Tom Gleeson was a red haired kid who grew up in the country. In fact, the part of the country he grew up in seemed to be populated by a disproportionately large number of fair skinned red haired kids. Now days you’ll find him walking the streets of Melbourne with his King Charles Cocker Spaniel Polly, last name “Parker”. And so we the punters are introduced to Tom Gleeson’s life. Over the next hour we were to hear about his partner, his dog, his thoughts on Tasmania and Tasmanians, a massage in Byron Bay, the drunken escapades of Gleeson’s younger brother and his two mates from the cricket team and a ripping yarn about a practical joke two of Gleeson’s friends played on some unsuspecting campers, most of it good fodder for laughs. Gleeson draws from his personal experiences to provide the laughs. Life is funny and what it provides can at times be better than what we imagine but it is his reliance on personal stories which provided a weakness in his performance.
There were some interesting starts in his show – being a homophobic phobic, football, and even the dear King Charles Cocker Spaniel, Polly Parker but they all seemed to pull up short. Polly Parker stopped too soon. It’s not that I’m a fanatic dog lover; I just thought there was a lot of humorous and interesting commentary that could be made on the life a well kept pooch and its owners. Gleeson is not above poking fun at himself and this was a good chance missed to run with it.
Other ideas seemed to have not been fleshed out enough to find the hook on which to hang the laughs, or Gleeson seemed to push through the piece at a break neck speed leaving little time to develop and play with the ideas. His stab at all things stereotypically Tasmanian just sounded rusty and passé from the onset, a slightly new take on very old and worn out easy targets. Gleeson even caught himself out when he asked if there was anybody in the audience from Tasmania and one or two hands went up. Gleeson politely attempted to u-turn and back out of the Tasmanian jokes fiasco. (Which state does he poke fun at when he performs in Tasmania?) It was then, and at a few other squeaky awkward moments, that I found myself offering up an insincere chuckle to jokes which seemed not yet fully developed or thought out. It left me quietly cheering “Come on Tom. You can do better. That one wasn’t so funny.”
It’s not hard to laugh when you’ve turned up to a performance looking to be entertained and humoured. You want the guy on stage to succeed; you hope they will, you’re almost nervous at the thought of them not, because hell, you couldn’t do a better job. There is an inherent risk in the job of the comedian, the chance that it will go pear shaped and flop and most in the audience (including the reviewer) are mindful of this. Gleeson is a comedian with the required comic timing; he’s intelligent, likeable; above all he is funny. It’s just that his personal experiences and ripping yarns lent themselves more to a night round Tom’s house with a few beers in hand, as everyone reminisces about the funny times they’ve had. (He tells us that his friends do just that with the infamous camping yarn.) Sure - sounds like a good night in with a few drinks but I was sober, at a theatre and looking for something more. I wanted more than to be regaled by a loosely connected string of stories with only a few points of transition between topics. The farcical and self effacing Byron Bay massage tale showed that when Tom Gleeson trusts himself, embellishes the truth and gets silly, he gets whatever it is he’s going at with that big stick.
Brisbane Powerhouse and Andrew Taylor Management presents
Going at it with a Big Stick
Part of the 2009 Brisbane Comedy Festival
Venue: Visy Theatre
Dates: Thu 26 - Sat 28 Mar 09