Raw Comedy National Final 2011

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Sometimes it’s hard to remember just how wet behind the ears the Raw finalists can be. As a rule, even if their material is not fully-developed they have a poise and confidence that belies their inexperience, especially considering they face the intimidating prospect of playing to a live audience of 1,500-plus – and hundreds of thousands more at home on TV.

Winner Dayne Rathbone certainly had the front to present a challenging persona to the packed Town Hall audience. In the guise of a nervous uber-geek in buttoned-down beige, he spent a good half of his allocated five minutes describing in intricate, repetitive detail how he sadistically broke a frog’s leg.

The faltering routine was entirely free of punchlines, but as his voice cracked in social paralysis, pockets of laughter started to break out across the room, seemingly at random, until most of the audience was on the side of this cripplingly awkward sociopath.

A trio of poems, hilarious in their awfulness, completed the beautifully-realised characterization, ensuring the uncompromisingly offbeat Melburnian had seared himself in the audience’s memory. Truly original, it will be fascinating to see where he takes this – which is why he is just the sort of performer a new act competition should be unearthing.

Rewind to the start of the marathon afternoon session, and the calm and collected Adam Knox offers a complete contrast. He’s a more solid, straightforward act – to the extent that some of his jokes are predictable, especially when he delves into kiddie-fiddling lines that no longer shock. But the set is well-constructed, and a couple of his playful turns of the English language squarely hit the spot. So while he didn’t wow, his 21-year-old Victorian certainly has enough promise to keep an eye on.

Likewise, New South Wales girl Laura Hughes had a certain endearing charisma on stage, although her writing lets her down. The inward-looking routine about the various facets of her personality just about avoided self-obsession, even if some of her observations verged on the cliché. Yet little flourishes in her adroit performance point to an underlying quirky comic mind, which hopefully she’ll develop.

Another strong persona next, in the form of South Australian ‘deadbeat stoner’ Tom Gaynor. His purposefully stilted delivery carried his offbeat material well, and there are a handful of oddball lines in the routine to die for – although, for balance, a couple of easier gags might be better off exorcised. He fully inhabits the personality he projects to the audience, and has an innately appealing style to him – factors which earned him a runners-up place on the day.

Queensland’s Ting Lim said she had only been in Australia for 18 months, and her routine hit every Chinese and Asian stereotype you can think of, in an attempt to undermine them. But by sticking to such familiar comic territory, she didn’t really establish herself as her own stand-up.

Adam Francis backed his one-liners with a bluegrass-style riff strummed on his three-string guitar, very much in the spirit of Demetri Martin. Unfortunately, a couple of notable exceptions aside, his jokes weren’t up to it, and rather than enhance the comedy, drew attention to its flaws. And when he attempted a song, this Victorian’s musical shortcomings were exposed, too. There are a couple of lines in his set worth preserving, but it needs a lot more work.

Sohum Raut, from the Northern Territories, was performing his second-ever gig. And my, did it show. So nervous he wore sunglasses to avoid facing the audience and took on the fake name of Zanathar, he delivered appallingly bad lines with what were probably intended as cheeky Mitch Hedberg-style giggles, but came off as painfully self-conscious laughs at his own lines. Well, somebody had to – as the material about masturbation, periods and the like was falling on deaf ears. It seems almost cruel to subject material that’s barely seen an audience to the exposure of a Raw final, and poor Raut was always destined for this on-stage death.

Part two got off to a much stronger start, as Victoria’s Kahled Khalafalla demonstrated exemplary performance skills; confident, animated and cheeky. Some of his material about the assumption an Arabic name equates to a terrorist was rather obvious, but he does it well. More ethno-centric material revolved around disciplinarian parents and Indian call centres, but while this Egyptian-heritage comic plays the race card, he ensures it’s a trump. A well-deserved runners-up place came his way for galvanising the room so adeptly.

Geneveive Fricker is an attractive girl with a guitar, and tired comic convention means she’ll sing a song about being a psycho stalker. Tick. She can certainly sing and play, though, and has an appealing presence, ensuring entertainment all round. A solid, but not yet distinctive, offering from New South Wales.

The same charge could be leveled at young Sam Campbell, who had an appealing approach but sounded like an amalgam of dozens of other stand-ups. Gags about old people smelling, wanking and his boyish looks didn’t really zing – suggesting this Queenslander probably needs to stop watching comedy and start performing it more, to break out of these bad, bland habits.

Tassie’s Claire Sullivan was another real rookie, who again suffered badly from her inexperience. She held her nerve as overly-scripted anecdotes without payoffs inevitably fell on stony ground, but then it was only her third ever gig. Poor dear.

Finally, WA’s Tien Tran hit the ground running with a bold, confident delivery. His material varies wildly – the twist on pick-up-lines is more obvious than I suspect he thinks, and the routine about ‘rangas’ seemed gratuitously mean-spirited. Yet potentially more offensive material about the origins of Aids or an ultraviolent martial arts film packed a real punch, assisted by the fact he performed with such conviction. Give him another year or two, and he could be done…

As always, then, a mixed offering from the Raw finalists – but a good half of them could have a career in comedy if they hone their skills; and I’m already eager to see what on Earth winner Rathbone does next. Lock up your frogs…

Reviewed at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, April 2011

Review date: 9 Jan 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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