Sammy J: Hero Complex | Review by Steve Bennett at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Sammy J: Hero Complex

Review by Steve Bennett at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival

You couldn’t make it up.  Sammy J has such a strange story to tell – full of the sort of coincidences no one would believe in a work of fiction – that the unfolding events hold his audience spellbound.

But while the incredible narrative does all the heavy lifting, the way the winsome musical comedian tells it is also compelling, knowing just when to withhold information, just when to let it drop; slipping in routines to foreshadow future events; and delivering it all with a precisely judged mix of confidence and self-deprecation.

This tale starts in childhood when one Sam J McMillan, to few in the audience’s surprise, was something of a geek. For while adult Sammy J is known for his collaborations with puppet Randy, that was not his first blunt-talking, purple, alpha-male friend. No, that was the comic-book hero The Phantom, the costumed crimefighter with whom the teenager was obsessed.

That’s a measure of his geekiness, he admits, as his fandom for such an obscure and unfashionable character made him a nerd among nerds. In fact, the only person he could find to share his all-consuming passion was the school gardener, Duncan.

Despite seeming like a classic grooming scenario, that’s thankfully not how the story unfolds, with the pair becoming genuine mates,  trading comics and merchandise, as revealed in the obligatory ‘extracts from a teenage diary’ segments. However, when Duncan suddenly disappeared from school, it was his friendship with the teenage Sammy J that was blamed, giving the youngster a guilt to carry through the years.

We also hear of the teen’s other geeky pursuit, being a member of a model United Nations debating society – an activity he was drawn to via his love of The Phantom. And how he came to deny his hero, realising how it was damaging his image.

That, though, is just the start of an unfolding intrigue that takes in larceny, love and the fear of retribution, all leading to a series of perfect resolutions. To reveal any more would be a spoiler, but suffice it to say the conclusion leaves the audience both gobsmacked and uplifted by the joys of life’s happier flukes.

Sammy J largely puts his keyboard to one side for this show, avoiding the temptation to create an Opera Of The Phantom – although there are just enough numbers to remind fans of his skills in creating tricksy lyrics and jaunty melodies to convey a story, with silly ideas set to portentous soundtracks.

Instead, he draws out events with the skill a comic book storyboarder would envy while liberally flecking the yarn with witty observations. It’s a story even he struggles to find credible, and his amazement and enthusiasm shines through, creating a perfect feelgood hour.

Review date: 3 Apr 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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