Headliners 2

Isabelle Oderberg

If not for the one weaker set, this would be a five-star line-up and show.
Headliners 2

Dave Merheje.

Watching a mixed set of comedians can always be a bit of a lucky-dip, but this second round of American and Canadian comedians is one of the strongest Headliners line-ups I’ve seen for years.

First up is Canadian comic Sean Cullen who is performing his show I Am A Human Man at this year’s festival.

Cullen’s in total control of the stage from the minute he steps to the mic with the audience immediately giggling at his bizarre but totally relaxed delivery. His audience interactions and ad-libbing are so strong, you’re really not sure what’s scripted (I suspect very little) and what he’s playing with off the top of his head.


The second performer is by far the weakest and lets the show down. Aparna Nancherla goes for a dead-pan delivery with observations and quips and kicks off the show with a segment about what it’s like to be depressive.

And she gets her point across, because really, it’s pretty miserable. She manages to get the odd laugh but at one stage admits openly that she’s fighting a losing battle with the audience. She slightly redeems herself towards the end, stealing some giggles with messages sent to her on the internet dating website OK Cupid.

Neverthless, this is the fifth female comedian I’ve seen at this festival (three of them were in the Headliners line-up) talk about how difficult it is to be single and the perils of internet dating. There is nothing new here and it feels stale.

The third performer is Dave Merheje, a Canadian of Lebanese decent. He has a slow start, possibly in part due to Aparna’s lukewarm set, but once he warms the crowd up again he absolutely nails it.

Merheje kicks off with some observations about his native Canada, the gay best friend to every other country, before launching into some completely brilliant local observations about Melbourne – the best I saw at this year’s festival.

He then tells us about his family and in particular his very controlling and guilt-inducing mother, before finishing off on a high (low?) with some of his issues around masturbation.

Will Sylvince is the final act and thankfully ends the night on a total high. A lot of his material is based around his Haitian family, their expectations, their mannerisms and their accents.

But his observations about flying and the class disparities between first/business/economy really hits home with every single member of the audience, as well as his lamentations over the obstacle course that is airport security.

If not for the one weaker set, this would be a five-star line-up and show. I’ll be first to book a ticket if Sylvince and Merheje come back to do their own MICF shows in future years, but in the meantime I’ll be booking in to see Sean Cullen as soon as physically possible.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Headliners 2

Melbourne Town Hall, Swanston St
Melbourne International Comedy Festival 
7 - 20 April

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

A veteran journalist, Isabelle Oderberg is a comedy fanatic and has been reviewing comedy for six years. She also reviews restaurants, opera and theatre