How to Win at Feminism is a book that needs to be taken along with a large grain of salt as it is supposed to be a funny and subversive – if misguided – look at feminism for millennials. The writers even include acknowledge this, with, “At the end of the day, we’re just a bunch of cute klutzes who wrote an effing book” but is this admission at the end of the book one that is too little too late? If How to Win at Feminism achieves anything it is to prove that for some people feminism isn’t and will never be a laughing matter.

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Michael Gow’s Away is one of Australia’s most popular plays and this latest production makes it easy to see why. The current Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre Production sees the play return to its second home at the Sydney Opera House (the show played here one year after it debuted at the Stables Theatre in 1986.) It’s a story that is in some ways deceptively simple and in others is quite layered and complex in its symbolism, imagery and references to different texts. This is a portrayal of three different Australian families going away on holiday in 1967 and one that remains an important and vital slice of home-grown theatre.

Away is directed by Matthew Lutton (Edward II) and stars Liam Nunan (The Golden Age) as a young, aspiring actor named Tom. He falls in love with a strong and independent young woman named Meg (Naomi Rukavina in her STC debut.) The pair met when they were performing together in their school’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Young love is a beautiful thing but this romance comes under fire thanks to Meg’s snobbish, ball-breaking mother Gwen (a terrifying, Heather Mitchell). Gwen believes her daughter is too good for this young boy — he’s the son of English immigrants (Julia Davis and Wadih Dona). Gwen also refuses to let up on her stronghold over the family, including her husband (Marco Chiappi), as well as the apron strings, much to Meg’s chagrin.

The other family out on holiday are the school principal (Glenn Hazeldine) and his shell of a wife, Coral (Natasha Herbert). This older couple is grappling with grief because their only son died in the Vietnam War. This is not the only allusion to death in this play, Tom has leukaemia and he learns that his diagnosis is bleak despite his parents’ best efforts to try and shield this dire news from him. This notion of children passing before their parents meant that Away was also described as being a meditation on the AIDS epidemic because this was happening in real life as Gow was writing it.

The lines in this play are very clever and sharp and Gow’s writing in superb. There are also some great little jokes peppering the script. Gow successfully traverses the lines between poignant and meaningful moments and themes like death, loss and conflict and other points that are quite joyous and fun (young love and the idealism of English immigrants in their new-found home, etc.)

The set itself is quite a minimalist one and this makes the audience focus on the actors and their different conflicts. There is a major change in the play where a storm erupts (thanks to some imaginary fairies) and thereafter the actors are bathed in a stark, white light. It’s interesting that in these moments where the tangible things are stripped away that the play’s most narcissistic and wealth-obsessed character can stop, take stock and learn about more important things in life than mere objects.

The actors prove a formidable ensemble cast. They are also extremely adept at realising this highly-versatile script and the many moods and themes that are often referenced in it. The actors should also be commended for their portrayal of Shakespeare’s finest characters and these complex and uniquely-Australian ones.

There is also some different musical interludes by composer J. David Franzke. The music during the scene changes is quite evocative and atmospheric, at once bringing to mind the carefree sixties and at other moments supporting the play’s darker themes.

Away is one entertaining and absorbing show about three different Australian families tackling with important, everyday issues in a tense and difficult atmosphere — the family Christmas holiday. There are moments that will make you laugh and other times where you will despair and cry. Away is ultimately a theatrical beast in every sense, because it plays with the notion of art in such a clever and skilful way and it appeals to our emotions in the most base, visceral and human sense. Amazing.

Photo credit: James Green

Originally published on 26 February 2017 at the following website:

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Iced Beer & Other Tantalising Tips for Life is a short book that is billed as a sort of advice manual by the self-proclaimed “Prime Chinster of Australia”, or Gold Logie nominee, newsreader, and inimitable fashionista known as Lee Lin Chin. This book is a confident look at the important things in Chin’s life and one in which she squarely puts the majority of people down (although to be fair, most of them were morons anyway). Chin is assisted here by The Feed’s Chris Leben, a man that Chin jokes cannot string a sentence together but who manages her social media accounts (because Chin hates technology).

