Michael Workman - Mercy

Aleksia Barron

MICF: Michael Workman seems to be followed by accolades wherever he goes, from winning Raw Comedy in 2009 to being named Best Newcomer at the 2011 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Michael Workman - Mercy
2011 Best Newcomer winner Michael Workman has returned to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival with Mercy, a show that is moving, engaging, incredibly funny and simply wonderful.

Workman seems to be followed by accolades wherever he goes, from winning Raw Comedy in 2009 to being named Best Newcomer at the 2011 Melbourne International Comedy Festival for his show Humans are Beautiful. In fine Workman tradition, he takes the audience on another fascinating journey in Mercy, this time to Cuba.

From the moment Workman steps on stage (sans an introduction from backstage – clearly, this is not your standard comedy show), the audience is suspended, floating within the narrative that he constructs. Mercy is the tale, he informs us, of a young Cuban family who are split apart when the father, Augustus, criticises Castro’s regime. (It sounds like a history lecture. It isn’t.)

As well as his compelling spoken delivery, Workman uses his own art and music to further the story of Augustus, who is cast out to sea in a rickety boat, with only cabbages for friends. Desperate to return to his wife and baby daughter, Augustus chats with local predators and an Angel named Keith, while trying to determine the path the remainder of his life should take.

There are no schlocky tricks at play in Workman’s comedy. His writing is precise and artful, and the laughs flow from clever and unexpected sources – only Workman can drop a pun in the middle of a speech and make it look like high art. His musical and artistic talents are used with restraint, enhancing his tale rather than gunning for cheap laughs. (He even manages to be educational – you’ll learn a lot about sharks at this show. And soup.)

Mercy is not seeking to cater to the lowest common denominator; Workman makes the bold assumption that his audience are willing to transport themselves into his fanciful world, and that they will be open to challenging, emotional and incredibly rewarding humour. For those who seek the cutting edge of comedy and performance, who are wearied by the endless parade of ‘safe’ comedians, you’ll not do better than Workman’s show.

So much comedy is like eating empty calories – fun at the time, but with no lasting benefits or nourishment. Workman’s Mercy is that rare dish that tastes great and leaves a warm, satisfied feeling long after it’s over.

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Michael Workman – Mercy
Melb Town Hall, Backstage Room
March 29 – April 22

Melbourne International Comedy Festival
March 28 – April 22

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

Aleksia is a Perth-grown, Melbourne-transplanted writer and critic who suffers from an incurable addiction to theatre, comedy and screen culture.