The 2018 season of the Sydney Comedy Festival is packed with fresh talent, stand-up veterans, and comedy all-stars who give us the much-needed opportunity to sit back, have a drink, and marvel at the oddities of modern life and Australian culture.
And nowhere is this better presented than the opening Gala: 16 acts, each with 5-minute sets, to equal two hours of brilliant comedy.
Of the eight Australian acts, Harley Breen (the night’s MC), Nick Cody and Steen Raskopoulos are their typical comedic selves. Steen’s skits are just as hilarious as they are impressive; his performance as the ‘Bad Boy of Yoga’ and heartfelt cries to his mother as he’s left stranded at the checkout with no items left to scan in musical number ‘Momma Come Back’ make us unsure if we’re crying of laughter or empathy.
Demi Lardner’s mid-show set unfortunately lulls, her characteristic millennial take on things like ‘Dad’s Google History’ losing its comedic vigour amongst Nikki Britton’s side-splitting analysis of women’s degenerative dancing ability as they age.
From the entire Aussie selection, however, our much-loved starlets Rhys Nicholson, Fiona O’Loughlin, and Luke Heggie (Comic’s Choice Award, Melbourne Comedy Festival 2017) were the sets to see.
Rhys’ sly one-liners were at their back-handed best as his jokes about cancelled plans and cocaine reaffirmed his status as one of Australia’s finest. Fiona’s narcissism creates the material of legend and as usual she does not disappoint.
Yet for Luke Heggie, the man whose stories and comedic delivery are so purely Australian, his set just seemed like a recount of an evening out a few weeks ago rather than a painstakingly-constructed collection of material; he deserves the most acclaim. His comedy is simultaneously intellectual and juvenile, twisting our perception that the punchline is the most comedic part of a joke as he lists increasingly crude ways to denote male genitalia with the driest humour of any comedian on the night.
The Aussies of the night remind us once more why they are crowd favourites.
Across the seas, the Gala’s international acts varied in strength. New Zealand’s Rose Matafeo’s gags regarding awkward family reunions and cultural profiling quickly became repetitious, the first two punchlines comedic but lacking thereon. Guy Montgomery restored some comedic pride to the Kiwis – his hypocritical material on diversity and what it means to be white is stellar.
Canadians Ian Bagg, John Hastings and Irish-American Des Bishop (the night’s best dressed, third best accent and replacement for Scotsman Larry Dean) all run similar material about sex and pornography that tires the audience, unfortunately hindering the funnier material about Australian culture that came later in their sets.
From the UK, however, Jamali Maddix, Dane Baptiste, and Irishman Jason Byrne are incredible. Jamali, with his nervously shaking hands and closed eyes, and Dane’s contrastingly calm and collected demeanour gave unique edges to their racial material, separating them from their North American counterparts. Jason’s intensely physical (and intensely funny) one-man re-enactment of an AFL game is exhausting to watch but something one can’t take their eyes off.
As an opening to the Sydney Comedy Festival for this year, it’s safe to say we are in good hands. With tickets still on sale, it is well worth the time to book a seat, grab a drink, and just switch off.
Sydney Comedy Festival is on until 20 May.