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Everybody has their own line with respect to what they consider funny versus what is taboo. For some people there is no topic or thing that is off limits while others believe that some subjects – irrespective of the quality of the joke –are in poor taste. The Last Laugh is a documentary that examines all of the different sides to this argument while framing things through the prism that is the Holocaust. This film is ultimately an important conversation and dialogue that poses more questions than it offers answers.

Filmmaker and writer, Ferne Pearlstein has made an ambitious documentary that segues off into other topics like aids, molestation and 9/11 but predominantly focuses on the relationship between the Holocaust and comedy. She frames part of the tale through a warm and vibrant survivor named Renee Firestone, a lady who lost her sister at the camps and who subsequently went on to work as an educator and activist. She is a woman that takes a positive approach to life and feels she can laugh and enjoy things. But there are some scenes where she is shown some rather subversive material by contemporary comics like Sarah Silverman and Ricky Gervais where she fails to find their jokes funny.

Firestone proves a very interesting interview subject, especially when her outlook to life proves to be such a stark contrast to another Auschwitz survivor who feels she can no longer laugh and enjoy things because she’s plagued by the shadows of the millions of Jewish people who were killed. This documentary also includes another fascinating and surprising discussion about the cabarets and revues that took place at the concentration camps. It’s intriguing to see that some people were able to react to these horrifying circumstances by trying to make other people smile and laugh.

This film includes interviews with lots of comedians and comedy writers including Sarah Silverman, Mel Brooks (The Producers’ creator who poked fun at Hitler and the Nazis for years but who draws the line at joking about the Holocaust) as well as Seinfeld writer, Larry Charles. The film includes scenes from the famous sitcom about nothing including the jokes about the Soup Nazi and when Seinfeld was caught making out with his girlfriend during Schindler’s List as well as scenes from Curb Your Enthusiasm and Hogan’s Heroes and stand-up slots from Silverman, Gervais and Chris Rock, to name a few.

The Last Laugh covers a lot of ground in its 90 minutes. It includes the sombre tales of some Auschwitz survivors while asking whether it is okay to make jokes about tragedies like these. This documentary is a balanced one and the opinions are quite varied with some sitting in the pro free speech camp while others believe there is a line that should not be crossed. This film is provocative and outrageous at times and at other moments is quite intelligent and thought-provoking. This film proves that there is no resounding case for the affirmative or the negative, but instead that the discussion and debate needs to continue.

Originally published on 14 October 2016 at the following website:

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Sgt. Bilko is a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This comedy farce is a remake of a sitcom from the 1950s called The Phil Silvers Show. In the movie version, Steve Martin acts as a frantic and crafty Sgt. Bilko (a character not too far removed from his one in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and he guides us all through a series of different japes and misadventures.

Bilko is not your typical army sergeant. This man in uniform is the motor pool supervisor on paper but in reality he is a conniving and money-hungry rapscallion. The sergeant is the mastermind behind his platoon’s get-rich-quick schemes (these mostly involve illegal gambling syndicates and competitions as well as hiring out army vehicles to the highest local bidder.)

The commanding officer, Col. John T. Hall (Dan Aykroyd) seems uncaring, inept and oblivious to Bilko and Co.’s antics. But things change when Maj. Colin Thorn (the late Phil Hartman) pays the barracks a visit. The Major is Bilko’s enemy (although on screen Martin and Hartman prove great comedic foils for one another). The Major is back to seek revenge, even if he has to fabricate and plant it. The sub-plots also see Maj. Thorn trying to steal Bilko’s long-suffering fiancé, Rita (Glenne Headly) and some questions about whether a military hover tank will actually work.

This film is not the most hilarious, thoughtful or original one out there. But this comedy film is pleasant enough and should be enjoyed by fans of physical, slapstick humour. The script was written by former Saturday Night Live writer, Andy Breckman and is directed by Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny) so these two are no strangers to comedy. Sgt. Bilko is ultimately an over-the-top, offbeat and wacky film that will have you cheering on the loveable, eponymous rogue because who hasn’t dreamt of receiving “An honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work?” It’s cheeky but fun to dream…

Originally published on 26 June 2016 at the following website:

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If you assumed The Doug Anthony Allstars would mellow due to the passing of time, you were wrong.

