Yes, puns can be catching. There’s a fair sprinkling of them during Bart Freebairn’s stand-up show at The Squeaker, the outdoor comedy “room” the other side of a tarpaulin portal in Gluttony (“a room is just the outdoors, but with walls”), but his knowing delivery elevates them from groan-inducing dad jokes into a brand of a slightly world-weary, free-associating meta humour that seems idiosyncratically his own.
If you ever need to apply quality control to stand-up comedy, put the “artist” (the inverted commas are Freebairn’s own) in front of mostly empty rows of seats – save for 12 audience members – on a tiny stage outdoors on a cold and windy Tuesday night, sandwiched between the doof-pumping Melba Spiegltent and Ukiyo. A veteran of Adelaide Fringe who’s been called upon to entertain troops overseas, Freebairn earned positive reviews at Melbourne and Brisbane comedy festivals with good reason, and despite this sparse audience, he passed quality control with bells on, even without a single mention of frog cakes.
Yes, the bakery-themed jokes were almost as sparse as the audience, and heavily pie-biased, but it didn’t matter. Even the ubiquitous Adelaide jokes about the Malls’ Balls and Farmers’ Union Ice Coffee were delivered fresh and funny with Freebairn’s uniquely bizarre angle on these and other Adelaide tropes.
You know someone has serious comedy nous when they can squeeze 10 minutes of material out of a sauce bottle. It’s all pretty meta – Freebairn ticking off his checklist of jokes as he goes, trying out a few, then moving on into self-referential stories that hit all the right spots at the perfect pace.
He has a deceptively clever way of relating to his audience so there’s a sense of everybody being on the same side, with none of that subtle facade you can sometimes sense between a stand-up comedian and their audience. There was plenty of non-pressured interaction with the dozen people who’d come to see him; audience interjections were more banter than heckle and Freebairn made good-humoured use of them. Laughs at the expense of individual audience members were never unkind.
The feeling of connection is enhanced by the relatability of his gags, though not everyone will have seen hand sanitiser stations the way Freebairn does (once you hear about it you’ll never see them the same way again). What tickles is that collective sense of recognition. It feels pretty good to have that shared vibe after the isolating two years we’ve had.
For the love of Vili’s Pies, go and see the man and give him the audience he deserves. He’s funny.
3 Adelaide Bakery Secrets That Will Alarm You is at Gluttony until March 13.
Read more 2022 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.