In the competitive jungle that is the world of live comedy, finding a new gimmick to make your standup stand out gets ever harder. Jason Chong, best known so far for his work on radio station Nova and his stereotype-baiting 2008 show Minority Retort, has gone all out to make his latest show Reel Life something different. Drawing on his enduring love of video games, TV and film, Chong has set out to create a show where he becomes part of the onscreen action.
He performs against a large screen, interacting with projected images, animations and various video alter egos. Following a lightweight story that involves his guardian angel and personal devil escaping from their regular places hovering above his shoulders and a chase for a magic remote control, he moves through various set pieces that play with different ways of incorporating live and projected action.
There are projections beside him, around him and onto him. He talks and sings and fights with onscreen characters. He also makes liberal use (and fun) of the “jump into the TV” trick, syncing his disappearance behind the screen with the appearance of a digital image of himself. Slits in the screen enable him to set up half-in half-out sequences or to pull out real versions of props that appear first as digital images.
A lot of work has gone into making all this happen but the humour that underpins it remains pretty simple. While there is good material there, mostly in throwaway lines, for the most part the show is high on easy visual gags and schoolboy-style sex, fart and poo jokes. It is highly pop culture referential and anyone who watched a lot of TV in the 80s and 90s will be able to spot where many of the jokes come from.
A number of sequences involve direct recreations from classic video games and you get the feeling that Chong is playing out childhood fantasies. The result is actually a lot like watching a hyperactive kid act out a story – at times you get caught up in the highjinks and giggle along with him, at other times you sit back and think “OK now you’re just mucking about.” Interacting with the multimedia also forces Chong to work in scripted scenes, whereas his manic performance style seems more suited to spontaneity. It’s not like you come away disliking him though – he’s having too much fun and putting too much of what he loves into it.
Early in the piece Chong recalls fondly how in his childhood, each new advance in special effects was a mind-blowing change in our ability to realise our imaginations, whereas today kids grow up with fantastical visuals as standard. This piece of 80s-child nostalgia sticks with me. Coming out of an hour-long performance of a man battling multiple onscreen versions of himself thinking “oh yeah that was OK” does kind of bring the point home.
Venue: Softbelly | 367 Little Bourke St, Melbourne
Dates: Sep 27 – Oct 1, 2011
Tickets: $22.00 – $18.00
Part of the 2011 Melbourne Comedy Festival