As a founding member of the sketch troupe Fancy Boy, and a favourite of the Melbourne alt-comedy set, Greg Larsen has mastered the art of humiliating himself for comedic effect. This year’s show A Grub in the Muck takes this art to a surreal extreme, and sees Larsen performing as the thoroughly shit-upon sidekick of a David Lynch-style talk show host called “Mummy”. The talk show format allows Larsen to sub on and off as various characters, who range from ineptly racist council workers to vaguely conspiratorial TED talkers and everything in between.
With each character, Larsen delves deeper into his well-honed anti-comedic style, producing full-throated laughter from every mis-timed delivery, awkward apology and fumbled punchline. Beneath this veneer of pure comedic failure there are sophisticated long-form jokes, which creep up on the audience until there is barely room to breathe. A stern talking-to from the President of the National Australian Council of Dads is a highlight, and sees Larsen deliver a psychologically-vivid and archetypal portrait of the modern Australian dad.
Sadly, two audience members missed out on this moving tribute, due to their walking out of Larsen’s show early on. For what it’s worth, though, the rest of the crowd found this walkout to be fucking hilarious, especially as Larsen meekly quipped after them “aww… c’mon… it’s a kind of satire?”. It’s safe to say that Larsen’s comedy requires a minimal tolerance for anti-jokes.
And it turns out that A Grub in the Muck is satirical, not simply for its piss-taking of workaday comedy tropes, but for the weird games that it plays with political comedy. Larsen signals his intention to “do a political character” several times throughout the show, and each attempt results in (deliberate) abject failure. But as the humiliation mounts, and the oppressive atmosphere of the talk show format builds, Larsen’s ‘failure’ as a political comedy hack shifts towards the psychological, and ends up cutting to the core of some deep abjection issues in political comedy.
The show’s finale goes balls-deep into these issues, and shows how far Larsen is willing to push the alt-comedy envelope. For fans of the anti-joke, or connoisseurs of weird theatre, A Grub in the Muck is a must-see at this year’s festival.
A Grub in the Muck is on at the Greek Centre until the 23rd of April, every night except Monday, as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets are available online, at the venue or at the festival box office.