Get ready to giggle at the comedy festival

30 March 2011

Written by: Sofia Monkiewicz

Entering its 25th consecutive year, the The Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) is the largest comedy festival in the country, with local and international comedy acts performing to hundreds of people in over 70 venues across the city.

From stand-up to interpretive dance, theatre to film, the festival caters for people of all ages and interests, and also gives local comedians the opportunity to showcase their talents to a broad Australian audience.

‘The festival creates a platform for local and up-and-coming acts to perform alongside the biggest and best quality comedians in the world,’ says Bridget Bantick, associate director of the festival.

‘The opportunity to even watch the established comedians is professional development in itself.’

The MICF is one of the three largest comedy festivals worldwide, sharing this title with the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Bantick says that the Australian audiences are what have kept it going strong for so long.

‘Australians both love to laugh and have a keen sense of humour,’ she explains. ‘This seems to be a key quality in Australians, and this is why the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is so successful.’

In previous years, the festival has featured a large number of well-known faces in the entertainment world, and has launched the career of many now-famous comedy acts. The very first festival in 1987, created by Barry Humphries and Peter Cook, included acts by Geoffrey Rush, Gina Riley and Steve Vizard. This year, the festival will see the likes of international guests Arj Barker, Danny Bhoy, Greg Proops, Stephen K. Amos and Nina Conti, and local acts Cal Wilson, Carl Barron, Denise Scott, Josh Thomas and Wil Anderson.

On the same bill as these talented and high-profile comedians is former upstart editor Ryan Jon. Ryan’s short film, Customer Service, is premiering tomorrow night at the Evelyn Hotel.

‘Most people our age have a part-time job in customer service or hospitality,’ Ryan says. ‘My shitty job at uni was working at a one-star motel.’

Today Ryan works for SYN, Nova100 and finance firm Pitcher Partners, but the 20-minute film is about some of Ryan’s more interesting work experiences.

‘I’ve always had this idea that motels are such a funny place and you meet such a strange mix of people,’ he says. ‘All the characters are based on people I’ve met, but for the movie, we’ve scripted it so it all happens over one night.’

One character in the film is a sex-crazed nerd played by Dave Warneke, who will open the night with some stand-up comedy. During April, the current La Trobe Bachelor of Arts student will also perform his ‘Semi Musical Adventure’ at the European Bier Cafe as part of the festival.

The film takes place at a Melbourne motel called ‘Metro Inn’ and Ryan and fellow writer and director, Tom Lock, began filming in the first week of December. When they pitched the idea to the comedy festival, Ryan says the organisers were really keen to have them involved.

‘They were really supportive,’ he says. ‘The festival is mainly known for its stand-up comedy but they really want people to see it as a mix of comedy; theatre, music, stand-up, short films — I think there are only about two or three movies in the actual program.’

While the idea for the film took off last year, Ryan says it wasn’t something he’d planned.

‘People often ask me if I always wanted to be a writer — it’s not like I sat down and tried to be creative and write something,’ he says. ‘I’m just remembering what happened and I just hope people will enjoy the show — I’m not too fussed where it goes from here.’

Customer Service premieres tomorrow night at the The Evelyn Hotel.  Prices are $12 and bookings can be made at OzTix.

Sofia’s Top Picks

The MICF features almost 400 different acts in this year’s line-up, so it can be very overwhelming to decide what shows to see. Depending on what your interests are, there is a performance to suit everyone — you just have to know what you’re looking for.

If it’s an international act you want to see, the popular performers are Arj Barker and Danny Bhoy. But if you’re interested in something a little off-centre, then you should check out surreal and visual absurdist Dr Brown. His show contains barely any words — it is all physical comedy. But be warned: he loves audience participation, so if you aren’t into that then avoid the front row!

As for local acts, Adelaide funny-man Sam Simmons and his show, entitled The Precise History of Things, is a hilarious take on what made history from the perspective of a man living in the year 4026.

Barry Morgan’s World of Organs is my pick of the music comedy acts. Ever since Barry Morgan first appeared on Spicks and Specks, he has been popular throughout the country, and you are guaranteed to cry with laughter when you see his much-loved facial expressions and amazing organ-playing talents.

If you are more the theatre-going type, make sure you go and see Til Divorce. Directed by Eben Rojter and performed at La Mama, this play is a quirky exploration of truly incompatible newlyweds who are not enjoying married life. ‘Til death do us part’ seems a little extreme, so what better option is there than divorce?

Sofia Monkiewicz is a journalism Honours student at La Trobe University and is a member of the upstart editorial team. She loves theatre and music, and is currently working on a thesis about the role of arts journalism in Melbourne.

Ashley Fritsch is a journalism Honours student at La Trobe University and is the co-ordinating editor of upstart.  She is currently writing a thesis on the history of the Buloke Times and the role of country newspapers.

What are you planning on seeing at this year’s comedy festival? Did you love it? Did you hate it?  We’d love to hear from you!  If you’re interested in reviewing any acts just drop us a line and we’ll let you know what’s already being covered.

Keep your eyes peeled for the first reviews early next week.