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April 23, 2002
The last night of the Comedy Festival: Moosehead
I've been going to the Moosehead Awards for what seems like many years. If I can only go to one event in any given Comedy Festival, I always pick the Moosehead Awards above and beyond any other show. Part of this is sheer practicality: something like twenty comedians get up and do four or five minutes each, but they do so without the presence of television cameras.
Anarchy is often the result, and that's another one of the appeals of the night: the possibility, however slim, that genuine anarchy will suddenly appear and take a celebratory flight around the room.
The other attraction is the sheer scale of the thing. It's held in the main auditorium of the Melbourne Town Hall, which seats 1,500 people. Most comedy is performed in venues that seat about 10% of that number, and that makes for a big difference. When a comedian goes over a storm in front of 1,500 people, it's really, seriously, wildly impressive. That number of people can make an enormous amount of noise, and can show a devastating amount of appreciation. It's worth experiencing.
I should also admit something else: the Mooseheads, at least on occasion, have been a kind of religious event for me. Sunday's night show was good, but it certainly wasn't a religious experience. Twenty comics got up, and everyone was very good, and the audience went home happy.
But no one did anything anarchic. No one departed from their script. No one got up and orated.
I'm well aware that wanting comedians to orate is a completely unrealistic hope, but I still felt obscurely disappointed. A couple of years ago Anthony Morgan got up and produced that could only be described as an oration. It's still the greatest thing I've ever seen at the Mooseheads.
That year Anthony had made an artistic departure from his normal stand-up routine. His Comedy Festival show that year featured him doing stand-up to the accompaniment of a rock band, which had never been tried before, and which has never been tried since. Anthony can't sing, he can't dance, and the music was never in sync with the jokes. It was a profoundly weird experience to witness. He got uniformly bad reviews, and uniformly small houses. After three dispiriting weeks of that, he got up at the Mooseheads and said "oh, Melbourne ... you don't like change, do you?"
But before he said this he'd made an astonishing entrance. The previous act had left water all over the stage, and a stagehand was using a mop to clean it up when Anthony arrived on the stage. After the stagehand walked off, he offered Anthony, from the wings, the mop.
Anthony took it.
What he did then was to start mopping up an imaginary patch of water. He mopped with enormous, exaggerated care, and in extreme slow motion. Then he found another imaginary patch of water, and mopped that up. Then he became aware that there was imaginary water all the way from where he was standing to the microphone at centre stage. So he started clearing a "safe" path to it, still in slow motion, and taking only one tentative step at a time.
When he got to the mike he mopped that. Then he mopped the mike stand. Then he paused for a second and touched the mike stand with his hand. Then he mopped the hand that had touched the mike stand. Then he scratched his ear. He mopped his hand again, and for good measure he also mopped his ear.
What was really striking about this is that Anthony is a supremely verbal comedian. His ability at mime is roughly at the same level as his ability to sing or his ability to dance. And the extended mopping sequence was totally absorbing, because it was patently obvious that he had absolutely no idea where he was going with it.
Then he started speaking, and it became obvious that he wasn't too sure where he was going with that, either.
And that's the point. That's what I loved about what he was doing. He'd found himself on a vast stage, equipped only with a microphone, and carrying a mop. And he made something of it, right then and there.
It took him far longer than his allocated five minutes, but that was another wonderful thing about his performance: he was prepared to break any rule and any expectation and any time limit. He didn't care if the audience laughed. He just spoke what was on his mind, irrespective of the consequences. He orated. And towards the end of performance, he broke another rule, and attacked the other comedians who had played the Comedy Festvial that year. "They're all so middle class," he said. The implication being: they're all so safe.
So that's what I noticed at this year's Mooseheads: how middle class virtually every comedian was. And how free of genuine anarchy they were. Every performance was safe and warm and enjoyable, and I wanted something more.
I wanted chaos. I wanted the anarchic religious experience. I wanted the rollercoaster ride to an unknown, uncertain destination.Posted by Sean Hegarty at 11:45 PM in the Reviews category | Comments (0)
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