Paul McDermott found international fame with musical comedy acts Doug Anthony Allstars (1984–1994) and GUD (2002–), and local notice from tv, such as by hosting Good News Week. The Canberran often uses his brand of melodic sharpness to skewer famous figures and modern indulgences. Fresh from an Adelaide Fringe run, newish show Plus One (with guitar and harmonies by Glenn Moorhouse) continues that tradition.
As those who saw Paul McDermott and Gatesy Go Solo would remember, McDermott has cultivated a self-important stage personality (which is why he can’t find time to introduce “plus one” Glenn). He looks down on us – his aging, at-risk fan-base of loners – with disdain and bemusement. His view is from the Malthouse Outdoor Stage, where punters sit at tables in the open. (Bring your coat/umbrella.)
Whilst the venue (with cabaret-style tables for bookings of two to six was chosen to allow “physical distancing”, McDermott advised that it wasn’t ideal for comedy. Even so, he started pulling laughs early with an improvised bit on the challenges of open-air performing.
Plus One was written through a lengthy period of isolation in 2020 – a time that the often-anti-social McDermott found creative and productive. He could set us up by describing some aspect of his pandemic experience, and then extract loud laughter by undercutting our expectations in the song to follow.
Winning tunes included one on a new fear of touch screens, and on comparing his hometown to cities in lockdown. Whilst there can be a nasty tang to the offerings, most of the audience were clearly here for this, and were solidly entertained by the lyrical surprises.
Political commentary is a regular feature of McDermott’s output. Under lockdown, he sought to redirect each time that he was annoyed at our Prime Minister by writing a positive song about Sco Mo. There’s been enough annoyance to inspire a series of these songs. Whilst they went over well with a leftie audience, they lack the inventiveness of most offerings.
We were given choice on which Sco Mo song we wanted to hear, or between tunes of life spent in “small rooms” across the pandemic. This showed the ability of McDermott and Moorhouse to adapt to events and preferences, as they rejigged the line up to exploit comedic opportunities. Those wanting some sweet singing, a catchy tune, and McDermott’s trademark flouncing will not be disappointed with the finale of the official show.
McDermott continued a tradition of allowing fans to crowd around at an after-show bonus bracket outside of the venue. The performers showed good humour in bantering with the audience. One song related a desire for home to stay the same because we need some comforting constancy right now.
McDermott, who self-describes as having a “heart like a black cornflake”, had a little lip wobble afterwards. Just an emotional blip surely, from the angry man with the “sweet voice” who makes misanthropy sparkle brightly through song.
Even if some (performers) might try to deny it, lockdown has taken its toll on all of us. The welcome relief of MICF 2021 is almost at its end. Give yourself and your significant other better treatment than McDermott gives to his Plus One, and get along to this memorable event.
Paul McDermott: Plus One
Malthouse Outdoor Stage, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank (Melbourne)
Performance: Friday 16 April 2021 – 8:45pm
Season continues to 18 April 2021
Information and Bookings: www.comedyfestival.com.au
Image: Paul McDermott (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte