Class Clowns Review - The Age
Going for the jocular
Melbourne's young class clowns set out to prove they can pack a punchline, writes Michael Lallo, The Age.
IT'S easy to spot the fledgling comedians among the hundreds of teenagers crowded in front of the Malthouse Theatre. Pacing back and forward, they're doing that nervous, pre-performance thing where they swing their arms and puff their cheeks. And there is a lot at stake today, including $1000 for their school and another grand for themselves.
''Imagine how much drugs you could buy with that?'' says host Tom Gleeson, prompting much laughter. But what these kids really want is to win the 2010 Class Clown grand final.
The contest, run by the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, counts Talkin' 'bout your Generation's Josh Thomas and Triple J's Tom Ballard among its alumni - and naturally, the 19 finalists hope to join them.
First up is a musical trio called Try Harder. Anxiously, they fire off a couple of Dragnet-style jokes (''When I first started playing guitar, I picked it up really quickly … but learning how to play it took longer''), eliciting tentative applause and a couple of groans. But once they engage the crowd with eye contact and a catchy song - a well-aimed swipe at youth-bashing talkback hosts called P-platers Are People Too - the laughs start flowing.
Soon, Annie Louey gets her turn.
A single bead of sweat on her forehead is the only sign of nerves. She steps forward, yanks the microphone from its stand and begins telling stories about her Chinese-born parents.
''In my language, the word that sounds like f--- means 'to whisk','' she says, ''so my mum would say things like, 'Annie, go f--- an egg'.''
Racial humour can be a minefield, but Louey draws the loudest laughs when imitating her parents' halting English. She's pulled it off.
''You have to give the audience permission to laugh,'' she says. ''They don't want to appear racist, so you have to show them that it's OK; that these are my experiences and you can laugh along.''
Which is why redhead Mitchell McCann gets away with a few ''ranga'' jokes. He's a natural on stage, but insists he's not funny off it.
''My parents had never even seen me crack a joke,'' he says. ''They were like, 'Are you sure you want to do this?' But now they've met some other comedians they realise that they're not that funny off stage, either.''
There are only a couple of patchy moments in the acts that follow ,but no one drops a clanger. Those who forget their lines make light of it and, not surprisingly, those who poke fun at themselves are the biggest crowd-pleasers.
''I'm Iranian,'' May Kavelin declares, ''and I'm fully aware how well that works as a tension-breaker.'' Says Haydn McKertish: ''I feel alive on stage. But as an Indian student in Melbourne, I don't know how long that feeling will last.''
Ned Hirst, who is perhaps the most polished of the lot, opens with a joke about his native Canberra before turning to Melbourne's large criminal underbelly. ''Statistically, every one of you will, at some point, go on a killing spree,'' he deadpans. ''My tip is to avoid the Moran family - although the way they're going, that's pretty easy now.''
But in the end, it's Queensland's Matthew Ford who takes the top prize, as judged by comedians Denise Scott and Sammy J, and Victorian Education Minister Bronwyn Pike. It's hard to explain why his gags about his grandfather, Facebook and Stephanie Rice work; they just do. Indeed, Scott also struggles to define his talent.
''I know this sounds silly but he's just a really funny dude,'' she says. ''He's one of those people who could drink a cup of coffee and it would be hilarious.''
So what does Ford plan to do with his winnings?
''I'm using it to pay for schoolies,'' he says, ''which, now that I think about it, makes me sounds like I'm taking Tom Gleeson's advice.''