Balding Cherub isn’t only an apt description of Tommy Dassalo, it’s also the name of his 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival Show.
Part of the joy of seeing a Dassalo show is that over the past few years he’s increasingly incorporated his art and animation skills into the show. That’s true in Balding Cherub too, which opens and closes with heartwarming and funny animation sequences.
Another part of the joy in seeing Dassalo perform comes from his skill in sharing personal stories while remaining professional, and professionally funny at that. There’s no dropping of the performance persona to reveal secrets or trauma. Instead, Dassalo is amiable, and he peppers stories from his life with enough throwaway gags and asides that you’re kept giggling until the big punchline hits (and then you laugh harder). There’s a sizeable amount of introspection, but Dassalo is clever and keeps the audience laughing with him, rather than at his experiences.
The question of bravery in sharing mental health stories is raised. Dassalo has a point, and he makes it well; it’s not brave, it just is. And the more TV shows, podcasts and comedy shows there are that discuss experiences with mental ill-health, the better. Including your experiences in a comedy show isn’t an excuse not to be funny though, and Dassalo knows that too. He balances the difficulty of his experience against thoughtful punchlines, introducing levity through humour (and a straight-up reassurance that he’s doing okay now – he doesn’t want your pity laughs, he wants your genuine giggles). Some of the material veers towards edgy, but Dassalo has the skill and the likeability to keep these jokes firmly on the ‘funny’ side of the line.
Unfortunately, the audience chose to literally distance themselves from Dassalo, with the front three rows almost entirely empty, despite a reasonable-sized crowd for a Thursday night. Dassalo did his best to bridge this gap, but with a sedentary audience it wasn’t long before he switched approaches and leveraged the experience into a joke instead. Dassalo’s ability to say ‘fuck it’ and keep going is indicative of the through-line of the whole show.
The show is described as ‘a self-hindrance seminar about how to love yourself in spite (and because) of your many, many flaws.’ Blurb write-ups for the festival are not usually so accurate, and reviewing this show really just feels like an expansion of that summary. So grab a beer, a buddy, and don’t be afraid to sit in the front row for Balding Cherub. You might get picked on, but it’ll definitely be funny.
Balding Cherub is on at 8:20 at the Coopers Inn until 21 April as part of the 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets are available at the venue or via the MICF website.