Like a ball of wool after a cat’s been at it, The Bedroom Philosopher – Cat Show is a tangle of the physical, musical, personal and the imaginative. Sweet and strange, it’s the kind of funny that has you unsure exactly why or what you’re laughing at. But it definitely has you laughing.
The Bedroom Philosopher, Justin Hazelwood, creates a warm, playful environment for his audience. There is none of the almost competitive aggression or cockiness so often seen in comedy shows, none of the formulaic laugh baiting. His performance is an endearing mix of awkwardness and eccentricity, shifting in unexpected and enjoyably disorientating ways. It feels as if Hazelwood is riffing onstage, playing intuitively between comedic mediums, unafraid to throw something aside or interrupt himself. The intense focus that attends him lapping at his water bowl as a cat is suddenly replaced by a dorky, self-reflective awareness of the oddities of the performer-audience dynamic. There is space within the performance for laughter to flow naturally and unforced, with Hazelwood taking both hysterics and mere spatterings of mirth easily in his pounce. He reacts sweetly and naturally to the audience and the space, breaking into giggles himself in a way that feels at the same time very funny and very honest.
True to its name, Cat Show is heavy on the cats. As someone who loves cats, this focus on different aspects and anecdotes of cat-ness caused me a kind of giddy delight (it’s funny and about cats – wow!). I was brought so onside by the cat focused nature of the show that I would excuse a less successful joke or a flat pun because, well, cats! However, it does feel as if Hazelwood is relying on these automatic cat points which may not carry as much currency for the less feline-inclined among the audience (my friend in fact reported that during the show she realised just how much she doesn’t like cats). This said, it doesn’t feel as if Hazelwood is merely cashing in on the internet hype surrounding cats – his ‘show and tell’-esque stepping through of his personal cat history lends authenticity and heart to the show. It is clear that cats have been an important part of his life growing up and drawing these stories into the show not only adds a layer of genuineness to the performance, but causes the feeling of ‘aww cute cats’ to extend to him as well – ‘aww cute boy and cats’.
Throughout Cat Show, Hazelwood employs a kind of durational humour – he’ll be doing something that at first you’ll perceive as uncomfortable, but in the act of extending or pushing the temporal boundaries of the action it will transform into hilarity. The use of this form of humour created some of my favourite and least favourite moments in the show – sometimes extremely effective, sometimes uncomfortably awkward. However, the structure of the show seems to hold both of this experiences and it feels almost unclear whether this is Hazelwood’s intention.
The stage, an eclectic clutter of cat related items and two-dollar shop props, visually reflects the scattered and piecemeal nature of the show in a way that feels comfortable and unforced. Hazelwood’s exploitation of the props’ comic potential is pleasantly satisfying – the guitar’s shadow on the projection screen becomes a catalyst for shadow puppet play and the decorative pinwheel becomes an extended apple joke. His ‘cat costume’, while resembling more a mouse than a cat, also has this sense of unstudied completeness. It feels throughout the whole show as if Hazelwood has intuitively and imprecisely hot glue gunned together a bunch of ideas, lyrics, skits and items – and it works, coming off odd and joyful and sweet and funny.