Against a backdrop of headless floating chickens and in front of one of the biggest crowds of the whole Melbourne International Comedy Festival, a dozen raw comics took a five-minute stand for glory.
The Raw Comedy national open-mic final is an unbelievably tough gig – taking on what is probably the biggest audience of their lives and on camera for later screening on SBS.
No opportunity to stop mid joke and ask for a re-take, as host Nazeem Hussain did several times on the warm up. The fact he was forgiven (repeatedly) and allowed to conduct the audience in some pre-recorded canned laughter and applause (such a painful process) showed how generous the mood was in the house.
With 12 finalists from around Australia – winners from regional and then state/territory heats, plus some wildcard entries – there were quite a few supporters in the crowd, too.
Squirly, from a small town in north-west WA (gotta love those outback nicknames), ranted for quite a while and in some intimate detail about bizarre childhood memories and sibling rivalry before noting: “To be honest, it was a lot less awkward before I saw my family in the audience.”
But it was fascinating to see the huge range of styles, material and personalities that bring people to perform comedy. What all shapes, sizes and sexes had in common were some fresh views on life.
From the Top End there was David Woodhead, probably 2 metres tall, with a full face of fur and built like a rugby-player’s outhouse. He opened by saying he’d just turned 18.
“So the funny thing about that is, I looked like this at 17,” he dead-panned. “It’s weird being asked for ID when you look like a paedophile.”
Petite Naomi Higgins from Victoria was sweetly blunt in her feminist assessments: “Let’s see, who else do I hate?” she pondered.
Sex of course featured strongly.
Lanky Chris Kearey from NSW compared his personal prowess to that of a Toyota Camry: “I’ll get you to where you want to go but you won’t remember the ride.”
Emily Vascotto from Queensland played the role of the stalker eerily well, and Danielle Walker from Victoria had an evil laugh and a nice take on cutesy crazy.
Clinton Haines from NSW was like a hectic whirlwind, jumping from one-liners to manic dance routines, while James McMahon from the ACT was the direct opposite, using pregnant pauses to brave extremes and declaring: “Jokes are for pricks.”
Some of the social commentary was brilliantly original, and highly personal.
Perth-based Craig Quartermaine had some wry observations on the links between pole dancing and coaching women’s football, and why he (as an Aboriginal) avoids red-neck towns (“I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover; the guy who owned my grandparents always said it was a nice place.”)
Vic-based Michael Shafar – “I’m not religious but I’m culturally Jewish because I’m reasonably wealthy and have a fairly diverse share portfolio” – managed to find some laughs in the claims of modern Holocaust skeptics.
Tasmania Maedi Prichard – “it’s a made-up name … people called me ‘Matey’ and it sort of stuck” – had some exquisitely articulated observations on everyday stupidity and is unlikely to run out of material any time soon.
And student Lewis Garnham almost had me feeling sorry for him as he explained the effort required to attend 9am lectures while dependant on Adelaide’s bus service.
But there can only be one winner and, after a “judging” interlude brilliantly filled by Danish Sophie Hagen and Scottish Larry Dean, Nazeem was back to announce Clinton Haines as runner up and Danielle Walker as the winner of Raw Comedy for 2016.
Danielle wins a trip to the Edinburgh Festival this August but can be seen in her own show at the Imperial until the end of the festival.
Melbourne International Comedy Festival presents
RAW Comedy National Grand Final 2016
Venue: Melbourne Town Hall
Date: 10 April 2016
Tickets: $12 – $18