Sydney Comedy Festival kicks off: laughing at a year of misfortune relieves tension and creates abs

Melanie Bracewell performing at the Sydney Comedy Festival Gala at the State Theatre. Photo: Ben Sanford/supplied.

Review: Sydney Comedy Festival Gala, State Theatre, Sydney – Monday, 19 April, 2021. By editor-at-large Gary Nunn.

★★★

There’s so much rich material from the past tumultuous year for interstate comedians, many of whom have flown in especially from Melbourne for the Sydney Comedy Festival, that some of these jokes wrote themselves. The audience, though, lapped them up with grateful glee. 

The atmosphere at any comedy show right now – and this was particularly true of this year’s tubthumping Mardi Gras comedy gala, Laugh Out Proud at the Enmore Theatre – is electric. It feels like such an enlivening privilege to be in a room and laughing shoulder to shoulder with strangers. 

For the comedians, it must surely be a career highlight: an entire room in your corner, rooting for you, after a year of on/off lockdowns deprived you of one of the very things that forms your identity: live performance; immediate audience feedback; the sound of hands and throats.

The Sydney Comedy Festival Gala officially opens the month-long festival and gives a taster of what audiences can expect from the stand-up shows coming up.

The differently timed lockdowns in Victoria and NSW form the basis of many jokes, and they’re funny because they’re such a release of tension; relief – albeit nebulous – as we move on from harder times into this cautiously optimistic new Covid-normal era. 

One memorable joke was from a comedian who was on the wrong side of the Victoria-NSW border as Victoria entered its hard, long lockdown. Being tormented by the view into NSW, he described “seeing you all visiting aged care homes and openly spitting into the mouths of its residents!”

This one was delivered not by a human, but by a puppet – Randy Feltface. The bold decision to have him MC the night was genius – he brought the energy and volume, set the racy tone with some early c-bombs and delivered some of the night’s funniest lines. He’ll be at The Factory Theatre with his own show in May.

Comedy circuit favourites such as Geraldine Hickey brought much-loved material, and it was great to see some talent from across the ditch, namely Melanie Bracewell, whose dry Kiwi delivery was on point, as was Chris Ryan’s skit about her family.

My personal benefit was having a delightfully mirthful plus one who’d be, loudly, tickled by a comedian inviting us to watch paint dry with them on stage. He’s the perfect benchmark: when that signature rambunctious chortle quietens, something isn’t quite right. And I’m afraid to say, it did, with the opening of act two: Schapelle Schapelle, the musical about Schapelle Corby, featuring characters depicting her, her sister Mercedes and Renae Lawrence. There was an uncomfortable element of punching down to it, and the audience didn’t respond so well. Perhaps it was a contextual problem and this excerpt wasn’t quite the right fit for a comedy gala.

An excerpt from the musical Schapelle Schapelle at the Sydney Comedy Festival Gala, State Theatre. Photo: Ben Sanford/supplied.

Steen Raskopoulos, whose show is later this week, was the quirkiest and most original on stage, if not the funniest.

That accolade goes to Bonnie Tangey for her perfect timing, flawless delivery and creatively original analogies. You can see her at the Enmore this weekend.

Whilst it’s good to laugh shoulder to shoulder, the bobbing of that body part is less preferable to the clenching of another: your stomach. Tangey will have yours aching by the end of her set. 

The Sydney Comedy Festival runs until Sunday, 16 May at various venues across Sydney. For tickets and further info, visit www.sydneycomedyfest.com.au.

Gary Nunn is editor-at-large of the Sydney Sentinel. Twitter: @garynunn1.