Barry Morgan is Out of This World is a party of raucous nostalgia. Taking the Campari drinking, high socked organ player to its comic extreme, Morgan’s show is the kind of old fashioned comedy that bypasses the hipster and goes straight for the moth eaten. A carnival of classic tunes, audience fun and (almost) wholesome puns, Barry Morgan is Out of This World is just the kind of show that makes you wish your purple sock wearing nan or cheeky aunt was laughing along beside you.
From the moment Morgan comes on stage, he brightens the whole space with his energy. His spangly, organ-toting character is so large, so outrageous that it is a marvel and a triumph that he is able to maintain it at that level for the entire show. Although there is the odd glimmer of exhaustion peeping through the cracks, his hold on the larger than life character is comfortable and artful, with his ability to smooth over technical crises in a nonchalant and cheery way laudable. The character based physical humour he employs throughout the show both in his organ playing and his general movements is an amusing mix of slapstick, disco and used car salesman.
Morgan’s show is not light on the audience participation, and as the show progressed, my choice to sit in the second row began to feel more and more like a terrifying risk. But Morgan is an expert in audience interaction, knowing how to play his crowd and picking his audience participants with a charming sureness and skill. Despite the odd cry of – ‘Come on Barry!’ – his chosen accomplices are more than happy to help him with buttons or follow him on stage. You can tell that he is aware of his audience participants’ limitations, and although he pushes them for comic effect, he knows not to push too far and how to craft an experience of audience interaction that is both entertaining and safe.
Morgan is well aware of his demographic and appeals to it with an exuberant shamelessness. His 70s aussie, Kath and Kim -esque charm paired with consistent references to the suburban paraphernalia of the past has the crowd squawking with laughter, yelling out answers and singing along to old tunes. He has an extraordinary ability to coax a crowd into participation, with the audience singing along to the organ even when unprompted.
But with old fashioned charm comes an old fashioned lack of nuance and sensitivity. Morgan’s tactlessness in his extended jokes about his dead mother and in his often crudely gendered and heteronormative jibes is a notably difficult feature of the show. In addition to this, he rallies and exults in a specific kind of Australian identity that has long since been problematised by discussions of racial politics in Australia. This lack of attention to the specificities of current political ideas around Australian identity extends to an overall feeling of generality or dilution in the humour – it definitely isn’t a piece full of sharp wit or surprises. While this kind of sepia tonage is in some ways inevitable in a show preoccupied with the past, it is always valuable to ask of a live show why it is valuable that this kind of work be created and shared in this current moment. If Morgan could engage somehow with the realities and complexities of the present it would give a freshness and relevance his show.
This said, if you feel nostalgia for the home organ, like a good singalong and just want a good bit of ‘aussie’ humour, Barry Morgan is Out of This World might be just the show for you.