Broadcaster, comedian and writer Sami Shah has risked a lot for the sake of free speech. He’s been threatened by ISIS, trolled by the far-right, and hired by the ABC (potentially the biggest threat to one’s free speech of all – public service jobs). In spite, or more likely because of these experiences, Shah continues to be a fierce advocate for free speech, and nuanced, compassionate debate. His 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival show Sacrificing the Goat reflects on the comedian’s experiences, and the superstition of sacrificing a goat for luck.
Shah’s show is thought-provoking. That phrase gets thrown around a lot in comedy reviews, but for Sacrificing the Goat, it’s different. Part of the reason it’s ‘thought-provoking’, aside from all the ideas worth thinking about, is because Shah doesn’t offer many solutions. There’s no neat end to the story, no clear call to action. Instead, Shah lays out the history of key ideas such as ‘free speech’ and ‘political correctness’, alongside his personal encounters with the concepts. Shah is confident and eloquently angry, and he’s unafraid to layer his intellectual opinions with the painful emotions of his experience.
Unfortunately, the jokes aren’t as strong as the ideas. Shah’s show feels more like a really witty key note speech than a comedy festival show. The punchlines are funny, but they’re reasonably straightforward fare and they’re far less interesting than the stories Shah tells. The jokes feel like an afterthought, and a lot of the show has a rawness that’s both a strength and a detriment.
It helps that Shah has a charming stage presence, buoyed by his clear interest in the material of the show. This is clearly his safe space, and the place he is most comfortable as a performer. At one point he quips about how any audience members there to see him based on his ABC Melbourne breakfast host gig might be in for a bit of a shock.
There’s a lot to unpack in Sacrificing the Goat. So take a friend worth talking to, sit back, imagine you’re at the Wheeler Centre, and don’t book a show afterwards – you’re going to want to think about this.
Sacrificing the Goat is on at 7:15pm at the Melbourne Town Hall until 21 April as part of the 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets are available from the MICF website.