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Melbourne International Comedy Festival gets Plucked: Our Top 50 Guide

28 March 2011 9,249 views 17 Comments

With over 350 shows in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival for 2011 the program can be pretty overwhelming. Comedy reviewer Caitlin Crowley shortlists 50 shows to suit all tastes.

In many ways the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is the quintessential Melbourne experience; great value, accessible to all and it occurs at the time of year when our moody city displays her characteristic fickle weather patterns. At the start of the festival you could be swanning off to shows in your sundress and sandals and by the last night you have usually dusted off the boots and you’re popping in to Brunetti for Italian hot chocolates between performances. It’s Melbourne’s last gasping hurrah before we bunker down for Winter. And football.

As the festival has grown, the program has bulked up to the point that many people have so much trouble choosing a show that they simply miss out on seeing anything. So we’ve plucked out some of our favourites and put together a shortlist of just 50 shows that should suit most comedy appetites. 

Autobiographical: It could be argued that pretty much all stand-up is autobiographical but if you are looking for something that offers reflection, poignancy and laughs then try one of these picks.

Denise Scott’s new show is called Regrets and if her past shows are any indication then expect hilarious tales from her wonderfully rich life.

Russell Kane’s  Smokescreens and Castles won the 2010 Edinburgh Comedy Award and is an intelligent look at class and family.

Blokey: Shows about Bunnings and Bruce Lee are definitely bloke-oriented but don’t be put off, there’ll be more depth than that in these shows. Also, ladies, they are all easy on the eye.

Harley Breen’s I Heart Bunnings: Stories About My Brothers should not only have you laughing but longing for a burnt sausage.

Dave Thornton’s I Wanna Be Bruce Lee is a wonderful show from a very talented guy.

Daniel Townes reminds me of a young Dave Hughes, immediately likeable, relaxed and can craft a funny tale out of ordinary everyday events; his show is called Murphy’s Law.

Clean: Plenty of punters out there like laughing but are put off by bad language, with that in mind these two shows might also suit teenagers.

Trent McCarthy consistently delivers well-paced comedy shows; this year’s offering Dr Game Show is all about his family’s obsession with television game shows. Comedy with laughs, heart and dancing.

Bec Hill is both adorable and talented; her show Didn’t Want to Play Your Stupid Game Anyway is about the transition from young adult to, well, adult.

Cool: So you want some comedy with street-smarts and style? Check out these three intelligent shows.

Comedy doesn’t come much cooler than the snappy Greg Proops, expect a perfectly polished, smart night of comedy from his self-titled show.

Canadian Deanne Smith’s show About Freakin’ Time features whip-smart comedy and a ukulele, what more do you need?

Is Bob Franklin cool or just a really gifted, slightly bent comic story-teller? Go see An Audience with Sir Robert and decide for yourself.

Crowd Pleasers:  So you want to go out and have a guaranteed really good time? Then you can’t go past these three talented and reliable stand-ups.

Tom Gleeson always delivers an excellent night of stand up his new show Up Himself is definitely worth catching.

There is no doubt Kitty Flanagan is one of the finest stand-ups in the country. Her short season of Charming and Alarming sold out in 2010 but she’s brought it back for 2011. Six shows only so book quickly.

Hannah Gadsby is the droll sidekick with the pretty face from Adam Hills in Gordon Street Tonight. Everyone from my dad to my young daughter and all folks in between think she’s hilarious, her show is called Mrs Chuckles.

Filthy: If you like your comedy chock-full of bad language and with the probability of boundaries being pushed well to their limit then these shows might suit you. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Reginald D Hunter is disarmingly likeable which makes it all the more shocking when he crosses over into political incorrectness. Anything could happen in his self-titled show.

Little Johnny the Movie bills itself as a celebration of the ‘wrongest jokes ever’. Kevin Bloody Wilson is involved. You get the picture. 

For Date Night: You’re a couple and you’re in love; why not celebrate with a night of comedy?

Josh Earl manages to be hip, fun and kind of daggy all at once. His show Love Songs and Dedications features jokes and music and is about…love songs and dedications. How romantic.

Scott Brennan, Adam Richard and Toby Sullivan offer a late night panel session of super gay comedy with Talking Poofy, perfect for a hot homosexual date (no pun intended).

Dry: Deadpan deliveries, drop-dead funny, these are the acts to check out if you like your comedy drier than a martini.

No-one can drag out a story, complete with awkward pauses like Tig Notaro. Best known as Officer Tig from The Sarah Silverman Program, she is appearing in a self-titled show.

Queenslander Mel Buttle has her deadpan delivery down pat, she is often likened to Judith Lucy.. This year’s show is Buttle & Buttle. 

For a large group: So the work social club is organising a night out for 50 of you and you want to make sure everyone has a good time? Then best choose a show with more than one performer on the bill.

 Headliners features a rotating bill of super smooth American stand-ups; with three acts a night you’re bound to please everyone. *Warning: saw this 31 Mar and was quite blue – might not suit all tastes.

