Review: Suren Jayemanne at the Sydney Comedy Festival

Review by Kiran Gupta


I don’t watch a lot of comedy. I watch clips on YouTube here and there, but I can’t say I’ve ever watched a full stand-up show. And looking around the room today at Suren Jayemanne’s show, I was not your typical viewer. For one, I was about 10-20 years younger than most of the audience. Let’s just say I wasn’t like the other members of the crowd.


In that sense, I felt for Jayemanne. You truly have a mountain to climb when your reviewer does not necessarily align with the target demographic for your show. Given this, it is a testament to Jayemanne’s quality as a comedian that I came away from the show laughing as much as everyone else in the audience (which was quite a lot) after a very well-balanced and entertaining show.


The show definitely started slowly. It seemed as though maybe Jayemanne was a little nervous when he started out, as he quizzed the audience and repeated a few jokes. However, once he found the rhythm of the show, the jokes began to roll much more freely. From the classic jokes about being the brown man in airport security (which I had seen on YouTube before the show) to his musings on meditation, the show certainly covered some varied ground.


It brings me onto an interesting point. Jayemanne was very careful to diversify his content throughout the show. He said that he wanted to avoid being conveyed as a ‘race comic.’ It’s a valid concern but I don’t think he even came close to this being a concern. Part of the art of the comic is to use their own lived experience in order to contextualise the broader human experience in an amusing way. I think that Jayemanne struck this balance well. He certainly didn’t labour his points about race, but he didn’t shy away from them either. If anything, I thought he had scope to hit even harder but, even as is, I think he got the balance right.


The fear of being labelled a ‘race comic’ in the first place is a very interesting conundrum. British comedian Romesh Ranganathan noted that most ‘non-white’ comedians face this issue. Talk about race too much, and they talk too much and are just unfunny, much in the same way that female comedians are vilified for talking about periods and relationships. It’s a fine balance that comedians unfortunately have to face. But Ranganathan says, “If you can make all of my life experiences the same as a white guy’s, and you can stop me experiencing racism, which I do all the time, then I’ll stop talking about race.”


For Jayemanne, I think this hits the nail on the head. He is clearly at his best when he is talking about things that are close to him. Whilst the diversity of his content was impressive, it’s comforting to know that he did not shy away from the big issues.


Audience interaction was also a plus as was spontaneity with a few hilarious digs at Daniel Sloss, who was headlining the festival in the Enmore Theatre down below. Oh, and a note on the venue, it was savaged throughout the show and deservedly so. It was intimate but bordering on claustrophobic. A shame given Jayemanne’s talent although he made use of it well, turning the venue itself into a part of his routine.


It was clear from the show that Jayemanne is an extremely talented comedian with a particular talent for spontaneity and audience interaction. Given the brilliance of the last half of the show, I hope that he continues to play on the big stages so that the rhythm of the show continues to be maintained throughout. But overall, it was an excellent show and I’m glad I got the chance to watch Jayemanne in action.

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