REVIEW: Big Dog Comedy

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sydney Junction Hotel

By Nick Milligan

Live comedy has long tickled the fancy of Novocastrians. Even during the ebbs and flows in popularity of other live entertainment, jokes have continued to put bums on seats.

The tireless work of promoter Andrew Milos has paid dividends. His Big Dog Comedy nights have found a niche and, like a well-fertilised veggie patch, have experienced strong organic growth.

The brilliant line-up for this evening’s laugh-fest is testament to the Big Dog Comedy brand – it’s as good as any comedy showcase you will ever see in this city.

Melbourne’s Nick Capper is MC and punctuates the evening with his own routines. He’s laconic, and very much a natural. The comic offers insights into pecan farming, and his bit about discussing welding in the bedroom is side-splitting – a highlight of the evening. Do yourself a favour and catch this guy when he’s next in town.

Cierem Lions is a fresh talent and has been plying his trade as a presenter on Triple J. He’s aloof, a smart arse and there’s cheekiness just beneath the surface. This cheek appears when he chats to people in the crowd about their occupations, lampooning a TAFE student with barely concealed disdain. But the rhythm of his set is sometimes stilted and not every joke lands. Lions keeps his best material in his back pocket and ends strongly, but there’s a sense that his overall routine – material, delivery and the personality presented on stage – is a work in progress.

Keep an ear out for Bec Charlwood. The Perth native has a natural, immediately endearing stage presence. Her sense of humour is both sharp and twisted. The ins and outs of dating and relationships are well-worn comedy territory, but Charlwood’s self-deprecating gags and left-of-centre takes keep the audience on their toes. A set piece about delighting in parent-child supermarket arguments is another highlight.

Isaac Butterfield has found burgeoning fame via his rapid-fire, inflammatory Facebook videos, in which the proud Novocastrian’s favourite targets are cyclists and vegans. With a strong sense of sardonic humor and plenty of mock anger, he taps into the Aussie every man mentality and manages to entertain and offend in equal measure.

On stage the comedian trades in the same incendiary material and, much in the tradition of those whacky South Park creators, he spares no one. The room bristles when he lampoons Muslims, but Butterfield just as quickly turns his attention to Christians. An array of religions, minorities and majorities feel the wrath of his comic sword. His comedy is edgy and, by its nature, is not for everyone. It’s a brand of no-holds-barred humour that is being suffocated by an increasingly volatile outrage culture. Of course, gags about minorities cannot be funny unless the audience senses self-awareness in the comic. They must know that it is the entertainer’s intention to shock, that the commentary exists both as a facet of the stage persona and in the ironic sphere in which comedy resides. Aware of this, Butterfield stops momentarily to shake his head in disbelief at one of his own jokes. But he can’t be upsetting too many people. If the quick venue sell-outs of his upcoming tour are any indication, Butterfield is on the brink of big things. And he’s bloody funny.

Aaron Gocs is one of Australia’s great comic treasures. Like the greats, Norm McDonald and Louis CK etcetera, the line between Gocs’ comedic persona and the real man is especially blurred. The humour, too, derives as much from his personality as it does his material. The gags are great – personal stories that roll into killer punch lines, but there’s looseness to his routine that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Great zingers are often hidden amongst what feels like improvised rambling, and set pieces about being a single dad and his unbridled passion for take away food (how the giant KFC signage outside their restaurants becomes a source of comfort when behind the wheel) are rife with brilliant observations. Gocs is a loveable comedian.

Cameron James is of Newcastle stock and he’s back on his old stomping ground having carved out an impressive career on the national touring and festival circuit. He’s headlining tonight’s proceedings and rightfully so – James is polished, seamless in his delivery and very funny. He’s also proving quite prolific in his material, as little of the jokes from his recent hour-long ABC2 comedy special are used this evening.

James has fully embraced his inner bastard and he mixes glee at the misfortune of others with hefty doses of self-deprecation. Whether it’s awkwardness on the dance floor, the plight of panda bears, or watching a man’s marriage proposal rejected on the Eiffel Tower, James shifts topics with gymnastic ease. He also doesn’t miss the opportunity to take a little dig at the Newcastle Knights’ prodigal superstar Kalyn Ponga, who’s in the room. Welcome to celebrity, Kalyn.

With such an array of talent on show, tonight’s impressive line-up might be talked about for many years to come.

The next Big Dog Comedy showcase is on June 1 at The Happy Wombat.

Written by Nick Milligan

Nick Milligan embarked on an entertainment journalism career in 2002. Since that time he has become one of Australia's most respected film and music pundits.

His articles have appeared in publications such as Rolling Stone, Hotpress, Frankie and Smash Hits.

Milligan is the former editor-in-chief of Reverb Magazine and the former Music and Film Editor of YEN magazine.

He has interviewed and profiled a wide array of entertainers and writers, including Matt Damon, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alice Cooper, Juliette Lewis, Ice Cube, Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, Marlon Wayans, Joe Perry, Pete Townshend, Marilyn Manson and Bret Easton Ellis.