 Girls Night Out features a host of witty women on the one bill, the line-up changes nightly.

For kids: Kids’ comedy shows can often be hard to pick; what a five-year-old finds funny can be quite different for a thirteen-year-old.  Having tasted most of the family shows over the last few years you really should trust me on these ones.

The List Operators for Kids easily offer the best family show I have ever seen. In fact one of the best comedy shows I have ever seen – regardless of which audience it was created for. Book early for Do Compooters: Wig-i-Pedia as they usually sell out early. Suitable for all kids.

Asking for Trouble creates beautifully touching and funny circus-inspired comedy shows for kids. This year’s show Kapow! is suitable for kids from 3-12. Please check the website as they have had a venue and date change since the paper version was printed.

The team from musical-improvisation group Spontaneous Broadway have put together a Random Musical for kids this year. Their shows are unpredictable, super-fun and the audience gets input into how it will all turn out. Perfect for primary-school-aged kids. [The adult version is also a good pick for teens]. 

For teens: It’s always hard selecting shows for teenagers. Will there be too much swearing, too many adult concepts and too many drunken hecklers? Obviously it’s all dependent on the actual kid and the actual show so if you’re not sure check the reviews. Quite a lot of the other shows in this guide would also be suitable. Remember that a lot of the venues are licensed so while teenagers may attend, they may often need an adult to accompany them.

For the first time some bright young sparks have put together a show with teenagers in mind, I don’t know why this hasn’t been done before. Squeaky Clean Comedy  features a whole swag of funny young comics in a two-hour show. Three shows only, so book early.

Andrew McClelland is definitely an adult performer but his shows often contain cleverly crafted historical tales told with old-school charm. This year’s show is Truth Be Told.

Award-winning Irish comedian David O’Doherty draws huge crowds with his off-beat songs and musings on life but he should appeal to younger audiences too. His show is called Somewhere over the David O’Doherty.

For Parents: Hey, the kids are fed, they’re in their pyjamas and you’ve got a babysitter for the night – now get out to the comedy festival and get yourselves a laugh.

Dave ONeil is just like you, he’s Happy to be out of the House and his new show is chock-full of rich material about parenting, children and growing up.

Fiona O’Loughlin is presenting a show of her Greatest Hits, lax parents need never feel guilty again.

I can’t guarantee that Uncle Ted’s Ardal O’Hanlon’s self-titled show is going to be all about parenting but there’s bound to be a few family-oriented gags in there. He is really very good though.

Intelligent: You want to engage the brain, not just the laugh muscles then these shows might do it for you.

Who cares? George McEncroe does. And you’ll find out just how much in her new show The Care Factor.

Festival favourite Justin Hamilton regularly brings the funny in a very smart way, his new show is called Circular and involves using social media throughout, so bring your smart phones as well.

Dave Bloustien’s new show is all about philosophy, I feel smarter just reading his bio, catch him in A Complete History of Western Philosophy.

Left wing: To be honest I’ve never heard of a right-wing comedian but if you want some laughs at the expense of the government, the religious right or any other do-gooders then try these three.

Expect expat Australian Steve Hughes to have a dig at political correctness and make a lot of sense while he’s at it, his show Conspiracy Realist is just wonderful.

Catherine Deveny has brought back her sell-out show God is Bullshit for 2011, new and improved with double the blasphemy.

Who doesn’t love Rod Quantock? OK, maybe John Howard. And Tony Abbott. And Andrew Bolt. But everyone else will be admitting themselves to his Insane Asylum. 

Musical: This is one category that is hard to narrow down with so many excellent musical comedians on the bill. Consider this an EP of what’s on offer; trawl the comedy festival website for the double album playlist.

The Bedroom Philosopher is a prolific indie-cool funny guy, catch him in his new show Wit-Bix.

UK act The Horne Section mix comedy and jazz improv, their self-titled show was a massive hit in Edinburgh.

Fiona Scott-Norman’s show Disco: The Vinyl Solution features lots of music, the difference is she’ll be playing it and talking about it – rather than performing it.  

Newcomers: The comedy festival is a great place to catch new acts, or even just new-to-Australian ones.

Marc Maron is certainly no newcomer to comedy but this is his first visit to Australia. He’s a US talk show regular and creator of the extremely popular WTF podcast. His self-titled show runs for just 12 nights.

Winner of the best newcomer award at Edinburgh Rosin Conaty will be bringing her show Hero, Warrior, Fireman, Liar to Melbourne for a full festival season.

Each year the Melbourne International Comedy Festival produces a show, The Comedy Zone featuring four of the talented comics unearthed during the previous year’s RAW finals, you’re bound to like at least one of them!

Off-beat: You want your comedy with a kooky angle? Try these on for size.

Paul Foot provides more than just an oddball haircut to laugh at. His show Ash in the Attic was directed by The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding.

