‘The Briefing’ // Melbourne International Comedy Festival

‘The Briefing’ was (#fake) newsworthy.

The old saying goes, ‘comedy is subjective’. What one person finds hilarious; another may barely crack a smile. However, comedy also has the ability to transcend time, people, and places. It is why the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is considered one of the defining global cultural art events. People come from all corners of the world to participate, whether it be onstage or in the audience. With an international audience comes international humour. One comedian bringing exactly this to this year’s festival is Melissa McGlensey with her latest show, ‘The Briefing’.

Brainchild of Californian-raised McGlensey, ‘The Briefing’, takes a satirical look at the landscape of contemporary American politics. More specifically, Trumpian American politics. McGlensey parodies Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the real-life Governor of Arkansas, and White House Press Secretary under Trump. Styling the show as a faux pas laden, comically conservative press briefing, McGlensey’s ‘The Briefing’ is a prime example of comedy’s international perimeters.

McGlensey first cut her teeth in the world of comedy through writing. A graduate of the Second City Film School (previously the Harold Ramis Film School) in Chicago, McGlensey hones her comedic chops with her contributions to such outlets as The Huffington Post and The Onion. McGlensey’s foray into the world of improvisation and stand up proved her innate talent for comedic timing. McGlensey is an active member of the Melbourne improvisation group Soothplayers, even donning the director’s hat for their productions of ‘Completely Improvised Potter’ and ‘Completely Improvised Survivor’. ‘The Briefing’ marks McGlensey’s solo debut. The show premiered at the Melbourne Fringe in 2022 before commencing its 2023 season at the Adelaide Fringe and Melbourne International Comedy Festivals.

As is customary of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, venues-turned-theatres are as varied as they are versatile. In the case of ‘The Briefing’, Hardware Lane’s Campari House plays host. The multilevel theatre and function venue oozes with quintessential Melbourne charm. Patrons wait patiently for their show to commence in the intimate, bespoke rooftop bar. The crisp mid-autumn night breeze causes the bunting lights to softly sway. McGlensey happily chats to audience members before the performance, offering a warm greeting and appreciation.

As showtime nears, audiences descend the stairwell to the second-floor theatre. A black curtain cascades down the wall of the small stage. A single red lectern is stationed by the stage’s edge, watching over the audience as they take their seats. Beside it, a television displays the show’s placeholder. Each audience member is provided a card and pen upon taking their seats and is requested to write a Trump tweet – a nice option for those wanting to participate in the show without having the attention on them.

With the show serving as a parody of a White House press briefing, focus is placed upon McGlensey as the speaker. Limited lighting and sound effects are utilised to keep the aesthetic familiar. However, that is not to say McGlensey’s comedy is without any visual aid. ‘The Briefing’ makes use of the television on stage to broadcast various docked images and videos to emphasise the lunacy politics can at times become. Designed by RMIT University’s Dr Douglas Wilson, the linked PowerPoint presentation provides an ensemble of hilarious sight gags. The inclusion of text messages from Trump to McGlensey’s Huckabee Sanders offer some of the biggest belly laughs throughout. The interplay of such visuals with McGlensey’s satire provide ‘The Briefing’ with humorous recognition, allowing audiences to reflect upon moments that defined our world the past several years with a sense of levity.

Familiarity is a key ingredient in satire. For this reason, it is important to keep the aesthetics of the show as similar as possible. This is particularly apparent regarding the costume design of ‘The Briefing’. Paying direct homage to the real Huckabee Sanders’ wardrobe, McGlensey wears a conservative blue dress and straight black wig. The restraint of her character is not shared as precisely with her assistant Gumbo (Felix MacFarlane), whose attire resembles the criminally minor character of Roy from ‘The Simpsons’. The choice to include such styling discrepancies is a smart one as it subtly reinforces the arbitrary nature of politics. It is through such subtle nods as costuming that highlight ‘The Briefing’s’ satirical prowess.

At its heart, however, ‘The Briefing’ is championed by its directing and performances. McGlensey is guided under the keen direction of Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall. With such credits as ‘We Interrupt This Broadcast’ and ‘Shaun Micallef’s ‘Mad as Hell’’, Tremblay-Birchall’s resonance with comedy is paramount. His direction evokes a sense of the universality of comedy, and in pairing with McGlensey, Tremblay-Birchall skilfully demonstrates the ability to bring international affairs to a national comedy audience.

Similarly, McGlensey’s patent talent for improvisation provides ‘The Briefing’ with a refreshingly contemporary feel. Knowing the politics, improvisation, and audience reaction are all things that variate from day to day, McGlensey’s choice to frame her solo show around an American political briefing is a masterful one. While MacFarlane’s Gumbo is only featured briefly, his interplay with McGlensey showcases a strong working chemistry that richly aids the show. As such, this chemistry translates into a raucous, side-tickling hour of comedy for which Trembley-Birchall, MacFarlane, and McGlensey should be most proud of.

While the world can at times feel like a big place, it is during events such as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival that we can truly appreciate just how similar we are. Melissa McGlensey’s debut solo show, ‘The Briefing’, is a prime example of how international-inspired comedy can be effective at tickling funny bones no matter where in the world it is performed. Whether you are a fan or a deriver of American politics, ‘The Briefing’ is sure to ‘trump’ your expectations. And that is #NOTfakenews.

‘The Briefing’ performs until, 23 April 2023 at Campari House. For more information about this or other shows, or to purchase tickets, visit the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s website.

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Melissa McGlensey’s brings biting political satire to Melbourne

Check out Melissa McGlensey’s latest political satire, “The Briefing,” at the 2023 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Bitingly funny and quick-witted, McGlensey’s show is a comment on the unique historical and political moment we find ourselves in. Don’t miss out on this genre-defying experience!

#MelbourneInternationalComedyFestival #MICF #MelissaMcGlensey #PoliticalSatire