by Laura Ferguson
Li’i Alaimoana is the MC for the night and he is the present that I would request every year because it’s continuously and enriches my life. Alaimoana’s comedy is like that, consistently brilliant and comforting. It is worth mentioning that Alaimonana is a well-deserved Billy T Award nominee this year and his solid performance reiterates his comedic prowess. He stands on the stage and we begin the night with Alaimoana’s fabulous off-the-cuff crowd work. Although not blessed with a fluidly responsive audience, Alaimoana uses the fits and starts of conversation with ease, ribbing us for our lack of communication, allowing the warm-up of the crowd to be induced in a laissez faire attitude. Alaimoana’s confidence on the stage relaxes us by proximity and the laughter comes easily and heartily. Alaimoana slips into his stand-up material using clever segues from the crowd-work and his conversational tone allows us to relax ever more comfortably into the comedy vibe. I am eager and waiting to see our first performer and see what other presents I might get.
Esther White comes on and announces she is going to recite a Dear Prudence letter. I wiggle in anticipation, and settle in for something I’m sure will be weird and wonderful. In my world of comedy presents, though, this one is from my aunty who asked what I would like but still unfailingly gave me handkerchiefs. White’s format had so much promise! It’s not that I don’t like White’s material, it’s just that it is the Saturday afternoon sitcom version of something that could have been Steven Moffat-esque. White angles toward being awkward, but needs to go deeper, further. I just want more and I believe White has the capacity to do that.
Next up is Aku Dalmia. His comedy presence can be likened to the hilariously dirty gag-gifts my teenaged brother would give me. His material delves in sexual territory with a refreshingly positive attitude, cheeky grins spreading across not only the face of Aku, but of those of us in the audience too. I love his infectiously cheerful stage presence and his anecdotal messages of parental guided sex education. His examples of cluelessness are endearing and kept us laughing throughout his set.
Compared to Dalmia, Anish Deogaonkar’s style reminded me of my older “jock” cousin who never brought a present because he figured his presence alone was enough. His cleverly spins his arrogant nature into a comedic malaise, and I found myself giggling as he expressed circumstances of misfortune his superiority complex affords him, although sometimes this comes off as alienating. Disingenously boasting rather than ingratiatingly funny.
After Anish, the bubbly and bright Janaye Henry bounces onto the stage. She is the sparkly, fur-trimmed trinkets I get because everyone deserves something to brighten up their room. Henry’s comedy is fun and full of hilarious pop-culture references, and she takes the time to occasionally delve into the murky depths of social commentary. She landed these jokes perfectly, and I would love to see an entire set that bases itself on this premise. Henry’s stage presence is so joyously affecting that juxtaposing with the heavier ethnographical throughlines worked incredibly well. She is so funny and engaging with a wilful freedom that made the small stage seem bigger than it actually was, her set going by so quickly and I knew Henry had made an impact.
Isaac Rajan took the stage next. I immediately noticed the punctuated directness of his diction, which sure made every joke come across clearly. He knows how to land his lines with precision so we are laughing in all the right places. Just like the gift my grandmother gives me, along with all of her other grandchildren the exact same, but thoughtful gift, Rajan delivered his material in such a way, that while I was not surprised at any time, I sat, completely immersed in his set.
Intermission comes and goes and my wine is topped up, ready for gulping appreciation at the next barrage of talent. Opening this half is Oliver Scripps. Scripps is laid-back on stage. He is that friend that gifts beer on a hot summer day and titillates you with hilarious yarns about life. His style is friendly and open, laughing at his jokes as we laugh with him. Scripps’ affable, easy nature makes his set feel breezy and light, and the audience enjoyed every bit of it.
Ah, now for Frankie Vallis. Like a best friend who knows exactly the right present every time, she graced the stage luminously. Her material making me laugh in such a multitude of different ways. Vallis has me giggle, chortle, snort, and at one point I elicit a rather alarming nasal braying after being startled by one of Vallis’ supremely brilliant joke turnabouts. Vallis’ set was scrupulously structured, but in a way that felt natural and unrehearsed while remaining polished and clear. Vallis’ callbacks are incredible. She sets us up with a short joke and then diverges into another story unconnected to the previous joke. She then seemingly meanders for a while before making a whipcrack callback joke. I find Vallis surprising, innovative and above all riotously funny.
Our next comedian, Ashleigh Hume, had a Jimmy Carr one-liner-pun quality to her performance. Unfortunately, like my dear grandad giving me a Happy Anniversary card for my birthday, they don’t quite hit the mark. With more confidence in her delivery, I would like to see her perform again in future.
Our last comic is Maor Ben-Shahar. Bursting with wit and an edgy intellectualism, Ben-Shahar uses poignant yet jaunty wordplay to banter with us about an array of social issues, particularly the relevance of tertiary education and immigration. Like an exchange student that gives you a differing perspective on the ways we all celebrate religious holidays, Ben-Shahar’s clipped and precise accent made me think as well as enjoy myself.
The conclusion of the competitors came with a short deliberation from the judges and we happily commended the finalists: Janaye Henry, Isaac Rajan, Oliver Scripps and Frankie Vallis, for making it to the next round.
Heat 2 of the Raw Comedy Quest semi-finals will be held at San Fran Thursday April 20th at 8pm.