Review by Thomas Gregory
If you could somehow squeeze by the thousands who lined up to watch Hard Quiz last night, you could find yourself in the small back room of the Town Hall, where there were more comedians per square metre than any other show in the festival. They weren’t performing, mind you. They had come to see Floyd Alexander-Hunt’s new show, Highly Strung.
Alexander-Hunt is the comedian's comedian, with a resume to prove it. She has the requisite law degree (and NSW Golden Gavel), plays the Festival Roadshow, and has even performed with the prestigious Second City improv troupe. With over a decade of writing and performing behind her belt, it is truly a wonder why she isn’t a household name.
Of course, audiences don’t care about your resume, and Alexander-Hunt herself admits to lying on hers. Fortunately, there is only one criterion of any worth by which all comedians are judged. It is a democratic criterion unaffected by degrees, experience, or awards.
That is: do they make us laugh?
I’ve seen shows that use multimedia, performances with instruments, and too many stand-up pieces that involve a take on the female orgasm. Mental illness, family, hell even COVID, are all low-hanging fruit that can turn into cliched sets. If I was asked to describe the contents of Highly Strung without giving away any jokes, you could expect from my answer that the performance doesn’t have anything new to offer.
And you couldn’t be any further from the truth.
Floyd Alexander-Hunt is a master of narrative. In a tight sixty-minute set, Floyd takes us through the four types of love she has experienced in life. From that doomed-to-fail first love that she didn't quite get over, to loving a man despite his snoring, Floyd tells a story that is relatable and, more importantly, hilarious. Floyd enhances her stories with video clips, pictures, and even text messages presented on a large television screen. These aren’t gimmicks, or a crutch to fall back on. Rather, they are spices that turn a meat-and-three-veg plate into a gourmet dinner.
Floyd is also a violinist. In fact, many people may only know her as “the comedian with the violin.” It is true that it sets her apart from others and offers another element to her television presentations. However, unlike the guitar playing musician-comedians who are only offering instrumental backing to jokes, Floyd’s playing is often where the jokes themselves lie. At times the music foreshadows an upcoming joke, at others, it sets the tone for how the audience should respond to what they see. There’s a temptation to regret that there wasn’t more instrumental comedy in the show - but if it meant that any other part would be removed, I would be devastated.
Floyd Alexander-Hunt couldn’t be described as overly confident, nor terrible self-deprecating. Instead, she paints of picture of a person who is self-assured. She knows her flaws as a person as well as her strengths. She doesn’t expect your forgiveness or your pity, only your laughter. While Floyd touches on political topics like COVID and welfare and isn’t afraid to speak her mind about them, she isn’t here to proselytise.
Highly Strung is certainly for adults, but doesn’t rely on crude or “edgy” humour. It doesn’t need to rely on gimmicks or try to push any boundaries. Love is absurd and, if you are a good comedian, shining a torch on that very fact is all you need to have the audience in stitches for the entire night.
It is true that Alexander-Hunt’s show might not be for everyone. Her reliance on audience response in such a small room doesn’t always pay off, and perhaps sometimes one could catch a glimpse of her checking to see if we liked a particular visual gag. That is, however, only the sort of flaws you could see if you were a hyper-pedantic reviewer catching their breath between laughs. If she had swapped venues with Tom Gleeson, even I wouldn’t have noticed.
There is only one thing you need to know before deciding to go and see a comedian. Will they make you laugh? A live taping of a predictable show you could be watching in the comfort of your loungeroom might be a lark, sure. But if you want sixty minutes of something new, exciting, and absolutely hilarious, book tickets to Floyd Alexander-Hunt while you still can. That is, unless the other performers haven’t bought them all already.