Eve Ellenbogen’s Don’t Get Mad at Me was a confronting start to my Comedy Festival experience. The description on the Comedy Festival website states that she will “…tell the whole truth. Nothing is sacred and no topic is off limits”. That was certainly true, but it is not necessarily a good thing. As Ellenbogen mentioned during her performance, honesty is important in stand-up comedy. And she brought up subjects that could have made her vulnerable and develop a relationship with the audience. Instead, sensitive, confronting subjects such as rape and HIV were handled with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and a level of crudity that was quite offensive. Don’t Get Mad at Me was not a show for the faint-hearted (or for single men). At times, it seemed as if Ellenbogen was trying to set a new record for how many times she could touch herself and say vagina, period and masturbation in one hour. She also subscribes to the ‘racist humour is ok as long as you target your own minority’ school of comedy.
In discussion with friends after the show, I did wonder if we are culturally conditioned to be more forgiving of offensive content from male comedians, and more shocked by similar material from females? But while that is probably true to a degree, Ellenbogen’s comedy crosses a line. Touching on a humorous but taboo subject can be highly amusing – but spending the next several minutes going on about it in depth is just awkward and uncomfortable. I suspect it would have been more acceptable if her material was really funny. You know, like a guilty pleasure you feel bad about enjoying? But her humour relied on shock value for impact, rather than wit and clever writing, and therefore rarely fell on the right side of the balancing act between titillating and offensive.
Ellenbogen was the winner of the North Melbourne Comedy Competition and the RAW Comedy Victorian Finalist in 2016. I’m not sure if she received those accolades using similar material, but the audience on Friday night did not seem to be terribly impressed. There were a few laughs, spread throughout the hour long show. But for the most part, the audience sat in uncomfortable silence, presumable dreading where she might go next. The extremely small venue exacerbated the confronting nature of the content, as there was no distance between the audience and performers. Considering it was her first solo show, Ellenbogen did deal fairly well with an overly communicative audience member who didn’t know when to be quiet. Despite their earlier engagement with the show, however, eventually their tolerance evaporated and they walked out.
Eve Ellenbogen’s performance style is certainly brave, and amusing at times, but hopefully with further experience she will develop the finesse to address her forthright content in a more appealing and entertaining way.