Ha Ha Comedy Late Show
Alan Anderson, Ross Vosvotekas, Jacques Barrett, Moataz Hamde, Amos Gill, Marcel Lucont, Dr Brown, Jarrod Fitch, Gary Bradbury @ Worldsend Hotel (Beer Garden)
11:30pm, Tue 22 Feb 2011
It’s been nearly a decade since I last attended a comedy show in the Worldsend beer garden, and not a lot has changed; there’s still the laidback feel and incredibly lax approach to “ticketing”, with the evening’s performers lazing around tables at the back.
But this evening’s Ha Ha Comedy show was not so much about the comedians themselves, nor their performance; no, it was more about the audience. Or rather, the eighty percent of the crowd that appeared to be staging a family reunion at one of the front-most tables. Because the presence of a stage, and the performers on it, was only of secondary importance to them.
Which meant that each and every performer had two battles to fight: the usual battle to win the audience over, and to communicate over the top of the incessant chatter from that table.
Emcee Alan Anderson’s thick accent raised an eyebrow or two on the table, and conversation was curbed somewhat as they tried to discern what the angry Scot was saying. But earlier performers Ross Vos and Amos Gill didn’t stand a chance with their less-ranty delivery style; the family reunion conversation resumed, and it was difficult to even hear the performers over their hubbub. It was heartbreaking to see these fledgling young comics have to deal with such brutal disinterest.
Moataz Hamde got them onside only momentarily, but there was no mistaking Jacques Barrett’s utter disdain for the situation he found himself in – and, more pointedly, the people talking over his act. Now, I already knew that Barrett had some fantastic material, but the barely disguised viciousness with which he attacked The Family just made him all the more appealing.
Marcel Lucont, however, had The Family eating out of the palm of his hand with his wry material. Maybe it was his French disdain, or his dry indifference, or the way their slurred heckles barely made any impact; regardless, Alexis put on a masterful display of unruly crowd management which really was a pleasure to witness. It proved to be the one segment in the entire evening where the performer/audience relationship felt appropriately balanced.
But it was not the most memorable spot of the evening, no… because then Dr Brown took to the stage.
After guiding one of the cackling Family up onto the stage, Dr Brown’s humiliating clowning had the Family cracking up… before he encouraged his volunteer to lightly slap his cheek. The volunteer did as suggested, but Brown’s quickfire slap in response was crisp. Hard. The crack of hand-on-cheek jolted my eyes wide open, and a dark little thought crossed my mind… what if this all goes wrong?
With the most insincere of mimed apologies, Brown lay the man down on a bench… then tried to sit on his head. The man struggled, sat up in anger; again, Dr Brown’s gentle hands-up apologies placated him, but the good doctor’s eyes told another story. Eventually the man as coaxed into laying on the bench again… and Dr Brown again tried to sit on his head, more forceful in his attempts to hold the man down. A struggle ensued, culminating with the man running from the beer garden to the jeers of the rest of The Family. They turned back to face Dr Brown, barely a sound to be heard; he shrugged, and walked offstage.
I was gobsmacked. I was convinced that what I’d just seen, on a bad night with a litigious crowd, was tantamount to assault. Sure, I was laughing my arse off – but as I exchanged a greeting and a few quick words with Dr Brown as he left the venue, I asked: are you OK? aren’t you worried about the ramifications of that? Again, he just shrugged, and ambled off.
The Family were more subdued now… but Jarrod Fitch’s dark and winding jokes with cleverly terrible punchlines started to get a bit more noise out of them. An ugly noise. Gary Bradbury wrapped things up with a bit of his saxophonic humour, and then we all wandered out into the night.
As I walked home at 1am, I felt sorry for a lot of the comedians… and I also wondered whether Dr Brown would be available for the rest of his season or not. But it was an interesting gig, with a lot of local talent and some quality visitors. It just happened to be in the presence of a largely shit crowd.