The Great Debate, where comedians get together to argue for and against a barely serious-esque topic, later edited down for television, was also a neat glimpse for the audience present at how these sort of specials get filmed.
After first ambling out to warm up the crowd, Stephen K Amos strode in again proper, to the tune of Carmina Burana, wearing a royal cape. He assumed the mantle of debate moderator, with topic being, “You gotta fake news to make news!” Arguing for the affirmative was Tom Ballard (Team Captain), DeAnne Smith, and Andy Zaltzman. The negative team were Sammy J (Team Captain), Janelle James, and Rhys Nicholson.
Tom Ballard’s scope was global, but his reach was local. Very local. Front page of the Warrnambool newspaper, local. It was a funny piece of stand-up made funnier with the first of many (so, so many) breaking news segments with Tracey Spicer.
The running gag with Spicer was entertaining, even if a few of her pieces to camera didn’t always land. Curiously, one of the funniest bits – when Tracey said Treasurer Scott Morrison has announced the government will be culling poor people – got the least reaction (probably because it sounded too close to believable?).
After Tom was Sammy J, who regaled the audience with his familiar shtick, while DeAnne Smith relayed her stand-up set in a way that felt stilted and awkward compared to the looser verbal larks of Tom and Sammy. Janelle James was more relaxed, but her conversational routine didn’t quite work either. Too many set-ups had a punchline replaced with, “Right?” or “You know what I mean?” Um, no not really.
While Janelle and DeAnne departed slightly from the debate topic in less-than-stellar fashion, you couldn’t help but admire the mad way Andy Zaltzman set fire to the debate topic and instead asked a cauliflower cricket questions.
Thankfully, Rhys Nicholson – with his humour and energy – came on with the comedy equivalent of a palate cleanser. In the end, Stephen K Amos asked the audience to applaud for the team they felt won, which the negative took out reasonably comfortably.
It’s not often you get to see how the sausage is made. To be sure, the clumsy moments, repeated line stumbles and do-overs, fiddling with props, choreographed sequences, whatever that stage-hand was doing a little creepily at the rear of the set for 35 minutes – some of the shenanigans were beginning to wear a little thin. Generally, however, there was enough comedy to make up for the slow patches. But, if they had put the three Australian comics on the same team, it would have been landslide.
The 28th Annual Great Debate
Melbourne Town Hall, Swanston Street, Melbourne
Performance: Saturday 15 April 2017 – 5.00pm
Image: The 28th Annual Great Debate – photo by Jim Lee
Review: David Collins