Raw Comedy ” Canberra Heat One.

Review by The Predictable Salamander

Approaching the Street Theatre without a clue as to what to expect from the ACT Raw Comedy festival heats, I was first impressed and excited to see the foyer of The Street jam packed for a main-stage event that did not involve musical theatre. As I made my way to the bar I saw a number of familiar faces from the ‘COMEDY ACT’ crew with whom I have been loosely associated in the development of local comedy nights such as CaCk YaSelf (the Front Gallery) and Cult Comedy (Soul Bar) and immediately wondered which ones were actually there to compete. After a quick wine and a few hello’s the dinger dinged and it was time to see what we were all in for.

The ACT heats were hosted by Corinne Grant which also filled me with unsure expectation having only seen her on Rove which can be a bit hit and miss. I was pleasantly surprised to find her and her sets absolutely charming, delightful, and funny throughout the evening.

Stand up comedy nights, like Rove and any night of varied and eclectic artistic performances, are also a bit hit and miss. Raw Comedy being a national competition, I assumed it would consist of a combination of the best hitters from the COMEDY ACT crew battling it out against other polished Comedians who hadn’t become part of the tidal wave of stand up taking over every corner of Canberra that is COMEDY ACT. But Raw Comedy is raw comedy.

Stand up is perhaps one of the hardest areas of performance as you only have two things to work with… your material, and how you present it to the audience. A musician can cover a mistake more easily than a comedian can or rely on the years of practise in the bedroom to cover their nerves. A stand up comedian cannot. This became very apparent with the first two competitors of the Friday night heat (Chris McGrane and Dave McCarthy) whose material showed promise but was delivered with such nervousness that I was left feeling so uncomfortable that I can’t even remember what any of it was about.

The third act, an older gentleman named Barry York with a big grey pony tail and flambouyant shirt, while obviously feeling the nervous rush of being on stage, delivered his stream of Summer Nats jokes through his John Saffran-eque lisp with a more controlled ease; both raising my own comfort levels and giving me a sense of relief through some genuine laughter. Last before the break was Ben Crispin, a recent yet seasoned addition to COMEDY ACT. Crispin’s set, I’m told, is very similar to his day to day interaction. After a brief discussion with him and some others after the show I agree, and give his slightly awkward yet fast and witty style of comedy (or character in general) two thumbs up.

First up after the break was Nick Smith who displayed a wide range of solid material delivered in such a way that it seemed more like he was putting on a nervous feeling or using his nerves as part of his act rather than letting them control his act. Smith”s “hey I”m just putting it out there” approach to his intelligent material was hilarious and made him a definite contender for a place in the State finals and without a doubt the strongest set thus far.

Smith”s was a hard act to follow but Jay Sullivan rose to the challenge with grandeur, taking a much larger and theatrical approach to his equally witty and intelligent material; leaving the crowd screaming and cheering for him throughout his whole set. After a number of great jokes Sullivan said something to the effect of “I find music really interesting, because it can either make or break your day” before removing a banana from his coat pocket. After a few seconds of wondering what the hell was going on, Gary Jules” rendition of Mad World (a very depressing song) came blaring over the speakers as Sullivan proceeded to show us how one eats a banana while listening to such music. Though this may not read very well in words, Sullivan”s acting experience shone through making this absolutely hilarious. To show music”s diverse effect on our moods he then produced another banana from his pocket waiting for the 2001 Space Odyssey theme song to strike up before devouring it in an entirely dramatic and energised fashion. Again hilarious.

The final act was a large and jolly looking lad named Irfan Yusuf. After two such strong performances Yusuf had trouble stepping up to the plate. While some of his material was quite funny he could perhaps fine tune the suspense and timing of its delivery. With a little such work and the confidence to not apologise for jokes not being funny when the audience doesn”t laugh, I”d definitely like to see Yusuf back up next year because the guy has definitely got potential.

It was clear that the battle had come down to Smith and Sullivan and as the judges went out to deliberate, Corinne Grant”s final set did not entirely distract me from the anticipation of finding out who would be going to the state finals in NSW. (As Corinne so eloquently put it “Fuck off (ACT) you don”t get your own state final you”re tiny). My money was on Sullivan.

When Grant had wrapped up, the results came in. There were two honourable mentions; one for Ben Crispin (well deserved) and the other… for Jay Sullivan. The crowd was indeed disappointed to hear that Sullivan had not won but this did not detract from their appreciation for Smith when he was announced the winner.

As I said it was clear that it had come down to Smith or Sullivan… Both had solid material… Smith had a higher volume of it… Sullivan presented his in a more entertaining way… Who wins is going to come down to two things…

1) What is the criteria on the judging forms?

2) Who are the judges?

I”m glad it wasn”t me who had to decide.

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