7 Jokes I Don’t Want To Hear At The Comedy Festival

In recent years, my day job writing for TV left me too brain-dead to do my so-called ‘stand-up comedy career’ much justice. So in the tradition of the semi-retired standup, what I’ve been doing instead is haunting the back of comedy venues, being overly critical of performers. You’re welcome, guys. I’m here to help.

With that research under my belt, I’m issuing a challenge to anyone performing in this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and, by extension, anyone who is performing comedy anywhere.

Here are seven things I am sick of hearing in comedy shows. Let’s all try to avoid them this year. And forever.

Burning MicrophoneToo much “What do YOU do?”
Fine, you want to establish a rapport with the audience. But don’t use it to flesh out the 15 minutes of show you didn’t write. And can we come up with some new ‘getting to know you’ questions?

Commenting on your bad accent
Lord knows I’ve made a living out of bad accents. But attempting an accent and then taking a moment to comment on what a bad accent you just did (which, for some reason, almost always seems to involve likening it to a gay version of a different accent), is henceforth Officially Hack.

Adelaide and Frankston
…Are HOLES, aren’t they???!!! Well, in fairness, they each have a few things going for them. For example, they’re more original than your Adelaide or Frankston jokes.

Priest = pedophile
What, you went to Catholic school? Ooh, let me guess, the priest ends up being a kiddie fiddler. 3…2…1… and there it is! The ‘edgy’, ‘surprise’ ‘twist’ that everyone in the room was expecting. It’s become so mundane that it’s actually more surprising to hear a mention of Catholicism without a pedophilia reference.  I’m not saying that dodgy priests and a complicit hierarchy can’t be called to account, but please, say something new and/or meaningful about it, or not at all.

Unbalanced rape jokes
Yeah, I’m going there.  “Rape” has been the shock word du jour for a few years now. ‘Rape jokes’, done well, can be biting and effective… but keep your balance. Rape, in its usual meaning, is such a heinous act that your satirical or comedic point better be worthy of the weight that the word carries. If not, it’s possible that you’re just being an arsehole.

Lazy references to federal politics
Righto. We’ve all had our fun at the expense of Julia Gillard’s voice, Tony Abbott’s budgie smugglers, Bob Katter’s planet and Kevin Rudd’s everything. But in case you haven’t noticed, it’s an election year. You, Comedian, have a rare chance to cut through the media agendas and the spin, and say something about the future of the country to a roomful of actual voters  – something that might cause them to think, really think, about who they should vote for. Do it well, and your salient point might spread through the offices, homes and pubs of the nation via the word-of-mouth of your ecstatic punters. It might even still be nested in people’s brains come Election Day. Your words could turn your one vote into two, ten, or a thousand.

This is awesome power. Don’t waste it on a joke about Tim Mathieson.

If you liked this show, tell your friends. If you didn’t, keep it to yourself.
I know, it’s tough getting the word out, but almost every stand-up show in the Festival finishes with this, or a variation. (Declaration: I am guilty as charged. Hey, 2007 was a rough year.) It would be nice to think that if your show is good enough, people will tell their friends anyway. I know this works because it worked against me in 2007.

(Update: This came out a bit too harshly. I do support performers taking a moment to thank their audience and encourage spreading the word. I just want someone to write a new line to do it with. If you enjoyed this update, tell your friends.)

In conclusion
(This is not another banned joke, it’s the conclusion to this blog entry. Come to think of it, “In conclusion” would be a pretty lame way to finish a show too. Don’t do it, OK?)

That’s my list, so far. In the interests of keeping comedians informed, I may add to it during the Festival.

If you’re a comedian, I’m happy to elaborate. I’ll be the bitter guy drinking down the back.

And you, reader: I’d like to find out which clichés you’re sick of hearing at comedy shows. Feel free to add them below…

A happy Christmas in Syria (yes, you read right)

Christmas Eve, 2012.

My mind is on Syria, as it has been all year, and throughout 2011, for reasons that are only too obvious in the news headlines.

But today, as at every Christmas, it’s on my mind for what I could call happier reasons. If only I could be reassured that those reasons aren’t now just a memory.

I’ve known and loved Syria since I studied Arabic in Damascus in the 1990s. Compared to the chaos around it back then, it was a quiet corner of the Middle East. Authoritarianism and insularity bred stability and predictability – along with problems that one was best not to mention. How things change. Continue reading