Comedy reviews: Otto & Astrid’s Joint Solo Project, He Huang, MICF

Badasses all round with a rocking duo and a Chinese export.

Otto & Astrid’s Joint Solo Project

Quasi-Berliners Otto and Astrid are arguing (as siblings are wont to do) about what songs should appear on their fifth Die Roten Punkte (The Red Dots) album. They don’t come to any resolution, so what to do? The solution, it seems, is to resort to performing solo projects alongside one another. After all, with years on the touring circuit together, they probably need a bit of creative space apart.

So Otto takes to the stage first, guitar blazing, but midway through his first song, a clash and tumble of cymbals announces the arrival of his bossy sister, who is about to prepare for her own gig just off to the side on an elevated platform. With a liquor-dipped slushy and a packet of chips as sustenance, she plays a mean set on her drums, proving herself equally as talented as Otto is on the electric strings (and keyboard). A showdown is about to occur, with the audience drawn into the rivalries between the two. Their instruments may look impossibly child-sized, but don’t let that fool you, their sound is as raucous as any rock concert.

Their push-and-pull relationship, seemingly a replay of their childhood, is tested over the duration of the show as they both try and hog the limelight. Otto is a fragile man-child; his sister made of sterner stuff, not afraid to be ‘dramatic and irrational’. The stage is set up as a concert with red slash lighting and a smoke machine deployed to enhance the ambience further. In between the squabbling, the rockin’ tunes are both hilarious, satirical and clever.

Their repertoire of influences is eclectic (Iggy Pop grunge, Ed Sheeran emotional vulnerabilities and a twist of the Ramones and Kraftwerk). The side-splitting mash-up of Depeche Mode and The Wiggles is typical of their parodic playfulness. The songs are catchy and hummable, seemingly innocuous but quickly developing into hilarious innuendo-laced ditties with which the audience is invited to sing along (‘Come eat my tasty snacks’). Otto and Astrid are a triple threat: consummate musicians, comics and actors, and their whole schtick is beautifully managed – the dynamic between them honed after so many performances.

With their smear of bright red lipstick, white faces and extravagant costuming, the pair are operatic in style, albeit in a punk rock fashion. Solo they are already impressive, but together they are phenomenal.

I even bought their merch: a T-shirt that spells out one of Otto’s songs about wanting to be a kitten – which sounds adorable but really isn’t as innocent as it first appears.

Otto & Astrid’s Joint Solo Project is playing at the Malthouse until 23 April 2023 as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets: $20-$42

He Huang: Bad Bitch

Chinese-born newbie comedian now based in Sydney, He Huang starts her gig explaining to the non-Asians in the audience how to pronounce both her names. ‘He’ she says pointedly, is her given name, and not as it is in English grammar terms, a pronoun. She has, however, an Anglo name for Tinder. This is just the first of many cultural lessons proffered in the show as Huang tells us of her life and of her many trials of acclimatisation into Western countries (Australia and also a stint in the US) after coming from a conservative and sheltered family background.

He Huang. Photo: Supplied.

Bad Bitch, as its title suggests, is a pretty risqué show, so not recommended for minors (there is an 18* audience restriction). As someone who grew up denied a sex education, Huang does a funny skit on the perils of losing her virginity. But, before we get there, there’s the obligatory commentary about COVID (Huang apologies on behalf of her country – garnering nervous laughter) and a poignant, although still funny, mention of being relegated to the derogatively termed ‘leftovers’ generation, as she is in her 30s and still unmarried. However, she ponders matter-of-factly, ‘Who doesn’t like Chinese leftovers?’

Huang makes fun of herself as a spoilt only child (due to China’s now disbanded one-child policy) and reminisces on various aspects of being an international student. There are a fair few (unnecessary) obscenities in this show. At times it feels as though she is so delighted at the freedom of being able to say anything in a country that’s fairly lax with censorship (unlike her own motherland) that she has decided to see how far she can take it. Advice would be to rein it in a bit; there’s no need to labour the point. Bad Bitch is on the whole though, entertaining and edifying.

He Huang: Bad Bitch is playing at the Mantra on Russell until 23 April 2023 as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets: $19-$25

Thuy On is the Reviews and Literary Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her debut, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was released by University of Western Australia Publishing (UWAP). Her second collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Her third book, Essence, will be published in 2025. Twitter: @thuy_on Instagram: poemsbythuy