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Tom Ballard: Doing Stuff

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

In Doing Stuff, Tom Ballard wants to tackle his generation’s political apathy… although how to engage people in the topic of why they won’t engage obviously presents an in-built obstacle.

Ballard’s solution is to couch the topic within subjects audiences do want to hear about: popular culture and dick jokes. Nonetheless, despite some good gags and convincing arguments, he often falls between the two stools.

The affable 22-year-old could probably tackle the serious stuff more directly. He seems to underestimate the extent to which an audience will stick with him, either because they are fans from his Triple J radio show or because he is simply such an innately engaging performer. He’s such a natural on stage he can get a laugh simply from chugging a beer, just because it’s so well timed. With no apparent effort he’s in command of the room.

Yet he does have a tendency to get distracted by the audience. When he dips into them for a simple affirmation for the next bit of material, he’s too easily drawn into conversation – even if festival shows rarely require such compere-like shtick.

Amid discussions of everything from gay porn to the ‘Kevin 07’ campaign T-shirt he still owns, Ballard makes the point that it’s hard to care about the world’s inequalities because the problems seems so complex and insurmountable. Yet movements from the Arab Spring to Occupy show that action can have effect, even if global capitalism still stays stubbornly intact.

His message is to at least do something on one subject that matters to you personally, and for him, it’s gay marriage.

Comedically, this is a double-edged sword, as opponents to legalisation are on such dodgy ground, it’s easy to mock their stupid arguments, born out of blind prejudice and a personal dislike of homosexuality, rather than anything logical. Sometimes it’s just enough to read their intolerant rantings out loud to get laughs of incredulity or derision – which is fine, but easy.

Ballard does indeed do that, although he does have the wit try to understand the antis point of view: which he believes is because marriage is a word that conjures tender romance, while gay evokes ‘filthy’ sex, even if the homosexuals don’t have a monopoly on that. And that revelation conveniently allows him to indulge in a couple of disgustingly funny sex tales.

There are some fine routines in this show, and Ballard does tackle the subject with both a maturity that belies his youth – and an immaturity everyone can enjoy. That it doesn’t quite hang together because of his desire to sugar the pill of his opinions is something of a shame. But he is at least true to his own philosophy, of trying to engage in the subjects that matter.

Review date: 21 Apr 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

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