Englishman Alistair Barrie is appearing at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival for the first time and his show is a delight.
Titling the show The InternationAL, Barrie sets out playing the left wing anthem The Internationale on the PA merely to see if anyone recognises it enough to hum along. The Friday night audience sits numbly through it, vaguely wondering what the French song is. It sets a tone for the night.
His show, The InternationAL is loosely themed around current world issues. Barrie scoots from flashpoint to fleshpoint, commencing with a big chunk of material on #metoo. It’s great to see a male comedian come out with straightforward retorts to the obfuscation, self-righteousness and ridiculousness of Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK et al. He brings the movement back to the very funny, but bleeding obvious, with some very good gags highlighting how bizarre the men’s behaviour is.
Barrie has a plastic face and he uses its flexibility to great effect, scrunching up his eyes and nose, rolling and crossing his eye and works hard to keep us all in near constant laughter. He has some good material on the boundaries of intimacy amongst long term couples, although his take is very British, and has that air of restraint, all of which underlined the silliness at play.
He also compares how comedians treat Donald Trump compared to George W, Bush who Barrie thinks was a gift to comedy, his utterances writing comedians’ scripts for them. By contrast, Barrie thinks Trump skewers himself faster and more often than anyone would think plausible, so that it’s like replacing a comedy writer with a machine.
Barrie is not a mean comedian. He hits out at those whose behaviour requires a response but there are no cheap laughs. It’s comedy that hits up, not down and reflects on common human experience. There’s a small amount of material that harks back to his previous show about his wife’s battle with cancer. He manages to tie this together with a hopeful note as he celebrates the pain and pleasure of wished-for-but-unlikely parenthood.
There’s nothing that’s particularly shocking, new or brash about Alistair Barrie’s show. He’s simply very good at his chosen craft, and does it with thought and care. He’s a pro in the very best sense of that word.