‘The Preacher’ was philosophical.
What do you get when you combine Ecclesiastes, wine, food puns and an existential spiral? You are left with ‘The Preacher’ by David (Dave) Davidson. This Adelaide Fringe Festival newcomer presents a show which melds philosophy and comedy together in a stand-up routine that certainly stands out.
It’s a show without a live audience and flashy effects; just a man, a few cameras, a microphone and a glass of wine. In a medium that so heavily relies on a live audience, it was a necessary but brave choice to move Davidson’s performance online due to COVID-19 restrictions. ‘The Preacher’ traverses a wide range of topics but generally circles around the morals and philosophical concepts presented in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. The alternative subject matter created a stand-up show that allowed audiences to question the ethics of our existence while having a bit of a laugh.
Stand-up comedy is intimidating under normal circumstances, however, the format that Davidson undertook is certainly more daunting. Huge commendation should be given for forging ahead and creating a stand-up routine that was solely broadcast through people’s screens. Throughout the past year, we have seen an incredible number of live performances being placed online; quite often the effectiveness of these productions can be credited to their technical quality. ‘The Preacher’ delivered a seamless and professional recording with crisp audio and video. The background was plain and Davidson was well illuminated from all angles. All technical elements combined to allow the stand-up content to shine.
Unfortunately, the lack of a studio audience played a major role in the pacing and flow. There were lengthy pauses where laughter would have otherwise existed and Davidson was not able to bounce his material off of a raucous audience. This caused a lot of the routine to drag and the punchlines to fall flat. Audiences lacked a shared experience, as the effectiveness of such shows are largely subject to the people you share them with.
Davidson had a bottle of $4 Merlot on the stage with him at all times, “the biblical drink” as he described. As he sipped, the pacing of the show definitely improved. The routine meandered through a range of comedic devices and quickly snapped audiences in and out of inspirational, moral musings and into quick puns and jokes with a good punchline to finish. Puns like “forgive me Lord for I am about to sin…namon doughnut” and “God works in mysterious mayonnaise” were cheeky and cheerful. Other jokes capitalised on Davidson’s two divorces and attributed one to their “long-distance relationship”…one was going to heaven and the other hell. There were many good chuckles to be had throughout, with the classic self-deprecating edge seen in many stand-up shows.
Davidson described himself as a “touch above the average comedian, I’m funny but offer a philosophical spin”. While this point of difference certainly made him stand out from the standard comedy routine, it may not have been to his advantage. The frittering between vastly different moods and content was at times confusing and prevented the good content that existed within the routine to gel with audiences. Davidson seemed to take on the role of being his own comic relief within his routine, leaving audiences unsure about where the jokes were going and which sections were meant to be serious versus funny. Long setups that seemed to hunger after a punchline were left wanting; moments that were comedic seemed to be placed as an afterthought of the philosophical content. This routine could be significantly improved by finding more effective ebb and flow.
The book of Ecclesiastes is filled with moral dilemmas and is a treasure trove for the religious, agnostic, spiritual, and atheist. It would have been nice to see Davidson more clearly weave in the moral dilemmas of the book with his personal experiences and offer a sense of humour to moments that seem void of it. This, after all, is largely the point of comedy. Davidson seemed to be preaching from the pulpit and then popping in a pun to finish the set, as opposed to using the rich content of his subject matter to help audiences draw meaning from the text.
Davidson had a timid and at times bumbling presentation, which was endearing. Throughout further iterations of this project, Davidson could investigate how he uses his own physical and vocal comedy to heighten his routine. Comic pacing plays an enormous role in the effectiveness of a routine and it was clear which moments worked within Davidson’s routine and which sections could use extrapolation.
Comedy plays a large role in how people work to understand the world around them and Davidson has his hands on an intriguing concept that marries humour and humanity. It would be exciting to see how this work could be tweaked and improved to release its full potential.
‘The Preacher’ can be accessed online until Sunday, 21 March 2021 via the Adelaide Fringe website.