Comparing Sydney and Melbourne can become an obsession. Particularly in Melbourne, which – let’s face it – usually comes off second best.
But in the area of comedy festivals, comparison favours our numerically disadvantaged neighbour. Melbourne’s is one of the world’s big three, alongside Edinburgh and Montreal, and it’s not surprising three cold and dreary cities can pack audiences into warm spaces where there are funny people to cheer them up.
Melbourne’s festival, which continues until Saturday, is remarkable in its scale and diversity. It must be the biggest arts event in the country. The festival centres on the grand old Melbourne Town Hall, but the venues range from huge theatres to broom closets. And there are hundreds of shows around the city, ranging from superstars such as Ross Noble to desperately untalented uni students performing in tiny storerooms in back alleys. (The latter I’m not so jealous of.)
The Sydney scene has grown in recent years and, bizarrely, we have spawned two smaller, simultaneous comedy festivals.
There’s the Big Laugh (which began at the Parramatta Riverside Theatres and has expanded east to the Seymour Centre) and the Cracker Festival based at the Enmore Theatre. They’ve had some successes – the Big Laugh’s Goodies show was a blockbuster – but neither has approached Melbourne’s level of popularity.
It’s a shame, because Sydney audiences are missing out. Live comedy is fantastic entertainment and Sydney’s home-grown performers are generally forced to earn their stripes down south because of a lack of opportunities.
Take Nick Sun. He’s won awards in Melbourne and Edinburgh and is selling out at the Melbourne Town Hall this year, but few in our city would have heard of him.
Our own Town Hall and wonderful CBD venues should be pressed into the service of a decent Sydney comedy festival. But until our arts administrators get their act together and give Sydney comedy some serious public funding, the best option for comedy fans is to fly south for the autumn.
Yes, even to Melbourne.