Changing minds through laughter

By Heath Chamerski
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Political Asylum: Late Night Riot | Melbourne International Comedy Festival

With comedy and politics seemingly going together like salt and pepper, it seems fitting that an entire show at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival should be devoted to this singular, yet extraordinarily vast, comedic goldmine.

The cosy confines of Melbourne Town Hall’s Supper Room played host to a one-off festival showcase of Political Asylum, featuring a troupe of comedians who run the show all year round, making it an integral part of the city’s comedy scene.

This year’s Comedy Festival showcase incorporated some special guests to the wry political satire staple alongside core members of the Political Asylum troupe.

A total of 10 comics took to the stage over 90 minutes to deliver their take on the hot button issues of the day, with much of the material inspired by daily news headlines and thereby extremely topical, with plenty of discussion spurred on by the previous Sunday’s Reclaim Australia rally.

His railing against the dubious morality of movie pirates to a lengthy discussion of Tony Abbott’s infamous raw onion incident proved to be highlights of the entire show.

Proceedings kicked off with the Jonestown duo (Sarah Jones and Nicholas J. Johnson), an accomplished award-winning pair whose use of large cardboard signs allowed them to engage in some deft wordplay that resulted in some unfortunate, and hilarious combinations.

The show’s MC was the snappy and energetic Toby Halligan, a Political Asylum veteran who had his own Comedy Festival show this year, and was given plenty of time between introducing guests to share his own views on the current government. Aside from an unintentional mishap where he damaged a microphone stand, which became a running gag for the night, Halligan was absolutely perfect. His railing against the dubious morality of movie pirates to a lengthy discussion of Tony Abbott’s infamous raw onion incident proved to be highlights of the entire show.

Tom Ballard was one of two surprise special guests on the night; a self-described “political stooge” who lit up the room with his energetic dissection of modern politics. It’s not hard to see that the former radio presenter is destined for incredible success on the stand-up circuit. He simply is a natural on stage.

The incomparable Rod Quantock, forever the anarchist, firstly utilised an audience member as a step-ladder to get on stage and then did the first part of his act on the ground. He then took a seat and had a hilarious discussion with the show’s technical team as to how long he had left.

With seemingly all of his time up before he had actually broached the subject of politics, Quantock had the audience in the palm of his hand as he milked every second onstage for comedic value. But his loathing for the current government was perfectly summed up in an impassioned closing in which he gave the audience his advice on one way we could rid ourselves of them. Celebrating his 40th year in comedy this year, the absurd maverick Quantock still shows up many of his younger comedians with his stage presence and impeccable sense of comedic timing.

The night ended on an emotional note, as Halligan encouraged the audience to make as much noise as possible as a tribute to the late Stella Young; the tireless disability activist and comedian who was an integral member of the Political Asylum troupe and a much-loved part of Melbourne’s cultural landscape.

Legally Brown’s Nazeem Hussain was another expected highlight; his wonderfully confrontational delivery and stories about how he and his friend were able to both score a free dinner out of ASIO were utterly hilarious. A gifted storyteller, Hussain’s material was more of a narrative than straight stand-up, but his musings on incidents such as Reclaim Australia were priceless.

Venerable British comedian Josie Long, the second of the special guests, closed out the show, with her relaxed, conversational style instantly winning over the crowd. Revealing that she was treading new ground, Long revelled in getting political – making fun of her own appearance on a reputable political discussion program back home, and giving the audience a crash course on the UK political system. Detailing an ambitious plan to get 100,000 Aussies to move to a small town in Kent in an effort to keep a particularly unsavoury pollie out of office, Long’s unique presence and energy made for a perfect closing act.

The night ended on an emotional note, as Halligan encouraged the audience to make as much noise as possible as a tribute to the late Stella Young; the tireless disability activist and comedian who was an integral member of the Political Asylum troupe and a much-loved part of Melbourne’s cultural landscape. This moving tribute was the perfect way to end a show that sought to tackle some serious topics, without ever wanting you to stop smiling while doing so.

Read an interview Right Now conducted with Political Asylum veterans Mathew Kenneally and Scott Abbot in 2012.

Click here to read more about Political Asylum and find out about upcoming fixtures.

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