Review By Lisa Lanzi
I was able to visit yet another tucked away spot, out of the more frantic Fringe mêlée, boasting a groovy, intimate space upstairs at The Howling Owl and much hilarity with Joanna Prendergast masquerading as Jo Ghastly. The comic delivers her ‘personal development seminar’ to educate the masses on how to scale up your ‘cool-o-meter’ while bonding with your children. Hashtag #relatable.
By day Prendergast is a psychiatrist, author and film producer - and mum of two. Rather than simply delivering a typical stand-up routine, it is possibly this unique combination of roles that elevates her comedy to the realm of intelligent, appealing comic theatre. Inhabiting the Jo Ghastly persona, Prendergast greets the audience prior to entering the space and prepares us for the ‘presentation’ we will experience from the self-proclaimed ‘internationally renowned motivational speaker’. Ghastly promises stages of coolness improvement, depending of course on how much you ‘invest’ in her courses (and merch) and asserts that empty seats mean success as her ‘scientifically-proven method’ has been triumphantly relayed to so many, she can now eschew the huge arena venues. After some stellar celebrity endorsements cited in the pre-show slides - Obama, Beyoncé, Mike Posner - Ms Ghastly wades in with advice to tell us ‘where our parenting is going wrong… tragically’.
A rich variety of storylines in this show (with accompanying, amusing visuals) allow for moments of excellent physical comedy and some entertaining, non-threatening audience involvement. The way the performer weaves facts, fun, and absurdity throughout is pure, engaging storytelling. We were taken through various ‘tests’ on emoji translation, interpretation guide to the male teenage grunt vocabulary, and given sage advice on how to be a social media-aware parent-slash-stalker.
Prendergast won Best Solo Show and Audience Favourite at the Nelson Fringe (New Zealand) in 2020 with The Cool Mum, and it is easy to see why. Her style is wry and laid back but alert to some entertaining moments where audience members might be called out. Unlike some comedians, this is well-meant and easily received ribbing rather than shameful humiliation. Prendergast is also adept throughout at communicating with and gaining good responses from her audience, another big tick in my book.
As well as the series of slide show images throughout where it seems Prendergast’s own children make an appearance, there are some amusing video segments. A TikTok video of our dancing heroine leads us into some entertaining analyses of that and other social media culture. Yet another is a filmed glimpse of the teenager ‘in the wild’ which had the audience in stitches as Attenborough-esque descriptions ensued.
Whether or not you have children, there is much to relate to in Prendergast’s thoughtful, well-paced, sharply observed comedy grist and the mixed age group audience was totally on board. There are four more opportunities to catch The Cool Mum and I definitely recommend that you do.