The Australian Broadcasting Commission has never been about entertainment. Or, if it has, it is a shadowy secret of its past that has lain dormant since the dawn of time. It is an organization that will tell Tony Martin and Shaun Michallef to piss off when they propose a sketch show, that will decide The Office isn't funny, and will run endless Agatha Christie telemovies.
The exception seems to be on Wednesday nights. I have no idea why. Maybe the Australian Liberal Party (NB: the 'Liberals' do not believe in the freedom of the individual at all and never have. They are called this because at the time of their genesis the name of "The Australian Conservative Party" was already taken. Just one of the many crazy things we have to confuse pesky foreigners in this country) turn to stone on Wednesday nights and thus are unable to pick up their telephones to complain. At any rate, Wednesday night is a place where funny things can happen on the AB friggin' C.
Last week (I think it was last week, I lose track) an extreme example came out of nowhere. Dylan Moran, acclaimed star of everyone who's anyone's favourite sitcom Black Books, was going to be shown for 80 minutes in his stand-up show Monster. Squee? I nearly w00ted myself.
I have a keen interest in stand-up comedians and their techniques. I love watching comedy festivals, as you see crap acts as well as the good, and it's interesting to study why some performers bring the house down, why some make the house get up and leave, and why one made the huse jump up on stage and punch him out.
Billy Connolly - he's driven by a rush of adrenaline to begin with (the jokes always fly fast at the start of the act) and then fills out the show with his natural charisma and entertaining stories. Ben Elton and Greg Fleet are combined actors/writers - they write clever diatribes and stories to seem natural, and have the skill to make them appear ad-libbed on stage. Wil Anderson tries the same trick but lacks discipline - he gets away with it because he's likeable, though, and treats the world with far more irreverance. Stephen K. Amos uses few funny jokes, but alternates between his real self and adopted personas to keep the audience on the back foot, keeping them constantly entertained. Dave Hughes magnificiently camoflauges his quick comic mind and knack for timing under a bumbling, slow-witted demeanour that means the gags come out of nowhere. Rove McManus shoves jokes in your face and hopes you will laugh. Jason Byrne has a complete lack of any storytelling skills and poor judgement for delivery but attains laughs through his ridiculously aggressive demeanour. Jerry Seinfeld plays safe comedy but has cornered the market for observational minutae thanks to his self-conscious and neurotic nature. And so on.
So what about Dylan? I hadn't seen him before, so I was very interested to watch his technique.
Well, looking back I immediately mentally compared him to Billy Connolly, who is mentioned above but you all know anyway. In case there's any uncertainty, in brief he's the mad Scotsman with the long hair and purple beard who makes his living yelling "FUCK YOU!" in the funniest way imaginable. Yeah, you know who I'm talking about.
But, really, Dylan and Billy are very different - maybe even opposites. Their rambling acts and accents made me link them in mind, but the differences are many. For a start, Dylan Moran starts slow. As a performer he needs to warm up. I say this because, for the first five minutes or so he didn't really make me laugh. Maybe a smile and a chuckle, but he comes in barely able to walk straight and grabbing his bearings. Also, Connolly has always enjoyed a peacock image, swanning around in fancy, impractical, and stupidly expensive clothes in many of his acts, and constantly referring to himself as "The windswept and interesting comedian". Whereas Moran stumbles on stage with a glass of white wine, and whinges about it being "Too fucking hot" before dumping his jacket on the microphone stand.
Throughout his entire act Moran never stops smoking or drinking. Nor, before the act has he brushed his hair, or possibly even showered. The line between Dylan Moran and the angry, insane character Bernard Black that has made him famous won't be defined by watching his show. It will be blurred. You can be forgiven for thinking that they are one and the same.
The verdict? He is hilariously funny. Brilliant. He plays his act like standard observational comedy, telling jokes in a long, rambling manner, only just keeping himself audible through his muddled accent. As he slowly starts you can be forgiven for dismissing it as a basic act - indeed, as he opens his style is reminiscent of another Irish comic, Jimeoin, who I consider to be one of the worst stand-ups I've ever seen. The difference between them, though, is Moran's incisive intelligence. Jimeoin will supposedly show the stupidity of humans through our foibles, but reveals how stupid he himself is not too understand them. Moran does this and, partially, succeeds. But this isn't his goal.
What Moran tries to do is take a seed of absurdity from real life and force it to grow. He points out the ludicrousness of anything, and demonstrates it through more ludicrousness. But, brilliantly, he delivers it so deadpan you'd think he was reading out of the phonebook. His critcque of Fat Boy Slim's Rockafeller Skank was definitely a highlight.
"The lyrics of this song, which was played at such a volume the seat next to me started to bleed, went like this: The funk soul brother. So check it out now. It's the funk soul brother. You know. Right about now. As far as I could see, the message of the song seemed to be that there's this man. Who calls himself the funk soul brother. And he's coming here. We're expecting him any moment. But he's not here yet. But, you know, he should be here right now. And he doesn't actually turn up at any point during the six minute song."
Of course, written down that's so unfunny I feel like I should whip myself with the handy telephone flex for even putting it down on the screen, but his delivery is second-to-none.
Exactly where he gets his ideas from, I don't know. His brief, improvised rap stanza and a yelled-out argument between two imaginary French artists are some of the best highlights and come out of nowhere. Nowhere except Moran's chaotic yet brilliant mind. The way the show ends is the biggest clue of this. Moran simply rattles of a quick punchline and says 'goodnight', before walking off stage. No protracted farewell, no winding down of the act, and no pithy ending. It seems almost cruel to throw the brakes on the show so suddenly as he does, but it reveals his cleverness in that it shows, like Billy Connolly, he ad-libs his whole show and simply ends it when the time's up.
Dylan Moran, we salute you!