Earnestness is necessary for consistency in quality comedy. Laughing and wanting to inspire joy in people has to come from a place of sincerity–especially if you're going to make a splash in a pool as big as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Emily Tresidder in Where'd You Go? does precisely that–a raw moment of vulnerability that doesn't exploit the audience's feelings or repeat templates created by other comedians for a cheap laugh. It was genuine in such a way that I could not stop thinking about it.
Tresidder's show takes the audience along with her on her year-long travel experience taken after she decided to leave comedy to find herself. She points to the clichéd aspect–can we actually find ourselves when travelling? Why do we assume being in a different place will help us come to revelations about ourselves? So, Tresidder takes the audience to more than just physical places, like Mongolia. She also takes us to her place of growth, to areas like self-doubt, telling anecdotes for humour and contemplation.
In Where’d You Go?, props are used to illustrate this physical and psychological journey visually. As an avid prop hater, I wasn't expecting to enjoy this choice–but I found it to be one of the most endearing parts of her show. Maybe it was in her ability to improvise and incorporate her audience–which was far too small for her talent–but it allowed a narrative choice that could point to the hypocrisy and reality of being a female comedian with something new to say. It is rare to work with a small audience as well as Tresidder does. The intimacy feels more like an attribute and a necessary factor in her show than just a by-product of being a smaller comedian at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Her section on critics was probably the most poignant moment of Tresidder's show. To hate on critics is an easy task, and, while there is a lot to hate, a lot of jabs at them aren't rooted in anything other than hurt feelings. But Where'd You Go? says something new. Tresidder hits at the root of rotten criticism in the Australian cultural landscape, lampooning critics whose reviews can be reduced to comparisons against more famous comedians. She refers to a 3-star review she received, which included the criticism that "she wasn't Hannah Gadsby enough" for not discussing her trauma in more detail to make a broader societal comment. As much as I dislike artists complaining about critics, she is right. That is bad criticism. However, Tresidder doesn't include this anecdote for pity. If anything, this inclusion points to her intelligence. She can break down the difficulties of the Australian art scene when you're trying to do something slightly new, paired with the dominance of male critics who like things to be by the book. She can balance the thread of smart critique with silly jokes. She can add commentary about the state of Australian criticism right after joking about a man from Perth called Shane.
Oddly, when breaking down why I found this show good, I found myself using the same criteria as why I find some personal essays better than others. It is intelligent and honest with something to say and never asks for pity. In a festival filled with too much irony and repetitive pessimism, Tresidder’s show is a stand-out. It is intelligent while not being overindulgent and earnest without being overboard. It is, simply put, a lovely show.