In what is always a packed season, the Sydney Comedy Festival Showcase is, as per its description, a hand-picked selection of ‘the freshest and funniest acts of Sydney’s biggest annual comedy event’. Adding to that already mammoth responsibility is its decision to book The Comedy Store, undoubtedly Sydney’s most celebrated and well-known stand-up comedy venue, for an incredible 15 non-consecutive nights. Paying audiences are expecting quality, the comedians themselves are expecting perfection, and the nearby Wilson car park is expecting hundreds of dollars in parking fees.
Thankfully, each of the night’s 6 acts demonstrate why this performance space brings out the best of any comedian.
Led by experienced MC John Hastings, the show gets off to a flying start. Running about half an hour late, unusual even by comedy’s standards, his reading of the room and ability to ease the audience’s collective frustrations showed why he is so well regarded. Taking picks at everyone from the front-row couples to the cheese platter-sharing hens groups and even those all the way at the back of the audience, his quips on how logistically poor the Comedy Store is and threats to spoil Avengers: Endgame provided each comedian with a platform to deliver their unique brands of comedy.
And deliver they did. Interestingly, many of the show’s acts had already featured previously in the Sydney Comedy Festival’s Gala performances, which have been running since the 23rd of April. Lauren Pattison, Fern Brady, Sean McLoughlin, Jamali Maddox and Mark Forward, all of whom I wrote about in my review of the Gala performance from the night before, returned again. Gladly (and literally), I can say that they are improving every single night.
UK comic Lauren Pattison, rehashing material about dating a posh boyfriend who wears a suit ‘every day’ and the gradual relaxation of one’s Tinder standards, managed to draw a bigger laugh from this audience than her previous one. Perhaps it was due to the contrasting acoustics and intimacy of the Comedy Store versus the 2000-seat ‘beating heart’ that is the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall, or the younger age of an audience who can only afford $16 seats, but her confidence in her material came through far more in this show than her previous few. The same can be said for her fellow UK compatriot Fern Brady, who seemed far more in her element this time around (even though the audience again didn’t take much to her material on the advantages or disadvantages of consuming another’s organic fluids).
However, the ‘most improved’ awards must go to Sean McLoughlin and Jamali Maddox. Giving different material than what I had seen before – specifically concerning the oddities of a society that can travel to the farthest reaches of space yet are still ruled by a feudal-era queen and edgy material on Madeleine McCann and the elation of being randomly selected at an airport respectively – their variety indicated the range of issues their solo shows will address and gave them more depth than many other comics in this show. Special mention to Irish-American act Des Bishop as well for providing a great multilingual comedic performance, delighting the Cantonese linguists in the audience yet still keeping the English speakers entertained in his description of his life in China.
Yet again, though, the night belonged to Canadian Mark Forward. Previously I praised him for his shy persona, over-explained jokes, and generally awkward character that left the Opera House audience in tears of laughter. Now, however, I saw a new Forward; a man whose edgy humour about sick kids, a Jesus Christ performing fellatio on John Lennon in heaven, and how our dogs don’t really love us had the exact same effect on the Comedy Store’s audience. I am of no doubt his solo show will be one of the festival’s most well-received.
Ultimately, this Showcase has proved to me that, contrary to my earlier opinions, there is potential in the international comics I once dismissed. They are growing in confidence, expanding in material, and (mostly) learning what Australian audiences find funny and what they don’t. Which is a great sign for this season.
The Sydney Comedy Festival Showcase is on at 9:30pm at the Comedy Store until 18 May as part of the 2019 Sydney Comedy Festival. Tickets are available from the festival website.