Tom Ballard’s show, Problematic, focuses on the negative, crazy and obviously ‘problematic’ things going on in the world today. Most of the content is serious, some is deeply disturbing. And it therefore demonstrates the skill Ballard uses to wander through this minefield of explosive topics, bringing both laughter and self-reflection.
Ballard confessed that he presents his comedy from within a bubble of entitlement, a bubble that most of his audience share. But through his humour, Ballard encourages us to step outside the bubble and think about the world around us, and ask the difficult questions. He shows us that the world is ‘endlessly complicated’, and rarely black and white. A central concept looked at the issue of political correctness – is it a necessary step towards equality, or has it gone too far? Or, perhaps it is an issue that is too complex and varied to be answered with a binary view… Ballard also talked about the nature of privilege, and how we can be oblivious to its influence. He discussed world issues, politics (no show about this topic would be complete without at least a passing mention of Brexit and Trump), but spent a substantial amount of time discussing issues closer to home, such as the divide between indigenous and white Australians. This list of topics suggests the laughs may have been few and far between, but to the contrary, they flew thick and fast. Despite comments from Ballard decrying the lack of laughter (either the acoustics from the stage were very poor, or he was fishing for complements), the response from the audience was very positive, with fairly constant laughter. Even when he occasionally leapt over what many would consider to be the line regarding an appropriate level of political incorrectness. And that was a jump he didn’t take without consideration, using it as another opportunity to discuss political correctness – is there a time it doesn’t need to be considered?
There were some aspects of the show that audience members may have found shocking or confronting. Don’t be misled by the early time slot (apparently the Sunday show is even earlier) – it is definitely for adults only, and not for the easily offended.
Ballard also shared his amazing experience filming ‘First Contact’ for SBS. He told us about the remote areas he visited, how much he enjoyed learning about Indigenous culture and meeting people from all over Australia. He also expressed his frustration with sharing that trip with a close-minded politician who was unmoved by what he saw. Through all of these anecdotes, Ballard shared both his humour, and his passion regarding some of the serious issues that face Australia.
There were many light-hearted moments. Ballard suggesting we should start marginalising the ‘minority of hot people’ springs to mind, as does some well-meaning heckling from the audience that temporarily threw him off track – and gained a lot of laughs, much to Ballard’s disgust. It was a very entertaining show, full of hilarity. But underlying all of that, it made you think. I suspect for the most part, Ballard was preaching to the choir, which he acknowledged. But as his comedy reminded us… sometimes we still need our eyes opened to our own privilege.
Unlike every other MICF show I have seen so far this year, Ballard did not start the show with an Acknowledgement of Country. Rather he finished with it. And rather than a cursory statement that fades into the background, Tom Ballard’s Acknowledgement of Country was passionate, and stated as truth. Problematic is an excellent example of how stand-up comedy can be more than just entertainment. It can also educate, and make people think about the world in which we live, in new ways.