Performing a stand-up gig based around your lifetime relationship with, and experiences in, the various outlets of a major retail franchise, one like, say, Kmart, then there would be nothing more daunting than to find that the gaggle of popcorn crunching, bag rustling front rowers who have just provided you with some comic mileage are all middle management personnel from the very same franchise that provides the focus for your show.
This exact scenario played out for Adelaide comedian, Jason Pestell at Rhino on Raj last night as he presented his latest comedy show Kmart Is Life.
Whilst the realisation of who he was dealing with initially threw him a little off kilter, his combatant’s edge soon saw him take up the challenge, and then, as performer and front row duelled for the right to be lauded for having the most intimate knowledge of the retail giant’s history, sales strategies and product range, the rest of the audience could sit back, bemused, in the neutral zone.
Pestell, although not the most natural comic talent I have seen, as his timing in the delivery of his best punchlines is often awry and his constant reference to his notes was not the best look, has put together some clever ideas and set pieces that raise more than just a few smirks and guffaws.
The beating heart of this show is his actual affection for Kmart, a place where Pestell recognises, in its universal homogeneity, that it is a place of emotional security, where the spirit of the place lies in its reassuring familiarity and constancy. Kmart’s recent tampering with its core appeal explains Pestell’s condemnation of its inexplicable decision to shift all checkouts to the middle of their stores rather than leaving them in their traditional place at the exits!
Unlike so many comedy shows that rely on confessional excoriations of the performer’s insecurities, this show is refreshingly free of that level of angst and finds its humour in the absurdities of the everyday and the mundane. And in the concept of the special deal and the bargain coupon…
I had one issue with the performance though. This show relies, at a number of key moments, on the audience being able to see material displayed on a TV screen – Pestell employs television commercials, product screenshots, and karaoke singalong lyrics – so the screen obviously needs to be seen by everyone. However, the screen is small and, for this performance at least, was positioned at a height where everyone other than those who sat in the front row, had severely obscured sight lines.
This should be an easy problem to remedy, and Pestell should ensure that this is done for the remainder of his Fringe shows during this run as it was a frustrating element in what otherwise was an amusing show.
Kmart Is Life is not a slick and polished show but, in its roughly hewn raw state, it creates enough humorous, and recognisably true, moments for the audience to feel that they have got a solid product for a bargain basement price.
Rating: 3 ½ stars
Jason Pestell: Kmart Is Life is being performed at Rhino on Raj, Raj House until March 17.
Tickets are available here: https://adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/jason-pestell-kmart-is-life-af2018