The Performing Avengers

7 August 2012 | 7:30 am | Baz McAlister

“I found some nice cravats in London yesterday which are of the era. Unfortunately the MasterChef guy has sort of ruined cravats for everyone so I might go bow tie instead.”

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Comedian Dave Callan is no stranger to the Gangsters Ball, the annual crazy whirl of 1920s-themed cabaret, vaudeville, magic, burlesque dames and Big Band swing. It's been going for five years this year, but last year was the Melbourne-based triple j DJ's first Gangsters Ball as a punter. He pinned back his trademark locks – “Because hair didn't happen on men back in the 1920s,” he says – and jitterbugged the night away. “I was impressed by how everyone dressed up,” Callan continues. “The place looked amazing with everyone decked out '20s-style. What I like about it is some themes work better for women than men and vice versa – but with Gangsters everyone gets to look amazing and the decor transports you to another time – except alcohol is not illegal!”

Callan is a self-confessed fan of the gangster genre of flicks, citing classics such as The Godfather Part II, Casino and Goodfellas among his favourites. As well as re-watching those films, boning up on choice Joe Pesci quotes to casually drop into his conversation, Callan is frantically learning the Charleston and collecting bits and pieces for his '20s outfit ahead of his hosting duties when the show rolls through Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane next month.

Touring his comedy show in the UK has given him some more options. “I found some nice cravats in London yesterday which are of the era. Unfortunately the MasterChef guy has sort of ruined cravats for everyone so I might go bow tie instead.”

The other thing Callan says draws him to the Gangsters Ball is that it represents true variety in its acts. There really is something for every taste: dark hypnotist Shane Hill, plate-spinning juggler Mr Gorski, fire-stick foot-juggler Zoe Robbins, sleight-of-hand gangster magician Al Cappuccino, burlesque bombshells Red Devotchkin and Briana Bluebell and much more. “I usually perform with other comedians and these guys usually perform with other acts from their discipline, so to come together like this is kind of amazing, like a performing Avengers,” Callan admits. “I am equally excited about all of them.”

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That's not all the entertainment on offer – poker, blackjack and roulette fiends can head to the gambling den for a flutter, where you might spot Callan in between sets, looking pretty and blowing on men's dice. “Then he'll turn to me, give me a chip and say in a thick Brooklyn accent 'Eeh, go buy y'self somethin' nice.' Then I will put the chip in my cleavage and pickpocket him for being sexist.”

And of course, there's the music. The Velvet Set, Michael McQuaid's Red Hot Rhythmakers and the WellSwung Daddies will be lighting up the night with '20s-appropriate jazz, swing and Big Band sounds. Callan says he has a deep love of this style of music and used to slip it into his triple j playlists under the radar. “I used to blend my taste for Big Band and my love of triple j music by playing Richard Cheese. He plays Big Band versions of stuff like Creep by Radiohead, Snoop Dogg, Slipknot and so on. It kept everyone happy… Okay, mainly me.”

The Gangsters Ball visits Sydney's Metro Theatre on Saturday 1 September, Melbourne's Forum Theatre on Saturday 8 and Brisbane's Tivoli on Saturday 15.