Ben Knight’s show Back to School at the European Bier Café was packed with teachers on Friday Night, including me. I was familiar with Knight’s work through his You Tube video ‘Little Jimmy’, which particularly struck a chord with me as an Art teacher. So, with my own viewpoint as a teacher, and so many teachers making up the audience, I was interested to see how my non-teaching friend would respond to the show. In fact, Knight himself started the show by checking the demographics – asking how many teachers were there (a LOT!), were there any Principals (no) and finally, looking for PE teachers. It was probably a bit of a relief for him to get no response to that last question, as he is not kind to PE teachers in this show (be warned, PE folks).
In an unusual approach for a 1-hour comedy routine, Back to School takes us through the narrative of several years of Mr K’s teaching career, with its ups and downs. Knight plays 3 characters; primary student Jimmy, Mr Blake the PE teacher, and Mr K, Jimmy’s classroom teacher. The story charts the enthusiasm of Mr K as a new teacher and his creative use of rhyme and song to teach young students, being overwhelmed by the paperwork, bureaucracy and demands of prescribed testing, losing his motivation and leaving teaching to travel, and finally returning as a more hardened teacher who has lost his creative approach. Will little Jimmy be able to remind Mr K why he loved teaching, and why his less orthodox approach was so important?
Knight’s comedy, like his video ‘Little Jimmy’, tends to use extremes to make a point. It is not supposed to be taken literally, but highlights issues that are real never-the-less. Back to School is no exception. Some of the humour is built on the use of amusing stereotypes, such as the mannerisms of the student Jimmy, and the character flaws of the PE teacher Mr Blake, but as he admits at the conclusion of the show, the main character Mr K was fairly autobiographical. Knight shares his message and his humour through song and clever rhyme. Pre-recorded narration and a slide show accompany Knight’s performance and he demonstrates not only well delivered comedy but an amazing ability to sing truly tongue-twisting and memory defying lyrics in the song about homonyms. The show contains several original songs that deliver a message with a healthy dose of humour.
The audience were extremely vocal in their approval of the show, and from this teacher’s perspective, it was hilarious (and surprisingly moving in parts). I was also pleased to hear that my non-teacher friend also loved the performance, so teacher, feel free to bring your non-teaching mates!
The venue, downstairs at the European Bier Café, was not the most comfortable. Squished in tight, in front of a tiny stage, the audience didn’t have much elbow room. That set-up, however, is fairly common during the comedy festival where lots of sites are repurposed, and it is easy to survive for a 1-hour show. If you can handle the noise upstairs in the bar, the food is good too!
Having seen a lot of comedy at the Festival over the last few years, this is definitely a show I wholeheartedly recommend, especially for teachers (just… maybe not the sports staff 😉 )