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Set List

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Normally stand-up requires a suspension of disbelief, with the audience accepting the conceit that comics are just having a spontaneous conversation, not reciting well-rehearsed scripts.

The intriguing idea behind Set List is that the comedians ARE making this stuff up as they go along. I say ‘intriguing’ – for those performers taking part it must be positively terrifying. As they stand on stage, a series of topics flashes up on screen which they must make into material – whether it be ‘scorpion immunity’ or ‘hook hand versus no hand’

It’s comedy’s equivalent of the medieval rack – at best a stretch; at worst torture.

For the audience, the attracting is seeing how the comedians’ brains work, as host and co-devisor Paul Provenza – best known as director of The Aristocrats movie – is keen to point out. It’s about the process not the result.

And those results are predictably varied. Of the half-dozen acts who took part tonight, opener Damian Smith made it look easy, with fluid improvisation that found some funny in all the unlikely topics, setting an unrealistic expectation of the rest of the participants

Laura Hughes awkwardly embarked on the idea that she was an alien studying human culture, which didn’t really work but gave her a consistent get-out as she struggled with concepts such as ‘Blackface = fun’.

American Ian Bagg got laughs out his struggle, as he seemed genuinely stumped by most of the topics, but both Tom Agna and Dave Bloustein grabbed the game by the horns and produced some fine work. Bloustein was arguably sharper than Agna, who was frequently left grasping at straws, but his struggles to form on-topic gags eventually bore fruit, in the spirit of the game.

Set List – which has a different line-up each time – rewards a strong comedic persona, and that was most evident in closer Mike Wilmot, whose ‘drunk, irascible uncle’ shtick stood him in good stead as he seemingly lost patience with the preposterous suggestions, only to eventually form something resembling a routine out of them.

Because of its spur-of-the-moment nature, this is never going to be the funniest hour in the festival, but it’s certainly offering something different, especially if you like to see your comics sweat.

Review date: 10 Apr 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

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