If laughter is the best medicine, Comedy Festival’s Oxfam Gala is an overdose

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If laughter is the best medicine, Comedy Festival’s Oxfam Gala is an overdose

Melbourne International Comedy Festival Oxfam Gala
Photo credit: Nick Robertson
Words by Ben Lamb

If laughter truly is the best medicine, then the Melbourne International Comedy Festival's Oxfam Gala is an overdose.

It’s easy to see the stand-up broth has considerably thickened over the last few decades. The world has progressed from a select few megastars – the likes of Joan Rivers, George Carlin and Steve Martin – to a world with thousands of comedic minds, spanning music, horror, sketch and improv. It’s a great time to be a fan of comedy.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is increasingly an epitome of this diversity – it does a great job representing different points of view, backgrounds, and styles of comedy. The Gala is a microcosm of this notion, offering comedy fans a sample taste of what’s in store for one of the world’s biggest comedy festivals.

Keep up with Melbourne’s latest comedy news, reviews and interviews here.

Among the sold-out Palais theatre crowd, there were chatters of ‘this is so full’, ‘I can’t remember the last time I was out’, and ‘I wonder if Dave Hughes is here?’

The Palais has been home to the Oxfam Comedy Festival Gala for a number of years now, where some of the world’s greatest comedians have shared the best five minutes or so of their set to audiences.

The show kicked off with warm up comic Ben Lomas, who gave a rundown of what’s happening in terms of filming and rules about what’ll be on camera and not, it was a cool meta take on it all, and definitely got smiles on the faces of the crowd before the array of performers they were going to witness.

The show then kicked off with an opening set from host Steph Tisdell, the first Indigenous person to host the Gala, and she did an immaculate job, with her unique take on the world as an Aboriginal and Australia’s treatment of Indigenous people.

The sold out crowd were faced with more sets than we could shake a stick at, some notable highlights within the first half came from Nikki Britton, who gave a hilarious take on life as a single woman on dating apps.

The biggest round of applause came along with Stephen K Amos, the Brit who has a love affair with audiences down under, it was truly great to have him back, after a toned down 2021 MICF with Aussie artists, there was a different energy in the air with Internationals in town.

The legends Lano and Woodley were up on the back end of the first half, and were definitely one of the standouts of the night. Their meta-take on comedy brings elements of early routines of old American comedy duos like Abbott and Costello, and mixes it with modern takes and quick thinking. If there’s one show you catch this Comedy Festival, I advise you to see Lano and Woodley.

One thing Australia seems to do well is comedy with a musical spin, there’s Eddie Perfect, Tim Minchin and Michelle Brasier who have dazzled the world with their amalgamation of musical talent and great jokes.

One of many musical performances tonight came from Sammy J, an artist who I am ashamed to say I was not a fan of previously, but his amazing four minutes on stage blew me away. He is truly one of our best comedic minds, and is able to intertwine so many amazing things into his music that truly keep the audience engaged.

The show continued with stars like Nazeem Hussain, who so perfectly pushes his comedy to the edge, and the payoff is something amazing. His jokes are so well structured, it’s clear he is a comedy fan. It’s also clear people love him.

Alex Ward also hit the stage with an infectious amount of energy that immediately captivated the audience, dazzling the audience with a story about taking out her neighbour’s bins.

2021 Most Outstanding Show winner Geraldine Hickey hit the stage as the show drew to a close, her deadpan delivery about her and her partner’s life with a Tinny was so funny, you could easily listen to her talk for hours.

One noticeable lowlight throughout the sets were jokes about COVID, none of which seemed to really get as much attention or land well. It’s always a tough thing for comedians to judge – do you address it, do you ignore it – but it was very evident from the crowd’s reaction that people were there to get away from those thoughts, trying to enter world where we can leave COVID behind.

That small negative aside, there’s no question that everyone who stood on that stage has worked incredibly hard to get there, and definitely deserved their spot.

Check out all the shows happening at the MICF here. The Gala airs 9:30PM tonight on the ABC.