If you casually make your way through the Melbourne CBD at the moment, you might spy multiple broken, disheveled looking humans desperately trying to push small pieces of paper into your hands.
It’s ok. They’re all comedians. And they’re all currently running the uphill marathon that is the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
One of the “big three” comedy festivals in the world, MICF is currently approaching the halfway mark of its 2016 iteration – its 30th birthday, and by far and away one of its biggest yet. With just on two weeks in the can, and two weeks to go, the standout shows are starting to emerge, and a new wave of fresh shows are starting their run.
We’ve been smashing as much comedy into our faces as we can physically handle over the past 12 nights, and have compiled this handy little list of the 5 best shows we’ve seen so far, as well as 5 acts you should consider checking out during the rest of the fest.
THE BEST OF WHAT WE’VE SEEN SO FAR
Zoe Coombs Marr – “Trigger Warning”
Victoria Hotel (Acacia Room), March 24th – April 17th
Without hyperbole, one of the best shows we’ve ever seen. Ever. Coombs Marr has long been refining the character of “Dave,” a piss-take mash-up of just about every male open mic comedian known to man. Dave’s been a favourite of comedians and industry vets for eons, but this show finally pushes the character over the top into true greatness.
Taking Dave out of his comfort zone (anywhere with a live mic) and into unknown territory (a clowning show), Coombs Marr puts Dave through the ringer of an existential crisis, whilst simultaneously crafting a stark indictment on anti-PC culture and gender inequity.
Masterfully conceived, spectacularly performed. Truly something to behold.
True Australian Patriots – “Live”
Melbourne Town Hall (Supper Room), March 25th – April 16th
In lesser hands, this could easily have been an absolute mess. In the very capable hands of Greg Larson, Anne Edmonds, and Damian Power, it’s glorious controlled chaos.
Parodying every Reclaim Australia/United Patriots Front/Rise Up Whatever nationalist group under the sun, the trio shirks far easier and lazier subject material like irony and instead goes after the misinformation, isolation, and petty in-fighting that often characterises the structure of Australian far-right groups.
Way, way, way smarter than you might think, and contains soon-to-be infamous material that absolutely cannot be un-seen. Believe the hype. Stay up late and go get your brains bent.
Tom Ballard – “The World Keeps Happening“
Melbourne Town Hall (Supper Room), March 24th – April 17th
The world might have had a shit year, but make no mistake about it, Tom Ballard has not.
The former Triple J breakfast bloke has spent the past twelve months touring and refining his show “The World Keeps Happening” to the point where it is now a finely tuned machine. A ribald, riotous hour of pure stand-up that only suffers dips in laughter when people remember they’ve gotta breathe.
We managed to see this one on Friday night with a particularly fired up Ballard roaring his way through the set, including some deft handling of a mildly catastrophic sound disaster. See it whenever you can, but if you can make it on the weekend you’ll be all the better for it.
Big laughs. Big, frequent, fucked up laughs.
Aunty Donna – “New Show“
Roxanne/Max Watt’s/Melbourne Town Hall, March 24th – April 15th
We tried playing a fun drinking game at this one where we’d take a swig every time we spotted someone in the crowd wearing a Rooster Teeth shirt, but baulked when we realised that to the winner goes naught but death. YouTube fandom is real, and huge in Australia, you guys.
The big room at Roxanne (which, as it turns out, is actually Melbourne dignity-removing institution Charltons) suits the madcap trio to a tee, and they make great use of the space during a frenetic show that doesn’t once go wanting for pace.
It’s a break-neck 60 minutes that borders on the demented at times; fans of the group’s latest YouTube series 1999 won’t be let down in the slightest. As cohesive and well-choreographed as any comedic group you’re ever likely to see in this country, yet still thankfully unafraid of letting things get loose. The Lord Whoopie routine is a particular highlight. A smash hit.
Alex Edelman – “Everything Handed To You“
Melbourne Town Hall (Powder Room), March 24th – April 17th
Back in 2014, Edelman won the Best Newcomer award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which is a big deal. Since then, he’s given up his New York apartment and commenced trekking the globe peddling his craft. And it shows.
