After a four year hiatus from stand-up, Charlie Pickering has returned in an excellent way with his 2016 Melbourne International Comedy Festival show – How to Tame a Wild Squirrel.
Pickering’s show starts with a stand up staple: audience interaction. Beginning as tame and quickly ramping up into madness, he chats with various audience members and makes fun of those arriving late – only to discover that there’s been a seating mix-up and the other even more late audience members were expecting to sit in those seats. It almost feels too coincidental to be real, and certainly could be staged, given that How to Tame a Wild Squirrel is only one over three nights, but it was a delight to watch the story unfold at the front of the theatre.
Pickering has spent much of the past four years honing his television comedy skills, both on commercial channels and the ABC, and he delights in subverting the expectations people have of an ABC news presenter. In fact, he delights in subverting people’s opinions on news in general, with an excellent parody of a nightly news show delivered through the eyes of a variety of presenters, from the stereotypical sports reporter to the weather guy struggling to stay relevant.
Keeping with the news theme, Pickering gives a little replay about recent important news events, from Tony Abbott famously threatening to ‘shirtfront’ Vladimir Putin, to the minor insanity that arose when he made a totally unrelated Lionel Richie/Billy Ocean joke on Twitter before finding out about the Paris attacks. He then shifts smoothly into a rant about past vs. present, and the magic of Burke’s Backyard fact sheets and monthly encyclopaedia deliveries vs. the quick release that comes from Googling something and instantly finding out everything there is to know.
And then, right when you think he’s totally forgotten about the name of his show, he brings out the big guns. A dramatic reading of instructions on how to tame a wild squirrel. Pickering discovered the site after watching squirrels in New York, wondering how hard it could possibly be to tame a squirrel. Turns out it’s damn hard, and there’s a husband somewhere in the USA with a wife who cares more about tiny rodents than she does about it.
Pickering presents the list with such an air of disbelief that it’s a real delight to watch him. The instructions themselves are (accidentally) amusing, but the injection of intentional humour into the story really rounds out the performance.
For a man who watches bland boring free-to-air news for a living, Charlie Pickering really is a funny man. Who could have guessed.