The thing about a comedy festival is that there’s a lot of comedy. While there’s a lot of different kinds of comedy – sketch, improv, stand up, musical, mime – every show is pursuing the same goal – to make you laugh. It’s exhausting. It’s relentless. Your throat is sore. Your face hurts. You’re pretty sure you’ve got abs now. You just need something with a little bit more, well, story.
Enter Luke Leonard’s Late Night Storytelling at a Reasonable Hour. A curated hour of comedians, writers and actors telling stories with a focus on narrative rather than humour. Don’t worry though, the show won’t be completely devoid of jokes – the show is still a part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival after all. The show is at 11pm, which might stretch the definition of a reasonable and shift back into just the late night part of Late Night Storytelling at a Reasonable Hour.
I had a chat to Leonard about the show, and asked him why he decided to put a storytelling night on during a comedy festival. ‘There’s comedy nights everywhere’, he explains, noting that he wanted to do something different. The idea originally came about after the other storytelling nights in Melbourne stopped running. ‘They all stopped. I hassled all the people who were running them and they weren’t doing them again. So I was like ‘fuck it’.
The Imperial Hotel is pretty much the perfect venue for this honest but humourous affair. The pub is a clash of cultures – jostling football fans, audiences dining before heading to the Harry Potter play, public servants and local suits having knock-off drinks, and, of course, comedy festival punters. Just like the Impy, Late Night Storytelling has something for everyone. Leonard tries to keep the line up eclectic, with cabaret artists and journalists as well as comedians of all modes. Given that it’s during MICF, and Leonard is himself a stand-up, it’s likely that the line ups will have a fair few comedians on them. Opening night already has Chido ‘The Eth(n)ical Dilemma’ Mwaturura and Aidan ‘Taco’ Jones booked.
Each evenings is themed; ‘home’ is the topic for Friday’s opening show. Leonard likes to pick big themes ‘to be as universal and simultaneously specific as possible’. Home is the first theme ‘because it’s the first thing that makes us human: shelter and belonging’ he says. ‘It’s where society begins and what we call home is defined by story. We found a cave and started telling each other stories in it.’ It helps that Leonard knows that performers Chido and Taco have compelling, interesting stories on the topic of home.
It can be a bit of a scary experience for comedians, Leonard admits. Even though they’re the people ‘willing to jump straight on it’ and agree to a new and exciting format, the temptation to fall back on jokes is strong ‘the danger is that they’re too willing to go for punchlines.’ Leonard explains a bit more: ‘the hard thing with doing this as opposed to stand up is that you don’t get feedback automatically. People are just quiet. It feels like failure, if you’re from a stand up background. But people are fully engaged.’ Leonard is quick to reassure me that it’s still fun, and that there are plenty of gags – but that he wants to get people who are willing to not let the joke deflect from the emotional core of the story. ‘I feel like jokes can sometimes minimise that’, he says. ‘I think when you’re storytelling you’re more willing to share the sad, disappointing moment, rather than just joke about that time you tripped over. I think you’re more willing to share.’
Storytelling has more capacity to get straight to revealing something, a whether it be a big or small truth. Leonard believes that ‘comedy by its nature, especially stand up, is about joking. Joke joke joke, every twenty seconds, you’ve got that rhythm, there’s a beat to it. Storytelling, at its best, could be any rhythm, any speed.’ He pauses, and puts it in musical terms: ‘it could be any genre, it doesn’t have to be pop music, it could be a ballad. So hopefully it’s less uniform throughout the night.’
Late Night Storytelling at a Reasonable Hour is on at 11pm from 29 March to 21 April. Tickets are available via the Melbourne International Comedy Festival website.
Header photo by Matt Hoffman.