Tom Ballard begins his latest show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (the first of two this year) by dragging a poor member of the crowd up onstage and forcing them to sing the second verse of the Australian National Anthem. Ah the second verse, the forgotten one, the ‘Dannii Minogue’ one as Ballard cheekily deems it. He then singles out one phrase in that verse: ‘for loyal sons beyond the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share.’ This forms not only the title of the show but the theme as Ballard tackles the rocky path immigration has paved throughout Australia’s history.
Accompanying Ballard’s performance is a slideshow but don’t come expecting Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Although the show is billed as a ‘comedy lecture,’ the emphasis is still very much on the comedy here. Ballard uses the slideshow to full effect and what could have been a naff distraction proves to be a successful vessel for him to clearly make his points as well as some excellent visual gags. Ballard is a lively and engaging performer and his passion for these sadly relevant issues shines through from start to finish. Together with director Scott Edgar (of Tripod fame) Ballard has crafted a show that, in its finest moments, is powerful, relevant, thought provoking and moving. Oh yeah and very, very funny.
Does everything land? Well no, Tom hurtles through several decades of immigration history like a freight train and a couple of planned stunts fizzle out at this particular show. Nonetheless, Ballard doesn’t need to spell everything out for his audience and he rounds off the 70 minutes on a very poignant note. As well as pointing out the flaws in our current approach to refugees, Ballard offers clear long-term solutions. The emphasis here is on real refugee stories, the human perspective, not just the facts and figures.
Towards the end, Ballard is visibly quite emotional and we get to see the human side of the young comedian as well. One has to applaud his courage and conviction for tackling something he feels so passionate about with such grace, clarity and humour. On the way out, after donating the last ten dollars in my wallet, this reviewer overheard one punter saying ‘I reckon we should’ve given him a standing ovation.’ I reckon he’s not far off.