Words by Paul Maland.
Adelaide Fringe's 2017 season is well upon us, at last. Touted as the largest arts festival in the southern hemisphere, the Adelaide Fringe brings a frantic collection of every niche of performance arts right to the doorstep of our city.
One of the most prolific type of performances you'll find flooding program guides, reviews and venue posters throughout the season is undoubtedly stand-up comedy. Adelaide, when standing vulnerably alone outside the hustle and bustle of Fringe season, is home to its own flourishing stand-up comedy scene. Throughout the year, comedians put in the hard yards on stage, free from the allure and daunt of guaranteed audiences, all to find their place on a bill come the time when the otherwise homely stages of The Rhino Room, Marion Hotel, and the the Slug 'N' Lettuce become hot-spots for Adelaide Fringe season.
Stand-up comedy is unique as a performance art in its shared vulnerability among both performers and the audience. There's a strange, vibrant energy in a room or theatre when a performance can go either way, and the only way to know if it's a total flop, or a spark of creative genius, is to take a dive of faith and sit through it with the performer.
For the up-and-comers who spend the year(s) before Fringe season refining their set, polishing their craft, and preparing their minds, Adelaide Comedy's Next Generation is the place to go to see what they've come up with — there's an assurance of quality based on these performers making it well and truly past the gates of open mics and large showcases, but the final gauntlet, before they hit it big or return to the drawing board, comes from these shows.
In the intimate surrounds of the Rhino Room's beer garden, the anatomically big-headed (but modestly confident) social worker turned stand-up comedian Sean Quinn hosted February 18's showcase of Adelaide Comedy's Next Generation, on the first Saturday evening during Fringe season. Sean's Irish charm and (albeit sometimes predictable) wit provided the sellotape comedy infrastructure to hold the evening together securely and professionally. As a host, Sean did well in making the audience and showcase of performers feel at home. Even when facing audience cringes at the start of the evening, when each breath on stage ricocheted off the walls of the still mostly-empty room, Sean powered on and delivered his bits as if the size of the stage and audience made no difference.
First up on stage after Sean was Carla Wills. Carla's sarcastic, dry humour tells the story of the ills of working in retail as a 20-something with an international relations degree. Although it's probably pretty disenfranchising spending your time talking about soap products with teenagers when you've got your mind set on greater things, there unfortunately wasn't enough sympathetic or shock laughter to fully validate Carla's apathetic but deep-cutting sarcasm (which, in a larger audience, there very well may have been).
Afterwards, recently-turned-thirty Geoff Stone made his way on stage. Geoff's stage presence is very relaxed, with no excuses to be made for his own (and his own gender)'s inner-thoughts. This comfort on stage manifests in a sort of cheeky confidence as Geoff takes the increasingly cringing audience on a laid-back explanation of what he's noticed so far in life, what he can see coming ahead, and what he, and you, should be afraid of.
Charlie Kay was the third of Adelaide Comedy's Next Gen' to hit the stage and show what Adelaide's younger comedic careers have to offer. A self-described benchmark for pedophiles, Charlie didn't shy away from her young appearance or internal struggles, taking the dry sarcasm approach to shock humour to the next level with tales of suicidal idealisation, views on the German perspective of World War II, and some observations on the problem with horror films. Perhaps another victim of the audience size, Charlie's set had clear direction, but didn't quite match expectation. If dry sarcasm is your shtick, you might love her set, if not, be wary.
The final Adelaide Comedy newcomer wandered through the audience to the stage in what would best be described as calculatedly aloof. Brad Hollis is able to illustrate the day-dreaming, over-analytical and socially awkward intricacies his character-based humour draws from through merely his appearance and by setting himself up on stage. Before Brad even speaks a hesitant word, the audience is giggling in anticipation and uncertainty, not sure if they're witnessing a genuine weirdo, a pre-planned and shrewdly executed character, or both. Brad's set tells a verbatim narrative of his inner-monologue as he over-analyzes the day-to-day, with a backdrop of being a lovable but inattentive teenage-ish young adult. Brad Hollis is going places, but it's too early to tell if the audience is coming with him.
Filling in for a missing Adelaide Comedy Legends spot to bookend the evening was established Adelaide comedian Lewis Dowell. Dowell's set came complete with the loud, confident and absurd type of humour you'd expect from a comedian, but articulated in a way where it didn't matter if you wanted to go there or not, 'cause he knows where he's taking you.
Overall, Saturday's showcase illustrated just a small part of Adelaide Comedy's Next Generation, whose alumni include current Triple J Breakfast host's Ben and Liam. Showcases like Next Generation prove that intimate sets where things can go either way are worth the risk, and justify themselves as the place to be if you want to see comedians before they hit it big.