Jordan Shanks’ Malcolm Turnbull strikes across the stage, sneering at the peasants in the gallery, welcoming them. The crowd at the Lithuanian Club – who on average are about 20-30% more socialist-looking than your average YouTube fan, and way more likely to have good tatts – are in an excited uproar, cheering at the chalk-faced aristocrat as he gestures above. “Look at them, applauding the fact they got the shit seats” he mutters in his regular Jordan Shanks voice. Pretty much the oldest joke in the book, but it kills.
A Life: MT is a case study in being a hater – not necessarily hatefulness or any particular spite on the part of the Prime Minister (except towards poor people, holy shit), but rather ‘hating on something’ as a feeling, something to be experienced onstage. The show reflects on sociopathy and empty motivations, and delivers a tremendous rate of return in terms of laughs when attacking these subjects. But the broadening of horizons into friendlyjordies-level observational humour is actually quite a relief at times, since the actual undisputed premise of the show – that the vast majority of people in or with power turn out to be banal sociopaths – would otherwise be that much harder to take in, and way harder to hate on consistently.
Hence the wig and ruffled jumpsuit, circa 1800s France via a late 2000s costume shop. The elasticity of the premise – Malcolm Turnbull, here played as a caricature of a French Revolution-era aristocrat, recounts parts of his life and neoliberal philosophy in a kind of fucked fireside chat – does lend itself to a thorough on-the-spot critique of Australian politics ‘at this moment’, while also allowing Jordan to work in tonnes of unrelated observational gear on the flimsiest of premises. The show bridges these gaps, though, because Jordan is a fucking gifted performer, with a theatre kid’s equipoise and ear for his own lines, who plays off of the multiple personalities he introduces onstage and who trusts his audience to sort through the layers.
There are in fact several Malcolm Turnbulls at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. In addition to Shanks, the comedian Lawrence Mooney has brought his own impression, which he delivers on a weekly basis to Triple M’s national audience, to the festival. When I asked him about it (the impression) Jordan responded “I’d say [Mooney’s] is a more factual account of Malcolm Turnbull’s life, and mine’s a more truthful account”. It may be one of the oldest jokes in the book, but it’s also surprisingly spot on in this case. The mask only slips once in the viewing we attend – it’s Jordan pausing to reflect on a very off-colour adlib he’s just made about starving kids in Africa.
But by essentially ignoring the vocal tics of Malcolm Turnbull and zeroing in on the raw weirdness of the situation as such, Shanks’ performance becomes less unreasonable and more relatable the angrier he gets. Until it doesn’t, and the gears shift onto a new joke, a new topic. But he keeps triangulating on it for laughs, and it keeps working – that’s the weird energy being played with in this show. Plus there’s just something to be said about giving a character actor free reign to hate on life sometimes.
I have no idea whether the real Malcolm Turnbull attends standup comedy shows; my best guess would be to say that he used to? I can only recommend that he and you both book your tickets to A Life:MT straight away and find out for yourselves. Highly recommended.
A Life: MT is on at the Lithuanian Club at 8pm 12 – 15 April as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets, show details and accessibility information are available from the MICF website.