It’s not often one attends a performance with a truly mixed demographic. However, this was definitely the case for the recent live recording of The Dollop, everyone’s favourite bi-weekly American history podcast. The podcast, the brain-child of American comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds, enjoys an impressive following in Australia, and recently returned to our shores for the The Dollop: Down Under 3 national tour, with stops in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. Their performance in Perth was the last of the tour, and looking at the different ages, cultural backgrounds and sub-groups in the crowd, I was reminded of the podcast’s broad appeal.
The set-up for The Dollop is genius in its simplicity. Anthony finds a true wacky story from American history and reads it to Reynolds, “who has no idea what the topic is going to be about”. Together, they dissect the narrative with improvisations, asides and punchlines, trading heavily on the charm and chemistry between the two. The live formula differs slightly – usually, the duo is joined by a prominent local comedian (both Wil Anderson and Nic Cody have featured on this tour), and in a one-upmanship move on the well-worn ‘local references’ gag most comedians employ, the featured story is drawn from the touring area. However, in the case of Perth, Anthony and Reynolds decided to go it alone, and their topic was apparent from the opening sentences which introduced their main player, one Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly.
The stage set-up, like the podcast’s irresistible formula, was basic – two stools, two microphones, and a table featuring a six-pack of Corona. These props were used to their fullest extent, with Anthony and Reynolds working their way through several beers while keeping the crowd in stitches.
The experience of a ‘Live Dollop’ is both familiar and unique. On the one hand, it is the familiarity that really makes the experience for so many audience members. In-jokes such as the botched introduction or chanting ‘Gary’ would undoubtedly have been highlights of the evening for some. On the other hand, the live experience is definitely something more than The Dollop in pure audio form. You’ve heard the voices and you know the schtick, but seeing the comedians work their magic offers something new and more nuanced. Reynolds, in fine form, released his inner imp impressively, jumping on details and expressions to launch entire solo passages of improvisational comedy. Meanwhile, Anthony played the role of ‘straight guy’ beautifully – sometimes a subtle eyebrow raise or single word in his resonant baritone could launch the next round of giggles.
The crowd was vocal, which can be one of the pitfalls of live comedy. Anthony and Reynolds treated every heckle and call-out like a gift, deftly maneuvering the conversation to draw out maximum awkwardness. Some of the best moments were unintentional stumbles from audience members, expertly claimed by The Dollop team.
Potentially, selecting the Ned Kelly story was a misstep. One of the thrills of The Dollop is the revelation of how each historical narrative unfolds and, like watching Titanic, the audience knew how this one was going to end (even if Reynolds didn’t). But in the scheme of things, the story chosen is a minor element. Ultimately, it is the fine balance between Reynolds’ child-like enthusiasm and Anthony’s sarcastic demeanour that makes it work, and it was a privilege to behold the interaction in full swing. For those new to The Dollop, there’ll no doubt be converts. For die-hard fans, it was one to cross off the bucket list. Across the spectrum, it was a chance to witness an outstanding comedy duo do what they do best.
Century Entertainment presents
The Dollop: Down Under 3
Venue: Regal Theatre, WA
Date: 10 Sep 2016