Greg Larsen: This Might Not Be Hell | Melbourne International Comedy Festival review
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Greg Larsen: This Might Not Be Hell

Melbourne International Comedy Festival review

There are not many comics more adept at combining juvenile humour and righteous political fury to brilliant effect than Greg Larsen. 

A gifted writer and collaborator, he’s been a mainstay of some uneven but often inspired Melbourne International Comedy Festival offerings over the years, collaborating with the likes of Anne Edmonds, Ben Russell, Damien Power and the mildly notorious Fancy Boy sketch troupe, as well as going all-in on his own twisted mind with a deliriously unforgettable solo show in 2017. 

More recent efforts have been more personally reflective, and this year’s is the most impactful yet, as Larsen tells the thinly-veiled autobiographical story of an unemployed man in the mid-2000s, when the John Howard government’s draconian job-seeker measures and scare campaigns about ‘dole bludgers’ were in full effect. 

James Jenkins, the sweet but hapless main character, suffers through a demeaning (dare we say Kafkaesque?) series of encounters with illogical and/or unfeeling bureaucracy, losing access to his benefits and finding himself unable to pursue a job that might have some meaning for him, eventually contemplating suicide. 

While we’d hesitate to say that Larsen manages to make this a roaring good time, he certainly makes it more fun than it sounds, regularly interrupting sketches as himself to point out the real-world inspirations for the surreal scenarios that James finds himself in.

And while the subject matter is clearly challenging, it is leavened with some puerile gags, retro references and endearingly indulgent detours into music trivia as James looks to land a job at a metal record shop, clearly a ticket to long-term employment.  

We also hear conversations between James and a suicide hotline, an example of the well-meaning but ultimately limited support that same bureaucracy can provide to someone as patently lost and vulnerable as James is.

Larsen admirably doesn’t attempt to turn his avatar into a would-be go-getter thwarted by the system, with his passivity and self-destructive tendencies almost daring the audience not to sympathise with someone who clearly needs more help. 

A qualified recommendation certainly, but a regularly amusing and affecting offering that has the power to stay with you far beyond the final scene. 

Review date: 5 Apr 2021
Reviewed by: Patrick Horan
Reviewed at: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

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