Tim Ferguson and Paul McDermott were sans nice guy Richard Fidler for their comeback show at the Enmore Theatre, but this just made the performance more sharp-tongued and edgy as ever, as they provided an evening of outrageous and confronting jokes where nothing was off-limits.

Paul ‘Flacco’ Livingston accompanied the pair and played acoustic guitar. The trio reworked songs like ‘Lola’ to be about ‘Ebola’ and the ‘Y.M.C.A.’ turned into a recruitment tune for ISIS. Ferguson offered up a cheeky feminist poem while McDermott lashed out at the “sad” and “desperate” reunion acts with their “worthless” merch, tongue pressed firmly in cheek.

McDermott described his lot the best when he said he was “working with a pensioner and a cripple”. Ferguson is wheelchair-bound these days due to his multiple sclerosis, and it offered lots of fodder for comedy, with the former Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush star laughing about his debilitating disease. He told us about how he speeds through customs thanks to some choice moves like the tilt, the paws, the shoulder and the teeth, while McDermott admitted he’d been suffering too on account of his dandruff.

The latest incarnation of The Doug Anthony Allstars may well be even wilder and more aggressive and provocative than ever before – perhaps because the group’s members have reach an advanced stage of grumpy old man in their approach to the universe. Either way, their Sydney return was very funny and cheeky as they picked on themselves as well as new, topical items and life in general. They asked to be remembered as the brilliant young men who took on the world over three decades earlier before closing with a particularly rousing rendition of ‘I Fuck Dogs’. Their angry, almost punk-style comedy and Python-esque cheek are still alive and well, and prove they remain one unholy trinity of misfits.

Originally published on 17 May 2016 at the following website:

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Stephen K Amos knows Australians. The English comedian has been visiting our fine country for over a decade and he even has the nasally accent down pat. His show at the Enmore Theatre for the Sydney Comedy Festival was a rather clever look at life both in general as well as different observations and anecdotes from his own.

The show began with Amos giving a quick disclaimer telling us not to expect deep meaning and pathos. It was all about the funny and some of the recent events in his life, including his shows in Newcastle that had given him inspiration on the comedic front. Amos talked about negotiating a difficult door in a hotel and some rather strange problems with breakfast (it was a place where you could have your eggs any way you like but the kitchen had apparently run out of “omelette mix”).

Amos held his own in tackling some rather difficult subjects including politics and Australia’s casual racism. The funny man had been a recent guest on Australian breakfast TV and was told he didn’t need make-up despite being on ultra HD (the make-up artist neglected to fess up and admit that he didn’t have the appropriate colour foundation on-hand). And let’s not forget the stupid talk show host who was convinced that Amos had starred in the Hollywood film, 12 Years a Slave. There was also his popular riff on the jellybeans called Chicos (you’ll have to look this one up yourselves).

The internet, technology and social media were also popular topics for Amos who doesn’t need to be reminded about when his birthday or anyone else’s is, thankyou Facebook. There was also a funny gag about Amos’s version of portable music where he once inadvertently picked up his Mum’s sewing machine rather than a record player in a similar case. Amos is a rather eloquent speaker and he even had a few great one-liners, especially when he described one stupid guy as: “His head was so empty the wheel was turning but the hamster was dead”.

The Englishman made some fine jokes and he did this with great consideration, often by taking his time to set up the material before the eventual pay-off. Amos is a rather clever comedian that in general hits his stride in the live environment and this is something that we Aussies have come to know and love.

Originally published on 8 May 2016 at the following website:

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Stephen K Amos is no stranger to Australian audiences. The English comedian has been visiting our shores for ten years and has made us laugh with his funny anecdotes and observations. The author of the hilarious autobiography, I Used to Say My Mother Was Shirley Bassey, has just completed a run of shows for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and it will soon be Sydney’s turn to witness this funny man. The AU Review sat down with Stephen to talk about strange people breaking out into impromptu performances at KFC, leadership coups and what things make him laugh.

