The Great Annual Debate is such a cornerstone of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival it’s easy to forget the format of debating was ever meant to be serious.
The idea of two teams taking it in turns to first make persuasive points and then rebuttals just seems destined for comedy and the sold-out audience for its 30th year, plus camera crews recording it for future broadcast, would seem to confirm that.
This year’s subject was ‘Should we switch off the Internet?’, with Philip Wang leading the team for the affirmative, along with Rhys Nicholson and Rosie Waterland, and the negative team led by Felicity Ward joined by Tom Allen and Aaron Chen. Adjudicating duties fell to Claire Hooper (The Pineapple Project), whose introduction turned out to be a fairly tight argument for the affirmative (“The internet is 51% cats and 49% pussy” she said, before comparing it to a sewer).
Opening speaker Phillip Wang is rather brilliant. With his polite English mannerisms and quietly self-deprecating style he can be smutty while still seeming awfully sweet. He argued the Internet had failed at everything it was meant to provide and now its only reason for existence is “to destroy the human race and to sell me dick pills”.
Felicity Ward, now living in England, cited long-distance phone calls, online shopping and life before the Internet as a key reason to keep it: “We had something back in the ’90s called boredom – don’t bring that back again.”
Rhys Nicholson, whose red hair, high cheekbones and bowtie have become a signature look, provoked gasps by showing school photos of himself with chubby cheeks and a pageboy haircut. “How can you reinvent yourself if the Internet hoards your past?” he asked.
Tom Allen, the sharply dressed Brit with an even sharper tongue, cited achievements such as Boaty McBoatface and an official ranking of the best biscuits as prime reasons for keeping the Internet.
Rosie Waterland (What's Going On) blamed internet porn for causing erectile dysfuncion and forecast it would cause the demise of the human race, before the unpredictable Aaron Chen explored the idea of rebuttal while his mind raced around a million other ideas, each prompting a surreal series of scatty non sequiturs.
Spoiler alert – if you don’t want to know which side won, stop here, but the brilliant closing song from Felicity Ward seemed to be the clincher. Plus both sides probably did their research on Google anyway.
Tickets to The Great Debate always sell out early so if you want to be part of the great tradition next year, get in early and buy up big. No matter the topic or who’s on the team, it’s bound to be epic; that’s how comic debates roll.
Melbourne International Comedy Festival presents
The 30th Annual Great Debate
Venue: Melbourne Town Hall | 100 Swanston St Melbourne VIC
Dates: 07 April 2019
Tickets: $38 – $59