Dave HughesLeft – Dave Hughes

What “tests boundaries, explores horizons and is about having fun. Is for all people, all ages and all walks of life. Is made in Melbourne and defines our city?” According to seasoned Festival Director, Susan Provan, it’s the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. And it’s just turned 30.

Officially launched on Monday at the Melbourne Town Hall, guests were treated to a smorgasbord of comedic talent in between addresses by Festival Management, Wurundjeri Elder, Aunty Diane Kerr, The Minister for Creative Industries, The Hon Martin Foley, The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle and Dave Hughes (co-incidentally celebrating his 21st festival birthday) as MC.

Aunty Di’s Welcome to Country was heartfelt and delivered with poignancy and good humour, and as Dave Hughes, rightly noted, got the first big laugh of the Festival with her observation of what 30 years can mean.  She went on to say “it’s wonderful to have a laugh, to share your customs, laws and cultures.” That her people have always had their oral stories and by sharing them, “we live in harmony and can eradicate racism.”

Ultimately, it’s about personal conversations – ridiculous, brilliant or otherwise. And comes back to this belief of storytelling and bringing people together – whatever the shtick.

The Festival it seemed, was responsible for making Melbourne identifiable as a place for the Arts, and first came about because of the vibrant live comedy scene in venues such as The Last Laugh, The Comedy Café and The Universal Theatre.

Universally recognised as one of the 3 big comedy festivals in the world (alongside The Edinburgh Fringe Festival & Montreal’s Just For Laughs), this year’s bumper program boasts 530 shows, 5,000 artists & participants, 7,000 performances and attracts in excess of 700,000 attendees and reaches millions more through broadcasting. Strewth!

With Dave Hughes lamenting what the Festival could do with $60 million in lieu of the Grand Prix (ouch), we were shown a video compilation celebrating the various achievements and discoveries along the way, whilst showcasing the various comedic styles on offer since 1986 – improv, observational, physical, musical, spoof, satirists, surrealists. You name it, they’ve had it.

Chairman, Bill Shannon, also “acknowledged the traditional owners of this land and recognised its people for their spirit, imagination, rich culture of storytelling and humour that is an inspiration to all Australians” and shares the intrinsic values of the Festival itself.

He spoke endearingly about 30 being the new 21 (in terms of the hallmark of adulthood) and quipped that ”he’d hate to think that we’d reached the mark of maturity.”

When the Festival first started, “anything seemed possible and it was these fresh ideas that have been central to the evolution of Australian Comedy. Thirty years on not much has changed – the MICF is still the heart of Australian comedy and continues to provide comic artists with the biggest stage around and to delight, amaze and provoke.”

And we still have DAAS (The Doug Anthony All Stars) with us. Fittingly marking the occasion by busking out the front on Swanston Street. Clearly still adored for their belligerent style of comedy; albeit, older (and with a ‘new’ Richard Fidler, Paul Livingston aka Flacco) but still telling us “to bring it on and then piss off.”

The Festival’s growth & impact has been well documented, and the Chairman made special mention of the free family entertainment on offer, saying that for many, it’s their first comedy experience. What a lovely legacy to claim.

Through the National Development Programme which nurtures budding comedians (some going on to become household names), we got a taste from one of this year’s Class Clown finalists, Ethan Cavanagh, who got guffaws aplenty with this line, “ Happy Birthday… it seems to me that the comedy festival is the only thing from the 80s that people don’t regret.”

So there you have it. Gathered in the midst of a bump in, in the Main Hall, we toasted to a bigger, better and hopefully, forever immature Festival.

The 30th Melbourne International Comedy Festival is now playing, until 17 April, 2016. Visit www.comedyfestival.com.au

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