Raw Comedy national final 2019 | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Raw Comedy national final 2019

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival

You would expect – or at least hope – to find some real talent once the 1,038 would-be comedians who entered Australia’s nationwide Raw competition had been whittled down to the final 15. And so it proved, with a strong final in the cavernous – and no doubt intimidating – Melbourne town hall.

If the audience were in any doubt about the quality of comedians they would be getting, opening act Rose Bishop was a reassuring presence. She has confidence to spare, even making her high self esteem the subject of the opening gag. But as the set unfolded it revealed more about her poor lifestyle and mental health concerns to flesh out her character, wanting a quick fix for any issues. If there’s a complaint, it could be that five minutes was not enough for her to be more than superficial about such matters. But there’s surely plenty of career ahead of her to expand on her topics.

Brisbane’s Suraj Kolarkar also irradiated confidence, from the short, effective opening line onwards. Perhaps he learned something from his hilariously blunt uncle about getting to the point simply and directly. His set was well put-together and efficiently written, honed so tightly as to maximise the laughs from clear punchlines. He earned a couple of applause breaks during his time – as well as a runner-up slot.

Steph Broadbridge has created a strong persona for herself as a 34-year-old woman who’s a bit of a wreck: popping valium and passing out on the bathroom floor of her filthy apartment. Unfortunately the great set-up was squandered on a song about ‘fuckboys’ and its predictable punchlines, not least of which was setting yourself up as if to make a rude rhyme then pulling away, When your song is called Fuckboys, why so coy about saying ‘ass’? 

Weird is Jacob Jackman’s watchword, even his determination not not confirm sent his odd set in all directions, with wilfully cack-handed stabs at musical comedy, crowd work and prop gags involving plastic babies. None of it’s entirely convincing, given that there’s little context for the strangeness, but he is certainly memorable. Tellingly, the most promising section was a more conventional stand-up routine about working in a sex shop, although even this was padded in surreal dressing.

Arun Alexander, from the Northern Territories is only 17, but with his full bushy beard could pass for twice as old. He’s got a couple of good gags on his appearance, but sadly it’s really the only subject he mined, a predictable and rather flat chunk about the travails of airport security notwithstanding. He’s clearly the newest of the new – mentioning his stage fright and visibly swaying with nerves. But he overcame that, and with more experience will surely overcome the shortcomings in his writing, too.

Laura Hutchinson painted a wonderfully vivid picture of life in the more depressed areas of her native Perth. Her  humour is cynical, but packed with jokes, so you’re never far from an astringent punchline. The commitment to the gag rate and the consistency of her jaundiced world view makes her a strong future prospect – and she was a shoe-in for the other runners-up slot.

Canberra’s Edwin Tetlow was committed, too, but couldn’t get the audience to get on board with his material about the menace of magpies, even though an opening gambit about his height was well done and he has a good physical impression of the birds. A disjointed delivery, irritating vocal tic and obscure subject with not enough gags combined to be his undoing, though he certainly has stage presence. 

Double Dee need to punch up their material too, as well as figure out their relationship. It’s a male-female double act, that starts with him playing moronically dumb to justify some laboured jokes, although that facade was dropped as they moved into the song. She has a captivatingly delightful voice, while he faked a trumpet - but he’s no Earl Okin, the British comedian who has build a long career on such a technique. And the comic payoff for the song was very predictable as the romantic pretext took a bitter turn. 

Harry Morrissey certainly made an entrance with his sparkly suit and haughty demeanour, but hits an off-note as his confident attitude quickly turns uncertain for one gag. What are we to make of this? Some of his shtick is a little old school cabaret, such as aggressively flirting with a presumably straight guy in the audience, but he has a nice line in withering self-obsession and the unshakeable belief that  he’s better than everyone else. And a routine hitting back at bigots who suggest marriage equality is the slippery slope to being able to wed your dog starts well, but loses its way a bit. A mixed bag, then, but not without promise.

Fady Kassab felt like a winner from his very first joke, and so it proved. He certainly has the background for fascinating material having grown up in the Lebanon war zone – and not many comics can draw on experience like that, with tales of seeing Israeli soldiers in their tanks on his street. Kassab used these memories – and his subsequent life settling down as an immigrant in Sydney–  for smart, sharp and purposeful jokes, dodging ethnic cliche and delivery with certainty. He’ll now be heading to Edinburgh this August for the So You Think You’re Funny? competition as par of his prize.

At the other end of the scale, young Tasmanian Sam Horton has very limited experience of life, that restricts his material to largely bitching about working at a Subway drive-thru. Customers who don’t know the menu might have irritated him, but it doesn’t concern us. Indeed we may well be those customers, and why on earth should we know all the options? He had a strong opener and some potential, but it’s very early days.

Same could be said for 18-year-old Elliot Stewart, playing up his nerdiness to the extent of wearing a canary-yellow bow tie on stage. The awkward geek talking sardonically about how his demeanour gets him ‘pussy’ is a familiar archetype, and he also hits the usual clever-clogs topics like Venn diagrams. Though blaming being vaccinated for his autistic-like qualities wasn’t ironic enough for such an important issue. But Stewart has a strong stage presence for someone so young, and seems to understand the building blocks of comedy.

Rakhesh Martyn kicked off with some savvy material about the  points-based immigration system that meant an engineer like him could come to Australia from Sri Lanka. But most of his set was about his appearance on The Chase, when his head somehow looked freakishly massive on screen. Twitter wrote most of this routine for him, given how the snarky insults flew, but there’s a rather unpleasant edge to the self-deprecation. For even aimed at himself, comments likening himself to a turd based on his skin colour do not sit easy.

Finally  Kathryn Thomas painted an amusing image of herself as the eldest in her friend group, joking about the immaturity of her friends, and even her lovers, while making out to be terrible at adulting herself. The set’s a bit rough around the edges, but has the right elements, especially the brief mention of the cringe-induing diversity day at the all-white high school she attended in The Hills  area of Sydney. Her set might be a fixxer-upper, but it has solid foundations.

Review date: 16 Apr 2019
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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