When ambitious stand-up comedians reach a certain creative threshold, hit a certain high water mark, doing an hour of randomly cobbled together jokes often isn’t enough. They might look for an umbrella theme to hover over their routine, a narrative glue to stick the bits and bobs together — something to elevate the material from “what’s the deal with?” and “this is what happened then” to a more theatrical and self-contained package.
Festival favourite and first-rate Aussie laugh-maker Justin Hamilton is there, past the simple joy of stray stories, jokes, throwaways and callbacks to where a structure needs to exist, a cohesive concept with which to frame his sharp-witted shtick.
In his new show The Goodbye Guy, touted as his festival swan song, Hamilton constructs a plot premise about him penning his last post for a blog, the familiar self-reflexive setup of an artist writing about writing. Last year that premise was beautifully executed in Lawrence Mooney’s An Indecisive Bag of Donuts, in which Mooney procrastinated about the task of creating a festival show. In The Goodbye Guy Hamilton’s blog editor speaks to him via voice over, dismantling his work, while Hamo contemplates the tantalizing prospect of punching his ed in the groin.
Bits of the post-mod premise dangle and tether and the narrative call backs are a tad tenuous, but general audiences won’t pay it much mind. Segues are fast and fluid and it’s good fun soaking up Hamilton’s seasoned style as he surfs through tales, riding a crest of waves that take him on holidays with Greg Fleet (who suffers from narcissistic dyslexia), horrifying a woman with crass jokes and experiencing the Seinfeldian challenge of figuring out how to respond to an ugly baby.
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Hamilton is a slick operator. To borrow parlance from the man himself, he’s confident enough to impregnate most of the audience — or at least the guy down the front. More importantly, he’s likeable. If the crowd aren’t slapping their knees or chortling they are generally with him, sensing, perhaps, that the size of Hamilton’s heart is comparable to his wit.
An emotion-tinged ending to The Goodbye Guy — a fresh riff on the Beatles’ “you say goodbye, I say hello” — generates a strange fuzzy feeling. If it’s a wee bit out of place, it’s welcome nevertheless, and if this is indeed Hamo’s last festival show (something tells me he’ll be back) the Melbourne comedy scene is that little bit worse because of it.
The Goodbye Guy, Tuesday through Saturday at 8:30pm and Sunday at 7:30pm at Victoria Hotel – Acacia Room.
Luke Buckmaster also reviews films on Crikey film blog Cinetology.