No laughing matter at the Comedy Festival

It’s LOL time again and Australia’s and the world’s funniest comedians are back in town for the Argus Comedy Festival.  But this year ‘mid the mirth there’s a new note of edgy seriousness.

"With global warming about to make a bonfire of all us," says top Queensland cacklehead Kevin Trance, named best new act at last month’s Toowoomba Festival of Fun, "it’s not enough to have people splitting their sides. You’ve got to take them on sort of psycho-sociologically and challenge their comfortable middle-class complacency."

Trance achieves his aim by hitting his audiences full in the face with "disturbing" satire such as this:

So I sees this guy building a house right next to the beach, for Christ’s sake. Just where rising sea levels will wash it away.

I says to him, "Are you a denialist?"

"No," he says, "I’m an orthodontist."

"Well f**k you," I says.

Trance believes that "the Italian anti-Nazi leader Antonio Gramsci had the right idea. You’ve got to get people to do things they mightn’t want to do by showing them the funny side of what’ll happen if they don’t."

Melbourne stand-up comedy artist Judith Lousy, another top act at this year’s Argus Festival, says she "kind of" agrees.

"Yeah, no, comedy can also have a diversionary purpose, you know, to take your mind off the terrible suffering that life throws at you," she says.

"Every day on the news there’s unbelievably horrible things happening, like Abbott’s hate-filled misogyny, or Labor going down in the polls.

"Laughing can be a weapon against that. My motto is, don’t crack the s***s, guys, crack a joke instead – and share it!"

It’s a formula that self-evidently works. The Age described Lousy’s crisp monologues at last year’s festival as "martini dry".

Mind you, Lousy’s had plenty of time to hone her humour since the days when, "just for a dare", she got up on stage and delivered her monologue "Why I’d chop all men’s b***s off" at the Castlemaine Festival fringe event "Sapphic Satire". That turned out to be her big break.

Lousy was spotted by director and arts entrepreneur Robyn Lesdyke, who invited her to combine feisty monologues with the part of Ophelia in Lesdyke’s all-woman comedy staging of Romeo and Juliet at the Adelaide Festival. Gigs on ABC comedy shows followed.

Lousy was even invited to perform her anti-religious sketch "Jesus! You Actually Believe that Crap?" in a Compass edition on "Faith and Humour", though she declined scornfully when challenged by a newspaper columnist to present a similar sketch on the Islamic religion, describing the challenge as "disingenious shit-stirring".

Lousy and Trance join a strong international team of comedy talent for this year’s festival. Guest performers include Scottish stand-up comedian Billy Foulis, Seamus O’Sweare, a stand-up comedian from Dublin, stand-up comedian Lenny Scheisser from New York, promising young New Zealand stand-up comedian Nelson Smutt, Nauruan stand-up comedian Wesley Guano and, of course top Australian performers Will Krude, Dave O’Yawne and Marieke Deveny-Billabong ("the Irish blackfella" who, in a landmark court case last year, successfully petitioned Judge Mordechai Bromberg to declare that her 0.008 per cent of Tomandjeri blood qualified her as what he called a "legally recognised Aboriginal person with all entitlements thereof").

Two especially promising newcomers to watch this year are the "seriously wacky" duo Dillo and Dullo, aka Aussie-born Jarrod Flannery and Greek-descended George Narcolepsis, both Manning Clark University dropouts (Flannery cultural studies, Narcolepsis electrical engineering). Like Kevin Trance and other young comedians their comedy is edgy, and, in Flannery’s words, "revelant to the environmentalist debate". Here’s an extract to give the flavour.

Dillo: Did you hear about the guy who was into fracking?

Dullo: F*****g?

Dillo: No, fracking, you retard. He was a fracking f****r, I mean a f*****g fracker. Anyhow, so he’s gone and got a drill and he’s drilling away on his front lawn and suddenly there’s this rush of gas behind him.

Dullo: Had he struck a seam?

Dillo: No, he’d had bean and onion soup for lunch.  

The high standards traditionally associated with the Argus Comedy Festival extend to the quality of the souvenir programmes, which once again carry a specially drawn cover illustration by Australian icon Michael Loonik. This year’s artwork shows John Howard as a cannibal with a bone through his nose (John Howard? Still? – Editor) stoking a fire under a huge pot labelled "Anthropogenic Global Warning", from which heads bearing the collective legend "Humankind" can be seen poking up, sweating and boiling.

Last year’s Argus Comedy Festival was universally acclaimed by its organisers as "world class" and "the best yet", although one critic in a right-wing journal ("fascist rag," shrieks Marieke) had the temerity to break ranks and say that, having sat through "what must have been platoons of stand-up comedians not once was my face tempted into even the shadow of a smile."

"God there are some sad-arses around," quipped Judith Lousy. "Why don’t you just go and dig a hole and die in it?"

EDITOR’S NOTE: Certain words, much appreciated by hip ABC producers but distasteful to adults, have been asterisk’d within an inch of their lives. Quadrant Online readers can use their imagination — unlike, say, viewers of the national broadcaster’s Hungry Beast, who prefer their potty talk straight up.

Christopher Akehurst blogs at Argus

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