Urzila rakes over fertile comedy soil

Urzila Carlson


Urzila Carlson

3 stars

Tony Woods
2.5 stars

Astor Lounge


If you were to roll up the demographics of the Perth International Comedy Festival's performers into one package, you'd arrive at someone such as Urzila Carlson, the spirited South African, now New Zealander, lesbian mother - there were healthy contingents of each in her audience - whose stand was the second of the midweek triple-bill in the Astor Lounge.

Her story, from childhood and young adulthood in segregated South Africa to life at home and on the road as an adopted New Zealander, is fertile ground for a comedian. Carlson rarely misses her targets, whether they are trivial (the craze for coconut water, New Zealand's recent Marmite drought) or significant (the battle for gay marriage rights or against the apartheid regime).

It was the latter, and her unblinking, idiosyncratic take on Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, that lifted her performance above the conventional. It showed how powerful comedians can be when they put the laughs aside for a moment and apply the perception and lateral thinking they need to be funny to being serious.

I couldn't say that Tony Woods, who played the late spot in the Lounge, ever deviated much from convention. He's a seriously funny guy, though, in that louche African-American way that is as irresistible as it is slick.

You have to decide for yourself, though, whether it's also an effective defence against accusations of racism and sexism. Woods is hilarious and apt in a flurry of stories about Chinese and Koreans, Indians, Mexicans and Aboriginals.

As he says, "We (African-Americans) aren't racist - we're descriptive". I'm not sure I'd give him the same latitude for an uncomfortable routine offering advice to men on dates that I thought was sordid and deeply unfunny.

Much better was his story of a visit to a wildlife park in Mt Gambier and his run-in with an emu, all of which set up a gag about a bunny and a T-Rex that might end up in a lot of people's after-dinner repertoires.