The Gonzo Hour is one of the most remarkably strange experiences of the entire Melbourne International Comedy Festival. All we know about it is that Professor Zygielboym is very smart and is going to give a lecture. With a delightfully confusing and whimsical greeting, Debbie Zukerman ensnares the audience within seconds of walking through the door. Her child-like persona and bright costumes as professor Zygielboym’s assistant is so fully-realised that you don’t even realise she’s playing a character until it changes.
The show is bizarre, absurdist comedy with the child-like outlook of someone who exudes joy and pushes it onto everyone around them. The small room inside the Tasma Terrace that hosts The Gonzo Hour becomes an instantly safe space. Everyone is free to be silly, to clap along, encouraged to sing badly and loudly (at the appropriate moments of course) and all play children’s party games together. Zukerman encourages everyone to be a team, lest they disappoint the assistant which is akin to making the most adorable child cry.
Zukerman flips from the assistant to Professor Zygielboym in a dramatic and hilariously underwhelming flourish. The over-the top portrayal of a snooty academic turned possibly communist dictator one of the funniest and most absurd things imaginable. It’s impossible not to get swept up in the moment. The characters are as distinct as each other, and the juxtaposition of the two is marvellous. They’re so different, it’s easy to go away thinking about how talented Zukerman really is. Which is a lot.
The Gonzo Hour relies a lot on audience participation, which Zukerman draws from the crowd willingly: you want her to pick you. You want to be a part of her world, to be a part of what is happening. If we delve deep into the themes, there’s social commentary of human behaviour and the psyche – but mostly it’s clowning, characters, party-games and an all-around good-time.
This show is so hard to describe: it’s just nice and fun and you’ll laugh and you’ll cry. It’s impossible to not have a smile on your face the entire time you’re there and for hours after you’ve left. Guaranteed.
The Gonzo Hour is on at Tasma Terrace until 12 April (no show on the 9th) as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets, show times and accessibility information are available via the MICF website.