The Enmore Laneway is a trying venue. You’re ushered into the space via a brief maze of stairways and side passages. You literally walk through Stephen K. Amos’ set. Twice. A man who looks like he will mug you stands beneath an inner-city-bathroom-blue light. The space is about as big as a cargo container.
Bish Marzook is an endearing lamb to the slaughter and a charming, earnest support act. Her personal anecdotes and political musings not only overcome much of the trepidation presented by the space, but set the tone nicely for James Colley’s blend of personal and political that follows.
If you follow A Rational Fear, chances are you’ll feel vaguely as if you’ve come across Colley’s stand up material before. Miranda Divine says hideous, stupid things. Andrew Bolt says hideous, stupid things. Chris Kenny is a hideous, stupid thing. There are pats on the back and Radio National laughs all round for the Newtown Greenies.
Colley is candid about his work with A Rational Fear, but the brand of political comment on offer here is better suited to tightly scripted, digital content. A lot of the bits in Still Evolving feel like B-side Fear material, and whereas those rehearsed punchlines work well in sketch videos, a couple of Colley’s live punchlines are delivered too knowingly. And for the first part of the show, many of the biggest laughs come from the curation of the idiocy of others, rather than entirely original jokes.
That said, his improvised asides are sharp and fresh and it’s a joy to watch as he becomes caricatures of the defenders of the political right, or members of the Cityrail board, or shrill conservative laypeople. The intentionally hammy and the entirely off the cuff moments are really very good, but the diatribe in the main isn’t unique.
Then it comes to Western Sydney.
In a routine ostensibly about political satire and self-definition, it’s apt that Colley’s material is most compelling when it deals with both. When Western Sydney comes to the fore middling punchlines are abandoned in favour of a beautiful and original and tremendously entertaining criticism of big smoke attitudes to the working west. Like a Shakespearean fool in a Panthers jersey, Colley makes you realise he can be the most insightful man in the room even though he’s from Penrith.
And then the mugger you walked past, and the light that stops you injecting, and the Laneway are all apt. Contrivance falls away and the audience is left with a lovely, intelligent man telling an important, honest story to too-few people in the biggest box he can find. There are fewer laughs but that is very okay, because for the first time, you realise that you might wield a less nuanced appreciation of humanity than that of the average horoscope writer. Unlike the jibes at Devine’s appropriation of ‘gay’, or slights about Andrew Bolt’s racism, Colley here is clearly personally invested. He tells such a good story that you are, too.
This part of the show on its own makes Still Evolving worth seeing.
It’s a shame that this content doesn’t run for longer. There’s plenty of material for those in search of funny-enough, sarcastic vitriol that characterises liberal comedians, but I hope to see Colley delve deeper into the fresh, lucid, and lonesome west. Going off the conclusion of Still Evolving, it looks like he will.