You may know Australia’s Tom Gleeson from recent ABC TV work: a segment Hard Chat escaped its mediocre container to evolve into stand-alone show Hard Quiz. There Gleeson has cultivated his grumpy persona and — as contestants have found — snide putdowns.
Whether giving or receiving verbal burns, Gleeson occasionally lets some amusement bubble through his dour façade. I wondered if this was the key to his 2019 MICF show: Joy. Punters could certainly find the title a little sarcastic from inside the Comedy Theatre, even before Gleeson’s arrival on stage. An enormous backdrop photo of his face hinted at his mood.
Gleeson has plied his stand-up trade for some years, and the experience showed. He’s a very confident performer who fluently churned through his material. Fresh from a season at the Adelaide Fringe, Gleeson is match-fit and ready to show why his reputation for dispatching hecklers is well earned. (On this night he only had a shouted encouragement about the Gold Logie, leading to a very amusing diversion.)
His opening lampooned some familiar federal politician targets. It was a credit to Gleeson that he found some new angles on this, including an unflattering portrayal of Peter Dutton. His thoughts on an appropriate punishment for Barnaby “Beetrooter” Joyce after his affair with a staffer earned particular approval from the large house.
The bits and pieces of this set included an odd story from a night out drinking in Sydney, and some recollections from growing up in the country. Gleeson was also happy to mine relationships with his kids for comedy gold (if not actual gold, to his disappointment).
Whilst there was plenty of Gleeson the curmudgeon here, we see that it’s a front as he amused himself (and us) with some rants. At times we do get some of that promised Joy, such as when he demonstrated how he joined in with his kids to annoy other diners in a Chinese restaurant.
Gleeson presented an amusing enough, but pretty safe hour. There were hints of some unconventional ideas here. Gleeson’s son did something wacky to get Dad’s attention, and looking back, Gleeson intuited that parental concern probably feels something like love to his neglected son. There was probably more to profitably explore in the topic of how much time and energy a parent can willingly put into their children.
Sometimes it can be a touch unsatisfying to see a talented performer present such a conservative set. I suppose you can’t blame Gleeson for pitching a show where it will sell a lot of tickets. (Another five shows have been added to the season.) The hour went over particularly well in some parts of the house. Yet, with some more ambitious material, I’m sure Gleeson can fly higher than this.
As for the show’s title, I won’t ruin the revelation that illuminates that. You’ll have to wait for it, and unsurprisingly it arrives as Gleeson finishes with his strongest content. The section on how he’s manipulated events and creatively edited to compose his story gave amusing insights into the writing process. He got the dosage of cynicism right here, with snappy lines at himself, like: “This show won’t win any awards, and it doesn’t deserve any.”
Tom Gleeson – Joy
Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 29 March 2019 – 8:45pm
Season continues to 14 April 2019
Information and Bookings: www.comedyfestival.com.au
Image: Tom Gleeson (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte