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More Than You Pay For: Sit Down Stand Up Comedy Review

Iconic punchlines and liberal use of props from one performer made this month’s free Sit Down Stand Up Comedy lineup a stand-out. Jack Moran has the review.

After I had such a blast last time and since I didn’t receive any defamation suits from the comedians I called “the least memorable” or “largely incomprehensible”, I thought that there’d be no better way to spend my Monday night than by reviewing the latest lineup of comics at the GT Bar’s Sit Down Stand Up Comedy. Once again, what follows is the summation of hours of meticulously and covertly written notes on each comedian and their set. Comedy is subjective, so if I lambasted your favourite comedian we’ll have to agree to disagree. Or maybe you’re just wrong. Anyway, on to the review.

John Cruikshank

Cruikshank was the MC for the night which felt like an odd choice from the get-go just based on his style. As soon as he got on stage, he seemed underprepared as if he was just making up his set on the spot. There was a lot of rambling and jokes that went nowhere. I initially just assumed it was an act and that the ad-hoc nature of it was just his style but now I’m not so sure. If it was a stylistic choice, it did work at times because sometimes the sheer awkwardness of him seeming to stumble through half-jokes brought out a fair few laughs from the audience.

Owing to the kind of adlibbed nature of his set, most of his jokes were one-offs and there didn’t seem to be a cohesive thread or story throughout. The closest we came to that was the multiple times he extolled the virtues and failings of different ice cream brands. If you’re into ice cream-based comedy, he is certainly your man. I warmed to him over time but ultimately I think when he said “I’ve been up here for too long” it was pretty accurate.

Bec Melrose

You’ve got to love a comedian who opens her set by congratulating our uni on the great grout puns she saw when she went to the bathroom. Maybe. Either that or you kind of hate it because it feels a bit ‘How do you do, fellow kids?: University of Newcastle edition’. When Melrose followed up with a joke about God’s loophole, a joke I’ve heard by a fair few different comedians already, I was kind of prepared to write her set off as one I wasn’t particularly going to enjoy. Then I was proven so very wrong.

Melrose’s set was a subtler, quieter and more pensive kind of humour. It wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny the whole time, though there was definitely that kind of humour too, instead it was clever and insightful. It drew on a lot of social justice topics like feminism and what it is like to work for a charity. It made you think while you laughed which I loved and included punchlines like “they’re trying to reclaim the word pussy, which I really appreciate in my daily struggles against structural inequality.”

Also, the phrase “double-parked tampons” is one that provoked gasps at first from the audience, then a long bout of laughter, and I don’t think I’m going to forget anytime soon.

Blake Freeman

In the early seconds of his too short set, Freeman described himself as a “little boy giving it a red hot go” and I think that was pretty true. At 22 and, as he himself noted, only being in comedy for a “hot minute”, Freeman was certainly the youngest and least experienced comedian on the list but I really felt like that added to the performance and the jokes. There was a kind of roughness to the set, like it was a classmate in your tutorial telling a story, that made it feel a bit more personable and relaxed than some more polished sets.

If confessional stand-up (as opposed to confessional poetry) is a thing, this was definitely it. A lot of the content of the set was about deeply personal recollections about his (by his own admission) difficult childhood and personal flaws. It was a level of honesty I don’t think I expected from a comedian so young. The short length of the set was probably to its benefit as it meant that there were no dead moments or awkward pauses (looking at you, John Cruikshank) and had me engaged the entire time.

Bonnie Tangey

Bonnie Tangey was blunt and sarcastic and I loved it. She was also a master of the iconic punchline, delivering some of the most memorable lines of the night. Highlights included her saying that is was hard to find presents for her grandma “because she’s just not worth it” and that she liked her job as a doctor’s receptionist because “if patients are rude to me, I just don’t let them see the doctor and they die.” These punchlines might not read as well on paper since it was the delivery that really sold it as she would start the line in a kind of benign and pleasant tone before ending with that caustic kicker.

Tangey also made me realise that I kind of love a good prop used in a comedic set. I also think she might be magic because I didn’t know where she got the props from when it looked like she came on stage empty-handed. First, she gave an audience member a present she had supposedly bought for an ex-boyfriend before he dumped her. Then she showed an elaborate drawing of a “hipster dick”. Finally, there was the party popper used in the punchline. You just don’t see that much prop-based comedy nowadays and I think Tangey’s set shows how effectively it can be used.

Lauren Bonner

First of all, you should read my last review of Bonner’s set because most of that applies here. Largely because a lot of the jokes were the same, even the delightfully infamous Amyl joke made a reappearance. I suppose this is kind of a hazard of seeing a comedian twice in the same year and ultimately some comedians literally never change their jokes so I probably got off lucky by just hearing a few repeats over the course of her set. That being said, I still laughed at the jokes I’d heard before and laughed even harder at the new ones.

Matt Okine

I’m not ashamed to say that my taste in music is a bit basic and pop-orientated so I don’t really listen to Triple J at all. Ergo, the pack ‘er up, boys comedy of Matt Okine is not really something I hold as a cultural touchstone in the same way that many people my age do. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever seen Okine do stand-up before and only experienced him through short clips of his Triple J days in my Facebook newsfeed. I got the sense that there were people at Sit Down Stand Up Comedy who were specifically there to see him and I was interested to see whether he lived up to the hype.

All in all, Okine was pretty good and I can see why people like him. You could tell he was the most professional and potentially most experienced of the lineup because his set was that perfect blend of adlibbing and tight pre-written material that makes a stand-up performance feel easy and conversational without going off onto tangents. Mid-set he was lightly heckled about his former radio partner Alex Dyson and he took it in his stride and formed a bit around Dyson that fit so naturally into the set and added even more opportunity for comedy to the performance which I think is a testament to Okine’s ability to be funny on his feet.

One of his major bits was a long deconstruction of one of his early jokes, looking at the appropriateness of it and – in his words – who was the “victim” of a joke. I’m a sucker for any comedian who understands that good comedy always punches up and not down. That is, it is aimed at groups with greater privilege in society instead of already disenfranchised and maligned groups. I appreciate a comedian who can articulate that and makes it clear that it’s something they think about. I appreciate even more when a comedian can make that explanation actually a funny part of their show so definite kudos to Okine for that part of his routine.

As was the case last time, it was a good night of comedy and I did enjoy myself which is hard to do when you’re spending the whole show taking notes for a review. I noticed that there were more women comedians on the bill at this month’s show which was refreshing. It was something that Tangey noted in her act, that a lot of comedy nights will include a ‘token’ female comic and it was cool to see that trend not being reflected here. I thought the sets were different enough in both performance style and content to not feel like you’re just watching the same comedian performing five times, which definitely adds to the experience.

Bonus Notes:

  1. Joke callbacks between comedians are actually a nice touch. Cruikshank did it a little bit and Okine referenced one of the other comedian’s material in his set and it helps to make the entire night feel a bit more cohesive.
  2. Way less audience participation from the comedians this time around which, as someone who hates the idea of audience participation, I am all for.
  3. Matt Okine wore like a nicer, more expensive-looking version of my own beloved bomber jacket that I was wearing and I was personally offended that he would one-up me like that at my own uni.

Feature Image: Jack Moran

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