Late Nite Down Under

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

They like to practise a sort of geographical apartheid at Just For Laughs, isolating comics with their compatriots in a series of themed nights: Britcom, O’Comics, Wiseguys for the Italians and the cunningly named Comedy Night In Canada for the locals. And for the antipodeans, this midnight show, compered by the ever-charming Adam Hills.

Not that simply from being from somewhere slightly different from the place you’re performing in is necessarily the defining characteristic of great comedians, but it’s convenient enough for programming purposes.

New Zealander Bob Maclaren, however, does pigeonhole himself entirely according to his passport. His set is strictly Kiwi, covering just about everything you might find printed on crockery in a cheesy Christchurch gift shop: Lord Of The Rings, the kiwi bird, the haka… It is limited in scope, and interest – or at least until he gets on to a segment about his homeland’s flying fish, which may still be formulaic but proves well-written and well-told, raising his game at least temporarily.

Fiona O’Loughlin is a mother of five and an absolute star. Not because she balances life as a successful comic and a devoted mum, as the standard women’s magazine cliché would like to have it, but because she positively celebrates in being a bad parent and dreadful housewife. Her brats annoy her, but she gets her evil revenge; she admits to picking favourites; she’s congenitally lazy; she drinks and smokes and even inadvertently abandons babies in a liquor store – and is cheerfully unrepentant about any of it. The material, a mixture of cruelly dismissive one-liners and frank anecdotes, comes across as a natural conversation, rather than a phoney set – and why wouldn’t it? This is her real life, and that only makes it funnier.

Fast-talking Wil Anderson, in contrast, is clearly ‘on’ from the moment he grabs the mic. And full on, at that. With breathless delivery, he belts out gags eight to the dozen, sweeping up the audience in the tide of energy. Material-wise, it’s a hit-and-miss affair, winningly picking apart the stupidity of the rappers’ chant ‘wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care’ one minute, but doing tired old gags about the dumb questions America asks on its immigration forms the next. But if you don’t like one topic, at least he doesn’t settle on it long enough for you to get bored. And this fast-paced delivery also excuses him the need to go into any great depth about anything.

As the stage is reset with drum kit and various microphones, MC Hills proves his worth, weaving these technical goings-on into the fabric of the show and so converting a dull but necessary procedure into a spontaneous running joke everyone’s in on.

For all the palaver, and their introduction as The Transworld Orchestra, it’s something of a disappointment when only two blokes saunter on stage, one with a didgeridoo. Oh no – buskers! But any doubts are expelled from the moment they start playing, creating a pumping, driving industrial rave beat that manages to make the didgeridoo the epitome of funky cool. What would Rolf Harris say? This forceful, heart-pumping package of musical energy is hardly comedy. But it is fantastic.

After the break, Tom Gleeson’s power levels are a lot lower, and he suffers for it. The set seems more like amiable conversation that sharp material, and it’s a bit too late at night for a chat. His best material has a touch of the Jerry Seinfeld about it, such as his observations on the etiquette of sounding your car horn, but it’s not quite enough. His closer in which he gives the pervy James Blunt backchat as You’re Beautiful is played over the speakers is a nice idea – and what better song to put the boot into? – but by extending it for the full length of the track the segment becomes repetitive and outstays its welcome.

The frilly-shirted Jarred Christmas also brings a conversational style to the show, and he’s a likeable bear of a man who gets the audience on side quickly. It’s longer till they actually start laughing, mind, as it’s not always clear where his digressive talk on dwarves or the movie The Never Ending Story is heading. But as he becomes more animated and the stories become easier to relate to, such as his run-in with an aggressive goose, his set hits home more solidly.

No one’s really in the mood for chat this time of night, and headliner Tim Minchin, pictured, makes the mistake of trying to engage people in banter – and he’s too long-winded about it, too.

But sit him behind a keyboard, and this gifted composer and comic soars. Inflatable You is a jazzy Rat-Pack style song for swinging lovers… of blow-up dolls. Not only is the music brilliant in its own right, but he wrings lots of subtle laughs from this simplest of premises. And where it could have been crass, Minchin invariably brings class.

This is followed by a poem, supposedly a mature reflection on his feelings but peppered with hilarious Tourette’s-style outbursts at those who’ve wronged him. And finally, an rousing, rallying anthem – affectionately mocking do-gooding rockers by parodying their overblown music, earnest good intentions and martyr-like posturing. But rather than saving the entire planet, Minchin has h the more modest ecological intent of asking shoppers to take canvas bags to the supermarket. Brilliant stuff – and the ideal soundtrack for the entire line up to re-emerge on stage, hands swaying, in stirring climax to a successful show.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Montreal, July 2006

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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