Adelaide Fringe 2012

Political Smack-Down!

0 Comments 17 March 2012

Presented by Jon Brooks Comedy
@ The Wheatsheaf
WEDNESDAY 14 March (until March 17)


Given the action-packed state of Australian politics in recent weeks, it’s no wonder that Political Smack-Down! opened to a relatively full house on Wednesday night at the Wheatsheaf. With a line-up of TV writers – including Toby Halligan, Scott Abbott, Courtney Hocking and Matthew Kenneally – headlining the event, as well as being hosted by local comedian Jon Brooks, each performer takes the stage in turn and shares their thoughts with the audience on various aspects of current affairs (mainly politics).

Political comedy by its very nature tends to polarise, and not just in the sense of pitting the Left against the Right, the Labor supporters against the Liberals, and so on, but also in the effectiveness of the comedy itself: it’s often either gut-bustingly funny or yawn-stiflingly weak. Political Smack-Down! is unusual in that it occupies a kind of middle ground. Granted, it’s much closer to the former than the latter. The audience remained far from quiet throughout the night, and there’s no doubt that all five comedians were capable of showing their audiences the funny side of politics. Particular standout moments included Brooks’ politically-slanted ‘changing a lightbulb’ jokes; Hocking’s exaggerated reading of the Gina Rinehart poem ‘Our Future;’ and Keneally’s critique of Gillard’s views on ‘mateship.’ That was the good news: that there were plenty of moments like these which kept the audience chuckling throughout the night.

The less good news was that there were rarely any jokes that sent the audience into fits of uncontrollable, belly-aching laughter for any sustained length of time, which remains in my book the definitive mark of a truly great comedy show. It was all too common throughout the night for the audience to respond to a particular joke with a quick burst of laughter, only for it to end abruptly, with several seconds of awkward silence descending on the room immediately afterward, as though the performer had expected the laughter to last much longer than it did. Part of this could be attributed to the twenty- and thirty-something performers not judging their audience as well as they could have done. Halligan’s casual and overly-vulgar references to gay sex acts – as well as somehow managing to equate the mining industry with pornography – didn’t exactly send the mostly-older crowd into hysterics. Likewise, Abbott’s segment on Facebook and the Kony campaign went right over their heads.

The lack of political balance among the line-up was another issue. All five acts leaned rather noticeably toward the Left, and as the evening progressed a clear bias developed against Tony Abbott and the Liberals. Admittedly, asking a comedian to resist the temptation to go to town on Abbott is like asking a bull not to charge at a red rag, and to be fair neither Gillard nor Rudd escaped the evening completely unscathed either. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that a greater Right presence among the line-up would have brought more political and comic diversity to the show.

Perhaps the best way to resolve some of these issues would have been to let the comedians loose on the audience as a group rather than one-by-one. I couldn’t help thinking throughout the show, ‘God, this would have worked so much better as a panel.’ Let’s face it: if Channel 10 has taught us anything, it’s that political humour can work well in free-for-all situations, with programs like The Panel, Good News Week and The Project providing key examples. Lining up all the comedians of Political Smack-Down! on a bench and letting them bounce off each other for two hours could have taken the comedy to another level. All five commentators certainly seemed intelligent and spontaneous enough for that kind of improvisational humour. But sadly, it was not to be.

So is the show still worth seeing? If you like political humour, I would say yes. It’s by no means a bad show. It’s even a good show, which achieves its stated aim of providing a night of ‘comedy with brains.’ The only problem is that the show it COULD have been is so much better than the show it currently is. If Brooks is planning to bring it back next year, he may want to take that into account.

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