Left - Dan Willis
Every night upstairs at the Exford Hotel is the Best of British, a show that has what it describes as a “revolving line-up” of International (British) acts, each of which have their own shows playing at the Festival.
On a Monday night, as it does most nights of the week, the show begins at 9.30. It’s a rather late start but given the content of the acts in its line-up, and one assumes this would be the case each night, the later time slot is fitting, if not mandatory.
Best of British is just one of the many Festival shows that are playing at bars and pubs around the city. At the Exford the only place for the audience to wait before the show is at the bar, along with the regulars who are playing pool and pretending to watch the muted TV, and given that the humour in this line-up is more crass than clever, the opportunity to down a drink or two beforehand should probably be taken.
Whilst the show’s publicity advises that there will be three acts each night, on this evening there are in fact four, plus a few cracks from the show’s host, Dan Willis. Willis tries to get the audience warmed up but the combination of his thick accent and the speed with which he talks makes him quite difficult to follow. It is a pity because on the few occasions that he does get into a joke, he is quite amusing.
The first act is Adam Crow who is a very chilled out guy. His jokes, mainly regarding the differences between men and women, in particular that women mature earlier than men, are some of the rudest of the night, but they are also some of the funniest.
Jen Brister is a woman small in stature but full of energy and very animated. Whilst she observes Australia and Melbourne from an English point of view, in particular the city’s rules and regulations, a great deal of her act involves her exaggerated impersonations of her Spanish Mother, and it is in these instances that she’s most amusing.
Gordon Southern, one of the bigger names of the Festival, takes longer to get going than the other acts, perhaps because he’s accustomed to performing his shows in the longer form. He is at his best interacting with the audience but amidst his ruder jokes, there are also some that are subtler and rather clever. For instance, his definition of ‘Leotard’: a stupid lion, or that of ‘Shampoo’: it smells good but never is.
Finally, Ivan Brackenbury, with his straggly hair and headphones, takes the stage. Brackenbury presents his usual character, a DJ for a community radio show that broadcasts to a hospital and its patients. The humour comes from the inappropriateness of each of these songs given the people to whom he is dedicating them. There is for instance his playing of Coldplay’s Yellow, his dedication to the patients with jaundice and bruises, and his playing of M People’s Search For The Hero Inside Yourself, which is dedicated to the guy who comes into hospital again and again because he sticks action figures into places he shouldn’t.
This particular act is rather confusing because for a considerable chunk of time at its beginning, Brackenbury is apparently experiencing technical difficulties with his laptop (on which his material is stored). Someone neglected to charge it, and so the sound technician and the bar staff, after laughing at him, do a very good job of running around for a power cord to fit his Mac. Meanwhile, Brackenbury stands there, not saying much, whilst the audience, although laughing, are wondering whether this is all part of his act. Even now (to Brackenbury’s credit) this audience member is still rather confused. Unfortunately for Brackenbury, the audience’s attention and interest have waned before he even comes on, so when he is finally up and running – rather miraculously – there is a noticeable lack of laughs. Brackenbury’s comment that his act was “going better before it started working” is unfortunately spot-on.
Whilst the appreciation of each act certainly would have been greater if there was fewer of them in the line-up, Best of British is a great way to get a taste for what the Festival has on offer or, as the case may be, to narrow down the wish-list.
2011 Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Best of British
Venue: Exford Hotel | 199 Russell St, Melbourne (Licensed venue. No under 18s allowed.)
Dates: 30 March - 23 April, 2011
Times: Mon-Sat 9.30pm, Sun 8.30pm, Sat & Sun 3.30pm
Duration: 60 minutes
Tickets: $20 – $15
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 660 013 | At the venue 03 9663 2697