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April 16, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Scott Abbot: Not Angry, Just Disappointed (review)


Published 15/4/11 at Crikey.com.au  

I’m convinced all comedians must be at least mildly insane. Their job involves an incredible amount of risk, a very thick skin and an inordinate amount of bravado to allow them to get up onstage, generally alone, and try to make a room full of strangers laugh. Throw in a rubbish venue and a tough audience, and my empathy-meter tends to shoot through the roof for the crazy bastards who give it a go.

But this doesn’t prevent some shows from having a bad night or a bad run in general, and I can only review what I saw on the night. On this particular night, as soon as Abbot’s show began, it was like being stuck at a mate’s backyard barbecue with a slightly tipsy person you’ve never met, who has just decided to launch into a polemic on how crap Australian politicians are. And for 50 excruciating minutes, there’s no escape.

I’ve never felt so consistently belittled and patronised throughout a show; “I’ll explain it for you” becomes one of Abbot’s gratingly familiar refrains. It’s hard to tell whether this happened because of the limitations of the material, which was at times quite specific, or whether it was due to his frustration at the audience’s poor response. But if you have to explain a joke it’s already dead, and trying to convince your audience otherwise just makes it worse. Which Melburnian in an audience of 15, for example, is likely to have read South Australian Minister Cory Bernardi’s blog? Not just be aware of who he is, but actually read his blog? Not surprisingly, no one had.

He also has difficulty delivering structured jokes, a suspicion that was confirmed when he proved perfectly capable of executing off-the-cuff asides, generating more laughs than his pre-written material. I understand that Abbot had a tough crowd, but there’s only so much you can expect from a small group regardless of their mood or knowledge of politics. Abbot seemed to expect that his audience would laugh above and beyond the call of duty, even when the jokes were not jokes and he used references beyond what the average everyday audience can be expected to grasp.

Apparently, he had to stoop to ‘low-brow comedy’ to make us laugh. But the ‘high-brow’ material he used wasn’t funny; the punch line simply wasn’t good enough to provoke a laugh, even when the audience understood the reference. But that’s a moot point – it felt as though if the audience didn’t find the joke funny, then there was something wrong with the fifteen of us and not with the punch line. Abbot even told his audience that he kept certain jokes in because he likes them, which suggests he needs to be more attentive to audience feedback and re-work his material.

I’m a review writer who normally insists on covering the various positives and negatives of a show in a review before giving an overall verdict. So it’s a testament to how infuriating this session was that almost my entire review has been nothing but a diatribe. While I appreciate the fact Abbot has the courage to get up on stage and try to make audiences laugh, I couldn’t help but feel short-changed, embarrassed and patronised by his show. In the end I wasn’t angry, just dissapointed.

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