Laughter made easy

A decidedly post-colonial trio of stand-up comedians cranked up the laughs at the XFM Stand Up Comedy Show at The Dolmen Hotel, Qawra.

Good comedy is hard to find, stand-up comedy remarkably easy… on YouTube at least. Ever since the advent of the internet, what is arguably the last bastion of oral storytelling has gained a new lease of life, and even a country as small as Malta can be privy to some of the best comedic monologues from all over the world.

I even remember, in those pre-YouTube days that feel like a lifetime ago but were barely a decade past, making a day of listening to Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy’s 80s-era specials, which made Sixth Form life all the less dreary.

But its most natural outlet is live performance, something we’ve been surprisingly deprived of save for a couple of welcome annual initiatives such at LOL Productions’ XFM Stand Up Comedy Show, the 16th edition of which took place at the Dolmen Hotel, Qawra last weekend with a trio of international comedians in tow: Joel Dommett (UK), Mickey D (Australia) and Jason John Whitehead (Canada).

As commented on by some of the comedians themselves throughout the night (I was there for the final performance on Sunday, September 25), the setting was rather ‘plush’, but the crowd was far from inhibited – the laughter was frequent, generous and often accompanied by applause.

The jolly Mickey D was compère for the night, but first in with a full set was the gawky-but-cool Dommett. With floppy hair and anti-gravity limbs to match, the diminutive, self-deprecating comedian ricocheted between the surreal and the mundane. Memorable gags included an account of his failed attempt at becoming a Goth: “with this face?” he said, pointing to his squeaky-clean baby-face, “my friends looked fearsome… I just looked fabulous.”

The field of stand-up comedy is littered with beta-males (Whitehead also belongs to this now-illustrious class) and Dommett succeeds masterfully in turning his unimpressive physique and general awkwardness to his advantage, even begging a far more muscular member of the audience (tip: never sit at the front row of a comedy show) to get on stage and lift him up.

Dommett sustained a disarming, endearing schtick and peppered his routine with some absurdly funny situations (like his first – and last – venture into experimental London theatre), but he was trounced by Mickey D in the belly laughs department, as the warm and sympathetic Aussie segued smoothly from his role as mere compère to full on comedian between Dommett and Whithead’s sets.

Embarrassingly enough, I found myself slapping my thigh as he described the Trans-Pacific linguistic conundrums of using the word ‘cookie’ in America (think female genitalia), and his opening gag, in which he detailed the problems of fighting with your mum on Skype (with a lewd twist) was a winner too. Equally lewd and closer to home for Mickey was his response to the idolisation of Steve Irwin.

“The guy wrestled giant crocodiles! He’s no hero!” Mickey protested, describing the injustice of having a cousin who committed unspeakable acts with a cat as getting the opposite response. “The family now has to live with that, you know…”

Both Dommett and D (sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon duo, doesn’t it?) belong to a more jolly side of stand-up comedy… far from the angry, political strand that tended to dominate the field in the past (see: Bill Hicks, George Carlin) and closer to the likes of current comedy It-boy Michael McIntyre.

And while headliner Whitehead wasn’t exactly dark, his outright confession to hating kids and his frank approach to the battle of the sexes dipped the evening into far more sardonic territory. The audience didn’t flinch for a second though, and lapped up the gangly ginger’s monologue with mounting enthusiasm.

His pièce de résistance is too good to spoil (do give all three of the comedians a whirl on YouTube) but the build up to it is just as good, running the gamut of childhood reminisces and scuffles with the ex-girlfriend.

“I’m circumcised… my parents told me it was done by the Rabbi… having had an active imagination as a child, I always assumed that meant ‘more than one rabbit’…”

But relationships are where Whitehead shines. A joke about why women have a running start in all arguments gets the most participation of the whole night – the whoops and jeers were probably heard from outside to confines of the Conference Room venue.

An advantage to having gone on the Sunday show is that we were privy to the comedians’ observations about Malta. All three were impressed by our drinking habits… but were far less enthusiastic about their trip to the Splash and Fun Water Park (why do we insist on taking celebrities there?).

But I’m sure they appreciated the raucous response. A burst of applause for every other joke is not something you see abroad, if YouTube is anything to go by. And while the comedy itself was of a very high standard, one gets the feeling that we wouldn’t have been such an ‘easy’ room were we exposed to more of this, more regularly.

Perhaps local comedians would be wrong to expect gigs in so high-end a venue… but they should crawl out of the woodwork and show us what they’ve got, low-fi as their starting venues might be.

For more information on upcoming shows log on to http://www.laughoutloud.com.mt/.

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