MICF: Immigrants’ Guide to Australia

After dodging the noise and smoke to climb the three flights of stairs to the comedy venue at the Elephant and Wheelbarrow hotel, I was ready to sit down and have a good laugh.  I wasn’t prepared to have an ‘Immigration Identification Card’ with the forbidding face of Tony Abbott above the words “Welcome to detention, where dreams come true!” shoved into my hand. The card also had a foreign name and country printed on it which made my heart sink. Oh, no, surely we’re not going to have one of those interminable introduction games  which begins with the demand “ tell us your name and something about yourself”.

Mark Butler
Mark Butler

I wasn’t far wrong but, fortunately, it fizzled out before any real damage could be done to the psyche. But what a pity if, instead of this classroom exercise, Butler had actually come on wearing the thick black moustache and red turban of the immigrant pictured on his gig advertisement instead of a red overall that he half took off to reveal a non-impressionable, sleeveless tank top to go with his rather disinterested expression.

Like the rest of this 45-minute show, there seemed to be little connectivity or sequence of subject matter that could have made up for Butler treating his audience to several boring video clips that gave him an opportunity to sit down and watch too or was he actually looking at his phone?

One would imagine that the opportunity to be part of Melbourne’s famous International Comedy Festival would at least warrant fresh, stimulating ideas and some hearty belly laughs. Unfortunately, the reason this didn’t happen was because much of Butler’s material had been recycled many times since at least 2007 and there’s nothing so unfunny as a tired, recycled joke that’s missed its mark because the immediate energy has been drained out of it long ago.

It may be a sign of our technological age that we don’t mind reading, or seeing performed, an old joke on line a dozen times, but you can’t fool a live audience (unless they’re absolutely tanked).

If people opt to remove themselves from their computers or tv and pay to see a live performance, they need that personal connection that they don’t get from a screen.

Yet, Mark Butler would make a superb teacher. He has been called ‘the thinking man’s comedian’ and, in fairness, it is easy to see why. His material is erudite, well-researched and thought provoking and he certainly has the comedic skills like miming, mimicking accents, awareness of timing and the effect on an audience of pausing and eye-contact. But when we go out for a laugh, do we really want be educated, especially about our ockerisms and the lazy way we speak?

Teachers are always in the position to judge but, in the case of this teacher, I’d have to say, Mark Butler, I’m sure you can do better.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *