30 Years of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Three of the key creative administrators, Susan Provan, Shane Maloney and Tory McBride, discuss the history of Comedy in Melbourne and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) is the third-largest international comedy festival in the world and the largest cultural event in Australia. Established in 1987, it takes place annually in Melbourne over four weeks, typically starting in late March and running through to April. The Melbourne Town Hall has served as the festival hub since the early 1990s, but performances are held in venues throughout the city.
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival plays host to hundreds of local and international artists. Although it is mainly a vehicle for stand up and cabaret acts, the festival has also included sketch shows, plays, improvised theatre, debates, musical shows and art exhibitions.
SHANE MALONEY: John's vision of a comedy festival for Melbourne emerged as he was moving out of the Last Laugh. All the world's a stage for John, and he didn't have that particular stage anymore, so the stage became Melbourne.
REPORTER: Guests at Melbourne's Regency Hotel found the management had cooked up something a little different for breakfast this morning. As well as the large throng of Melbourne media, they had to cope with British funny man, Peter Cook.
-He got off the plane, and John and the welcoming committee said, "We hail you as a living god." And by the time he was back at the hotel, we were in a state of hysterics. I mean, he managed to insult the owner of a five star, the top luxury hotel, within three minutes of walking through the door.
-Good morning, media.
SHANE MALONEY: I think in Australian terms, it was like Neil Armstrong had arrived back from the moon. Standing room only, there must have been 200 journalists in this room.
And I think he just made some derogatory remarks about the festival.
-Welcome to Melbourne's First International Comedy Festival.
SHANE MALONEY: We had the mock trial involving Peter Cook, in which the chief magistrate in Melbourne performed. We found that so enthusiastic was Melbourne at so many levels for the idea of its own innate funniness-- you know, you know, we're a witty bunch. And people happily put their hands up.
Those are the legs that were in my hotel.
-I tend to the legs hotel, your honor. The legs will be exhibit B and C.
TONY MCBRIDE: It gave Melbourne confidence in itself and created such a vibe, really, people just embraced it immediately. It was sort of thinking-- everyone thought, well, yes obviously, this is what Melbourne is.
ALL: (SINGING) Australians, all let us rejoice for we don't know these words.
(SINGING) Bing tong fung wing ping bong wang chung.
-Tra la la gert with nerds.
-Our land something--
-And blah, blah, blah.
-Gold coast. Ma-la-cut-a. And now we're coming to the really grouse bit. Advance Australia fair. We're coming to the really grouse part. Advance Australia fair.
TONY MCBRIDE: The framework for Melbourne's comedy was not the best in Australia. It was the best in the world. And that sort of made the whole vision of what Melbourne comedians were being told to think about, was not, well, after this, I could go to Sydney. It was, after this, I can go to Edinburgh. And maybe I can go to Montreal, and I might go to San Francisco and New York.
-The festival was created, really, to kind of shine a spotlight on what Melbourne had to offer, and on those venues that were existing back then. And they were amazing venues. Melbourne was so far ahead of anywhere else in Australia, really at that point, in terms of those indie venues, and the kind of work that they were presenting.
And it was incredibly innovative, and adventurous, and quite unique. There were amazing performers relative to the size of our population and the size of our city, and the size of our country.
-John's idea was, let the promoters do what they do, let the comedians do what they do. Let's bring the city into it, and turn it into one of those things where-- like in Europe, people climb to the top of a mountain of chairs and fight each other with croquembouches. And that's what happened with the Comedy Festival. There was an immediate sense of ownership. It wasn't an event that you went to. It was a thing that you were in by virtue of living in Melbourne.
-Eyes front. Hut, two, three, four. John, three, six, three. Yes. This is Melbourne, the Baghdad of the South.
-The seed fell on fertile ground, struck root, grew eight feet, and branches sprang out of it before our very eyes.
SUSAN PROVAN: I think the Melbourne Comedy Festival shows Melbourne people that we can put on something huge, and that we can palpably change our city for a month - when you arrive in town, and the Melbourne Comedy Festival's on, you can't not notice it. There are queues of people on the streets. There are banners everywhere. There are cafes and bars full. There's stuff happening.
People find that really exciting. They go into spaces and buildings that otherwise they don't go into. I mean, for example, the Americans who come here cannot believe that we are allowed to turn city hall into comedy venues, where literally, the Lord Mayor is sitting in his office just down the corridor.
People will always go and see the household names and the high profile people, but there's also that special comedy fan who want to be the first to see people. They want to be there at the beginning of someone's career. And it gives people who live here, for people who work on the festivals, for all of, you know, the literally thousands of people who, be they front of house, ushers, or techies, or box office-- working on a big thing in a festival such as this, in the same way I see this happening in Edinburgh, it changes lives. It really-- it creates career paths for people. It creates friendships. It creates artistic collaborations. It makes people better.