The title of Akmal’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival show is utterly appropriate: it is Transparent in every sense. The loose structure of the show gives insight into how comedy shows are often pieced together, also well as insight into Akmal’s quick thinking if somewhat scattered brain. The jokes reveal similar workings, containing a confessional honesty that forms the basis of a lot of high-quality traditional stand up. Yet there’s an interesting quirk to Akmal’s storytelling. Where that honesty would usually ground extended narrative pieces and plot-driven jokes, Akmal instead uses it to give a heft to five minute bits and quick punchlines. The material itself isn’t breaking new ground or striving to bring levity to serious topics, but it doesn’t need to. Akmal’s observations and commentary are so comfortably delivered that they still draw large amounts of laughter from the audience.
Akmal builds a lot of his energy from his audience, engaging in quite a bit of crowd work and using improvised riffs as a way to ground his own distraction. It’s easy to describe a comedy show as feeling conversational, indeed its an intimacy that many performers work hard to cultivate without inviting too many hecklers. Yet Akmal genuinely looks for conversation, drawing big laughs from his riffs. It’s something of a shock to the audience though, who were perhaps expecting something a little less participatory and a little more structured from the experienced stand up.
It helps that Akmal is just delighted to be on stage, even after all these years, and even after having to return to it due to financial strain. The word that keeps coming to mind is ‘bouncy’ – the jokes, the energy, the laughter and Akmal himself bounce around the audience with glee.
Transparent is on at 8pm at the Athenaeum Theatre until 22 April as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets are available at the venue or via the MICF website.