Packed shoulder-to-shoulder in Max Watts’ in Melbourne, the crowd at Aunty Donna’s new show Glennridge Secondary College are positively anxious to see what their heroes have composed this year. Having conquered the alternative-sketch-youtubers-doing-psytrance-inspired-hip-hop niche of the Australian comedy scene, the Aunty Donna boys have a mystique about them now, a bloody gravitas even. I overhear a story of how Broden keeps showing up to watch professional wrestling events in Melbourne, and can only imagine how weird and gossipy and starstruck the young wrestlers must get in his presence.
It would make a lot of sense, though. From the raw human energy expended in an Aunty Donna show, the choreographed chaos of it, the physicality and voice work involved, you could easily say that they’re among the best pro wrestlers in the country. In my review of Aunty Donna’s Big Boys last year, I sort of made the case for them as being literal musicians. And you might also call them legitimate Aussie hip-hoppers at this point, too, since their latest venture ‘Aunty Donna – The Album‘ is filled with legitimately good music, that simultaneously sneers at and elevates tropes like ‘The Boast’ (AKA Man-Boast), ‘The Party Anthem’, ‘The Sombre Anti-War Track’, and that most obvious mainstream target, ‘The One About A Man Who Mistakes Himself for a Cat’.
One of the best standalone tracks on The Album is the earworm ‘Best Day of My Life’, a song about the incredibly high stakes of secondary school life (feat. the incorrigible Melbourne comic Demi Lardner):
This song will form a sort of baseline for tonight’s show, which combines high-energy song and dance numbers with high-concept sketches about school lunches, stealing chippies, winning the talent show, foursquare handball and the search for love. As Mark Bonano, Zach Ruane and Broden Kelly finally breach the stage and launch into ‘Best Day’, the crowd is instantly transformed into a rowdy school assembly, an effect that holds for the entire show. Scenes from the classroom starwipe into intricate audience participation bits, before dissolving into increasingly-funny shorter sketches with a varying and tenuous connections to the schoolyard. Broden holds court onstage, as a teacher doing a roll call, call-and-response bit. Mark stalks the stage in a halting, stop-motion fashion, like Wile E Coyote except hunting chippies. Zach bemoans his “limited range” as a character actor, in the upper east quadrant of the seated audience.
The cut-up style of Aunty Donna’s video work translates to the stage in a million different ways – the show incorporates devastatingly good jokes, semi-improvised games and the music of Tom Armstrong without missing a beat. There is perhaps less formal experimentation in this year’s show, and more of a focus on character and setting. But this ultimately makes for a ridiculous and balanced hour of comedy, because it’s clear that the Aunty Donna boys have a real love and affinity for the subject matter, and they are masterfully attentive to the expectations of a live comedy audience. More to the point, their commitment to enjoying the creative process, with all the bumps, bruises and scars that this process entails, is something that resonates well beyond any one joke or sketch.
Glennridge Secondary College is showing as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, every night (except Monday) until the 22nd of April, at Max Watt’s on Swanston Street. Tickets are available via the MICF website.