Late Nite Down Under 2008

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Not even a nightmare 49-hour trip from Australia to Montreal, courtesy of runway delays, missed connections and an unscheduled overnight stay in Los Angeles, is enough to knock Adam Hills off his game.

With little pause between getting off the flight and on to the stage of Late Nite Down Under, he’s still the consummate pro, riffing easily with the audience – even some memers who were worryingly keen to be part of the show. Crucially, he’s equally sure not to push beyond the comfort zone of anyone he engages with, making sure everyone feels at home.

The first act he introduces, Kiwi Dai Henwood is an extroverted physical act, striking poses from the moment he steps into the spotlight. He acts out table-tennis games, being frazzled by a police tazer gun, and the ribbon event in gymnastics all with great energy and exaggerated style.

But what he’s actually saying is a lot less impressive, with tired ideas inarticulately expressed with little comic embellishment. He seems to hope that simply describing something with a mocking, sarcastic tone of voice is enough, but he’s not sardonic enough to pull it off.

The set-ups to his mimes are clunkily awkward, and the clumsy links between routines even more so. He’ll drop in gratuitous references to things such as Down’s Syndrome, hoping it’s enough for a cheap laugh, but it seems desperate.

His big set-piece finale, a very literal interpretive dance to Time After Time, is pretty well done – just not in the same league as Lee Evans’s Bohemian Rhapsody or David Armand’s Torn; which leads to the inescapable feeling it’s too derivative.

In rather an odd bit of scheduling, this show featured not one, but two, well-established Australian three-man musical comedy collectives, starting with the ultra-slick Gud.

Musically strong, the pace of their banter and spirit of their performance sweep aside any apathy. This is an outfit that certainly boasts a lot of personality. It may be a brash, sarcastic, rude personality – but personality nonetheless, and it gets the job done.

From frontman Paul McDermott’s savagely ageist introductory rant to their filthy single-entendre-ridden song about low-cut, far-too-tight jeans, the trio never let up for a second. Their lyric-swapping song parodies, delivered with well-judged brevity, mightn’t be all-that original, and the whole set is something of a triumph of dogged attitude over material. But an upbeat triumph it certainly is.

Brendon Burns offered a sampler set from his solo show, but with some of the more contentious material left aside. There’s a bit on his booze-and-drugs hell, which flatters the Montrealers for their hard-drinking ways, and a terrifying sample of his screaming, insecure inner monologue. He’s loud, and a touch arrogant, but the material speaks – or rather yells – for itself.

Hannah Gadsby delivered a version of the set that earned her second place in the 2006 So You Think You’re Funny? competition in Edinburgh. But it’s encouraging to see how it’s evolved over the past two years, and is notably sharper and funnier than before.

The dryly self-deprecating subject matters are still the same – from obesity to pubic hair, and from palindromic names to lesbianism – but the jokes have been honed and unnecessary padding dropped. Her morose deadpan has softened, too. She’s not exactly Ms Zany Trousers, but there’s more playfulness and warmth to the persona, to show off her well-written gags to better effect.

The insouciant James Smith – which is possibly one of the least showbizzy names a comedian has ever had - is an Aussie who now lives in New York, and he’s picked up a very American way of working. His set reads like the opening monologue on a late-night talk show, which is perhaps no surprise given that a writing gig on Letterman is the only chance most stand-ups have of making any money from comedy in the Big Apple.

He starts with a Bill Clinton joke, and there’s lots of slick, if hardly incisive, material from more recent headlines, from Barack Obama to Oprah. It may bit a touch formulaic, but it is well done… at least when he doesn’t overly stretch a point, which he has an unfortunate tendency to do.

But kudos to him for finding a wonderfully fresh angle on that most over-used of modern subject matters: the 72 virgins supposedly offered to suicide bombers.

The show was closed by the second musical trio, Tripod, who are probably best described as what you’d get if The Goodies gang-banged Flight Of The Conchords. They offer appealing mix of droll, low-key and unexpectedly harmonious musical numbers and spirited three-way banter – usually at the expense of poor dim-witted Yon, a perfect bug-eyed, browbeaten fool.

With songs that contain proper jokes, an deceptively casual style disguising well-choreographed backchat and an engaging group dynamic, these three showed why they’ve enjoyed such a long career down under. ‘Bonzer!’ is the inevitably stereotypical verdict.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Montreal, July 2008

Review date: 1 Jul 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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