In recent years, Sydney Comedy Festival has proven a testing ground for some of USyd’s finest comedic minds. This year, pay attention to Maddie HW (Jordan McClelland Trophy for Best USyd Newcomer, 2015) and Reuban Ward (Manning Theatresports Champion, 2014) who have combined as Chief Beef, a sketch duo far more interesting than this opening paragraph. Like a fancy slider at an Inner West gastropub, Chief Beef are all meat and no fat (except, crucially, cheaper to see than aforementioned slider).
The show’s energy never lapses from its initial blistering pace and the transitions are so quick as to rarely even require a musical cue. So often at shows like this, the audience energy drops during long, dark reshuffles on stage, so it’s refreshing to see so little downtime. A two-part sketch, showing the stand-up routines of a Corporate Mum and a New Age Dad, leading into a climactic domestic on stage deserves praise as something that worked both in its disparate parts and together.
Special attention must be paid to the tightness of their music and lighting cues. So often, shows at this level are (understandably and charmingly) rough with the cues, but Chief Beef operate with laser sharp precision, opening up new avenues for comedy. The highlight of the show—apparently conceived of at the last minute—was a sketch about an armour-clad knight encountering a jewelry-encrusted wizard, where each performer’s movement was accompanied by sound effects of clanging footsteps, unsheathing swords, and creaking doors. They are also aware of the way sound can be used to accentuate pauses and moments on stage, as in the repetition of a dating show theme song while both performers mock freeze frame on stage.
In many ways, the duo seem to inherit some of their style from Aunty Donna, and while their energy is never lapsing, there are occasional sketches that don’t find an ending, creating a lull into the next sketch. These are, however, absolute exceptions to the rule—and by and large, the pair manage to seamlessly shift between ideas to compound each laugh into the next joke.
On the whole, Chief Beef sated my endless hunger for laughs while also—perhaps betraying my misunderstanding of the word ‘sated’—leaving me wanting more. They are likely to reappear either at Fringe, Big Comedy at Little Hermann’s, or elsewhere on our local stages, and you would do well to seek them out. Check out the event here.