Mikey Mileos: They’re Just Words

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

God, where to start with this abysmal mess? This is not just a car crash of a show, but a two-hijacked-planes-smashing-into-skyscrapers of a show.

Mikey Mileos is under the impression I can’t say that; that somehow even mention of 9/11 is verboten, let alone jokes about it. Has he not seen another comedian for the past decade? Just about everyone, from the hack to the inspired, has got something on the twin towers.

Yet someone apparently once told him: ‘Mikey, you can’t joke about 9/11.’ That wasn’t an warning – that was a review. He really can’t.

His contribution to this much-ploughed field is a rambling, unfocussed, contradictory, ill-researched, unfunny essay that concludes – wait for it – that the war on terror is all about oil. What insight.

The theme for this show is that certain topics and words are off-limits to comedians. But they simply aren’t. He moans that he can’t tell jokes about the Holocaust, or about Muslims. You can, I’ve heard them. Some are very funny, with good intentions despite people’s unease at the subject matter. Some are shocking, but so good they transcend their appalling intent in a reflex coping mechanism. But Mileos, after reams of exposition and argument of the level of a earnest but ill-researched High School humanities essay, comes up with a few limp gags that aren’t shocking, edgy or anything positive, they’re just dull.

The show is light on punchlines and long on his ill-considered thesis. The idea of ‘show don’t tell’ is anathema to him, as every half-cocked theory has to get explained in excruciating, jumbled, detail.

Just about every argument he has is facile, if not plain wrong. Even down to something as simple getting the hump with people who use the word ‘anti-social’ to explain why they don’t want to go out for a drink. The word means ‘hostile or harmful to organized society’ he says smugly, citing Webster’s dictionary, beginning a rant that you can’t as a substitute for unsociable. Only problem is, it is a synonym for unsociable too, as you can tell by, erm, looking in Webster’s dictionary. He’s getting het up about something he hasn’t understood.

That’s a trivial example, admittedly, but symptomatic. In a rant about freedom of speech, he asserts that one of the Danish cartoonists was beheaded after depicting the prophet Muhammad. Not true. There were lots of threats, but that never actually happened. If you’re going to spout off about a topic as hot Islamic extremism, at least Google it first. Who does he think is, Andrew Bolt?

Then he comes to the big one. The one word he – as a white man – is not allowed to say. The word nigger.

But then he doesn’t say it.

There’s no courage of his conviction, and he tip-toes around ‘the N-word’ for a bit, and eventually creeping up on it with reference to rap culture’s ‘nigga’. ‘I think we should be allowed to say it,’ he complains unconvincingly, like a poor put-upon soul who’s had his favourite toy taken away from him.

Thing is, you can, if you like: you might just have some explaining to do, depending on the context. ‘People react to words emotionally,’ he bleats, complaining it’s a negative thing. Of course they do, if not how do we create poetry, literature… comedy?

His conclusion, which black comics including Reginald D Hunter have pondered on before, is that any section of society can never be free if there’s a word that gives someone else power over you. A reasonable point, at last, but telling it to a small group of bored white people isn’t going to change anything.

It was also a much smaller group of people than he started with, as the show was beset by walkouts. Not because they couldn’t handle the edgy, controversial truth bombs Mileos was dropping, but because he simply bored them. They weren’t afraid to loudly ask him for their money back as they left, either.

Such incidents, including some mild heckling he couldn’t really defuse and him cringingly chucking out a girl for being inattentive yet not (yet) disruptive, might lead him to conclude that this was an ‘off-night’ or a ‘bad audience’. That might be some consolation to him, but the bottom line is that it’s an ill-thought-through show from start to finish.

Even the fundamentals of presentation are abandoned. He sets up the idea we’re going to talk about, say, 9/11. Then does a little game show interlude to guess what we’re going to talk about. Why slow the show to go backwards? A routine about Shakespeare inventing words is about a millionth as good as Frank Woodley’s routine on the same idea. Meanwhile, PowerPoint is clung to desperately, as if jaunty graphics can save us, as everything is both over-explained yet confusingly muddled in crushingly dull detail.

These might be forgivable if he would serve up the funnies, but Mileos is in way over his head on both the subject matter and on simply delivering the laughs. ‘Thought-provoking’ he bills this show as. My only thought was that he hasn’t a clue what he’s doing.

And sorry if he’s upset by this review, he seems like a nice bloke, albeit a floundering one. But hey, they’re just words, right?

Reviewed at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, April 2011

Review date: 9 Jan 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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