Folks, it’s the most wonderful time of the year if you’re a fan of funny things.
The 2017 Melbourne International Comedy Festival is set to take over the city for a month from late March, and in observance of that the Festival’s 31st iteration has launched its official program today. And boy howdy, it is massive. Seriously huge. Weapons-grade enormous. This shit’ll block out the sun (handy, given that most shows run at night).
This year’s festival sports a staggering 556 shows operating out of 100 venues. Even if you have no clue about how logistics work, that’s gotta make your hair curl thinking about how such a thing is pulled off.
As with every year, there’s the who’s who of big Australian comics to be found among the lineup, like Wil Anderson, Joel Creasey, Nick Cody, Tom Ballard, Anne Edmonds, Matt Okine, Luke McGregor, and a glorious return from The Bedroom Philosopher as well. Hell, even former Collingwood midfielder Dane Swan is doing a show for some god unknown reason.
This year there’s a plethora of international acts making their way over too. Chris D’Elia, Stephen K Amos, Mae Martin, DeAnn Smith, Jason Byrne, Phil Jupitus, Romesh Ranganathan, Rich Wilson, Daniel Kitson, and US “Headliners” like Emily Heller, Joe DeRosa, and Ryan Hamilton, just to name a few.
But as always the best stuff of the festival is never found in the big theatres. The real gems are tucked away in tiny rooms, plying their craft to small crowds enraptured in laughter.
We’ve covered what we consider the picks of the festival in past years (2015 here, 2016 here), and a bunch of those acts are returning in 2017 as well, like Rose Callaghan, Dilruk Jayasinha, Stu Daulman, Becky Lucas, Chimp Cop, Laura Dunemann and Nick Capper. You absolutely should check out their new shows, all of which have been gathering steady buzz as the Australian comedy festival circuit wears on.
And once again, we dove deep into the depths of the massive program and plucked out 20 choice picks that we urge – nay, insist – you get involved with. Live comedy, dear pals. It is good for what ails you.
Aunty Donna – Big Boys
March 30th – April 23rd, Max Watt’s
Come on. You all know ’em by now.
Melbourne’s sketch comedy psychos Aunty Donna have had a massive 12 months. From releasing wildly successful sketch series ‘1999,’ to selling out a run of shows at last year’s MICF, to a sold-out debut show in Los Angeles (that ERIC FREAKIN’ IDLE attended), to two – count ’em, TWO – live specials filmed and released by the ABC and Comedy Central, to yet another web series in ‘Aunty Donna’s Ripper Aussie Summer.’
Somehow, in amongst all that and relentless live touring as well, they’ve found the time to write a whole new show for MICF 2017. Blimey.
Big stage. Big production values. Get some.
Aaron Gocs – Classic Stitch-Up
March 30th – April 22nd, Greek Centre
It’s what you call a “nice problem” when you have to choose *which* smash-hit viral video of yours to name your debut festival show after. And while ‘Ocean Girl LIVE!’ certainly has a good ring to it, ‘Classic Stitch-Up‘ is just as good.
Gocsy is the internet sensation Australia bloody well deserves. He’s a little bit awkward. He’s a little bit rough around the edges. He’s a little bit of a total legend.
Go get around the great man in person, and see what all the fuss is about.
Josie Long – Something Better
March 30th – April 23rd, Melbourne Town Hall
Holy shit, is this writer/rabid comedy fan ever excited for this. Josie Long is one of the most adept storytellers in world comedy, and 2017 marks her return to Melbourne after two long years away.
In 2015, Josie brought her critically acclaimed show ‘Cara Josephine‘ to MICF, enrapturing audiences with its heartwarming, touching, uplifting, and totally hilarious 60 minute run-time.
Josie Long has a natural command of narrative structure that is so very rare in a stand-up. She is warm, and joyous, and so, so funny. This is perfect date-night comedy. CANNOT WAIT.
Tom Walker – Bee Boo
March 30th – April 23rd, Victoria Hotel
The winner of last year’s Best Newcomer Award AND the co-winner of the coveted Director’s Choice Award AND a core cast-member on the Australian version of ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?,’ Tom Walker is a genius improviser, a demented clown, and a fundamentally brilliant comedian.
After scooping the awards at MICF last year, Walker took his hit show ‘Beep Boop‘ over to Edinburgh and London, where 5-star reviews flowed as freely as the joyous tears from the faces of his audiences.
Removing a single letter from that show title to craft its follow-up ‘Bee Boo,’ Walker’s new show is in all likelihood going to be as unpredictable as it will be gut-bustingly great. Tom Walker is a star. This is a must-see.
Alex Ward – Quiet
March 30th – April 23rd, Forum Theatre
Graduating from the ‘3 Little Gigs‘ format that has birthed comedians and writers the likes of Rose Callaghan, Pete Jones, Michael Shafar, Natalie Harris, and some idiot named Cam Tyeson (g’day!), this year sees Alex Ward break out on her own for her debut hour of solo stand-up.
