05 April 2015

Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2015 - Hannah Gadsby, Barnie Duncan and Emma J Hawkins

Disclaimer: I was given free tickets to see Calypso Nights. I paid to see Hannah Gadsby and Emma J Hawkins. Actually, Adam paid for tickets to Emma's show, but I bought him dinner. All opinions are my own.

Melbourne Town Hall lit up for Comedy Festival

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is one of my most favourite times of the year. Melbourne is just buzzing. I love the sense of community and the talent across the huge number of shows on offer. I'd like to see more shows than I can afford (in time and money) every year! So far I've seen three shows, and will see another tonight. Here are my reviews. 

Hannah Gadsby: Donkey - Melbourne Town Hall

Hannah Gadsby promotional poster - Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Hannah Gadsby's show Donkey has nothing to do with donkeys. It's a deeply personal show about her mental health - a common theme through her shows (that I've seen at least). For years she believed she had depression. Much of her comedic material was based on this. But then, with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) age 37, she worried that her career would be thrown out by this new diagnosis. Alas! There's plenty more material for future shows, she said! She is so clever - while admitting to a life of disorganisation, she's created a beautuful, thought provoking and courageous show without writing a single word down.

In her usual self deprecating yet humorous style, she talked the audience through what was the breaking point for taking control of her mental health, and the sense of relief when she received the ADHD diagnosis. Everything made sense - this diagnosis was the explanation for her behaviour.

At times, I felt sympathy and empathy - I wanted to extend a hug upon hearing stories of. There was a point in the show where she discussed self harm, and while she made light of it, she also depicted the brutality of mental illness. It was an uncomfortable watch for a moment.

I've realised and rejoiced in the sense of identity, relief and belonging that comes with a diagnosis. Hannah explored this throughout her show. She doesn't believe her illness should be classed as a disorder, and said that everyone is on the spectrum in some way - much like the comments from this specialist on World Autism Day.

"I love my brain, I'm happy with it", Hannah said, rejoicing that her brain is creative, allowing her to write (though she doesn't write anything down) over 20 comedy shows/

And the most poignant line of the show for me was "We've built a world that only celebrates one kind of brain - sociopath" - the same could apply to one kind of body - highlighting the difficulty of the 'normal' ideal.

Five stars.

(If you need to talk to someone about mental illness, call LifeLine on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.)

Barnie Duncan: Calypso Nights - The Tuxedo Cat

Carly Findlay and Barnie Duncan at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival

I give credit to Barnie Duncan for performing all of his show Calyspo Nights in a thick Spanish accent. He spoke in Spanish for a third of the show - acting as a Venezuelan DJ. It was great acting. Barnie is a New Zealand actor who's appeared in Shortland Street, Outrageous Fortune, the Power Rangers and Xena, to name a few.

Calypso Nights featured lots of record playing, maraca shaking and sultry hip swaying. At times I found the show a little slow - perhaps due to the radio static, and I wasn't keen on the dick jokes, but overall it was a fun hour.  I LOVED his shirt, self-described as "the most beautiful shirt in the world".

Barnie did well to foster non-embarassing audience participation throughout the show - the peak was at the end where we danced in a group hug. 

Three stars. 

Emma J Hawkins: I am not a unicorn - The Northcote Town Hall

Emma J Hawkins and Carly Findlay - Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Adam and I, plus a group of friends, went to see Emma J Hawkins last night. We've come to know Emma through Quippings, where we've both performed.

Her comedy festival show was the most theatrical of the three I've seen - it was a lavish production of music, comedy and dancing. She warns the audience that the show features "a short statured person defying stereotypes".

Emma challenged the stereotypes of disability - talking about her morning routine and many of the assumptions people make about her (she can have sex, she is not funny eating a banana, and you can call her Emma). She used a unicorn as a metaphor for disability superbly - addressing the way people with disability are typecast as inspirational, brave, stupid and for the public's voyeuristic gaze. I especially enjoyed (and related to) her account of the rude questions people have asked her - the punch coming from when a narrator (a 'normal', picked from the audience) set those stereotypes straight.

I said to Emma after the show, I hope the people who need to hear these messages about disability attend the show.

Emma is a versatile performer. She is funny, candid, swears like a sailor and is a brilliant booty shaker.

Four stars.

Buy tickets to all shows via the Melbourne International Comedy Festival website.

Have you seen any shows at the Comedy Festival? 
Who is your favourite comedian?


  1. They sound like great shows with lots to offer-enjoy the Melbourne buzz


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