Can you briefly introduce yourself? How long have you been working in comedy?

I’m Stephen K Amos and I’ve been doing gags for crowds for almost 20 years and this my tenth year coming to Australia. That means Australia has been a part of my career for half my comedy life! I actually remember my first solo show in Australia, which premiered at the Sydney, Newtown, RSL in 2006. I ought to have got honorary citizenship for that one. My show this year is coming to Sydney at the Enmore Theatre and the Concourse in Chatswood (for those people who don’t like to cross the bridge), and if you don’t know about them, you must have missed your copy of the Gazette.

Can you briefly describe your latest comedy show, The Laughter Master?

My latest comedy show is called the Laughter Master and it’s all about big belly laughs from curtain up until close. It’s a collection of gags and my funny musings taken from a year of touring on the road. Every night is different because I like talking about anything and everything in my shows, but this year I touch on a few current affairs and material about the modern world. No need to bring a hankie, it’s just my take on things. Comedy can be a great lens to open up about some tough subjects and laugh at them together.

Why do you think audiences should come and see The Laughter Master?

Come and see the Laughter Master because I’m loving doing this show! This is the longest tour I’ve done in Australia for a while and something always happens in the room that’s completely unpredictable, unplanned and unique. I’ve taken it half way across your massive island by now and I never do a gig without finding a person in the audience who reveals something amazing about themselves and I’m just left thinking, yeah, you’ll be in tomorrow’s show.

In your opinion, what skills are necessary to be a “Laughter Master?” Can this be taught?

You can be a barrel of laughs, you can be funny, you can even be hilarious, a laugh riot, witty or droll, but I’m not sure if you can really describe yourself as the “Laughter Master”, because that would be arrogant.

What is the funniest joke or thing you’ve even seen/heard? Why do you think this is funny?

I once saw a man walk into a KFC restaurant and serenade the woman at the till with a full rendition of Boyz II Men’s classic hit of the 90s ‘I’ll Make Love To You’. This song (with pretty graphic lyrics) went on for about four solid minutes and to his credit he sang it really well. What I found funny is she gave him an extra piece of leg and told him to get out, like this happened every day.

You’ve recently toured the UK and appeared at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. How do Australian audiences differ from the ones in Europe? Do you have to change your show to include local references?

The audiences in Australian are great and they’re a lot like UK audiences so I don’t have to change much. It’s basically the same culture but separated by 10,000 miles. I do some local political references, not so much to include Australians but because your politics is so ridiculously funny. I mean you’ve had more leadership coups here than Egypt, and they’ve had two revolutions. Internationally, the Canadians are very funny too. Don’t ask me too many questions about Americans until after the November election though.

You’re a frequent visitor to Australia. What is the funniest thing to have happened to you in Oz?

You can name a different one on a daily basis. I love Australians because you say it like it is, even when you shouldn’t.

Do you ever go and watch other comedians during the comedy festivals you appear at? Are there any you would recommend to our readers?

I try and go and see as much as I can when I’m at festivals but I have to fit around my own show. I just look at the guide and find someone nearby two hours before or an hour after my show and go see them. It’s a great system because it’s really unpredictable. The best thing about a festival is seeing new acts that you’ve never seen before. In Melbourne this year I saw an indigenous comedian called Shiralee Hood who was hilarious and who had a very unique and important voice.

You’ve written a very funny autobiography called, “I Used to Say My Mother Was Shirley Bassey”. What’s your favourite anecdote or scene for this book? Why did you pick this one?

Page 42 was always my favourite.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell The AU Review about The Laughter Master or future works?

There’s a lot of stuff in the pipeline in Australia and the UK but right now my focus is on doing my live show – there’s nothing in the world that compares to live comedy!

Originally published on 1 May 2016 at the following website:

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The Just for Laughs stand-up series does what it says on the tin. It’s a show that features local comedians doing stand-up routines and is also part of the Just for Laughs Sydney Comedy Festival. It’s also a mini comedy gala hosted by Dave Thornton and included some billed and some surprise guests. It proved to be a fun little evening, which definitely had its moments.