Ward’s show ‘Quiet‘ deals with social anxieties and the uncertainty of life, but make no mistake about it, Ward is as confident on-stage as they come. Personable and with a familiarity that rests well beyond her young years, Ward is one of Melbourne’s fastest rising comedians, and easily one of it’s most talented.
The tiny rooms at the Forum Theatre are perfect for this show. It’ll be good. Real good.
Simon Taylor – Spectacular-ish
March 30th – April 23rd, Trades Hall
Another one from the ABC’s inaugural class of ComedyNextGen stars, Simon Taylor is a no-fuss traditional stand-up with a wit and thoughtfulness about his material that has few equals in the country.
Measured in his delivery and devastating with his punchlines, Simon’s spent much of the past few months ping-ponging around the US in support of Nerdist Network favourite Justin Willman. Now back home, this’ll be his biggest festival run to date. A gem.
Arielle Conversi – Tumbleweedesque
April 10th – April 23rd, The Imperial Hotel
From Florida to Melbourne to San Diego and now back again, Arielle has travelled many, many miles and played to many, many crowds. And now she’s back on our shores once again with her first-ever hour of comedy firmly in the suitcase behind her.
As ribald as she is irreverent. As smart as she is silly. As reserved as she is over-the-top. Arielle’s packing yarns about travel, getting your life together, and a healthy dose of the sexy stuff in between.
One of the genuine charmers of the entire festival. Warm, inclusive, and utterly hilarious.
Sam Taunton – Taunts Down For What
March 30th – April 23rd, Victoria Hotel
A proper yarn man in every sense of the word, Taunts is a mainstay in the Melbourne comedy scene and one of its true Good Boys™.
Since making the RAW Comedy national final a couple of years ago, Taunton has risen through the ranks of the comedy world and last year scored a job as a presenter for MTV Australia.
Other comics might tell you a few gags, but Taunton’s the one that’ll really spin you a full-blooded tale. A deceptively clever writer and an even better performer, Taunton’s hour of power is finally upon us. Big shout out to the great man.
Sami Shah – Punching Down
April 11th – April 23rd, The Coopers Malthouse
If you like your comedy with a sharper, smarter edge to it, then Sami Shah is the one for you. One of Australia’s more intriguing comedy stories, Shah is a Pakistani native who emigrated to Australia and spent four years in rural Western Australia.
Since then he’s become a best-selling author, a regular on the ABC, and even appeared as a guest on an episode of the highly regarded ‘QI.’
Race, religion, and political correctness are all being placed under the microscope in his new show. As well as dick pics, because why the hell not. Go in with caution and prepare to have your brain wrinkled.
Jacqueline Mifsud – Sink Full of Forks
March 28th – April 8th, Tasma Terrace
Some people learn the craft of comedy by endlessly drudging through the murk of an open mic scene. Some learn how to perform at a visual arts school.
Jacqueline Mifsud did it by hosting 3-hour walking tours of Paris for 4 years.
Sure to feature heavily in this year’s RAW Comedy proceedings (touch wood), Jacqueline’s quick-fire, rapidly-delivered wit comes at you like a freight train. A show that, like the movie ‘Speed,’ cannot slow down is a difficult thing to pull of, but Mifsud’s knack for observation and machine-gun like delivery knocks it out of the park.
One of those true “see it before she blows up” types. Get in now, so you can say you were there when.
Matt Stewart – Pretty Dry
March 30th – April 23rd, The Chinese Museum
Matt Stewart might well be the perfect comedian for Australia, in that he’s as dry as the Sturt Stony Desert. A glorious deadpan masks an ability of the pen that’s so damned good it makes you mad.
The 2014 RAW Comedy winner’s first-ever solo stand-up show is the culmination of a 7-year journey writing, directing, and performing comedy. A member of the hard-working Stupid Old Studios crew, Stewart’s got disgustingly good timing and a mighty, warm on-stage presence. One of those rare shows that’ll suck you in from the opening line and spit you back out 50 minutes later utterly breathless.
Plus that beard? Bloody solid.
3 Course Comedy
March 29th – April 22nd, Fort Delta
Group shows are a bloody fantastic way to get a lot for a little. A tasting plate of comedy, if you will. 3 Course Comedy has a constantly rotating roster of mid-tier comedians, serving up three each and every night, meaning no two shows will wind up being exactly the same.
It’s the perfect show to get a little taste of someone you might not ordinarily have seen, before you venture out into the big bad festival to catch their full show.
Featuring the likes of Laura Davis, Pete Jones, Jess Perkins, Tim Hewitt, Sam Taunton, or Michael Shafar on any given night, it’s a great way to dip your toes into the festival before you dive in head-first.
Watson – Go To Hell!
March 30th – April 23rd, The Coopers Malthouse
If the genre “horror-comedy” is enough to pique the ole’ interest, then you’re gonna want to snap a ticket up to this bad boy quick.
