Being the committed couch-dwellers that we are, stand-up comedy isn’t exactly something we cover all that often here. But even we were slightly surprised to see that this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival has once again paired up with The Herald-Sun (Melbourne’s News Ltd tabloid) as its major media partner. Why, wasn’t it only last year that this pairing (then brand-spanking new) led to controversy and howls of outrage as The Herald-Sun sent pretty much anyone to cover the festival and generally made a dog’s breakfast of it up to and including running a review containing the line “Very few female comedians can pull off funny funny”? Why yes it was.
Comedian Justin Hamilton launched a scathing attack on Comedy Festival reviewers this week in a piece published on The Scriveners Fancy.
In it, Hamilton claims no comedy reviewer in Australia can be respected because they don’t cover comedy all year round. Many don’t understand how comedy works and they’re ill-informed and threatened by new media
As we all know and continually mourn, The Scriveners Fancy is no more, gone even from the internet wayback machine. (that quote came from Comedian Justin Hamilton launched a scathing attack on Comedy Festival reviewers this week in a piece published on The Scriveners Fancy. In it, Hamilton claims no comedy reviewer in Australia can be respected because they don’t cover comedy all year round. Many don’t understand how comedy works and they’re ill-informed and threatened by new media, he writes Read more: this well-reasoned look at the controversy around the Herald-Sun reviews – there’s a few more quotes from it here). Suffice to say plenty of people who weren’t Justin Hamilton were also unhappy with the paper’s coverage of the MICF – so much so that at least one presumably knowledgeable person we spoke to later in the year said there’d be no way the Festival would continue with the Herald-Sun. More fool us for believing them.
We bring this up because a): it’ll be interesting to see what happens at this years Festival – we’re guessing more of the same only slightly less so, because a paper like The Herald-Sun does what it wants and if the Festival didn’t think the added coverage was worth the hassle they would have gone back to The Age, and b): we’re going to review some live comedy ourselves! Okay, live on DVD in the form of Greg Fleet’s now on sale Thai Die.
Thai Die the stand-up show dates back to 1995, though the events it re-tells – Fleet, cashed up from writing for The Big Gig, decides to go on a holiday to Thailand and ends up in all manner of strife – are circa 1989. But this performance was recorded in 2011, so if you’re expecting the hairy chap from the cover of the 2002 book edition you’ll be disappointed, especially because that photo was from the 1995 stage version. All of which goes to show that this show has been around for a fair while in a variety of forms, so it’s no surprise that the material is pretty polished both-line-by-line and structure-wise and Fleet seems to have it down pat. He’s not just going through the motions or anything; he’s a seasoned performer, he knows how to make material seem spontaneous even when it’s pretty much word-for-word from the book, and even after fifteen years he’s still trying out new lines and additions*.
A fair amount of Australian stand-up is available on DVD these days. Thai Die stands out not just because Fleet is a pretty big figure in Australian stand-up – he’s been around for decades, he’s still doing it when most of his contemporaries have given up or moved on, and he’s pretty good at it – but because, unlike a lot of what’s out there, Thai Die tells an actual story. Yes jokes, yes they’re funny, but where most Australian stand-up at best is a bunch of gags held together with a loose theme or concept, this is a funny guy telling the start-to-finish story of what happened on a pretty dodgy holiday. As in, he has guns pointed at his head by criminals and ends up in a Burmese rebel camp that is promptly shelled by the government. Hilarious!
Well, large parts of this actually are hilarious, and the parts that aren’t are usually pretty dramatic. It’s the kind of material that’d make for a decent film, so it’s no surprise to read that at one stage he was turning it into a screenplay. According to that article, he was also writing a book based on his tale of heroin addiction Ten Years in a Long Sleeved Shirt (and turning it into a screenplay too) and that doesn’t seem to have happened yet so… well, movies can take a while to get off the ground. Fingers crossed.
If you’re at all interested in Australian stand-up comedy this is a DVD you really should own. Hell, if you’re interested in comedy in general this is a good get. There’s over a half-hour of extras to sweeten the deal (clips of Fleet doing various stand-up bits and some short Ben Cousins vs His Manager skits), though hopefully the lack of his half hour version of Ten Years means that show just might get its own DVD somewhere down the line. This is long-form stand-up at its best and one of the few stand-up DVDs that’s actually worth more than just dipping in and out of. We say: go buy Thai Die.
*if you’re amazingly nerdy and happen to have a copy of the 2002 book of Thai Die, why not read along with Fleety? It’s a great way to see how he expanded on the material for the book, plus you get to see where he’s clearly added new material over the years. For example, the 2002 version has a bit where he talks about how much he dislikes casinos and why, but it’s all fairly general stuff (they don’t have clocks so you don’t know how long you’ve been gambling and so on), while the DVD version has a much more specific indictment on casinos that’s a much stronger bit.