Award-winning Australian comedian Claudia O’Doherty is appearing in a new show What is Soil Erosion? I don’t expect you’ll find out the answer  but you might enjoy the ride.

Telia Neville is a performance poet and her show For Whom the Bell Tolls is too hard to describe, just see it.

Political: Sure politicians are easy targets but it’s hard to do it well, here are our top picks.

Mathew Kenneally delivers consistently good intelligent political humour. His show Mathew Kenneally in the Great Escape is well worth catching.

We love Rich Hall here in Melbourne and usually can’t get enough of his smart, sharp take on politics and life.  His self-titled show runs for just nine nights.

Weird: The festival always features a handful of acts pushing boundaries in the zany direction.

UK comic Dr Brown brings his bizarre show Because to Melbourne. It’s a fine line between comedy and sitting uncomfortably in a room with an absurdist comedian, but Brown will help you walk it. [Not to be confused with another UK comic appearing at the festival, Doc Brown, who is an impressionist.]

New Art Club is a dance duo from the UK. I don’t think I have ever seen a full show of dance comedy but I’ve already bought my ticket for Big Bag of Boom.

 Why?: OK you’ve counted up and noticed that there might just be 49 shows on the list. We’re keeping our options open so we can add one more once the festival has started.

Caitlin Crowley is founder and editor of The Pluck. She has reviewed over 200 comedy festival shows for various publications. She will be reviewing the 2011 festival for Chortle.

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  • Matt said:

    I can’t believe you haven’t put Adam Hills on the list! He is my favourite Aussie comedian, or just comedian in general.

  • Anonymous said:

    I’m jealous, might have to fly down from Queensland to catch a few shows…

  • Caitlin (author) said:

    Hi Matt, Thanks for your comment. Adam Hills is not performing in the Comedy Festival this year, Caitlin

  • Lisa said:

    My recommended addition to the ‘Weird’ ones would be ‘Steve Sheehan’s After the Horse’. It was still a work in progress when I saw it in Adelaide and gave me one of my biggest belly laughs. But then I quite like opera singing and tiny ponies. Steve and his opera singer lady friend are accompanied on stage by a live miniature horse! It is encouraged to play a toy piano, but mostly wandered about in the background being cute. (They have yummy pellets strategically placed about the stage) There are also really good jokes. Steve is a very talented and experienced comic performer.

  • JJ said:

    Thanks for this, I am one of those with the best intentions but I never actually get around to seeing anything. Based on your recommendations I have chosen George McEncroe and Steve Hughes, they had better be good.

  • Timbo said:

    I saw Poet Laureate Telia Nevile at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. It is definitely a show worth seeing. It’s very funny and different from your generic stand-up style show.

  • eileen said:

    Thank you so much caitlin for this list. have not been looking forward to going thru the festival mag listings. what a great mix and the categories are fantastic. i have picked out at least five to go and see. yay for you. x

  • Samson said:

    Haven’t seen Simon Munnery for years but you can certainly put him in the intelligent and offbeat sections. Can’t wait to see him again.

    Pajama Men are back, and you can probably put them in most sections I reckon (ok, maybe not political), a really fun show last year.

    And for dry, doesn’t get much dryer than Marcel Lucont, one of my favourite show from last year’s festival.

  • Caitlin (author) said:

    Samson, thanks for pointing out Simon Munnery – he was one of the first acts I bought tix for this year and I had him in one section and when I went to move him to the other he must have gone missing in action. But yes, highly recommended as well. And thanks for your other suggestions, Caitlin

  • Anonymous said:

    You should have a silly section? Who is doing a really silly show?

  • Brett said:

    That last spot should go to Sam Simmons. I saw him at the Brisbane Comedy Festival and there is no doubting why his show won Best Comedy at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. Put him under the category of: Weird/Cool/Off-Beat/Musical/Crowd Pleaser

  • Caitlin (author) said:

    Hey Anon, Thanks for the feedback. Looks like Brett has offered a suggestion for you. Another silly one is Tom Binns http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2011/season/shows/tom-binns-double-bill-ivan-brackenbury-ian-d-montfort

  • Anonymous said:

    My show is brilliant and you included a stupid Little Johnny movie. Thanks for nothing.

  • Caitlin (author) said:

    I understand your frustration with the Little Johnny the Movie making the grade. I admit it is not my cup of tea either but I was trying to ensure I could make suggestions for all audiences, not just my preferences. It is hard for me to make any further comment on your own show as you have chosen to remain anonymous. But best of luck with the 2011 season. Caitlin

  • Anonymous said:

    OK, this is the best guide going. I am going to take my step-daughter to Squeaky Clean, my young son to Kapow, my mum to Fiona O’Laughlin and my husband to Dave O’Neil.

  • Anonymous said:

    I saw Lawrence Mooney’s show in the fringe and it was awesome, can’t wait to see it again.

  • Sam said:

    Brilliant and useful analysis. Thanks so much. Every serious micf attendee should read this site.

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