The new show from the group comprising of Adam McKenzie, Tegan Higginbotham, and Liam Ryan follows on from last year’s riotous, immersive experience that dragged crowds through the depths of the Old Melbourne Gaol.
The recipient of the revered Moosehead Award (previously won by the likes of Tom Ballard, Sam Simmons, and Sammy J), Watson are out to explore your darkest fears and scare the shit out of you while tickling you in all the right places simultaneously. Blood, guts, and comedy. Prepare.
Claire Sullivan – I Wish I Owned a Hotel For Dogs
March 28th – April 8th, Belleville
HELL YEAH WEIRD COMEDY. Ex-pat Tasmanian Claire Sullivan has been honing her uniquely bonkers style of physical and outrageous comedy for years as a mainstay of monthly alt-comedy night PoPoMoCo.
This particular show is an unpredictable riot, and the culmination of refining a bold weirdness that’ll wrinkle your brow as much as it’ll make you wet yr pants.
Though there are no *actual* dogs in the show, by the end of it you won’t care. It’s on at 6pm, so go kick your night off with a little controlled chaos.
The Corporate Box: Footy Podcast
April 1st & April 8th, The Imperial Hotel
It’s not just traditional stand-up and sketch that dominate the festival. This year’s lineup boasts a healthy dose of live podcast recordings for you to sink your teeth into. And given that the start of the festival coincides with what’s sure to be a thrilling inaugural AFLW Grand Final, this should be right up your alley.
The newly launched Corporate Box footy podcast will be recording two live episodes to dissect the end of a historic first AFLW season, and the beginning of the 2017 men’s year.
Hosts Vicky Hanlon, Gillian English, and Angela Thompson are all die-hard fans who I highly suspect legitimately bleed their respective club colours. Fun, informative footy talk. The best kind of talk.
Amy Hetherington – Terminally Positive
March 29th – April 4th, The Imperial Hotel
It’s no secret that the Northern Territory is Australia’s Florida, in that that’s where we hide all our crazy. So if ever there were the perfect environment to breed a shithot stand-up comedian, it’s there.
From all the way up in the top-end comes Amy Hetherington and her precarious balance of infectious optimism and tales of Darwin’s batshit insanity.
A mixture of cheekiness and cheeriness. A little bit Celia Pacquola-ish. Very good.
Cameron James – ’88
March 30th – April 23rd, Trades Hall
Cameron James hosts a podcast called ‘Mike Check,’ where he and two mates dissect a Mike Myers film and pitch plots for ‘Austin Powers 4.’ And they have committed to doing this (even when it means re-watching shitty, shitty Mike Myers films ad nauseam) until ‘Austin Powers 4‘ eventually happens for real.
That’s the kind of outrageous commitment to a bit that only a truly broken comedy mind can fully embrace.
CamJam’s debut show, which has already received 5-star reviews, contains a series of weaving stories and acerbic wit delivered by a young man who is as personable and assured as any getting around. Heckle him about Mike Myers-related stuff. I’m sure he’ll love it.
Emily Tressider – Not Your Ex
March 30th – April 22nd, The Imperial Hotel
There’s a fine line between genius and insanity, and the manic tightrope that separates the two is forever covered in grease. Which makes watching Emily Tressider expertly tip-toe along it all the more enjoyable.
Last year’s high-concept festival effort sold out multiple shows, and shift up into the newly-renovated halls of the Imperial Hotel can only be a good thing. A madcap, but deftly controlled, performer who peaks at the right times. Go see her in prime time. You will not regret it.
Angus Gordon – Sad Boy Comedy Hour
March 30th – April 23rd, Forum Theatre
Who likes their comedy dark as pitch? 2015 RAW Comedy winner Angus Gordon has a command of the bleak that few could ever hope to mimic.
In lesser hands, material like Gordon’s might end up being an absolute mess. But in his precious Queensland mitts it’s a terrifying thrill-ride through the experimental and the macabre. A literal punch in the face.
April 2nd – April 23rd, The Imperial Hotel
Full disclosure: This is my show. Me, Cam Tyeson. Hello! I, along with three of my fellow nerds, are putting on this comedy/quiz/panel show that revolves entirely around the glorious world of professional wrestling. Each show we’ll pit two teams of three against each other in a battle of skill, knowledge, strength, and wit. It’s ‘Spicks & Specks,’ but for suplexes.
We’ve got big name comics set to join the show, along with actual, real-life, no-fooling professional wrestlers. It’s going to be very silly, and very fun. Please come see it!
Of course, that barely scratches the surface of things. The full program for the festival dropped today, and you can get ticket details for all the above shows, as well as the 500-odd other ones, via the Melbourne International Comedy Festival website.
The fest runs from March 29th right through until April 23rd. It’s gonna be a blast. Seeya there, pals!
All Photos: Melbourne International Comedy Festival.