The 27 (or there abouts) year old is already a world-class storyteller and his newest hour is just a real, real, real nice time.
As assured and confident as any sub-30 comic out there, Edelman’s show is a treat, weaving stories about his ridiculous brothers into his experiences growing up in a strict Jewish community.
Wonderful gags, and bloody endearing.
THE BEST OF WHAT’S TO COME
Roxanne/Melbourne Town Hall, April 5th – April 16th
If you’re not already around the genius concept that is Set List, here’s a quick crash course.
The world-touring show format gathers together comics from all corners of the industry, and forces them to leave their joke books at the door. Each comic takes the stage with absolutely no idea what they’re going to say, and get prompted for material by a series of increasingly bizarre phrases splashed across a TV screen.
Run late at night, the show is a perfect way to see a bunch of different comedians get thrown into the deep end – and you’d be surprised how often they can swim.
Check the show page for updated nightly lineups. The first few look jam packed with names like Nick Cody, Geraldine Hickey, Aunty Donna, Dilruk Jayasinha, Karl Chandler, Sofie Hagen, and others already set to appear. Keep an eye out for big name drop ins as well.
Rose Callaghan – “Rose Before Hoes”
Forum Theatre (Carpet Room), April 5th – April 17th
Another contender for show title of the festival, Callaghan is one of the best up-and-coming comics Melbourne has to offer.
Her debut solo show is set to centre around sex and dating, being diagnosed with ADHD at age 32, and everything in between.
Tickets are already getting scarce, with sell outs posted even before the first show kicks off. The tiny Carpet Room at the Forum makes for a sweaty, intimate, raucous atmosphere, and will suit Callaghan’s relatable style to a tee. Get involved.
Ben Russell & Xavier Michelides – “Nö Shöw“
The Imperial Hotel, March 23rd – April 17th
Late night shows are notoriously the haven of the weird and wonderful, with the cover of darkness providing the safe backdrop for things to get nutty.
And the buzz coming off Nö Shöw is something else. Michelides and Russell are individually loose comedic units, with both scoring nominations for the coveted Golden Gibbo (the award given to the MICF show that best pushes boundaries of what comedy is capable of) in the past.
But by their powers combined? A tornado of weird that you’ll want to get caught in.
Luisa Omielan – “Am I Right Ladies?“
Victoria Hotel (Banquet Room), March 24th – April 17th
Having occupied another room of the Victoria Hotel at the same time that Luisa’s show was on, let us tell you that the sounds coming from there were less like those of a comedy show, and more like a stadium pop spectacular.
Omielan smashed everyone’s faces in at MICF 2015 on her way to a Barry Award nomination, and if the crowds and noise coming from the room at her new show are anything to go by, you’ll want to get in now before she starts packing out giant theatres.
The Beyoncé of comedy. Bow down.
Corner Hotel, April 15th
A heavyweight of US alt-comedy, Brian Posehn has a Netflix special, a litany of film and TV appearances under his belt, and an exceedingly popular podcast in Nerd Poker under his belt.
Touring Australia with a schedule of dates that reads more like a major band tour, rather than a stand-up one, Brian is stopping into Melbourne at the very tail end of the Comedy Festival for one single, solitary show at the Corner Hotel.
A better way to round out your Festival movements, we can scarcely think of.
But don’t stop with just those, oh no. Check out any of the acts still running from our earlier recommendations megapost! Go see others like David Quirk or Steen Raskopoulos or Rose Matafeo or Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall or Geraldine Hickey or Alice Fraser or Neal Portenza or The Comedy Zone or even the RAW Comedy National Final!
And if you need a little help making your mind up, the spectacular Opening Night Comedy Allstars Supershow airs tonight at 8:30pm on Channel Ten.
TWO WEEKS TO GO. GET OUT AND SEE SOME GOOD SHIT, EVERYONE.
Photos: Melbourne International Comedy Festival.