Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Review: The Conference

14 April 2019

Are you sick of corporate ice-breakers? Frustrated by the increasing casualisation of the workforce? Being crushed by the nightmare that is late-stage capitalism? Then The Conference, from HomeBrand Comedy, might be just the show for you!

Held at the delightful Hares & Hyenas bookshop on Johnston Street, the series of short skits and sketches is loosely based around the company Zamco – a generic ‘business’ summarised when one character asks another, “shouldn’t you be doing spreadsheets or whatever it is we do here?”  Of course, the purpose of the company is left intentionally vague partially so it can continue to act as a convenient framing device, but it also feels like an accurate and hilarious parody of many jobs in the modern world – there simply are many positions where it’s not clear what they actually do, beyond that strange umbrella of ‘business things’.

The conceit of the show was used incredibly effectively. It generally ran through the show, and why not, when there are so many relatable and funny things about corporate culture? But the performers never let themselves be restricted by the theme, either – in particular, a memorable one-line bit about Weight Watchers had very little to do with the concept of the production, but was hilarious and still worked well in the show. The freedom provided by the looseness of the theme allowed the performers space to do a lot more than might have been suggested by the title, and I’m so glad about that – Vivek Thilkan, Lou Howard and Ethan Katz are three extremely funny people.

They always had a strong concept behind their characters, and conveyed enough in the first few lines to have the audience instantly understanding and on-board. Part of this was probably because so many of the characters were deeply relatable – the woman returning from a conference, too nervous to turn on her phone because of recent office drama and the number of notifications she would have to see, particularly made me cringe with the familiarity of it. The seemingly endless number of bright ‘Dings!’ from the phone once she did turn it on were almost painful to listen to. But even when the characters were less familiar, the performers did a great job of embodying them, making them feel almost as familiar as the grouchy out-of-office email.

The deceptively simple premise of The Conference makes space for an excellent, varied show, containing many great jokes and valid critiques of Uber’s treatment of its workers. If you’ve ever worked in an office, will work in an office, or are waiting for the Russian Marie Kondo, Karie Mondo, to overthrow capitalism and install an economic system which actually sparks joy, get along to this delightful show.

The Conference is showing at Hares and Hyenas until the 18th of April

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