Brave, brutal and frankly brilliant comedy

By Bradley Storer

Using the contentious and polarizing issue of refugees and immigration as the subject of a comedy show is not immediately the most appealing idea. Luckily Tom Ballard, an award-winning and accomplished young comedian, has proven adept in previous shows at finding the intersections between the personal and the political, and the humour contained within. Here he uses his comedic skill to examine Australia’s approach to refugees, the oft-maligned ‘boat people’ who have informed political policy for decades.

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This ‘comedy-lecture’, as Ballard terms it, leans more towards comedy at the beginning, as Ballard eases his audience in with some self-deprecating jabs and some well-executed audience participation. The ‘lecture’ comes in a self-contained section where Ballard manages at hilariously break-neck (and minutely timed, courtesy of an audience member’s stopwatch app) speed to summarise Australia’s immigration policies throughout the entire 20th century with some brutally funny jabs at those in power during these eras.

The danger of a show such as this is the possibility of only preaching to the converted (since those attending a young gay comedian’s show are not necessarily likely to be politically conservatives) or indulging in self-righteous anger and finger-pointing that does little to engage the audience. While Ballard is clear and precise about where the origins of our deplorable policies towards refugees come from, he, under the direction of Scott Edgar, uses various devices and clever writing to draw the audience into an open discussion and to understand the people behind the de-humanizing names: ‘boat people’, ‘illegals’ and ‘cue-jumpers’.

The sentiment that comes across is not ‘we are terrible people’, but rather ‘we are good people, so how are we letting this happen?’ After keeping the audience laughing uproariously through the rest of the show, Ballard concludes with an incredibly emotional finale that emphasizes the common humanity shared by all of us that connects us regardless of race, religion or country of origin. There are no laughs, but this moment of seriousness feels rightly earned by Ballard, and if the tears and riotous applause following are anything to go by, the audience agrees. Arguably the best show Ballard has ever presented, and quite possibly one of the strongest shows for the entire festival.

Date: 26th March – 17th April, 11 shows

Venue: Mon – Melbourne Town Hall, Saturday and Sunday – Trades Hall

Times: Monday 8:15pm, Saturday 26th March/2nd April/ 16th April 5:15pm, Sat 9th April 5:45, Sun 4:15pm

Price: Full $27.50, Concession $22, Preview $22

Bookings: www.ticketmaster.com.au, at the door, 1300 660 013