Full disclosure: I’m Australian. But I didn’t see Stand Up Down Under so much for a dose of homeland humour as to feed my curiosity about how Australasian comics and a Canadian audience would get along.
Hosted by Australian Wil Anderson, the show features three Australian and New Zealand stand-ups rotating through its Off-JFL season. After an hour or so in a warm room that seats about 60 (and had another dozen people standing), opening night’s end result was that pandering and cross-cultural humour were pretty much at Goldilocks levels, and the audience laughed a lot (including the sprinkling of Aussies and Kiwis).
The strange thing, however, was that the locals in attendance probably walked away thinking they had unwittingly attended a Divers/Cité event, or that Australians and New Zealanders are fixated on the subject of gay rights, particularly same-sex marriage. This was a persistent theme of the show, which is bemusing as New Zealand legalized same-sex marriage last year, and most Australians are quietly wondering why their politicians haven’t already passed similar legislation. That is, it’s not really a hot topic of conversation Downunder (and is obviously old news here).
Inexplicable, but amusing material nevertheless, starting with Anderson’s freewheeling introduction, which quickly had the audience on side. Among the front-rowers he became acquainted with were a married lesbian couple, who prompted Anderson’s observations about his current base of LGBT-friendly West Hollywood (such as men holding hands there being a welcome sight, because that’s at least two hands not holding guns).
This was but one of many topics Anderson touched on in a breezy but up-front set of social and personal observation, ranging from growing up on a farm, to Outback Steakhouse’s try-hard Australiana (there is no such thing as Bloomin’ Onion in Australia!). His usual mode of barely contained hyperactivity was tempered with something like relaxed enjoyment, perhaps because of the intimate venue (he plays to audiences of several hundred if not thousands in Australia, where he is also a popular host of cheeky TV shows). Or, maybe he was a bit tipsy …
The first act was New Zealand’s Jarred Christmas. Presenting like a slightly nerdy everyman, he began with some material about Lord of the Rings, which has defined New Zealand of late, but mostly he kept the laughs coming with more universal topics such as parenting. His bit about a friend’s bigoted reaction to his homeland legalizing same-sex marriage suddenly changed the tone from cheery and uncomplicated to comparatively strident, however, as Christmas shouted wisecracks about how the “foundation and sanctity of marriage” had been destroyed long before gays and lesbians got in on the act. Funny, but why so serious?
Next up was Australian Joel Creasey, who didn’t directly grapple with the night’s unofficial theme. He didn’t need to because Creasey’s schtick is his bitchy, musical-loving, somewhat air-headed drama-queen persona, complete with camp voice and gestures. Sticking the claws into ex-boyfriends and boring interlocutors, telling outrageous lies when asked what he does for a living, freaking out over squeegee guys, Creasey breathlessly flitted from one scenario to the next, his style-over-substance humour as light and appealing as champagne.
The final act was Adam Hills, another Australian used to big audiences and TV hosting at home, but while Anderson is naughty but nice, Hills is nice but naughty. He presents as such a sweet guy that probably no one minded that his attempts at foreign accents weren’t the greatest, or that he was a little behind the times with his quips about Montreal’s potholes and Mafia.
Hills’ genuine persona heightened the charm of his observations about awkward situations, including playing to a very polite Dutch audience, and the difference between parenting for gay and straight couples (the apparently obligatory gay bit of his set). It also made his pandering seem more sincere than calculating – even his extraordinary rendition of O Canada to the tune of Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69, which formed the show’s grand finale. Unsurprisingly, it was embraced like a cold beer on a hot Montreal night.
With Anderson as the unpredictable host, and a roster of acts through the season (including another famous face in Australia, Dave Hughes), every night of Stand Up Down Under will likely be quite different. However on opening night at least, it certainly was a gay old time.
Stand Up Down Under at Just for Laughs continues July 22 to 25. Info and tickets at hahaha.com.
Patricia Maunder is a Montreal-based writer, editor and comedy fiend. She is also an Aussie, but we don’t hold that against her.
Photo courtesy of Just for Laughs