Tom Ballard & Acquaintances at the Oxford Art Factory

Waiting for Tom Ballard Et. Al.

My friend James has a theory that today’s crop of young Gay comedians would have been drag queens if they’d been around 20 years earlier. Because that’s what you often did as a young Gay person who desperately needed attention and wanted to be in some kind of show business scenario.

But today, apparently you become an “edgy Gay comic.” Although most of them are neither edgy nor good representations of Gays.

Anyway, the reason I contemplate James’ opinion here is that I am rapidly beginning to worry about the fact that Tom Ballard has chosen the wrong career. I’ve seen him ‘live’ twice now and have come to the awful realisation that he just isn’t funny. As a stand up comic’, he’s a great radio presenter.

Which is probably not a nice thing to say but I wonder if Tom would have been a drag queen had he been born 20 years earlier? He’s very dismissive of drag and of Gay venues generally…as a lot of these “edgy Gay comics” seem to be…but who knows? He’s certainly got the height for it.

James got us tickets to see “Tom Ballard & Acquaintances” at the Oxford Art Factory last night. He wrote a story about it here. It was a bit of smorgasbord of young-ish comedians who, apparently, are friends of Tom Ballard. Plus one absolutely stunning singer.

Tom BallardYou really want Tom Ballard to be funny because you like him so much. You may not agree with some of his attitudes but, as a bloke (for want of a better word), you really like him. And you want him to be successful in his chosen profession. A couple of the other “edgy Gay comics” like Josh Thomas and Rhys Nicholson come across as self-centred wankers…but not Tom. He’s the nice guy everyone loves to like. He’s incredibly personable.

When he made a couple of particularly distasteful and offensive comments about ANZACs that went down like a bowl of cancer with the audience, I just thought “”maaaate, you’re no good at this stuff. stick with TripleJ radio.” Part of me also thought “hey, I should really send this to The Australian and to ABC radio management” too. Because he just doesn’t get it. Time and time again we’ve seen that comments on Twitter, Facebook etc. can destroy a performer’s career in an instant. When you’re 20 years old and you’re looking to have a lifetime career in the public spotlight, you need to know where the line is. There were a series of offensive tweets that Tom retweeted around ANZAC Day earlier this year that I thought perhaps were “one-off” mistakes. But obviously not.

When you combine this with the fact that his comedy material isn’t….well, to be perfectly honest, it just isn’t funny 90% of the time. The audience last night was eager to please but Tom’s material fell flat on its face most of the time.

My conclusion is that Tom should stick to being a radio presenter, a TV host, an occasional newspaper article writer…and maybe a comedy entrepreneur. It was his idea for the gig last night and you could tell he was the driving force behind bringing the night together. Maybe that’s what he should do more of? As long as he doesn’t continue as a stand up comic because he’s really bad at it unfortunately.

The one area – or one part of his stand up bit – I was really impressed with was how he handled his break-up with fellow comedian, Josh “I hate being Gay” Thomas. Josh’s show “Surprise Surprise” was like a one-hour self indulgent wankfest, more of a therapy session really – “poor me!”- where Tom was treated as like a punchline to a joke, rather than an ex-lover. Call me old fashioned but I was really offended by that. Josh revealed that Tom had cried extensively when he broke up with him and I started to tear up during the show. I felt awful for Tom at that point – for what happened and also for the fact that Josh felt the need to use it as a joke in a comedy show. On Thursday night, however, Tom knocked the whole subject on the head with a few cutting and very witty one-liners and observations. He showed absolute class in this. He didn’t stick the knife into Josh or reveal anything inappropriately personal about Josh – he didn’t need to. I wanted to give Tom a standing ovation at that point. The guy is a better human being than Josh Thomas could ever hope to be.

Amelia Jane HunterThe rest of the acts on the night were a mixed bag. There were some real revelations – female comic Amelia Jane Hunter was the highlight of the night. She was absolutely hilarious talking about her alcohol problems and attending a wedding drunk and wetting herself. Amelia made the night all by herself. In fact, I would pay to see her in a show just by herself. She was that good.

