He cuts a slightly odd figure on stage, a large man in black wearing a too small ringmaster’s hat. “Tonight, we’re going to put on a show,” he announces and he’s not using the royal we, he means all of us in the room, the audience included. Ben Pobjie wants his latest show – our show, I should say perhaps, he insists it belongs to all of us – to be truly interactive.
Pobjie’s one of those multi-talented sorts who’s difficult to categorise. He is best known for his humorous columns in New Matilda and The Age, also for his witty presence on Twitter, where he has a small army of followers. He’s also a stand-up comic and performance poet.
Let’s Put On A Show is his second Comedy Festival solo, and also had a run at the 2012 Melbourne Fringe. It too is difficult to categorise, a deconstructed show that sometimes seems to be a parody of the very act of performing comedy. There’s a bit of stand-up, a bit of story-telling, a touch of stream-of-consciousness, a pinch of rant and a good dose of banter. Pobjie bundles all kinds of comic devices together into a brilliant hilarious mess.
Central to the show is a story he tells based on suggestions from the audience about what they want to see a show about. The story itself is a bit of a shaggy dog affair and serves mainly as a structure for him to springboard into improvised stand-up, taking tangents where they occur to him, and returning to the story once an idea’s been explored. The starting suggestions he gets on the night I go include “childbirth”, “robots”, “either the ocean or greenery” (??) and “Delta Goodrem’s Neo-Nazi Indoor Cricket Team” (!!?). Clearly Pobjie is a brave man leaving his show’s direction in the hands of a Fitzroy pub crowd. He’s game for the challenge though and his efforts to build a show on these dubious foundations have the audience in constant hysterics.
His humour is whimsical, intelligent, pop culture savvy, a little surreal, a little political and frequently outrageous. The audience, given license to contribute, get really involved and, even when some of them start getting too enthusiastic, Pobjie weathers it all with aplomb. Pobjie’s endearingly shambolic stage presence is a big part of the show’s success. So too is his capacity for finding the funny and pulling smart comic pay-offs out of seeming chaos. Improvised comedy often runs on the adrenalinised feeling that anything could go wrong at any time, whereas Pobjie cultivates more of an air that everything has already gone to hell in a handbasket and he’s trying to put it back together. The best analogy I have for being in the audience is that it’s akin to carousing with a crew of drunk pirates on a rudderless ship: it’s all disorder, with no destination, but everyone’s having a rip-snorter of a time anyway.
The show’s only got a one-week run – and boy must it be a demanding one to perform – but it’s worth dashing over to Fitzroy to catch it before it closes. There’s no knowing exactly what to expect one night to another but with Pobjie in fine form at the helm it could be one of the best show's you've ever put on.
Let's Put On A Show
Venue: GERTRUDES brown couch | 30 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
Dates: 9 – 14 Apr, 2013
Tickets: $10 – $20
Bookings: 1300 660 013
Part of the 2013 Melbourne International Comedy Festival