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Festival brings Australian humour to Hong Kong

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow brings Australian humour to Hong Kong, writes Sue Green

 

KATE MCLENNAN'S MUM and dad are a goldmine. Every time she visits them in Geelong, southwest of Melbourne, she taps an irresistibly rich vein of stand-up comedy material. For some parents, being mocked onstage around Australia and in Asia might be too much to bear. But the McLennans, Gail and Pockets (his real name is Bill, but no one calls him that), take their daughter's act in their stride - mostly.

"My dad likes it," McLennan says. "He came to my Comedy Festival show this year and was really disappointed that he did not feature in it. But there was a character based on him; he just did not recognise it.

She also does imitations of her family: "My mum and my sister initially did not take too kindly to my interpretation of their voices, but now they think it is OK. Still, they would rather I imitated dad."

Anyone with a family can relate to it, says McLennan, 34, who built a solo show, Homeward Bound, around her move back home at age 31 when a relationship ended. "Family life is relatable, no matter where you are from," she explains.

McLennan is one of five Australian comedians performing at the Fringe Club in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow from July 22 to 28. It is the third year it has played in Hong Kong, and previous demand has been so strong there will be simultaneous shows - one upstairs, one downstairs.

Festival director Susan Provan says the laconic master of ceremonies Daniel Townes will keep the ball rolling while two comedians do a 20-minute set upstairs and two downstairs - and then swap. "I think there will be a special energy about the performers having to run up and down stairs," says McLennan, who plans to do a bit of stair-running to get in shape.

The 27-year-old Melbourne International Comedy Festival is an Australian success story. This year there were 5,671 performances in 459 shows, and a total attendance of 638,200, up almost 13 per cent on 2012. Specials were televised to an audience of two million.

They are impressive statistics, with growth helped by the roadshow, which began as a round-Australia tour 15 years ago. Singapore was added when a former festival staff member moved there.

Hong Kong joined the tour because of Provan's connection with the Fringe Club's director, Benny Chia Chun-heng. She met him when touring in her previous job with Circus Oz . India became part of the tour last year.

"It is our way of taking a slice of the Comedy Festival to people who cannot come to Melbourne. We cast the roadshow with a view to representing the breadth of the people who are in the festival. So we have a newcomer, and two or three headliners," Provan says.

At some roadshow stops, Provan says she has heard audience members say, "I must get to Melbourne next year". Out-of-state visitors helped lift this year's record-breaking festival box office total to A$13.33 million (HK$94 million).

This year's roadshow troupe is a mixed bag. Noted comic Frank Woodley is described by Provan as "very physical, very slapstick," and she thinks he will go down "an absolute storm". Woodley has been in the business more than 25 years, and his solo shows usually sell out.

Last year Woodley had his own quirky television show, which was a mixture of romance and physical comedy.

Nazeem Hussain, a rock music radio station presenter, is one half of comedy duo Fear of a Brown Planet, which delivers political humour with bite. The duo has had sell-out success in Australia, Edinburgh and London, and Hussain has also had solo success on local television.

Provan says he is "very political, but hilarious. He does not take himself too seriously, but has quite a strong message that I think people will identify with." Hussain is "quite upbeat, quite high energy," on the subject of different types of people living in a community, she says.

American-born Tommy Dean has lived in Sydney for many years, and Australians love his dry take on what makes them tick.

Hong Kong audiences can count on some of the comics whipping up local-flavoured jokes. McLennan, a full-time comedian who discovered her gift for comedy at school, says, "I think people appreciate it if you have made an effort, and everyone takes it good-naturedly.

"Some comedians read the newspaper, and most of their routine is based on what they have learned about the town in a day. It keeps you on your toes, and keeps it fresh when you are performing the material every night."

She will add local touches, but thinks Hong Kong audiences will identify with her material anyway. "I do all the stuff that is based on family. There's that classic thing that it does not matter how old you are, when you go back home you revert to being 14 again," she says.

48hours@scmp.com

Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow, Fringe Club, July 22 to 28, HK$250 to HK$350. Inquiries: 2521 7251

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