I would like to start this review by disclaiming that I am not a comedian. I do not want to be a comedian. I do not study, create, or analyse things that are funny in any constructive way. I judge funny things by how much my stomach and cheeks hurt from laughing afterwards: Comedy is a visceral thing to me. Dissecting it too much destroys it and, in my opinion, often misses the point of the whole experience. This review is going to be based on my opinions as an audience member, not a connoisseur of the comedic arts, and will be appropriately subjective.
On a scale of bellyhurts, zero being “I didn’t smile once and I started daydreaming about ‘What if I was Batman?’ halfway through the show” and ten being “I am fairly certain I have ruptured my bowel and I can’t stop laughing long enough to call an ambulance”, The Big Hoo-Haa consistently rates a thirty-five for me. (Luckily I started wearing my rubber knickers after the first time I went.) The Birthday Olympic Spectacular was no different.
It was certainly the biggest of their shows I’ve seen, with about 20 performers not including the emcee and musical accompaniests (it’s a word now, shush). The show opened with a delicious dance routine that my sister and co-attendee Dee, who does not live under the same rock that I do, informed me was a nearly-exact copy of a popular music video. It might have been Daft Punk. It wasn’t the Black Eyed Peas. Those are two of the only band names I know. Anyway, even not knowing that it was a parody, it was still heaps of fun to watch and started the show with Hoo-Haa’s typical energy and confidence.
Because there were so many performers, I don’t want to name any of them personally. It wouldn’t be fair because everyone in the troupe is obviously talented and puts time, effort, and a buttload of style into the show. Singling out performers, even though there were some stand-outs to me, seems wrong because one of the main things I love about Hoo-Haa is the way it comes across as such a generous collaborative effort.
That said, performer Jack Tandy spent the whole show in a skin-tight body suit and we could all see his balls, so I think he deserves a special mention.
Improv comedy is a weird beast. It’s almost a dirty word in some circles. “Oh, you’re going to see improv?” people sneer, raising condescending eyebrows and swirling condescending brandy around their condescendingly crystal snifters. I admit, when my mate Jack (Scanlan, not Tandyballs) first introduced me to Hoo-Haa, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My tentative explorations of amateur comedy had left me scarred and vulnerable, and not in the sexy way.
That was my first mistaken assumption: These guys are not amateurs. Read the biography of any performer (do it NOW!!!) and you’ll find a dizzying list of qualifications including acting classes, courses, theatre experience, writers’ credits… The people in Hoo-Haa ain’t messin’ around, y’all. And it shows.
I said before that Hoo-Haa is a collaboration. I also said that I’ve been scarred by live comedy. Let me now marry those two points and make them kiss with tongue.
I’ve known people who wanted to make it in the comedy world, and they made me (temporarily) hate comedy and comedians and every kind of laughter. Because of the competitive nature of the industry, especially for people who have yet to properly establish a name for themselves, it seems to have the potential to bring out the worst kind of bitterness and bitchiness. This is not true for everyone of course and maybe I’ve just had bad luck with the people I’ve met, but my impressions from the outside have been that it’s boringly common for amateur comedians to be critical and snarky to others, while being possessive and defensive of their own material and (future) place in the industry.
If that’s happening behind the scenes at Hoo-Haa, you would never know it. The performers are warm, generous and appreciative of one another. They laugh at each other’s jokes without taking away from the moment or seeming self-indulgent, and step in to rescue one another if a joke’s going flat. They will never let someone die up there. It’s beautiful to watch. What can I say – I’m a sap. It’s incredibly reassuring to see performers who seem to understand that someone else getting a laugh doesn’t take AWAY a laugh that they themselves might get. As an audience member, it’s nice to see people working together instead of competing, despite the ostensibly competitive nature of a show that divides performers into teams and allots them points based on audience reactions. It’s easy to imagine that offstage, this is a group of people who respect and appreciate each other.
That’s why I never want to actually meet any of them: I love the idea that who the Hoo-Haa troupe is onstage is who they are in real life. They’re all friends, they aren’t put out when someone else gets a bigger laugh, they aren’t in competition, there’s no backstabbing, they are having fun, and they all go home and sleep together on a giant 20-person bed made from fairy floss and smiles.
I haven’t done a very good job of reviewing the actual show. That’s because I’m a bad reviewer. It’s also, in my heroic manly defence, because the jokes are so thick and fast like bullets of syrup that there’s never enough room in my brain to keep them. I’m still laughing so hard from one person’s impersonation of a time-travelling cow that someone else’s mime of two wrestling grandmas barely lets me catch my breath. The one-liners rally too quickly to retain and I always come home from Hoo-Haa and have the same conversation:
Husband: “How was the show?”
Me: “Oh my god it was so good!”
Husband: “What did they do?”
Me: “I can’t remember. But it was hilarious.”
As a side note, I hate it when people single out female performers for “holding their own” as though not simply collapsing to the ground in labour or bursting into tears about shoes earns them a big pat on the back, but: Holy shit, if you know a person who thinks that women aren’t funny, take them to Hoo-Haa and watch their opinion get blown the hell up.
So that is my very rambling, vague, adjective-riddled review. The Big Hoo-Haa is silly, fun, clever, and incredibly enjoyable. I would recommend it to anyone who likes laughing and being happy. Here is how you can experience it for yourself:
WHAT: The Big Hoo-Haa!
WHEN: Every Thursday night at 8pm.
WHERE: Upstairs at The Portland Hotel, 127 Russell Street in Melbourne city.
HOW MANY MONIES: $14 Adults / $12 Concession / $10 each for groups of 10+