Dave Thornton has hosted the show before and once again did an excellent job of warming the crowd up and acting as the glue between the acts. He was funny when he talked about how crazy the signs on toilet doors have become (the simple male/female universal signage has been replaced by top hats and feather boas and in the stupidest example in a hipster café, a rake and a shovel). He was self-deprecating as he described his not being useful in an apocalypse and at the same time, talked up tradies. He had a very funny story involving a laid-back plumber who made a cool $200 in 10 minutes.

Dirty Laundry Live’s Lawrence Mooney spent a good part of his set impersonating Malcolm Turnbull and getting upset about missing Tony Abbott. It wasn’t bad but he did spent a little too long on some unfocused political material. Mel Buttle (The Great Australian Bake Off) went into a bit too much detail about her pelvic ultrasound and her fear of snakes. Her set could have done with an edit or two.

Steen Raskopoulos should be commended for taking an ambitious approach to his set. He reviewed Frozen (haven’t we moved on yet?) while dressed like a priest. He also ran a very funny freestyle rap competition. Raskopoulos’ set probably works better on TV as a series of sketches. In the context of a live environment and specifically a comedy gala it had its moments but you also got the sense that this wasn’t achieving all that it could have done.

The two best comedians of the evening were undoubtedly Wil Anderson (Gruen) and Celia Pacquola (Utopia). The Gruenhost’s delivery was very tight and polished as he told us about his osteoarthritis. It’s a horrible-sounding condition affecting 50% of people over 70. It’s also one that isn’t helped by health professionals who doll out advice like keep a pair of barbeque tongs handy in case you need to pick stuff up. Pacquola on the other hand was very funny whilst describing modern dating and being a single girl who went to a cat café. Her funniest joke was when she was defining that anxious feeling you get when your flatmate jumps into bed with you, until you realise you live alone!

The Stand-up Series offered up lots of local comedians doing their best routines. The night was a bit hit and miss with some comedians offering up hilarious, A+ material while others could have done with an edit or a slightly different platform to work with. In all, this was a fun, little comedy night celebrating home-grown talent in an iconic, Aussie venue.

Originally published on 26 October 2015 at the following website:

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From 1971 to 1987 two English comedians called The Two Ronnies were adored by fans. They would produce 12 TV series as well as various specials. Two of the latter include tributes that the comedians made to silent films. The Picnic and By the Sea have not been available as a stand-alone DVD release until now and it proves to be a double bill brimming with funny, farcical comedy.

The Picnic is a short and was the first of the two films to be produced. It stars the late Ronnie Barker (who also doubles as the writer of these two features) as a crusty, old general who takes his family to the Devon countryside. They are a ragtag bunch of eccentrics that include a cheeky, practical joke-playing schoolboy, an old stuffy lady, a busty blonde and Barker’s loveable and short sidekick named, Ronnie Corbett. Things seem fine and dandy although there are moments where the General must be questioning whether this seems like more trouble than what it was originally worth.

By The Sea was made some six years later and is more of a feature-length film. It includes many of the same cast members as previously and this time the oddball group are vacationing in Dorset on England’s south coast. Neither of these films include any dialogue (unlike the pair’s sketch comedy shows) but there are some muffled exchanges at different points to keep the story flowing. The two films often have recurring jokes, like in By the Sea where there is an errant beach ball and some broken chairs.

This comedy is very slapstick, visual and farcical and in some ways is like Benny Hill. It relies heavily on stereotypes and extremes and there is a lot of mistaken situations and overall shenanigans. These sketches are rather clever in this particular context (although there will be some people who may be left wanting something a little meatier and observational). The films both have good editing and the soundtracks are very upbeat and jovial and help celebrate this irreverent and saucy style of humour. The video quality is disappointing and looks like a VHS to DVD transfer but you can still enjoy the proceedings.

The Two Ronnies’ By The Sea and The Picnic offer up some great fun with two English funny men and a good support cast’s adventures in the great outdoors. The result is something rather quaint and silly that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is a pleasant, British comedy double-bill that sees some naughty farce and quirky tomfoolery.

Originally published on 6 July 2015 at the following website:

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