Review By Thomas Gregory
Having a gripe about the world is a pretty standard conceit for a comedy show. Whether it is complaining about bad drivers or the state of global politics, comedians use their grievances as sources for their material.
But there are rules.
Unwritten rules, but comedians know them. Very few can get away with breaking them.
For an audience to accept your complaint, one of two things must occur - either the complaint must be something the audience relates to, or the complaint comes from someone we are told not to relate to.
The first option is the more common option. Complaining about long lines, hospital food, and invasive political advertising is a safe bet - most of us have experienced these things, and all of us appreciate how frustrating they can be.
While the second option is less common, it can work just as well. Ricky Gervais, in his show “Science”, laments that a volcano cloud nearly stopped him from doing a show in Dublin. “So I hired a helicopter to and from Dublin,” he says. “Cost me $12,000. Just ’cause I couldn’t bear to let anyone down. Or take the ferry. I think there were extra ones they put on, but… That would have meant mixing with the general public.” Gervais then goes on to call his own audience scum and gets away with it. That is the character he plays.
Two choices: have relatable problems, or be a character that isn’t relatable.
Luke Belle’s “Things That Get My Goat” starts off with a compelling musical number that touches on the struggles of living in a pandemic, creating a show under lockdown, and the earnest desire of every artist to find success. It is a self-effacing song that makes Luke an empathetic character - someone we want to agree with.
The song is bolstered by the fact that Luke is a classically trained singer and quite talented musician. It is easy to like this character, so we expect to appreciate the things that “get their goat”.
Unfortunately, the complaints Luke puts forward are often hard to relate to. Many of us know the pains of hospitality but who among us see inane small talk as a good thing? While the artists among us know what a bad audition experience feels like, few would find humour in insulting community theatre groups, civic centres, or reasonable advice given to us as inexperienced child performers.
Luke is perhaps at their most empathetic when discussing their sensitivity towards their physical features. However, without any humourous approaches to their speech or song, the discussion of self-image problems comes across as depressing, not entertaining. Presumably unintentional, the rest of the performance presents Luke in the opposite light - not a sensitive artist to be pitied, but a bitter singer full of pretentious complaints about others.
For a show limited by being completely performed and produced in the artist’s house, the production value is fair. Luke avoids any sound issues by allowing themselves to lipsync some songs and takes advantage of every room in the house. Using an external wall to replicate the look of nineties stand-up comedians is clever, and space is used to create musical numbers, intimate talks, and even sketches.
Perhaps due to these restrictions in space, however, Luke’s choices of visual alternatives to the stage often feel forced and incongruous with the content expressed. Cleaning the leaves of houseplants for ten minutes is an unusual choice of replacement for sitting on a stage. The play of words between “Bed Talk” and “Ted Talk” does not excuse the lack of connection between the intimate bedroom performance and a talk about emojis.
Luke offers an exaggerated performance to every movement and word, perfectly expressing the style of cabaret we love in the Melbourne Fringe Festival. In some ways, the filming of Luke’s performance lets us better experience their expressiveness. As a performer, Luke knows the audience for cabaret and offers up exactly what we want in both movement and voice.
As a comedy piece, the show missed the mark. As a performance by a larger-than-life character with an incredible voice, however, “Things That Get My Goat” can be a fun distraction to watch with a bottle of white and a block of chocolate.
“Things That Get My Goat” is an on-demand performance for The Melbourne Fringe Festival and can be viewed until the 17th of October.