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Show type: Montreal 2008
Amp'd: The Music Comedy Showcase
Let the beat carry you this summer and explore the funny side of music with some of the hottest musical acts in comedy!
Original Review:Here’s testament to how we increasingly watch comedy. The Amp’d musical comedy showcase at Montreal seemed an intriguing line-up of international names, many that seemed unfamiliar. But the moment several acts began, I realised I had, in fact, heard them before. Via the internet.
It shows what a powerful tool for distributing comedy – especially musical tracks that need only a short attention span – the web has become. But the fact that the acts have surely received only negligible income from the internet, and that their names hadn’t stuck in my mind, offers a cautionary note that making the new medium a cash cow or promotional powerhouse is not as easy as a struggling comic might hope.
Anyway, back to the live show. And even if musical comedy isn’t your bag, there’s an upbeat energy and irresistible sense of fun to this late-night showcase. A talented, musically muscular seven-piece backing band certainly gives the show plenty of va-va-voom, providing rich, soulful support to everyone on the bill. They can funk anything up, from Frere Jacques to the Godfather theme.
Compere Craig Robinson – who plays Darryl Philbin on the American version of The Office – added to the party spirit. From behind his keyboard, he offered parodies of all sorts of musical genres, most skilfully the Barry White school of soul. But key to it all was his playfulness, from the sly, knowing comments that peppered his introductions to cheekily wrong-footing the audience with an ‘If you’re happy and you know it…’ riff to break the ice. He’s a strong comic who’s a strong musician to boot, rather than using one to prop up the other.
With the band, he built up a huge head of expectant energy; which was immediately defused by the contrasting low-key and subtle comedy of Australia’s Tripod. Like Johnny-come-latelys Flight Of The Conchords, the whimsical folk music hides some sharp lines; while their condescending banter also leads naturally to delightful gems. ‘There’s a time and place for expressing your feelings,’ high-status Scod reprimands low-status Yon at one point, ‘and music isn’t it.’
Henry Phillips offered another entertaining, folksy song charting the bitter break-up of a parasitic relationship, teasingly extending the metaphor to ridiculous extremes and asking the audience to join him in a brilliantly overcomplicated singalong. Too rarely is ‘unicellular dynaflagellic algae’ used as a lyric.
Kate Micucci thoroughly embraced the sweetness of quirky low-fi, art-school comedy, with her George Formby ukulele and flimsy, whimsical songs about taking a nap or writing a letter to deer. However, she struggled to make the quantum leap from cute to hilarious.
Chuck Watkins struggled gamely with technical problems that meant he couldn’t sample and loop his spoon-playing as planned, but although he had no complaints about switching to a Plan B, the unspectacular stand-up he delivered instead was clearly not what he’d wanted to showcase.
Bo Burnham is another online phenomenon, and only a precocious 17 years of age. This bedroom lyricist, however, shows a maturity in his writing and prodigious musical talent well beyond his years. He’s inventive, ironic, self-mocking, postmodern, gloriously inappropriate and slyly subtle – often in the same song. And with an industrious turnover of new material, he must have every lazier, more established musical act worried. And that’s most of them.
You’d have though he would be the perfect headliner, but producers had one more, unfollowable, trick up their sleeve: the truly bizarre Million Dollar Strong. Their infectiously catchy web hit is What’s It Gonna Be? but that can only give a hint at their brilliant insanity. Lead singer Mike O’Connell comes on in too-tight underwear and too-short gown, looking and sounding every inch the gone-to-seed playboy as he hilariously boasts: ‘I’ve got about a million bitches to plough. So you can fuck-a me later, but you should fuck-a me now.’
The over-the-top song would be brilliant in its own right, but its elevated into the sublimely silly by the back-up singing of Ken Jeong, whose castrato sounds so distinctive – and so inhuman – that you’d be sure some electronic trickery was involved. But, live, it doesn’t seem like it. Absolutely bonkers, but absolutely brilliant.
But what am I telling you all this for. As I say, you can see it all for yourself on the net…
Tripod: Henry Phillips:
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