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Published April 1, 2016

Child abuse is a difficult topic to broach, let alone through comedy. Child abuse in the Catholic Church, on the other hand, is frequent punchline, usually approached with great flippancy before moving very quickly on to other topics. Frank Hampster wants to examine it.

Growing up in Ballarat in the 1970s & 1980s, Hampster describes the debilitating sense of fear that haunted his school years. As the recent Royal Commission reveals, there as an incredibly high number of paedophile priests in the Victorian town during that time. The ex-solider questions why and how such atrocities came to be committed, and allowed, and why it is that it is only now perpetrators are being brought to justice.

Melbourne Comedy Festival 2016
Melbourne Comedy Festival 2016

The show is unpolished. This is mostly due to a letter delivered to Hampster less than 24 hours before he was due to open his show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It was a cease and desist letter from lawyers working for the Royal Commission, claiming that due to the unresolved nature of the court case, Hampster could not continue with his planned show. So he rewrote it.

The central topic of Cardinal Sins remains the abuse of children at the hands of Catholic priests, but it’s a little more censored, a little less aggressive than one imagines the original show to be. Unable to tell anyone else’s story, Hampster tells his own, and it is brutal. A lot of the humour deployed in the show comes about because the audience are placed in a ‘laugh or cry’ situation. Hampster lays out the facts with precise clarity, and then gently steers the crowd towards laughing in the face of the ridiculous words and the violent acts, rather than letting us fall into despair. Humour is our defence, just as it was (and is) his. The comedy craft operates at the edges here, the content carries the show. Cardinal Sins is motivated by more than justice – although there are plenty of appropriate calls for that – it’s about compassion. Hampster has a strong awareness of the power of comedy, both as a tool for healing and a weapon for change.

By the end of the show, you just want to keep discussing it (earlier drafts of this review were much longer, much more political, and much closer to a rant about why I believe paedophilia to be so rampant in the Catholic Church). The silence has been broken, and it’s almost obligatory to keep talking about it – to get to the bottom of it, to share stories, to prevent it happening again. So go to Cardinal Sins and listen to the conversation.

Cardinal Sins is on at Club Voltaire until the 16th of April at 10pm, with no shows on Sundays or Mondays. Tickets range between $10 – $20 and are available online and at the door. 

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