Carl Donnelly: The Dead Dad Show | Melbourne International Comedy Festival review
review star review star review star review star review blank star

Carl Donnelly: The Dead Dad Show

Melbourne International Comedy Festival review

With some justification, Carl Donnelly claims to have the most offputting title of any comedy festival offering this year.

Not every punter will know Dead Dad Show is a universal comedians’ in-joke, a way for them to dismiss any colleagues who cynically reaches for pathos and critical acclaim by speaking about their bereavement – a technique which became almost ubiquitously overused a decade or so ago.

Well aware of the trope, and the accusations that could be levelled against it, Donnelly largely steers clear of sentimentality or poignancy as he talks about the passing of his father last July. In any case, such dramatic devices are probably anathema to the Brit, the epitome of the easy-going Everyman and whose stock-in-trade is shooting the breeze wittily and amiably about his life.

Quite a long preamble sets this up, reassuring us we are not going to be subjected to a tough hour of grief and heartache, with the comic insisting that he will put humour first as he tells the story, however bleak things got at the time.

The best memorial Donnelly could give is to tell people what his dad was like, and he paints an affectionate portrait without shying away from his flaws. Like many from his generation of working-class Londoners, Donnelly Sr was an emotionally constipated man. But unlike many, he also had links to some very shady characters and served time in jail.

The moment of death – at which Carl was present – is deftly handled with sensitivity, but also an observational comic’s eye for peculiar detail. Anyone who’s been at the bedside of an ailing friend or relative will inevitably find their thoughts drawn back to their own situation. So Donnelly gets the emotional pull, even without so obviously aiming for it.

Afterwards, there’s all the admin to be dealt with, piled on to an already stressful period as Donnelly was moving house at exactly the same time. ‘You’ll be surprised what you can cope with,’ he comments. Then there are the characters he met in dealing with it, and he amusingly describes the undertaker who was far from the sallow-eyed stereotype or the camp pallbearer at the cremation.

Though wrapped in the trappings of an hour of upbeat comic storytelling, Dead Dad Show is a deceptively layered offering. Donnelly’s warm, gregarious nature makes it feels like a casual chat, but he’s also revealing emotions and memories that will resonate with almost everyone in his audience.

Carl Donnelly: The Dead Dad Show is on at The Westin hotel at 6.50pm from tomorrow until Saturday, then 5.50pm on Sunday.

Review date: 17 Apr 2023
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.