Australia’s largest cultural festival has got enough comedy to cheer up even the most depressed banker, down-in-the-mouth estate agent or nervous travel journalist
There's a saying in Australia: Sydney's got the looks but Melbourne's got the personality. Aussie comedian Adam Hills summed it up by saying he'd take Sydney as a one night stand and Melbourne as a long-term relationship, and I’m with him on that. Hills, best known in the UK for being a panelist on Mock the Week - and for having a wooden foot - is one of the local funnymen spicing up the Melbourne Comedy Festival, where 1,200 performers converge in April ever year. It’s certainly got enough personality – and personalities – to cheer up this gloomy Brit, fresh from an English winter and a sinking feeling about life, work and the state of her finances.
The pick of the action is in the evening, in venues around the town hall precinct in central Melbourne, though there are comedy workshops during the day too. And this being Melbourne, everybody’s very approachable. I lost count of the number of times that up-and-coming comedians tried to drag me into their shows, serenade me with a banjo or just chat about life in general. It’s all in good spirit – and thankfully it’s not as packed as Edinburgh and a lot more sunny, even though it takes place during Australia’s late autumn.
The festival has become a fixture on the international comedy circuit, so don’t go thinking that it’s going to be unsophisticated Aussie humour about Sheilas, barbies and beer. Stellar attractions last year were British comedian-cum-philosopher Daniel Kitson, kooky US comic Kristen Schaal, better known for her spot as a mad fan on Flight of the Conchords, charming and low-fi Josie Long, and the very rude and very Irish Jason Byrne. And even the Aussie lot are pretty damn polished, if you don’t count the pair with fright wigs who were trying to make me watch their show based entirely on the songs of Def Leppard.
Melbourne has a great buzz about it on a normal day, but in comedy season, it’s even better. Just around the corner from the main venues, the slick and stylish bars pack 'em in – I loved the Hairy Canary, one of the city's institutions on Little Collins Street in the CBD, which has a range of unique offerings, like the juicy Hairy Pear (pear, lime and vodka); as well as trendy tapas bar Movida for dinner. It's bijoux and packed with well-dressed business people and an older, smarter clientele than many of the bars, but don't let that put you off. The food – including red peppers stuffed with crab – is delicious.
If you get a chance to visit the festival, the Festival Club at the Hi-Fi bar and ballroom is seriously recommended. Where else in the world can you pay £20 and see five stand-up comics plus two world-class compères, in a show running from 11pm-2am, followed by an indie disco? Comedy’s not dead, no matter what you might have heard. It’s just gone down under.
For more information
Visit the official website to check out who’s performing in the next comedy festival and to book tickets in advance. Alternatively you can book tickets on the night at the town hall, used as the central booking office.
Where to stay
Stay at Adam Hills’ fave boutique hotel Urban St Kilda
. It’s a short tram right into the city for the festival, and you also get free entry at St Kilda saltwater Sea Baths.
Or for something closer to the centre, The Langham, Melbourne
is under 10 minutes away on the Southbank, in easy reach of the city’s greatest restaurants and with a relaxing spa. .
Austravel offer packages to Melbourne including return flights, hotels, car hire and more.