The heart of his Hard Quiz schtick is intelligent abuse of his contestants where he persistently insults them and belittles their nerdish expertise while still managing to come across as a (reasonably) nice guy. I went into Sure Thing Fringe show determined not to sit too near the front, wanting to avoid the risk of becoming a target of Gleeson’s talent for caustic mockery.
I needn’t have worried. Gleeson has been doing traditional stand-up for more than 20 years, long before his most recent television celebrity, and it shows. His set was polished and delivered with such dry style that he managed to slip between family-based observational humour and rapier political and social satire with seamless ease.
His set kicked off with the stand-up convention of observational material about the city, giving Adelaide the Hard Quiz treatment by insulting its national reputation yet managing to leave the audience with the impression he felt the opposite.
Moving on to other material, Gleeson showed his mastery of the craft, using pretty standard family-based topics to deftly slide into clever and pointed political and social satire.
A family holiday was an opportunity to examine white guilt over third-world poverty and travel to nations where the western middle class can live like royalty. Musings on where to educate his kids was a front for lambasting the Catholic church and the findings of the recent Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. A bit of self-analysis about his upbringing led into material on the ethics of disciplining children and the rise of the millennial in society.
Clever, cutting and with no cheap shots: Gleeson’s set is a craft lesson on how to embed caustic political and social critique within an easily digestible, traditional format of observational comedy. Don’t miss him (and my recommendation is that heckling is only for those as brave and quick as Gleeson himself).
Tom Gleeson is appearing at the Vagabond, Garden of Unearthly Delights, until March 11. Read more InDaily Fringe reviews and stories here.