Take these five Aussies...

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am

How well will Australian humour go down in this city especially when administered in large doses? We're about to find out: the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow, comprising five of Australia's best known comics, is coming to the Fringe Club this week to make its Hong Kong debut.

The Roadshow, which has been going for 11 years, aims to offer a taste of one of the biggest comedy festivals in the world to those who are unable to get to Melbourne for the four weeks commencing in March or April for which it runs.

According to Susan Provan, director of the now 25-year-old festival, the annual jamboree is open to all Australian artists who pay a registration fee. Her office will produce and curate a programme, and provide marketing support. It now features about 380 events over a four-week period. The Roadshow sets off on tour around the country's other cities and towns each year after the curtain comes down on the festival proper.

It has also visited Singapore, and will be heading there again after, we are assured, six nights of hilarity at the Fringe.

We were supposed to be in on the act sooner. Fringe Club founder and director Benny Chia Chun-heng and Provan are old friends and they have been working towards this series of shows for several years, but this is the first for which dates could be agreed to suit all parties.

Many of the biggest names in Australian comedy got their first big breakthrough at the festival's three 'development programmes': Raw Comedy, an open mic competition; Class Clowns, a competition for aspiring comics still of school age; and Deadly Funny, which features 'the best up-and-coming indigenous stand-up comedians in Australia'.

One of the comics coming to the Fringe, Josh Thomas, whom Provan describes as 'the young, Generation Y rock star of Australian comedy', became the youngest ever Raw Comedy winner in 2005 at the age of 17. Thomas was drafted in at the last minute for the Hong Kong bill when Fiona O'Loughlin, who has previously performed here, pulled out.

'She was very disappointed,' says Provan, 'but I'm pretty thrilled because we get Josh Thomas in Hong Kong, and I reckon Fiona will do it next year.'

Thomas has worked outside Australia, including successful appearances at the Edinburgh Fringe and the Kilkenny comedy festival in Ireland. He is looking forward to coming to Hong Kong, and has few qualms about playing to a non-Australian crowd. 'I don't do stuff that's very topical or political or anything. Mostly I just talk about me. I think funny is funny. I don't think it changes that much, but we'll see, we'll find out. It's a bit scary but that's part of the fun of it,' he says.

Provan is similarly confident that although none of the touring comedians have ever faced a Hong Kong audience they will quickly win us over.

'Absolutely Australian humour travels. Comedians of the standard of the ones that we're sending to Hong Kong are well beyond just talking about what goes on in their own backyard, in a way that only people from their own backyard will understand. They have a much larger palette from which to create their material and are much more universal in what they talk about. They are pretty much all headliners - it's a very strong cast,' Provan says.

'Tom Gleeson is, for instance, a regular on high-rating Australian comedy TV programmes such as Spicks and Specks and Good News Week,' Provan says. 'He did a sketch comedy programme called skitHOUSE for a number of years and he'll be coming to Hong Kong on his way from the Kilkenny comedy festival, which is a very prestigious gig, and on his way to Montreal.'

Felicity Ward, who The Age newspaper calls 'warm, witty and brilliant', won a Spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe award in 2009, and Provan describes her as 'one of our major upcoming female comedians'.

Bob Franklin, who is slightly older and originally from Britain, has worked and toured extensively around Australia. Like Gleeson, he is a familiar face on Australian television.

'At the moment he's a regular on a comedy serial at ABC TV called The Librarians. That's a cult hit and he has a very large following,' the festival director explains.

'Australians and the British have a lot in common in terms of the sense of humour. They share a love of the absurd. Having said that, a lot of these guys are good straight stand-ups, which is a style that Americans do supremely well.'

The man with the hardest job over six hard-working nights will be MC Dave Williams, who as well as performing will be spending much of the evening running up and down the stairs at the Fringe. 'Each venue can only seat up to 100 people, but we need 200 people per night to break even. I talked to Susan Provan and we came up with the idea of doing this sort of upstairs/downstairs show. Basically the show happens in two spaces simultaneously,' explains Chia.

The first half of the show downstairs will be the second half upstairs and vice versa.

Tickets, to Chia's relief, are selling briskly, and he is expecting a particularly good turnout from Hong Kong's sizeable community of Australian expatriates and Australian-educated locals.

'There are about 20,000 Australians living in Hong Kong. We're sending the news to them and there is the comedy audience in Hong Kong as well, which we are also trying to reach,' says Chia.

Provan is optimistic. 'Audiences who go to the Fringe Club are willing to take a bit of a risk and obviously that's what we need on our first visit,' she says. 'They all thrive on the challenges that new audiences bring, and I know that they are all really looking forward to that.'

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow, tomorrow to July 23, 7.30pm, Fringe Club, HK$250 HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 2521 7251


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