The show is sold out. The audience are chatty, packed in tight with their neighbours, straining to see the stage. Tom Ballard is dashing about the aisles, eager to get started. He’s got a slide show, a passion, and a sense of humour, and he’s ready to use all of them.
Boundless Plains to Share is Ballard’s examination of the hypocrisy of the Australian spirit – the contrast of our words and our actions. It’s a 70 minute comedy lecture, which he was awarded the Moosehead Grant to make, something he spoke to us about a little earlier in the year. Ballard’s goal is to humanise refugees, those (currently) voiceless people in detention, by telling their stories and detailing the history of Australia’s immigration policies.
Ballard is hyper aware of his own position of relative privilege, and the potential for him to be seen as a ‘white saviour’. He leans into the idea, claiming that he, a 26 year old white Australian, has the answers, with an arrogance that is actually deeply self-satirising.
The show itself is kind of a glorious mess, like the best of your tipsy political conversations with your most intellectual friends. Ballard shouts, stomps and despairs his way through the show, the audience already familiar with his friendly-yet-bombastic media persona. He hammers out the facts and lays down the history with tremendous efficiency. The crowd is on his side – they like him, and they agree with him. Most of the jokes land, but a few fall quite flat, lost against the backdrop of humanitarian horror. This isn’t because there isn’t humour to be found, or used, around such a political topic, but rather because Ballard is a little too gentle. The audience have read the guide, picked the show, bought their tickets. They know what they’re here to see. Ballard is preaching to the choir when he could be inciting them to act. There is no need to make the crowd as comfortable as the young stand up does. Don’t let us get away with thinking going to an ‘edgy’ comedy show is enough. Ballard isn’t pushing quite hard enough for some of his clever one liners to be the tension breaks they’re designed to be – there’s just not quite enough tension.
Alternatively, Ballard could go the other way and tone the whole thing down, and trick unsuspecting centre voters and conservatives into caring about people seeking asylum.
Boundless Plains to Share is on at a whole different range of places, times, and dates, so you’d best check out the Melbourne International Comedy Festival website. There, you can also find information about Ballard’s other show The World Keeps Happening.