‘Drown ‘Em Out’ was idiosyncratic.
The old idiom goes, ‘there’s a fine line between comedy and tragedy.’ That’s why we often reflect upon painful experiences with a wry chuckle as the passage of time can supposedly heal. It makes sense therefore that comedy can, and often is, crafted out of the ashes of negative memories. There is a power in finding levity out of despondency. It is a power for which comedian Lisa Sharpe wields deftly in her latest show ‘Drown ‘Em Out’ as part of the 2022 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
As she explains throughout her routine, Sharpe discovered her gift for comedy four years ago at the age of 48. She credits this as her own personal avenue for speaking up and out about anything and everything. In crafting ‘Drown ‘Em Out’, Sharpe draws upon her own experiences growing up in the New South Wales coastal town of Ballina during the 1970s and 1980s. These personal, nostalgic memories serve as a solid basis for her novice routine, offering audiences an emotionally resonant experience.
Like many shows performed during the International Comedy Festival, ‘Drown ‘Em Out’ is staged in the small, independent theatre, the Motley Bauhaus. Sitting quietly on the corner of Carlton’s Elgin and Rathdowne Streets, ‘The Motley’ offers a casual ambiance that is likely to strike accord with any theatre lover.
The simplicity of the venue is continued inside the Black Box Theatre situated at the rear of The Motley. A bare brick wall faces the audience as they take their seats. A lone microphone stands patiently on the stage. An inconspicuous tablecloth drapes over a tall object to the left of the stage, with a cup of water atop of it. The neutrality of the theatre is charming in and of itself. It lays itself bare for its audience’s appreciation in a similar vein as Sharpe does not too long after.
Sharpe’s comedically intimate form of storytelling is the sole focus of ‘Drown ‘Em Out’. For much of the show, she forgoes the use of musical soundtracks and lighting transitions. Stripping these components away from her routine, much like the bare set, invites audiences to engage exclusively with Sharpe. The stylistic choice to remove any distraction from the stage is a fitting one. As Sharpe proudly proclaims throughout the final minutes of her routine, it took her 48 years to discover comedy. In doing so, she found the power of her voice and draws on her strength to deliver an unflinching 45 minutes of honest contemplation (accompanied by a generous serving of humour).
That is not to say ‘Drown ‘Em Out’ is not without its use of visual aids at all. An occasional spotlight appears on Sharpe as she comes to a moment of self-realisation and triumph. Its final occurrence as the show closes is its most powerful. Encasing Sharpe in a glowing ring of insight, the spotlight illuminates the well-roundedness of her story, allowing for it to finish at the same point as it began.
Similarly, the aid of AUSLAN at selected shows seems to heighten the relativity of Sharpe’s comedy. Though not a regular fixture of ‘Drown ‘Em Out’, Interpreter Linda D’Ornay (of not-for-profit organisation AUSLAN Stage Left) presents Sharpe’s stories with nuance and care. Occasional jokes are derived from Sharpe breaking focus from her own routine to see how certain words are signed, resulting in even more hilarity. The inclusion of Australian sign language into the storytelling framework of ‘Drown ‘Em Out’ is beautifully poignant, as it serves as yet another way for Sharpe to ensure her voice is ‘heard’.
Comedy is subjective. It is an important lesson every comedian learns at some point during their career. For Sharpe, she takes the subjectivity of her comedy to the next level in ‘Drown ‘Em Out’ by tailoring it as a story of her life. Her comedy is personal and individually honest. In this honesty lies her power. Sharpe structures her routine similar to a verbal memoir of would-be inconsequential moments throughout her life. However, by reflecting upon them from her middle-age, she skilfully articulates how each moment contributed to moulding her into the unreserved woman she is today.
While undeniably funny, it is the more sombre, heavy moments interspersed throughout ‘Drown ‘Em Out’ that best showcase Sharpe as a comical storyteller. Refusing to shy away from these moments, she embraces them with considered levity that makes the uncomfortable atmosphere felt by the audience just a bit easier to take. Not every joke lands with the gravitas Sharpe intends it to, but the respect she earns from her audience is proof enough that she is a gifted comedian and a captivating raconteur.
This year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival is giving rise to a myriad of new talent. With such an eclectic range of shows, there is sure to be something for every member of the family. In the case of ‘Drown ‘Em Out’, Lisa Sharpe has created a show that values unadulterated vulnerability-laced comedy more than anything else. Sharpe’s routine benefits from her late start to the comedy circuit. Imbuing her show with reflective hindsight, Sharpe elicits chuckles from her audience who understand how to find humour out of past pain. Evoking a comedian with more years of experience than she has, Sharpe is sure to captivate with her unbridled sense of comedic realism. While Lisa Sharpe may have waited 48 years to begin her comedy career, audiences should not delay in seeking her out and listening to what she has to say.
‘Drown ’Em Out’ performs at Carlton’s Motley Bauhaus until Sunday, 24 April 2022. For more information about this or other Melbourne International Comedy Festival shows, or to purchase tickets, visit their website.