Review: Ethos – Alice Fraser

3 years ago
Til Knowles

Imagine an Artificial Intelligence: a brilliant but naïve mind, newly created. Now imagine that machine-mind is left to learn about our world by watching a comedy show.

That comedy show is performed by Alice Fraser, and it, like her newly built AI, is called Ethos. Known for her ambitious, intellectually-rich and downright hilarious style, Fraser is challenging herself and audiences with the question of what it means to be human.

Performing once again on the second floor of the Chinese Museum, Fraser draws on centuries of stories about creation, from Frankenstein to the golems of Prague to discuss humanity’s echoes of itself. Fraser’s is an earnest, intense stage presence, but she’s able to switch gears between heavy thinking and rapid joke delivery with the flash of a wicked smile, tying the two together in a way that underscores just how much of the latter can be found in the former. The jokes take a myriad of forms, from observations to the occasional pun via a handful of narrative pieces from Fraser’s own life, Ethos is thematically tight but loosely performed, as Fraser is surprisingly laid back on stage.

Fraser is hyper-intelligent and erudite, and so is her comedy. There are a few points where she does have to pause to explain the premise or punchline of a particular joke. This is where Ethos as a narrative device comes in handy, allowing Fraser to break for discussion without interfering too much with the show’s rhythm. As Fraser lampshades a few times, the Ethos device is ambitious, but for most of the show it works, landing some potentially awkward punchlines and providing a frame for Fraser to explore the theme of what it means to be human through the utterly human form of comedy. There’s also a somewhat unexpected musical interlude.

Ethos is thought-provokingly funny. Take your smartest mates because you’re gonna want to grab a drink and debate the idea of what it means to be human afterwards.


Ethos is on at the Chinese Museum at 7:15pm until 22 April as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets, show details and accessibility information are available via the MICF website.

Fraser is also performing a marathon 3 hour trilogy of her shows Savage, the Resistance and Empire at the Melbourne Town Hall on Saturday 21 April. For more information head to the MICF website.

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