Elana Stone is a singer who just sings and plays the keyboards. I thought “uh oh, a singer in Elana Stonea comedy show…boring”!”But how wrong I was – by the middle of the first song I was hooked. And by the middle of the second song I thought “I’d buy this if it was on CD.” Elana sings beautiful, melodic almost haunting songs. She has a wonderful voice and a kind of young “Nana Mouskouri” look on stage. It’s the glasses she wears I think. But anyway, she was brilliant. I’m wondering if she will release an album. Her music on CD, produced properly with a full band, would be amazing.

Matt OkineMatt Okine was another highlight. Making fun of the expectations girls have of his penis size because of his colour. He was really funny and likeable – a great combo.

Daniel Townes was also good, bringing a bit of an international perspective with his humour. He’s extensively travelled and is wonderful at putting the boot into Australia’s sometimes xenophobic and insular attitudes.Daniel Townes

Eric Hutton was also fun…James described him as having an intense style.

In fact, tEric Huttonhe only two guests that weren’t that good were Michael Hing and Dave Jory. Michael is an up & coming comic who I suspect will get better with more experience. Dave Jory…well, he seemed like a nice guy but he just wasn’t funny. Maybe his material works better in the outer suburbs or at more blokey RSL clubs?

Rhys Nicholson…or Rhys Witherspoon as I kept accidentally referring to him as last night (WTF!)…what can I say about Rhys? I can’t separate the person from the performer in Rhys’ case so it makes me biased. I think, as a person, Rhys is on the highway to hell and it wouldn’t surprise me if, in years to come, he was found dead in a hotel room, alone, from an overdose of something. He just seems like such a car crash as a person. And a nasty piece of work too. So anyway, that’s where I’m coming from when talking about Rhys.Rhys Nicholson

But his comedy? Well, a lot of it was repeated from before which was disappointing. You knew the punchlines well ahead of time. But there was some new stuff and it was bloody funny. I laughed a lot at the new stuff. I guess if he wasn’t such a c*nt as a person, I’d probably be a big fan.

One thing that struck me overall about “Tom Ballard & Acquaintances” was that the performers weren’t very good at handling audience hecklers. I would have thought that would be a prerequisite for stand up comedians. James wrote on his website about Kelly & Belinda who caused a lot of problems at the beginning of the evening…Belinda more than Kelly really. But Tom just couldn’t deal with it. He tried in a really lame way but Belinda wasn’t having any of it. I wondered if that was a feature amongst Gen-Y comics – that they’re unable to handle the kind of heckling that older stand-up comedians the world over could handle without raising a sweat. Tom looked incredibly nervous and uncomfortable during the K & B episode. I felt sorry for him but wondered why he hadn’t perfected a “bit” to nip these kinds of “audience reactions” in the bud?

Kelly & Belinda were sitting at our table. It was a small venue and you can’t be too precious about who sits with you in these circumstances. And they looked pretty harmless at the beginning. But, as James describes, they turned into a nightmare. Normally I would be the one to rip off their heads and shit down their necks…but I just sat there quietly hoping they would “get the flash” that their talking and interrupting was going down like a lead balloon. James – Mr. Placid, Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Doesn’t Do Aggression…you know James…well, he TURNED. And I mean T U R N E D! He told them to shut the fuck up and then later gave them a look and a comment that was so pure anger that it frightened me for a second. I’d never seen James like this. I thought he was gonna lose it. In hindsight, it was actually really fun to watch. Who the hell would interject or interrupt a show that James was at? Not me! Thank god he wasn’t carrying a gun! 😉

Overall it was a pretty good show…more hits than misses. I think they’d comped it out a bit, it certainly wasn’t packed but it definitely is an idea that I think Tom should pursue (as promoter and host). It could build quite a good following over time. Particularly with Tom’s high public profile as TripleJ breakfast presenter.

The Oxford Art Factory is a funny little venue. I couldn’t help thinking “this is where I used to spend a significant portion of my salary on import CDs when it was Central Station Records.” The layout for the evening, with tables & chairs, benches and even sofas was good. Bar service was slow but not appallingly so. I’m glad I went and thanks to James for the ticket.

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