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Review: Sydney Comedy Festival Gala

More hits than misses on a Randy night at the State Theatre.

Monday nights aren’t always known for being the easiest environments to liven up a crowd at a comedy gig. But when the act steering the ship was a sweary, cabaret-singing self-aware purple puppet called Randy Feltface, we were in safe hands from the start. 

The Sydney Comedy Festival Gala was held in the State Theatre on Monday the 19th of April to kick-off the start of the festival and show Sydneysiders that mass indoor gatherings are back with a bang. 

You could argue that a venue as ornate and steeped in history as the State Theatre shouldn’t have its mystique shattered so often by the use of “fuck,” at least seven times as Randy joked in his opening monologue, but there is no greater juxtaposition of old-world theatre and the appetite for live comedy than swearing at people in the “Royal Mezzanine Lounge.”

Galas can sometimes be tricky for an audience to build a rhythm as the comedians are forced to find their best five minutes and then leave you wanting more. However, on this night the acts were tight and punchy and allowed the audience to really enjoy the five minutes without being too disappointed that we were quickly being moved on.

Inevitably, not every act was a complete hit. Schapelle, Schapelle performed a number from their musical, showing at the now-desolate Manning Bar, that while high on volume and repetition, was noticeably low on laughs. 

A highlight of the night though came from a source more familiar to our parents than most students. Jimeoin closed the show with songs that left the crowd rolling in the aisles. A song where the only words are “Balls deep” in a thick Irish accent sounds juvenile, and possibly is, but the set-up was so immaculate that old and young alike couldn’t help but lose control.

While COVID and its impact did loom large over a lot of the material throughout the night, very few acts chose to use political responses to the pandemic as fodder for their material. One exception was UK comedian Carl Donnelly who drank at the UK’s favourite comedic well, Boris Johnson. That’s not to say his material wasn’t enjoyed. Trust Australians to get a great kick out of listening to how Britain had to “officially cancel Christmas.”

But the undoubted star of the night was Randy, who kept popping up like your worst, but funniest, friend to say things that would get anybody who wasn’t a purple puppet punched in the head. From comparing the spleen to nightclub bouncers (“you don’t really need it, nobody likes it, but if you don’t have it someone’s getting their dick out on the dancefloor”) to his constant torment of his helpers Ben and Tom, Randy was always there to remind you of why live comedy is still the greatest form of entertainment.

Being able to say that physical comedy at its best is performed by a waist-up purple puppet confined to the limits of his two metre by two metre box, is one of those observations that you can only make at a live gig. And I for one am glad that this is how the festival chose to herald the return of big-name live comedy in Sydney.