If I was reviewing the hospitality last Thursday night and not the comedy, this would have been a rave. Unfortunately, and I hate to say this, Mark McConnell’s stand-up show failed to impress quite as much as the two Happy Hour cocktails I consumed before the set commenced. I’ll argue that my brief foray into mid-week alcoholism represented my salute to the Irish comedian I was about to see.
I am aware that the notion of a new bar in Melbourne is as ubiquitous as the black coats that are donned during winter but, I must say, it was nice to check out a new space. McConnell’s show was performed at Glamp Bar, which according to online reviews and write-ups, seems to have opened some time last year. It was African inspired and a wonderfully unique place for a spot of stand-up. The staff were incredibly welcoming and the whole outing reminded me just how much I love the sprawling nature of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Initially the show had caught my eye because the poster had a certain self-effacing quality to it. This was evident in both the visual (Mark is standing on a beach with a furrowed brow and a piece of seaweed draped ceremoniously over his left shoulder) and the title. Appropriately entitled, Washed Up, my immediate thought was that I was in for a night of good old’ self-deprecation.
Overwhelmingly, McConnell was let down not by his content but his delivery. This was in part due to timing but also the fact that he was incredibly rehearsed but seemingly unable to deliver the comedy in an off-the cuff, relaxed and conversational manner which would have suited his largely observational material. While he had some moments where he had established some pretty impressive narrative trajectory, the delivery detracted from the sometimes imaginative and indeed amusing scenarios that McConnell presented to us.
I also felt that McConnell had gone overboard with his Melbourne and more broadly speaking, Australian references. While I understand that these inclusions (more often than not) are part and parcel of an international observational comedian performing in Australia, it was overused. Sometimes it works, but in this case it seemed cumbersome and trite. Overall, with the exception of a Woolworths narrative about the self-service checkouts and the allure of scanning everything through as ‘loose brown onions’, the local anecdotes didn’t play.
I would contest that Mark’s observations were largely not funny because they weren’t particularly interesting. Observational humour works best for me when it’s not only relatable but also a notion that I haven’t yet considered and/or haven’t already heard friends conduct their own little stand-up routine about on a Friday night over drinks.
With that said, I thought McConnell showed potential with respect to comedy derived from convoluted narratives, seemingly having a knack for jokes that didn’t rely quite so much on a punch line. One example that I quite enjoyed was a narrative about God being like a used car salesmen. If he had incorporated more scenarios like this into the routine as opposed to the observational content, the show would have been more palatable.