There have been few more gaspingly selfish characters on television than George Costanza. The New York rogue was known to push women and children out of the way to escape fire, fake a handicap to secure his own personal office bathroom, and ask Marisa Tomei out on a date hours after the demise of his fiancé (whose death, of course, was caused by licking cheap envelopes the famously tight-arsed George purchased).
The man that played him for nine brilliantly pointless seasons on the seminal Seinfeld sitcom, Jason Alexander, may share the same self-deprecation but certainly not the egotism. At least not on stage in his self-described Comedy Spectacular.
Alexander jokes about the state of his career, touring backwaters like Brisbane now his TV fame and fortune has all but dried up. But the showbiz gusto served up in this live gig, the humble appreciation of the audience response, seems entirely genuine. And quite infectious.
He is a charmingly gregarious host, gracious and grateful of his supporting players and his audience. Alexander knows we came for our little slice of Seinfeld and he’s happy to oblige, revelling even in remembrance of his big TV hit. He takes questions from the audience he’s no doubt heard a hundred times before, but answers as if he hasn’t (Alexander says he channelled Woody Allen in his audition for the part of George, which won over the network brass).
George immediately seems an ocean away. Alexander, in contrast, is a thoroughly Nice Guy.
With that generosity of spirit, there was plenty of spotlight reserved for some fine Australian comedians as Alexander took to the Concert Hall stage in Brisbane, the second show (after Melbourne) of a national tour due to hit Perth, Adelaide and Sydney in the coming days. The laughs flowed for much of the nearly three-hour show.
Of course, Alexander ran the risk of being upstaged by his supporting cast. And he often was.
Ultimately, comedians are a matter of personal taste. Personally, I think the one-trick ponies that are musical duo The Scared Weird Little Guys probably stopped being really funny quite a few years ago. They delivered a set of impressions and lyrical transformations that seemed awfully familiar and just a little tired now those Kiwi Concords are flying overhead.
Glenn Robbins, too, seems to continue to defy his unexceptional comedic ability to be among the country’s top performers. Only surpassed perhaps by Dave Hughes in his laconic stylings, Robbins failed to build on Alexander’s opening in an occasionally funny but fairly flat set.
Then there’s Mick Molloy, who inexplicably manages to make fart jokes righteously funny. The dishevelled appearance belies the fact Molloy is the smartest bogan in any room, ruthlessly mocking his own Aussie ordinariness while dipping his toes over the line of too far. It’s thrilling to watch.
But for me, the real star of the show was the frightfully fabulous Julia Morris. Her breathless routine frequently had me gasping for air in fits of laughter. After years working in London, Morris has finely tuned her comedic craft without losing the broad strine and materteral nuttiness that makes each ridiculous story seem entirely believable – and uproariously funny. I can’t think of a better Aussie comic working today.
Which left Alexander’s shtick – love, marriage, children, etc – feeling a little tame. His cultural jabs – the absurdity of cricket; the revulsion of Vegemite – have been thrown by far too many overseas comedians before. And while the theatre veteran has a fine singing voice, it wasn’t often put to comedic effect.
Worse, the decision to end the show with audience-inspired improvisation (including the very talented improv pro Rebecca De Unamuno) meant a night of laughs ended with a whimper rather than the bang it might have. Despite the best efforts of the antipodeans.
There’s a reason, perhaps, the show wasn’t called ‘Alexander’. For all his good-natured humour, Jason is probably a terrific dinner party guest but something less than the master of his domain (come on, you knew it was coming) on stage.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
JASON ALEXANDER’S COMEDY SPECTACULAR
Fri 27 November - Regent Theatre
Mon 30 Nov – Concert Hall
Wed 2 Dec – Burswood Theatre
Thu 3 Dec – Festival Theatre
Sat 5 Dec – Theatre Royal