The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is over for another year. Whilst Melburnians have been treated to a feast of laughter I wonder if we are any the wiser about what it is that makes us laugh. Sure we all know when something or someone is funny but how do you make comedy happen? And what do you need to know if you are a young woman intent on being a successful stand-up comedian? Last week's inaugural Jeez Louise Address promised to provide some answers to these questions and, with Rachel Berger in charge, lots of laughter. We weren't disappointed.
Drawing on her 28 years in the business Berger offered numerous tips on how to 'make it' as a stand-up. Motivation comes first and hers came from seeng the change in her parents when they laughed. Determined to discover what it is that makes people laugh, she managed to destroy many of her parent's comedy records by dropping the stylus on to them in an effort to find that special moment before laughter.
Motivation is one thing but it is only the beginning. Courage and hard work are essential for both survival and success in the business. In 1986 Berger somehow found her way onto the stage at the Last Laugh. Young and confident she was thrilled when her send up of primal therapy had her audience in fits of laughter. Only afterwards did she learn that her audience had included a bunch of psychiatrists having a night out following a conference. Her second show brought her to earth, she died that night, and for the following nine nights, but she learned more about herself and her audience.
In order to keep going, to learn from your failures as much as from your successes, you have to have faith in yourself and what you have to offer. Instead of copying others you need to discover your own distinctive voice. You need to work hard at your craft and be prepared to take risks, daring to reach out beyond your comfort zone. Working as an MC at a lunchtime strip club proved to be a very useful experience for Berger and the story provided lots of laughs for the audience.
Whilst the basic ingredients of comedy are a narrative, a surprise and a punchline nothing works unless you manage to create a real connection with your audience. You need to give something of yourself and you need to recognise and use the power of the microphone. This 'weapon' provides both a protection for comedian and audience and a bridge between the two.
Berger's address was very funny and full of useful advice for those who wish to stand alone on stage and make others laugh. It's great to know that established comedians are willing to give so generously of their knowledge and experience to support and encourage emerging artists.
Berger's performance confirmed yet again just how talented she is as a stand-up comedian and made all those present understand why it is that the Australian has described her as “dominatrix extraordinaire of audiences”. It also proved, if anyone ever doubted the fact, that women can be, and are, very funny.
Melbourne International Comedy Festival presents
Jeez Louise Address: Rachel Berger
Venue: Melb Town Hall - Powder Room | Cnr Swanston & Collins Sts, Melbourne
Date: 16 April, 2015