‘You’d better like sport,’ was the popular response to my saying I was going to see writer and broadcaster Titus O’ Reily perform at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The clue is in the name of the show ‘A Thoroughly Unhelpful History of Australian Sports’. Titus is hugely popular for his hilarious and often satirical take on sport, particularly the AFL, and has based his show around his writings.
Now I do like sport, I watch and play a lot, but I didn’t fit in with the sold out audience because I watch exclusively women’s sport, and ‘men’s’ is the word that should be inserted in front ‘Australian’ in the title of the show. Nevertheless living in Australia you learn the names of sportsmen by osmosis so I was confident I would have enough information to follow along. I find a lot of Titus’s writing hysterically funny so I was keen to see how he would go onstage.
He appeared dressed like an old-time bookie and maintains a mostly deadpan delivery throughout the show. It works well with his gentle mocking tone, though I did overhear a man remark that ‘he could have gotten even more laughs if he acted funnier.’ Take that as you will.
Titus begins by skewering the hysterical reaction of the media to the recent cricket ball tampering ‘scandal’, and the crowd loves it. I think half are laughing at the absurdity of the story being front page news and the other half at his repeated use of the words ball and probe.
There is a weird divide in the audience because Titus himself seems to have two approaches to sport and most of the crowd react to one or the other. Titus unashamedly loves sport but is also extremely critical of Australian sporting culture. I find his social commentary hilarious, his jokes about which AFL teams suck less so; others in the audience laugh when I stop. He does a good job of reading the crowd and balancing the material.
A perfect example of this audience dichotomy is when Titus jokes about the misogyny underlying our sporting culture by remarking that no one knew women were interested in sport until a man invented it a couple of years ago and now it’s really taking off; look at AFLW. I laugh at the dig at the AFL and their belief that they are champions for women but a man behind me, also laughing uproariously, says ‘it’s true though…’ Titus had us both laughing, but for very different reasons. It was an odd crowd to be a part of.
Titus has a huge following and no doubt his shows will continue to sell out. If you like men’s sport, Titus’s writing, or social commentary about sporting culture I think you’ll like this show. I suspect if I was a huge AFLM or cricket fan I would have liked it even more.
Photo credit: Jay Hynes
‘A Thoroughly Unhelpful History of Australian Sport’ is running until April 22.
More information and tickets can be found here.