Posted: 19 Mar 2015

Adam Richard’s guide to hidden gems at the Comedy Festival

We all the know the big names are doing shows at the Melbourne International Comedy FestivalJudith Lucy, Wil Anderson, Dave Hughes. Then there Melbourne’s new favourites playing big venues, like Celia Pacquola, Luke McGregor and Ronnie Chieng.

But these big names all started somewhere… usually in a seedy 30 or 40 seat room at the back of a pub with a tatty curtain and a dodgy spotlight.

Five of the Best’s own resident couch potato and pro comedian Adam Richard (pictured above) has performed many shows in these back-room venues. This year, Adam’s upgrading to upstairs at the Imperial Hotel – positively posh compared to some of his old stages.

But Adam reckons some of the best comedy gigs are found in the tiny back rooms. These are his top five at this year’s festival.

1. Dilruk Jayasinha

Dilruk Jayasinha MICFACMI Games Room, March 26 to April 19

Dilruk’s show Immigrateful has my second-favourite pun title in the festival guide (my favourite being the very talented Suren Jayemanne’s Eat Praline, Die about his nut allergy, amongst other things) and it perfectly sums up his experience as what my grandmother would have called a New Australian. Dilruk paints a picture of our country as only an outsider can, with an objectivity infected by affection. Yes, there are cringeworthy moments when you despair of being an Aussie, given the behaviour of some of our brethren, but overall, Dilruk will challenge your belief that this is an unwelcoming nation. His style is amiable and affable, and he has likeability and charm in abundance. An hour in the company of Dilruk Jayasinha is one easily spent, plus you’ll get change from $20 for his show at ACMI.

2. Aunty Donna

Aunty Donna MICFACMI Cube, March 26 to April 19

If you like sketch comedy, then you need to see Aunty Donna. These three boys, Mark Samual Bonanno, Broden Kelly and Zachary Ruane, are big, loud and hilarious. Their sketches are frenetic, physical and expertly executed. Their absurd flights of fancy will have you in hysterics, and five years from now, when they are as big a deal as they deserve to be, you will be able to smugly tell all of your friends “Oh yes, I went to see them in the Comedy Festival years ago”. They’re so good, Justin Hamilton and I have booked them for every single week of our comedy variety show The Shelf.

3. Nellie White

Bull and Bear Tavern, March 25 to April 11

Nellie’s show is only $5, so you really can’t afford not to go. You’ll probably pay more for drinks when you get to her venue, the Bull and Bear, which is up Flinders Lane, near Queen Street. She has the kind of dry, deadpan delivery that sounds like a mongrel crossbreed of Stephen Wright and Roseanne Barr. Her musings on modern life are razor-sharp and while they are sometimes entirely uncomfortable, you’ll find yourself laughing in spite of yourself or the awkward subject matter. If you like your comedy dark, sardonic, and and keenly observed, Nellie White has a black heart you will adore.

4. Thomas Jaspers

Thomas Jaspers MICFGin Palace, The Swamp, March 26 to April 18

Thomas Jaspers has managed to track down every man he’s ever slept with in an effort to find out why they didn’t turn out to be “the one”, and I suspect, why he wasn’t the one for them. Despite his youth, Thomas has the kind of camp delivery reminiscent of variety television from the seventies. He wouldn’t seem out of place on The Mike Walsh Show or trading barbs with Bert Newton. His bitchy streak doesn’t just point outward either, his material often has a thick vein of self-deprecation, and given the premise of this show, I imagine we’ll be getting a lot it. He’s been a frequent contributor to my putrid gay podcast The Poofcast and during the Midsumma festival this year, he dressed up as his alter ego Rhonda Butchmore to take people on hilarious tours of the Arts Centre. I have no doubt this will be quite the camp extravaganza, but perhaps a little more personal than we’re used to seeing from him. It’s only $20, and set amongst the decadent surrounds of the Gin Palace.

5. Karl Chandler

Victoria Hotel, March 26 to April 19

If you want jokes, or one liners – the kind of gags you can repeat to your mates – then Karl is your man. He’s been a jokesmith for many a television show (including the incarnation of Spicks and Specks for which I was lucky enough to have been a team captain) and he may have even had a hand in sculpting the funnier parts of one or two of the bigger named shows around town this festival (don’t ask, they can’t be named for reasons of professionalism). Karl is a considerable writer of jokes, but lately he’s developed a bizarrely combative style of delivery, where he assesses the value of each gag after telling it, creating a riotous maelström of anarchic hilarity around his strictly structured setups and punchlines. He would seem too big a name to put on this list (Karl runs two of the best comedy rooms in Melbourne – Comedy at Spleen, and Portland Hotel Comedy – as well as being half of the outrageously successful The Little Dum Dum Club podcast), but his evolving style makes him worth a look with fresh eyes. Twenty-something bucks for an hour of gags, and who knows what else, in the bar at the top of the stairs at the Victoria Hotel, is spectacular value.

Comic guide to the school holidays

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