australia’s aboriginal population, you might expect some sharp comics to emerge from its population.

But the only one of the 230 or so Melbourne Comedy Festival shows presented by native acts has no such bite. Instead, it smacks of guilty liberal do-goodery – a bunch of performers who’ve been through too many well-meaning workshops and worthy arts-council funded initiatives rather than learning how to be funny the hard way. Perhaps the supportive environment of the Ilbijerri theatre group that runs this show offers just too much cotton-wool protection to engender real from-the-heart passion.

The main problem is that this is a show put together by a theatre types; with the comedy projected from behind characters or obvious performance pieces, rather the exposed naturalistic style of modern stand-up.

First up, Dennis Fisher – billed as a renowned poet and fighter for reconciliation - treats the audience like children. ‘I’ve been somewhere where it’s all white. It starts with A,’ he says, inviting us to guess. Or ‘Buckingham Palace? Who lives there?’ We humour him, it seems only polite, though the source of any comedy is a mystery.

Coen Brown, a well-toned light-skinned (Koorie) aborignal comes on with sleeveless vest, dancing to Kylie and diva attitude. Guess what? He’s gay. And comes out with a nightclubbing anecdote full to bursting with posturing ‘I’m here/I’m queer/Get used to it’ pride. Shame he forgot to add any jokes, making it seem almost a parody of a self-obsessed performance piece. But it’s not, he’s serious.

Lou Bennett demonstrates her respectable acting skills with her portrait of doomed explorers Burke and Wills, making a side point about their attempts to be the first to cross the Australian dessert… excepts for the tribes who were always doing it. It’s a pleasant enough piece, though again light on comedy.

Max McGuire is the only traditional stand-up on the bill; with tales of football, beer and brawling, but it’s all rather pedestrian, uninspiring stuff, going nowhere.

Closing, John Harding, in the guise of pensioner Uncle Nev Cartwright offered the most potential of the line-up. His character was supposedly the official indigenous ambassador to the athletes at Melbourne’s recent Commonwealth Games, which gives him licence to ponder on all manner of politically edged topics, from British imperialism to new sedition laws. Harding’s a compelling performer, and even when his monologue forgets the jokes, he holds the interest.

But really, he’s the only one of the five to offer anything substantial. However much you might wish this laudably well-intentioned show to succeed, in the final reckoning, it simply doesn’t.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
May 2006

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