Comedy: Dave Bloustien, Grand Guignol

Dave Bloustien, one of a handful of Dave-variants in this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, is a familiar looking face, which seems to run contrary to his amass of behind-the-scenes credits in the Australian TV/comedy domain. And with his 2013 show Grand Guignol, this aspect of his career shows, by adding depth and greater colour to his show but simultaneously harming the perceived effect on the audience.Essentially, it’s a show where Bloustien portrays five different stories through five different characters directly recounting their experiences to an audience. That’s basically the writer’s dream—to go in and out of well-crafted characters, and do a long-form shaggy dog story with incisive lines and tags scattered throughout before the other shoe drops with the final punch line swooping in from nowhere. In front of the backdrop of Parisian amoral horror entertainment in the early-to-mid 20th Century, it’s a clever blend to mix black humour with raconteur-style storytelling but it does crumple in on itself—how can long form stay so stringently in place with kooky characters when the format itself requires reading the audience and milking set opportunities?This criticism, one of few, especially resonates with the beatnik-like story of the travelling salesman who shouldn’t be trusted. To add to that atmosphere, Bloustien matches the beats and rhythm to blues punctuated with sounds depending on where the story is at. While it adds to the performance of the character, it tends to detract from the style and the comedy and seems to be an addendum to the otherwise consistently-themed show—but that’s probably the worst one, with the remaining four-fifths varying in effect.On the other side of the spectrum is the fourth story. At this point, it becomes strikingly evident that the monologue jokes (i.e. first line is a set-up, second line is a punch line, with potential tag) are Bloustein’s wheelhouse, having written for Good News Week and The Glasshouse. Encouragingly, this is how he chooses to open when the character he portrays is himself doing a classic stand-up routine, using his own wit and owning the stage. Here, the audience’s passive participation is of on-the-edge-of-their-seat stuff, and smartly done through a surreal perspective into what is to be believed a peek into Bloustien’s life. The punch line and tag here are fantastic and hit hard, all the beats read at the right time. Magnificent.This golden bit of comedy, however, needs to be sieved for between other characters: a young Labor supporter who meets the faceless underbelly of string-pulling when going behind-the-scenes in the political arena (mildly funny in concept, though his political jokes polarise and weren’t specific enough to sting, and many beats were lost for mixing up character names often); a googly-eyed ringmaster of a Ridley’s Believe It Or Not-style funhouse who talks shop of getting his hands on Tutankhamen’s lost member (probably his best portrayal of a character but could do with some tightening); and a Hansel and Gretel puppet show that effectively held up a mirror to the Melbourne comedy scene in a post-modern way.And that comedy scene tends to change when the MICF is in town, with a general pattern emerging where the international scene is rife with your David O’Dohertys and Tracy Morgans who travel worldwide like rock stars, so much so that the smaller stars of the international scene who may even be on the brink of celebrity status globally are sometimes overlooked. But if you lean in closer and start to think of those smaller stars, they in turn too may be stepping on the toes of ticket holders to even smaller comedy shows, ones that mainly originate from Melbourne (or even Australia!). Unfortunately, for these Aussie comics — Bloustein included — it becomes difficult to continue to craft and hone a good show, especially if the Trades Hall citizens aren’t knocking at the door.Dave Bloustien’s Grand Guignol is running until April 7 at Trades Hall, Melbourne. For more information visit  by David Claridad

April 2nd 2013
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