Prove your humanity

Queensland comedian Jacques Barrett returns to this year’s Perth Comedy Festival stage with his new show: Lowest Common Dominator—one hour of animated, tongue-in-cheek commentary on the growing social divide in Australia’s society.

When I had a chat to Barrett prior to the show, he said his aim was to unite people in the room, which he did so successfully from the get-go, listing all the things that grind our gears—including that one person who can genuinely sing in karaoke nights.

“The show is basically about my ability to work with the crowd that I’ve got in front of me and find a way to do material or make things accessible to every person in the room,” said Barrett. “It’s about finding the middle ground, or bringing things down to a level where absolutely everyone in that room understands what you’re talking about—you can’t really do hyper-intelligent, niche stuff, because you’ll end up alienating other people.”

There was certainly something in the show everyone could relate to. For former Sydney inhabitants now living in Perth like me, Barrett’s imitation of “the one-man show” performed by intoxicated, shady characters lurking around Kings Cross and Northbridge was pretty spot on. As for gym-junkies like my partner, the comedian dished up some knee-slapping digs at the burly units that sanitise gym equipment before using it.

Barrett was also not sheepish about tackling the bigger issues that divide the nation. He shared several ludicrous anecdotes to emphasise his points; for instance, his awkward encounter with a bogan complaining about curry pies on a plane when addressing the tedious immigration debate.

In some instances, I’d say he pushed the envelope slightly too far—like by suggesting tall women sleep with short men to close the gender pay-gap. But he managed to recover from the tumbleweeds in the room somewhat, by praising women for their leadership.

Barrett said he does comedy that runs close to the bone specifically to create tension in the room: “The crowd may go, ‘Ooh careful mate, there’s the line—don’t cross it’; but I always do, because I know once I step over that line, I have a joke or a punchline that’s gonna make it all okay.”

Being the middle man came naturally to Barrett, who describes himself as the glue that keeps his tradie working-class dad and upper-class, model mum together. Throughout the show we learned quite a bit about the comedian’s past, including his voyage of weight loss. He suggested it was because “black was slimming, and so are fucking pingers”—which was funny the first time I heard it when watching a performance of his from a few years ago on YouTube, but pretty banal the second time around.

We even watched a short slideshow of his childhood photos. I wasn’t sure if his struggle to get the TV working was part of the gig, but I found it slowed the momentum of an otherwise punchy show, and frankly, I wasn’t sure how it tied in with the narrative either. Still, the self-dubbed “Jenny from the block” comedian showed an impressive ability to weaponise his own life’s mishaps to elucidate his points.

Barrett said he gets a lot of his influence from American comedians: “I prefer the American style comedy, it has a punch line and it has balls.”

Although the rest of the crowd was in stitches, the slapstick farce and American-style humour is not particularly my cup of tea, having grown up in the United Kingdom surrounded by its brilliantly dark and witty, dry humour. As he’s previously toured the UK, I asked how he copped the notoriously tough British crowd.

“Every gig out there felt like a Roman Coliseum,” said Barrett.

“It felt like they had their thumb sitting horizontal, and within the first 30 seconds, if they liked you they gave you the thumbs up, but if they didn’t—and I’ve never sensed something so uncanny—the whole audience would just unconsciously tap into this collective ‘lets bury this shit’ force.”

“They definitely keep you on your toes. I’m not sure if it’s necessarily made me better at comedy, but now I feel bulletproof.”

Barrett had also performed in several countries in South East Asia and Europe but I was dubious as to how he adapted his social commentary, given the diverse cultures and humour.

“There are some things that seemed to be invariably funny—dick jokes, for example, are universal.” Barrett said.

“I’ve also got a lot of stories about people having too many kids and that was surprisingly universal. Also, taking the piss out of Americans, that’s always timeless, even when I performed pre-Trump.”

Barrett said he was a big fan of the Perth crowd, which always receives him well: “I guess my working-class roots come out and there’s a lot of working-class heroes about in Perth.”

I’m not sure if it was the force-fed tequila shot I had before the show or the fact I was slightly ‘hangry’—or maybe I’m just an uptight, Brit that prefers more dry, subtly witty humour—but I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed. I didn’t laugh as much as I thought I would—the concept behind the show was clever but the narrative needed a little more flow.

All-in-all however, Barrett said he hoped the audience left the show with a little more dopamine coursing through their veins and I definitely did … although, thinking about it now, it might have been the tequila?


Jacques Barrett is currently completing his Australia-wide tour now.


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