Dave Bloustien looks like a cross between Dr. Who and a 1960s mod with a cravat, waistcoat and sideburns. Certainly a contrast to the t-shirt and jeans that constitutes the usual comedy clobber, but Mr. Boustein doesnt deliver the usual stand-up routine either. Instead he offers an intriguing story that forms the spine of his current show, The Social Contract, playing at the Melbourne comedy festival. Its a story about the deep self-doubt that must surely wrack all but the wealthiest of cocaine-fuelled comedians. Its the big existential question. I want to be a comedian, but am I funny? And its a question that Mr. Bloustien has had tested, through an interesting chain of circumstances, in a court of law.
It is the story of a contract with a Sydney event promoter, a subsequent gig on board a Harbour cruise boat with an audience of schoolies, the deep humiliation of dying and the ramifications that lead to the Waverley Magistrates court and the testing of his funniness in front of a judge.
Its non threatening comedy this. Mr. Bloustien doesnt really pick on anybody. Theres no need for audience members to be anxious about sitting in the front row. Theres no need to be concerned that your political beliefs will be tested, that any conviction that there still are weapons of mass destruction buried in the Iraqi desert will be mocked, or that the standard cultural, racial or religious stereotypes will be deployed for laughs, because the focus of the show is Bloustien himself, and the roller coaster ride of the story, his see-sawing self-doubt and his musings along this journey on everything from the advertising industry and Facebook to Thomas Hobbes and the inner workings of the comedy industry.
Its a gentle, introspective sort of comedy this. Leaning toward a Woody Allen-ish style perhaps, but with less self-flagellation and more middle-class, Gen X, trivia. Some of the pop-culture stuff seemed a bit forced. Well at least it didnt quite work for me. That might be because Im not the right demographic, or it might be because as a self-confessed effete Jewish middle-class intellectual with sideburns its not really his forte but its been added for mass market appeal. Im inclined to agree with Leigh Sales review in The Monthly if you read it. Its the main story that is the strongest part with the digressions less gripping.
I was on the other hand drawn into his world with the observations about the life of a comedian; about the business of dealing with customers, and of the comedians stagecraft. In what seemed like some sort of real-time projection of what is in his head at the time Mr. Bloustien sometimes provides sotto voce post joke analysis of the success or otherwise of the just delivered joke and where it still needs work if it does. Its probably the comedic equivalent of breaking the fourth wall. I found my attention being drawn continually to the fact that here was a comedian, who was sharing both his comedy history and what was going on inside his head about the practice of comedy right there and then.
Mr. Bloustien is funny in a conventional sense, but its the strong story, the self-assessment and the real time Being John Malkovich stuff that is different, and that to me is the real strength of the show.