Written and performed by Charlie Pickering/Justin Hamilton
Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse
With its intimate but generous space and flexible stage, the Brisbane Powerhouse’s Visy Theatre is one of the best venues in town for stand-up comics, and they make the most of it. Wil Anderson (ex-The Glasshouse) is coming soon, and so is Arj Baker, and Tim Minchin’s new show in December is already selling fast.
It’s one of the greatest strengths of the Powerhouse, that it attracts a different kind of audience from the usual La Boite, QTC or even Metro Arts crowd, because the shows are cutting edge and challenging while being supremely entertaining, and seem to catch the zeitgeist of Generation Y to perfection.
The latest two shows have been by relatively mild-mannered Melburnians Charlie Pickering and Justin Hamilton. The shows are not linked, but the guys are best friends, and a heck of a lot of cross-promotion goes on, which gives it all a cosy feeling.
Both Pickering and Hamilton use the time-honoured technique of telling one long involved story with lots of laughs along the way, a much easier genre than an hour of rapid-fire jokes, because it gives them the opportunity to worm their way into the audience’s affections without having to produce a laugh a minute. Story-telling is such a basic art that it’s immediately audience-friendly, and whether the stories are about the performer’s love life or family incidents, within ten minutes or so (in the hands of an expert) we’re so involved in the plot that we tend not to judge too harshly.
Charlie Pickering is one of those softly-spoken comedians who appeal to the mothering instinct in all middle-aged women, especially when he tells the story of how he learned to love his father. None of your melodramatic or violin-playing moments here, but an involved tale about his father’s war with a neighbour-cum-friend and the way they keep playing pranks on each other. Pickering’s dad is a loser, a dispensing chemist who is Mr Suburbia personified, but the saga of his long-running feud with Ian the tie-maker, who pushes him into a swimming pool at a neighbourhood barbecue, takes on wider and wider dimensions that eventually involve a parking-meter on an 8-foot pole cemented into the front drive, a plaster wrist cast painted with super glue and sprinkled with gold glitter which ends up stuck to Dad’s forehead, an incident with a gas pipe that almost blows up the neighbourhood you name it, the disasters are almost as good as those of Homer Simpson.
The F-word and, regrettably, the C-word keep appearing at frequent intervals, but apart from that there’s not much vulgarity in the show and, best of all, for a change it’s not about sex. And Pickering is adept at handling an audience, and he had special fun with a party of tizzy 18-year-olds celebrating a birthday in the kind of frocks that 18-year-olds wear, especially when two of them decided just as the show began that they needed to go to the loo and made a great noisy parade of leaving the theatre in their tottery high heels. When they finally re-appeared 15 minutes later, repeating their clattering journey across the entire auditorium, Pickering gave them heaps, to the delight of the audience who were as annoyed by the selfish rudeness as he was.
This 60-minute minor masterpiece was followed by a rather dull session from Justin Hamilton, another mild-mannered comic from Adelaide via Melbourne, which didn’t give the audience enough geographical links to engage them from the beginning. The fact that his show started at 9.30pm didn’t help, either, as most of Pickering’s 8pm audience had decided to go home, so Hamilton was doing a very difficult follow-on act which, frankly, wasn’t very funny.
It was another long involved story, this time about his disastrous sex life and his final realisation that the girl he had been treating as a casual friend was really the love of his life. Duh! There were lots of Biggus Dikkus references, which soon wore thin, and not much else that I can remember. Perhaps he goes better with an audience who know and love him, but this show just didn’t work, and he was greeted with modified rapture rather than tumultuous applause.
But that’s the nature of stand-up you can be an instant hit, win your audience over gradually, or die on the night, and that’s half the fun for the audience, that they never quite know what they’re going to get. And as most shows are only an hour or so long, it’s never a total disaster. So keep an eye out for the next lot of stand-up, because you never know what little gems will appear. The Brisbane Powerhouse website is www.brisbanepowerhouse.org.
Played 16 – 21 October 2007
Duration : about one hour each