Left - Harley Breen
Grab the scarf and head out on the town, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow held annually at the Canberra Theatre is always worth leaving the comfort of a fireside sofa. In this, its thirteenth year, each act came with some assurance that they’d been nominated for, awarded or appeared in something worthy, so at least we knew we’d be getting professionals, rather than stand-up ‘pub ummers.’ We came for laughs: what we didn’t know was how they’d be served up. Overall, the evening ranged from smiles and nods through to wiping tears away and wheezing from the sheer joy.
Every year, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow makes a stop in Canberra to share the laughs from comedians who appeared in the original festival held through most of April. The format involves an emcee comedian who introduces 4 other acts, split over an interval so there’s time to refresh those worn out belly muscles.
This year we had the stand-up routines of emcee Harley Breen, and funny gal Cal Wilson, through to puppet Randy (Heath McIvor), and the stand-up/dance act of Damian Callinan. The comical musical element was provided by Greg Fleet with Michael Moriarty.
Starting off the night was Harley Breen, who fulfilled his emcee role of geeing up the crowd with his enthusiastic and lively quips, including some only-too-rare original observations about Canberra. Talking of his newness to parenthood, it soon emerged that he was both honest and irreverent, causing the audience to warm to him immediately. Through the night between acts he performed as a star in his own right, such is his innate hipster charisma. If anyone were to write a 101 on comedy stage presence, then Breen would be the poster child: pacing about effortlessly, falling into characterisations and generally being the top bloke anyone would love to have around at a BBQ.
Experienced Kiwi-Aussie comedian Cal Wilson had some funny things to say about kangaroos and emus but would suit smaller audiences, as she tended to stay in one place and go with a rehearsed spiel. Wilson sure knows how to project a strong character from such a tiny fame though, perfect for her blunt style. Her repertoire is engaging, revolving around observation humour: ‘did you ever notice’ and ‘let me tell you about what happened to me the other day’, which elicited plenty of giggles and knowing nods from the audience.
Next up was Australian Greg Fleet: at first it seemed he was a lazy comedian, but then his tales of his time in rehab were hilarious, as were the remarks about Australian humour. His manner is a bit of a wry-humoured Demtel salesman, and there was a lot of swearing, but it was integrated to his routine rather than gratuitously as others have been in the past. His act still has me chuckling the next day. Tacked on to his routine were some musical pieces paired with Mick Moriarty from the Canberra-origin band, The Gadflys. Fleet’s physical presence channels a piss-taking French mime act, with his body movements serving as visual commentary to Moriarty’s guitar strumming and vocals. Their comedy circuit favourite was the last song, ‘Jumper Pants’ : very catchy and a good choice to go into the interval.
After the break, Harley Breen introduced the quirky but Aussie-as puppet, Randy. As the act progressed, the crowd’s laughs got louder and segued into each other as Heath McIvor’s wit and improvisation skills blended with prepared material to make it seem we were part of the act too, instead of the faceless crowd. Randy may be a small purple puppet with unblinking googly eyes, but the mannerisms and movements by the hidden McIvor are so realistic, you’d believe Randy was real. Immediately he hooked into the audience, coming back to them and starting on a parallel stream of unprepared material relating to cyclists, and the public service, through to material using a wickedly funny Scottish accent impersonation about vegetarian meals. Randy was definitely the highlight of the night, and it was with reluctance that we waved him away for the next act.
Standard stand-up returned with Damian Callinan who had it tough coming after such as kick-ass performance, but he entered the stage with confidence. Long established on the circuit, TV and radio, Callinan launched with gusto into a re-enactment of local bums— who would have thought that his act would end with some catchy dance routines? For an Aussie bloke, that guy can move! His talent with comedy means he needn’t dance for a crust, but he’d surely earn a living doing that too.
The MICFR is bit of a lucky-dip experience, and this year we had a range of humorous options. All rated as quality acts, but the comedy that shone most was the unrehearsed style. You certainly get your money’s worth, even if it means leaving the warm comfort of your couch!
2011 Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow
Venue: Canberra Theatre Centre
Dates: 27-28 May, 2011
Bookings: 02 6275 2700 | www.canberratheatre.com.au