COMEDY REVIEW: Tom Ballard – ‘Problematic’


Tom Ballard’s show Problematic contained honest discussion about serious issues but also very black comedy.

I almost rolled my eyes when Ballard started talking about privilege – I almost see it as a completely overdone topic, not least because it was brought up in Wil Anderson’s stand-up I reviewed just the other day. I also started to wonder whether this was going to become a half-comedy, half-one-sided preach to the masses on identity politics.

Tom Ballard is not just a comedian from Australia, he’s a popular celebrity who has had radio and television gigs, including guest hosting roles on Q & A and cast on the SBS documentary series First Contact.

The latter show became a major talking point for Problematic. Ballard is not just a comedian, but a media personality of the left, which placed him in a rather awkward position in the political correctness debate – another topic in the stand-up. I was predicting that Ballard would come across as a massive hypocrite, by railing against those being offended by his sick jokes while suggesting that political correctness was a good thing.

However, Ballard managed to come off as completely reasonable by not tackling political correctness and privilege as black and white, but instead acknowledging that he does not have the answers, that these issues were complicated grey areas, and that his own thought process has evolved over time.

Many of the jokes were about jokes. Ballard made some incredibly dark and immoral quips, including admitting to laughing about a lady in a wheelchair being hurt – and it being funnier because she was disabled in a wheelchair.

Ballard’s willingness to at least acknowledge that there are different points of view was welcome. He spoke about his time on First Contact, where white Australians were taken to Aboriginal communities to provoke change in their viewpoints on the Indigenous population. Ballard took constant aim at former politician David Oldfield, who was also on First Contact and was the co-founder of Pauline Hansen’s One Nation party. Oldfield and Hansen, are definitely “not racist”, Ballard joked.

The stand-up almost turned into a personal attack at Oldfield for being a racist, about not being able to get along with him and for him to be rather PC about bad language despite Oldfield being one of the last of the “politically incorrect”. Ballard concluded in the end that Oldfield was not a bad guy; he was a man who loved his family, but still a bit racist. Oldfield had the belief that even though Tom felt empathy for the Indigenous communities it was just emotion that he would move on from and in the end he would do nothing to help out the First Australians.

Tom Ballard’s Problematic was a fun night at the Town Hall, addressing some pressing relevant issues in this country. Those not looking for political humour may want to try another comedian, but I enjoyed Ballard’s stand-up, both when he was politically correct and politically incorrect.

Words by Stefan Bradley.

Tom Ballard’s Problematic runs until April 23rd as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Follow Tom Ballard on Twitter.