Rhys Nicholson: I'm Fine (MICF)

5 April 2017 | 7:47 pm | Maxim Boon

"Beneath this OTT, urbane exterior is a driven and highly intelligent mind."

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Rhys Nicholson knows his brand: fabulous and fruity millennial gadfly with a silver tongue and a quick, campy wit. With his characteristically flamboyant dress, delicately coiffured, merlot-hued quiff and pert lisp, this queer comedy showman appears, at first glance, to be all glitz, glamour and perfectly tailored dinner jackets. But like Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote or Quentin Crisp before him, beneath this OTT, urbane exterior is a driven and highly intelligent mind.

It would be easy to assume that Nicholson's comedy is all about appearances, and there's a grain of truth in this. Would all his jokes land if they weren't carried on the winds of his wafting, ostentatious stage presence? Arguably, not, but to chalk-up all his significant success as a comedian — already headlining MICF at the tender age of 26 — to superficial theatricality would be grossly unfair.  

A closer look at the nuts and bolts of this latest hour of stand-up reveals what a skilful technician Nicholson really is. With barely a pause longer than a few seconds, he spins a constantly engaging yarn, artfully charting his transformation from awkward adolescent outcast, to cattish school bully, to dewy-eyed twenty-something moving to the big city. His comic timing is fine-tuned, his flexibility and range of tone is nimble and seemingly effortless (although the opposite is likely the case), and his schtick is entirely his own, giving the potentially tired trope of "gay clown" a new, more polished lease of life.

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Far from being a standard issue bitch — that hackneyed mainstay of the homosexual comic — he is charmingly self-deprecating, mildly anxious and even adorably awkward at times. In many ways, what Nicholson delivers is classic stand-up, accessible, cheeky, occasionally outrageous without being gratuitous, and of course, downright hilarious. It's the fact that he has been able to embellish such a conventional style in a way that is refreshing and moreish that speaks to what a savvy comic talent he is.

Perhaps the greatest slight of hand in Nicholson's patter is to be found in his delightfully eccentric asides; making a carefully constructed, rigorously written show sound like a stream of consciousness is no mean feat. These fleeting off-piste moments are easily the most endearing parts of Nicholson's comedy, drawing us close with little salacious frissons of gossipy camp. 

Nicholson's performance is much like the patent leather shoes he often dons: unapologetically flashy, beautiful to behold, expertly crafted and buffed to a glorious sheen. If there's any criticism to offer, it's that the cadence of the show - a slightly laborious prop gag - is a bit crude and cheesy, but this is a minor foible with what is, almost unanimously, another accomplished turn.

Rhys Nicholson presents I'm Finetill 23 Apr at ACMI, part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.