Wil of God / Hellraiser

Powerhouse Theatre (Token Events)


By Wil Anderson/Peter Hellier

Professional productions

If you only know Wil Anderson as the rather smug mud-slinger from the late and (in the case of this reviewer at least) much-lamented ABC television comedy The Glasshouse, you’ll be surprised by his new show at the Brisbane Powerhouse.

Yes, the language is cruder than ever, and yes, the political slant is even more obvious, but this young man has his heart in the right place, and a soul that’s worth cheering for, and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t hesitate to give either of my teenage grandchildren a ticket to ride – although I wouldn’t embarrass them by going with them.

Young Jack, bless his raggedy haircut, was at 14 the youngest person in the audience, and once Anderson had established this fact, he directed much of the show directly at him, and the young lad handled it admirably, not squirming in his seat, but laughing uproariously at the wicked jokes, of which there were many, and nodding approvingly once or twice when Anderson made a particular salient point. Jack particularly liked the jokes made at the expense of the EMOs (if you don’t know who they are, check with Mr Google) who hang out at Starbucks and drink frappacinos, as did we all, but there was plenty of laughter for everyone.

Visual jokes like John Howard hopping on the band wagon went down well, even more than the three Amanda Vanstone jokes, especially as he warned us about them in advance, a clever way of dealing with a joke that may not be very funny; and he turned the audience’s disapproval about the Steve Irwin references to his advantage with the throwaway line “Oops! It’s still too soon for stingray jokes.”

He’s still wicked and witty and way way out, and one indication of his popularly is that, for perhaps the first time in my experience, our Powerhouse tickets were for specified seats rather than general admission.

I liked the way he dealt with the drugs issue, for his audience is still comparatively young (“Hey, Jack, I’m 33, which makes me old enough to be your father”), and although nobody expected him to be po-faced about it, there was a serious message about the dangers of drugs like Ice, and he confessed that although he’d done the soft stuff, the only track marks on his arms were from being greedy at Sushi Train.

You gotta love this man – he confesses to hating exercise and loving Pringles, to a passion for Cate Blanchett, and to being a vegetarian who loves sausage rolls, and I thought his dick jokes were far funnier than those of Peter Hellier, whose show was on an hour earlier.

In fact for the audience, which was pretty much the same at both shows, the two men raised that perennial question about stand-up comedy – why is one show funny when another falls flat? Anderson and Hellier told many of the same jokes about the ads on Today Tonight and A Current Affair, but while Anderson’s were hilarious, Hellier’s didn’t raise many laughs.

It had something to do with the energy of the two men – Hellier seemed tired and plodded along laughing at his own jokes (well, somebody had to), whereas Anderson was razor-sharp, and only laughed when he was sending himself up, as when he improvised himself into a corner and couldn’t get out of it. But we laughed with him at his embarrassment, because he didn’t try to cover it up, and he had a much better sense of knowing when to stop.

As always, it’s horses for courses, and Wil Anderson has the advantage of being better known in Brisbane than Hellier who is, if you can believe his website, very big in Sydney. I’ve only seen him on Spicks and Specks, where he didn’t exactly shine, and he hadn’t done his homework about Brisbane for this show, for all his references fell flat, and the audience-baiting bit went sadly wrong when he couldn’t remember the names of his two hand-picked victims, Kaaren and Kieran. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the row of tipsy middle-aged women having their office Christmas party, who shrieked uproariously at every line, the whole show would have fallen flat on its face.

But Wil Anderson was incredibly funny all the time, even at his crudest – and I’ll spare you the fingering sequence. Even here, though, he was making a valid point about our pussy-footing language, where we’re happy to doing something, but don’t like using the vocabulary. In this he’s very much with D.H. Lawrence, who despised sexual hypocrisy as much as Anderson does.

By the end of the show, he let the comedian’s mask slip a little and let the real passions show. It’s not an overwhelmingly political show, but he made some very valid points about political clichés like Genuine Australian Values. Keeping refugees locked up? Demonising David Hicks? Not that he approves of that deluded man’s behaviour, but he insists that he, like all of us, has rights.

And so it goes on. I’ve always liked Wil Anderson, although I sometimes got cross with his self-satisfaction during his days with The Glasshouse, but this time I saw the man behind the mask and admired him enormously – although I bet that he’ll never use this acclamation from a grandmother as part of his publicity material. And he has the added advantage of having a warmer-upper in the shape of Lehmo, almost as funny as Anderson himself.

He’s on for two weeks, so if you want some pre-election cheering up, he’s worth a visit. I’m not so sure about Peter Hellier, though, who is only on until the end of the week. If you have to choose, I’d say there’s really no choice.

Playing: Wil Anderson Tuesday– Saturday 9.30pm, except Saturday 17 November and Sunday 11 and 18 at 7.30pm: Peter Hellier Tuesday 6 – Saturday 10 November at 7.30pm

Duration: Wil Anderson 65 minutes: Peter Hellier 70 minutes

Further information: www.wilanderson.com.au; (Wil Anderson); myspace.com/hellierhellraiser (Peter Hellier)

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Mon 5th November 2007)