Arj Barker. Tom Gleeson. Frank Woodley. We all know the headline acts featured at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The venues are big. The seats are full.
However, down a lane on a less prominent stage, underground comedian Kieran Butler has planted his flag at the other end of the comedy spectrum, and is making a name for himself in the process.
Part social commentary comedian, part manager and part host, Butler has spent the past six months working to make sure the comedy festival’s seventh annual Free Event is a successful one.
He organises and mentors 20 stand-up acts, helping aspiring talent show off their funny sides. This year the event is being held at the Highland Bar in the CBD, and the absence of ‘big names’ didn’t put off the 50 or so people who walked through the doors on Thursday night.
Gavin Lind, who features in this group of buzzing comedy entrepreneurs, entered the comedy scene as part of a midlife crisis with a newfound determination that entertaining is now part of his destiny.
Lind describes his comedy as dark philosophic humour that pushes boundaries, and he’s happy to offer it up for ‘free’, though punters are expected to make a contribution afterwards.
“The show is accessible to all financial needs,” he said. “Free comedy lets you decide what the show is worth and most people are generous with their laughs and their pockets.”
Gavin Lind at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe.
Butler devotes a lot of his time and energy to make Free Events an accessible and positive part of the festival, and he also performs himself.
“I program the events. I curate, host and manage so that everyone gets a fair chance,” he said. “I put calls out as far as Queensland and Adelaide so that these performers can experience performing without the heavy costs.”
“Each performer gets 100 per cent of what people put in the bucket at the end of the performance. We let you in for free and then you decide what to pay.”
It’s a niche market, but there seem to be a lot of people who want to see new comedy but don’t want to risk a big cost for something that isn’t tried and tested.
“It’s less risk for everyone and it gives them more chance to enjoy the show,” he said.
A German backpacker named Sarah was amongst the appreciative audience on Thursday night. For a free event, she said, the quality was incredible.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “I enjoyed it as much as any other live stand-up.”
And to prove it, Sarah said she would be attending each night at the Highland until the event concludes on April 21st.
It may not be the big stage, but then again, size isn’t everything.