Tacos, astronaut suits and thrusting dance moves

6 April 2011

Written by: Natalie Savino

My Sunday evening involved a nudist beach, an Old El Paso Taco kit, an astronaut, Tom Cruise and a snuggie.

No, it wasn’t my own personal version of The Hangover. It was my marathon night at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Melbourne Town Hall hosts many of the festival’s comedians during April, and Sunday was no different, with hundreds of people milling around outside the venue during the night, waiting for their chosen shows to begin. Lesser-known performers wander around the entrance, handing out flyers and trying to gather audience members for their own gig. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you will be offered free tickets, as the priority of these performers is not usually how much money they make from their show — it’s to have an audience size that isn’t single digits.

The festival schedules its events in such a way that it is possible to watch a number of performances spread out across one night, which is exactly what I did.

First up, I made my way to the Powder Room to see UK comedienne Zoe Lyons and her show Clownbusting. I had no idea what to expect — I had never heard of her before. Apparently I wasn’t the only one, as she began by thanking us all for taking a risk and paying to see an unknown performer.

I was pleasantly surprised by this show. Lyons was incredibly energetic, running about the small stage, jumping high into the air and doing stretches. She threw herself into her performance, and was so enthusiastic about everything she had to say. Although she claimed she is a lazy person, she is the complete opposite as a performer.

Lyons’ storytelling was captivatingly hilarious. From her experiences with ‘magic fudge’ and feeling intimidated by the Kate Bush Fan Club, to her horrific first encounter with a nudist beach, this Brighton-born comedian managed to get every audience member on her level, completely relating to whatever she had to say. She constantly went off on tangents, beginning a story halfway through another, but she always came back to finish off everything she started. It was as though everyone was involved in a one-to-one conversation with her, and we all laughed like there was no one else in the room. At one point I actually had tears running down my face, which is a sure sign of a good show.

I left the room with a feeling of enormous satisfaction that I made an excellent choice in festival shows. I mean, what could be better than listening to a 39-year-old gay English woman talk about the meaning of life and her obsession with snuggies?

Next on my list was Paul F. Tompkins, an American actor and comedian in a navy pinstriped suit and a red spotty tie. After crying with laughter at the previous show, I had high hopes for this one. Tompkins had a completely different comedic style to Zoe Lyons — he took much longer to get his jokes across and, unlike Lyons’ conversational style, it was quite obvious he was sticking closely to a well-rehearsed script.

He definitely had his moments of hilarity – he told his stories well and had excellent comic timing – but his tales of celebrity mishaps and childlike mistakes soon got old for me.

If you love listening to stories of celebrities and the things they say to their much less-famous co-workers, and if you think you would be interested in Tompkins’ various jobs he had while trying to break into the world of stand-up comedy, then you will probably find him highly amusing. However, if you’re like me and don’t care either way if Tom Cruise introduces himself as ‘Tom’ as if you don’t know who he is, or if Matt Damon doesn’t take the time to talk to extras, then you will switch off.

It wasn’t a bad performance; it just wasn’t really my thing.

The final show I was to see was called Sam Simmons and the Precise History of Things. I had heard many good things about Sam Simmons, but I hadn’t actually seen any of his material before. He performed in the Supper Room and was sold out on the night I attended with an audience of 230 people.

Walking on to the stage in an orange astronaut suit, holding a taco kit, I had the feeling this wouldn’t be a typical stand-up routine. And when he started doing a striptease with a wide creepy smile on his face, I knew for certain that it wouldn’t.

Sam Simmons isn’t like any artist I’ve seen before. He incorporated a mixture of his talents into the show: singing, drawing, acting and dancing (well, ‘dancing’ is one word for it!). He has mastered the art of laughing at himself, which makes his actions all the more funnier, and is not afraid of being gruesome in the name of comedy, as can be seen in his sometimes gory and disturbing cartoon drawings.

The Precise History of Things is based loosely on letters that Triple J presenter Simmons received from listeners — he put a call-out on radio for people to send him questions about life, and throughout his show he makes an effort to answer as many as possible. From responding to questions about Bunnings and Gloria Jean’s, to potential names for a charcoal chicken shop, Simmons does his very best to offer solutions, but mostly just makes a fool of himself and audience members.

I would go so far to say that Sam Simmons is one of the funniest and most entertaining comedians I have ever seen in person. I loved his abusive humour, his weird thrust-action dance moves, his bald head, his pink shorts, and the fact that he doesn’t trust ducks (they are suspicious and know what you’re thinking). I was still laughing long after I left Melbourne Town Hall.

I definitely recommend this act, and if you go to see him remember: anyone in the audience is fair game, so be ready for anything that might come your way. And don’t wear yellow unless you want to be yelled at.

Sam Simmons and the Precise History of Things continues as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival until 24 April.

Paul F. Tompkins’ show, entitled Life’s Work, runs until 17 April.

Zoe Lyons’ show, Clownbusting, runs until 24 April.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the festival’s website.

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.