The Melbourne International Comedy Festival have a remit to produce imported shows in order to enrich the local comedy scene. I have been drinking in as much overseas talent as I can, and if you are a local comic and you're wondering who to see to help you improve, the answer is anybody. These are two I've seen this week.
The Comedy Festival still invite me to things like I work in the media. In the past, I've not really taken them up on the offer, either because I was asleep by 8:30pm or I was doing shows of my own. This year, I said yes to several invitations. One of them, to James Acaster. He was a guest on both Spicks and Specks and The Shelf in 2014, and I really liked his gentle, wry style.
He has structured his hour-long show around serving on a jury during a double murder trial. While this sounds like it might be heavy going, that is far from the case, because the trial is absurdly inconsequential to the show, and James is far more concerned by his bizarre interactions with the other obtuse members of the jury.
There are some wonderful observations in this show, about hipster customer service, archaic church rituals and basic human interactions, to name a few, all of them extrapolated to preposterous conclusions. The exploration of an alternative to evolution or creationism is a wonderful, farcical moment that is worth the price of admission alone.
For comedians, this show is a masterclass in the deftly handled callback. You won't find James smugly rocking back on his heels, waiting for you to acknowledge the fact that he's just shouted something that he referenced earlier in the show. James has a gentle, understated delivery that is so beguiling, I was completely taken aback by the cascading callbacks toward the end of the show.
Luisa Omielan is already dancing to Beyonce when you enter the "function room above a Swiss restaurant," as she hilariously refers to her venue. She details some monumental moments in her life, while asking how her experiences mirror those of multi-hyphenate Beyonce Carter nee Knowles.
This show is a bastard child of stand-up and theatre, and the running time (70+ minutes) should give you a hint that there is a strong narrative behind this show. While you're marvelling at energetic dance routines, and keenly observed characters, dovetailing stories emerge.
Luisa is unafraid to go into areas where there is not much comedy to be found, and she doesn't try to alleviate the tension with jokes when she's there. There are uncomfortable moments where you may find yourself in sympathetic tears, before you're caught up in another Beyonce sing-a-long.
If you're at that point in your stand-up career where you're wondering how to go from fifteen minute spots to a full hour show, this kind of revelatory, theatrical, yet incredibly personal performance is a must-see.