Melbourne Fringe 2012

Mark Butler: Word Swallower

0 Comments 30 September 2012

Sometimes expectation can make or break a show, and there was no shortage of the stuff as Mark Butler bounced onto the stage with a sold-out opening night and a smash hit show from last year’s Fringe on his shoulders. Grammar Don’t Matter on a First Date packed venues last year, and there was just the right mix of expectation and anticipation in the air as the audience filed into the Portland Hotel for Butler’s Word Swallower on Thursday.

Butler takes the audience through a dictionary he compiled as an awkward, shy and bullied 11 year old that was obsessed with words and afraid of his big brother. Along the way he explores the peculiarities of the English language, acronyms and political correctness, balancing it perfectly with immature jokes that had the most refined of us giggling like school kids at the back of the bus.

The beauty of Butler’s comedy lies in this dichotomy. One moment you will be raising your eyebrows and chortling over a clever wordplay that highlights topical issues and world history and culture, and the next you will be snorting into your drink over fantastically silly made-up words like “boobsafe”: the place a woman can store money and keys in her bra; “parratnoid”: a fear of being followed by parrots; and “aggreviation”: acronyms that just piss Mark off. The best things about these words are their origins – Mark actually thought them up in primary school – and their unique charm and creativity that can only be found coming from a young and lonely child.

Unfortunately, the highbrow humour can come off as a little snobbish and condescending at times; there was often a sense of “you’re intelligent if you got that one”. Whilst the stories of his youth were genuine and at times quite touching, the entire show had an extremely rehearsed air, and it was a little disappointing not to see Butler take a risk and improv now and then. If you’re shy, avoid the front row – Butler bounces off those he can see and may call upon an audience member for assistance.

But what really made this show for me was Butler’s genuine, sincere and obviously love and adoration of words. As a word lover myself I found myself drawn to the awkward 11-year-old Mark, and it was lovely to just sit and watch him do what he loved and share his obsession with a few lucky punters. Butler’s creativity and energy shone through any criticisms I could level, and I look forward to seeing what comes next from this logophile. (I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make my own little if-you-love-words-you’ll-get-that-one joke.)

Mark Butler: Words Swallower runs until 13 October at the Portland Hotel – Portland Room. Tickets are $20 full-price and $18 concession (group tickets are $17 per person for 6 people).

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