Honesty is at the heart of Tom Gleeson’s comedy. He opens by thanking the audience for supporting “a white, heterosexual, middle-aged, wealthy man” and for giving new, up-and-coming talent a go.

He knows his considerable strengths and isn’t shy about reminding you, but is smart enough to turn his shortcomings into a jibe at the audience and use that as material, too.

With decades of stand-up comedy experience behind him, and lists of radio and TV work that has made him a household name, he can be confident the audience is here because they know and like his hard-nosed, combative style, and they’ll accept the rude abuse so long as it’s funny and punching up.

But what if he’s punching down? Gleeson dances closer than ever around the edges of political correctness in Gear, as he explores a range of dodgy opinions and how we should just learn to cope with them, rather than cancelling the embarrassing parts of our culture. He includes his own lifestyle choices in that mix, and loves to set himself up as the bad man being outrageous.

But the good thing about watching Gleeson work is he can sense when the audience isn’t sure about a topic and he feeds off that, goading the room a bit more and enjoying pushing people out of their comfort zones – walking the line between serious and funny so you’re never sure if offense has been given, taken or simply flashed at you as he does another backflip on the tightrope.

That confidence is the other half to Gleeson’s shtick. And yes, a lot of that probably comes from being “a white, heterosexual, middle-aged, wealthy man” but it’s also buoyed by him genuine smarts and extremely flexible, quick wit and it’s tempered by a qualified dose of self-deprecation.

His material this year includes some classic generational quips around old technology, jibes at modern health fads, property ownership, even some deliciously salacious behind-the-scenes comedy circuit gossip, all worked around side-splitting stories of wreaking revenge.

Along the way he often sends himself up as being part of an out-of-touch elite – but, in doing so, he holds a huge mirror up for the audience to check themselves in, too.

At the end of Gleeson’s show he admits that 92% of his show is true and about 8% made up – then gives the audience a chance to call out which bits are lies. Watching him take on some very weird queries and convert these into comic responses that still weave through storylines already set up over the past hour is an impressive lesson in audience control and smart ad-libbing.

Go and support some new, up-and-coming talent at this year’s MICF – but if you want to see a comic master at work, get along to Gear, too.

Event details

Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Tom Gleeson

Venue: Comedy Theatre | 240 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 28 March – 21 April 2024
Tickets: $54.90 – $39
Bookings: 1300 11 10 11 | www.comedyfestival.com.au

Recommended for audiences aged over 15 | Auslan session: Wednesday, April 17, at 9pm

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