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Sydney Comedy Festival at The Harold Park Hotel

Review by Ron Lee on 18 May 2014

The pilgrimage to The Harold Park Hotel provided some interesting memories.

I hadn’t been there since performing at, and putting some of my Speaking Master Class students on at Comics in The Park, a regular Monday night fixture.

That was in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the entire Sydney comedy scene consisted of The Harold Park Hotel and The Comedy Store. I saw the beginnings of the careers of Gretel Killeen, Peter Berner, Akmal Saleh, Steady Eddie, Jimeoin and many others. Other highlights were the only two Australian stand-up comedy appearances, ten years apart, of Robin Williams who was here on film promotional tours.

The age range of the patrons is the same as it was 25 years ago and the cuisine is now more take-away fast food than up-market pub grub. We had the cheeseburger with chips for $13.

What about the current crop of comedians?

The first we saw on the night, in Gaypocalypse, was Adam Richard, who became well known on ABC TV’s Spicks and Specks and also on radio. I was expecting an emphasis on gay humour and wasn’t disappointed, with references to the Minogue sisters and some intriguing comparisons between gay men and lesbians. He also included some deeper social and political commentary that was far from a soap box delivery, which shows real skill. Of all of the openly-gay comedians I’ve seen, Richard is atypical; he’s not thin, he’s not precious, and, by his own admission, he’s not fastidiously neat and tidy, but he is compassionate and very talented.

Khaled Khalafalla presented Fresh. Khalafalla was hesitatingly irreverent and edgy. He’s more suited to a very young adult audience and the rap music improv was interesting and ambitious.

In the larger, upstairs room, performing his latest show, Bush Week, was Luke Heggie, the winner of Raw Comedy in 2010. We soon discovered why he won it. The bearded Heggie reminds me of a university student who is cynical and superior about everything. He’s surrounded by idiots who have no idea about anything, and somehow his observations ring true. His superbly expressed observations about fellow travellers, especially backpackers, are easy to visualise. Heggie’s like a student version of Grumpy Old Men. I particularly enjoyed his rapid delivery; there was no down time for reflection or time to get bored. I had seen a couple of Heggie’s clips on YouTube and in them he’s really good, but in person, he’s brilliant. Despite his grumpy, onstage persona, I suspect that Heggie is quite the opposite in real life.

One of the necessary character traits of an exceptional comedian is the habit and ability to think at deeper levels, and all three, Adam Richard, Khaled Khalafalla and Luke Heggie demonstrated that in spades.

Sometimes, the fond memories of a venue will outstrip the current reality, but I’m pleased to announce that The Harold Park Hotel is a real force on the Sydney comedy scene and is well worth a visit. I’ll definitely be back.

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