Review by Thomas Gregory
Every social circle has that one person who “is funny”. They were the class clown at school and would be the ones wearing a traffic cone on their head when drunk. For them, Monty Python was at its funniest when doing skits about exploding gluttons instead of Marxist footballers. We’d think they were hilarious but would never think they would actually become a comedian.
Well, Max Paton became a comedian. He’s also had some success doing it, with over half a dozen credits to his name as a writer, director, and performer. He has a degree in theatre and philosophy and is beloved by his fans. Undoubtedly, Max Paton is one of the most energetic performers on stage.
So why don’t I find him funny?
“Big Funny”, Paton’s offering for the MICF, was delayed due to COVID. It finally has its opening at the Motley Bauhaus, and the audience is excited. The stage is littered with props and costumes. Paton’s opening number quickly gets everyone on the side and there’s a feeling of optimism in the air. This could be an amazing show.
Paton is an ambitious performer. With several costume changes, multiple skits that rely on timing himself against pre-recorded tracks, liquid-based stunts, and bits that rely almost entirely on the good intentions of his audience, Max shoots for the stars. His homemade duck costume is impressive, he doesn’t try to cram too many skits into one show, and he has a solid understanding of story structure.
Paton has obviously read, if not written, the book on call-backs, and how it helps to have some sort of throughline. He’s made the show accessible by keeping the humour apolitical and, apart from a little profanity, his show is more than acceptable for early teens.
So why can’t I praise his work?
Maybe it is the lack of actual jokes. Yes, the fact some ducks have corkscrew penises is weird, and seeing such things in cartoon form was in fact funny, a skit cannot rely on a costume alone. Likewise, a skit about an incompetent magician doesn’t work if they only attempt one trick over and over and over again.
Or maybe it is that the person laughing the most was Max Paton?
Don’t get me wrong, most audience members were laughing. Some were having the time of their lives. But even they couldn’t compete with the silly grins and chuckles by the performer himself. Some of Paton’s stories required a tiny amount of acting: sad, scared, or maybe angry even. All we ever received was laughter.
The word “deadpan” simply isn’t in Paton’s vocabulary.
“Big Funny” presents itself as a complex show. In one hour it has dozens of lighting cues, sound cues, and costume changes. It has hundreds of props and would be frustrating to clean up afterwards. But complexity doesn’t necessarily make a show entertaining. Entertainment comes from strong story-telling, performed well, with humour that surprises and challenges us.
“Big Funny” is enthusiastic, energetic, and courageous. The audience members attending seemed to have the time of their lives laughing along with Max Paton as he behaved like a drunken child raiding a community theatre’s costume department.
It has colour, energy, wild ideas, and a performer who really believed in themself. The only thing missing from this comedy festival show was the jokes.