RACE OFF

Wed 2nd – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Helena Snider

at 09:38 on 20th Aug 2017

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The atmosphere in the room of ‘Race Off’ was uncomfortable for the first few minutes. A comedy show about race, ‘Race Off’ displays the presumptions people make about ethnic groups. The comedians do so by making racial jokes, and then pointing out how predominantly white audience reacts to them.

The comedy duo are unique, to say the least; The Times critic Dominic Maxwell – who got his own shout-out from the comedians in the show – described the pair as “the world’s first white Australian/indigenous Australian comedy act”.

Brendon Burns relays how he told Craig Quartermaine, upon their arrival in Edinburgh, “You are going to be amazed what an upgrade it is to be brown in Europe.” The chemistry between Burns and Quartermaine is palpable. They make jokes that sit awkwardly on the border between deeply offensive and just-about-PC. But this is clearly the point. The two men both grew up in Perth, Australia, but repeatedly make fun of their highly disparate experiences. It is something that lends itself to a great deal of comedy – two amusing, observant and charismatic men looking at the same thing from different sides.

Burns, an award-winning comedian who travelled the world for his podcast Dumb White Guy, describes how he clicked with Quartermaine, a then un-known comedian. (Quartermaine has only been gigging for three years). This has resulted in accusations of tokenism being levelled against the pair. In interviews, Quartermaine has spoken about the lack of a platform for Aboriginal men. So, to some extent, accusations of tokenism overlook the importance of an Aboriginal man voicing his views; and moreover, serve to patronise him to a degree. A big concept in the show is the notion of the white saviour complex, and critics who display their concern about tokenism are really the embodiment of such a view.

If the show falls flat at any point, it’s perhaps when the pair discuss matters they’re not so comedically familiar with; there is a moment when a sexual interaction is described in graphic terms that might be viewed as misogynistic.

That aside, soon, the tense atmosphere in the room that existed at the start, has dissipated. What the audience is left with is a sense of confusion, a million things to think about and white guilt. So it’s a success, because that’s all Burns and Quartermaine wanted.

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Adele Cooke

at 16:52 on 20th Aug 2017

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Surprisingly, initially I didn’t get the memo that this was a show using race as a catalyst for comedy. However, after five minutes in the auditorium I was acutely aware of what an error I had made. This is a show preoccupied with racial juxtapositions, teasing out the tensions between native Australians and white Australians by tackling issues such as white privilege and stereotyping. This isn’t a show for the faint hearted, children or those that shy away from race related comedy.

The set revolves around Brendon Burns and Craig Quartermaine’s first meeting, encapsulating their journey as friends and co-stars from that moment to present. With digressions for the purpose of comedic anecdotes, this was moderately effective as the show maintained some semblance of a central focus.

Sadly, in terms of content I was more aware of what the show was trying to achieve than its success. The heavily racial comments made me initially feel incredibly uncomfortable. Gradually as I watched their set progress I became less self-conscious, but was never fully able to relax whilst in the auditorium. Albeit this may in part be down to my individual sense of humour, but at times I felt the show pushed the envelope a little too far. Admittedly at times I did laugh, but this was only to accompany the nervous laughter of the rest of the audience. If I’m honest I wasn’t enamoured with Burns. The “no filter” tag line I had read online seemed appropriate. Quartermaine appeared to be a greater source of calm and cohesion whilst on stage, where as in contrast Burns’s performance was at times jittery, too loud and almost obnoxious. Frequent swearing and stumbling around on stage characterised his performance, which I can’t help but feel detracted from his professionalism. As a pairing, the show makes greater sense as the duo balance each other’s personas. Burns injected some much-needed personality into the show, whereas Quartermaine provided the unity required to keep a set of this kind in check. However, I felt Burns overpowered his co-star, using his greater comedic experience to justify his commandment of the airtime. Sadly, this detracted from Quartermaine’s performance, as he was used more as a crutch for Burns than a co-star. Admittedly, my prime criticisms of the show ultimately pertain to my sense of humour, as the man behind me laughed deeply and frequently. This was characteristic of the set, as the audience seemed not to share a unifying opinion of the performance. I was left feeling that this performance may have resonated better with an Australian audience.

Production was relatively minimal, primarily focusing on the banter between Quartermaine and Brendan. However, the use of video cameras and PowerPoint text was moderately successful in supporting Brendan’s arguments. Although, these shock tactics seemed forced, as a heavy reliance was placed upon the audience’s reactions over the quality of the duo’s comedy. I especially did not appreciate the victimisation of a woman in the second row, who was highly uncomfortable whilst Burns attempted to interact with her. This made the majority of the audience feel unsteady, with the ominous notion they may be next.

If, like me, racial comedy makes you uncomfortable this may not be your cup of tea. However, if frank discussions of native Australian identity versus that of the settling population appeals to your sense of humour then this may be the show for you.

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