A Barrel Of Laughs

3 May 2012 | 9:24 am | Marcia Czerniak

Showcasing some of the best international, national and local comedians to Perth audiences, PICF shows will be held in Mount Lawley, with the Astor Theatre running as the festival hub. Led by Festival Director Jo Marsh, PICF is the new kid on the fast-growing comedy block and will treat audiences to over 40 events and 140 performances in just 19 days.

Showcasing some of the best international, national and local comedians to Perth audiences, PICF shows will be held in Mount Lawley, with the Astor Theatre running as the festival hub. Led by Festival Director Jo Marsh, PICF is the new kid on the fast-growing comedy block and will treat audiences to over 40 events and 140 performances in just 19 days. Not bad, considering a decent proportion of these performances are local comedians such as John Conway, Michael Burke, John Robertson, Werzel, Bonnie Davies and Andrea Gibbs.

John Conway's bio boasts performances at the renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival and recently at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Conway and fellow comedian Michael Burke will perform The New Conway Tonight Show at PICF, which is described as a unique take on the late shows we all know and (somewhat) love.

“Michael Burke and I have just done a successful run at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and we are combining our own brand of eccentric comedy with the traditional Tonight Show format, providing audiences with something completely different and unique. We have big guests booked – Stephen K Amos, Glenn Wool and Felicity Ward, as well as local bands getting out of their comfort zone by performing interesting covers such as The Voltaire Twins and Tomás Ford. Think Letterman if Letterman had a meth problem,” Conway says, before admitting that Conan O'Brien is actually one of his influences. “I grew up on Conan, I used to watch him religiously as a teen. He is actually one of my major influences comedy-wise. I always loved his sketches and improvisation with guests so I am going to try and bring some of that to the show.

“Michael and I have been developing The New Conway brand for the past few years. Now we are pretty tight and are looking forward to taking what we do into uncharted territories.”

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Developing his craft at local comedy gigs around Perth from 2008, Conway says the Festival will be a great way of highlighting Perth's talents. “The Perth comedy scene is great, as the isolation of Perth leads to some very unique voices and PICF will be raising awareness of the strong local scene. Nationally, Perth comics always stand out. Perth is a great place to develop as the gigs are abundant and the competition is low. The Australian comedy industry is confused and impressed by our tendency to produce great comedians.”

Bonnie Davies says the Festival couldn't have come at a better time, bringing the worlds of local and international acts together for audiences that seem to be lapping up the opportunity to laugh. And with Davies' show I'm High On Life, What Are You On? the laughs are a sure thing. “The show is about my family and how I grew up, so I really relied on them to help me draw out material and get their version of things, and then I wrote down my own. My parents were youth workers and as kids we grew up with a lot of chaos, trouble and tragedy around us, so there's no shortage of stories to choose from.”

Davies kicked off her comedy career in 2008 after a friend bet her to take the stage for a five-minute set and has become a favourite on a scene she has seen develop. “The Perth comedy scene boomed a few years ago in the number of rooms and comedians, and it was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Now things have settled and I think it was assumed they'd dip, but audiences are getting stronger and stronger. The Perth International Comedy Festival will finally give punters a level of international acts in one place that everyone has been waiting for. It's so great for local comedians to be swept up in it and part of it too!” Davies says.

John Robertson is one performer who will be quite busy during the Festival, with two separate Superdub shows that will see him and partner Werzel tackle aliens and vampires in their hilarious voice-overs that take on some pop culture classics. In addition, he will also be featuring the world premiere of his solo show, The Old Whore, at the Festival.

Robertson says that Perth is filled with talent, but there is a need for more local outlets. “On an international level, and people find this hard to believe, Perth is booming, it's thriving and we're among the best globally for producing and nurturing new talent. If we had more places for them to go and work – TV, radio, stage – you wouldn't see such a massive exodus rate. And I wouldn't have to tour nine months of the year – my mother forgets what I look like!”

The travel sentiment is shared by Andrea Gibbs whose show The Allnut St Diaries takes a look at her childhood stories, with one performance already selling out. “The programming of international guests this year has been great, it's quality. Perth comedians travel out of necessity to get to most festivals, so it's nice to have something at home for once. It means our mums and dads can watch.”

And Gibbs has her Mum to thank for her show, finding the goods that provided the inspiration for the material. “Mum was cleaning up my old bedroom, probably looking for stuff she could sell on eBay, and found all of my teenage diaries. They are comedy gold.”

To ensure PICF doesn't only showcase the more established local comedians, organisers have made the programming all inclusive by giving amateurs a chance to be seen and heard as well, keeping in line with their aim to develop and foster new comic performers and comedy works. In order to reach this aim the organisers bring us Next Gen Comedy, which will give Perth's up-and-coming comedians the opportunity to battle it out through five heats, two semi-finals and a grand final. The winner then goes on to securing a spot on stage for the sold out PICF closing event, the Festival Finale, which not only gives you a chance to again see your favourites from the Festival program, but also includes the presentation of the 2012 PICF Awards which include Best Of The Fest, Best International Act, Best Australian Act, Critic's Choice Award and People's Choice Award. With Conway, Burke, Davies, Werzel, Robertson, Gibbs and other local performers like Jimmy James Eaton, Sarah Furtner and Joel Creasey rubbing shoulders with international acts like Stephen K Amos, Neil Hamburger and The Pajama Men, the first Perth International Comedy Festival is set to be a stellar year with laughs abound. And, as Davies says, “You use 13 muscles to smile, and 37 to frown. So if you laugh more, and frown less, you're not only being entertained, but potentially reducing the signs of aging.”



Here is a list of the locals that our featured local comedians would see – nice to hear they are such a caring and sharing bunch.

John Conway – “The new guys who have come up in the Perth scene, Adam Peter Scott, Tien Tran and Sarah Furtner. They are all doing their first solo shows and they are very funny around the clubs. I would assume that their shows would be funny too.”

Bonnie Davies – “Mike G and John Robertson are hot property on the local circuit at the moment, so their new shows will be ones to watch out for. Emma Zammit is a favourite of mine, and a star in the making, so see her before she costs twice the price.”

John Robertson – “Werzel, because he is sitting next to me. Mike G, he is in the next room up – we're on tour together! Also they're incredible. Werzel is a mentor and a hero and an excellent storyteller – Mike G is stand-up done right, done properly and with a sniper's aim.”

Andrea Gibbs – “Mike G: quick, clever, and filthy. Joel Creasey: cheeky, spunky and hilarious. Jimmy James Eaton: There's three words in his name but about 150 characters in his body. Brendan Burns: this guy is one of the best stand-up comics in the world. He is huge in the UK and Australian-born, let's welcome him home Perth!”