Remarking that a comedian is ‘likeable’ might sound like a backhanded compliment. In actuality, I think it is something many comedians find difficult to achieve – even when they’re funny, they’re so often plagued by a sense of arrogance, of finding themselves funnier than anyone in the audience, or just being plain annoying. So do not misunderstand me when I say that one of the first things I note during Nath Valvo’s act is just how genuinely likeable he is.
His show, I’m Happy For You, is an hour long exploration of the lives of thirty somethings living in inner-Melbourne. At the core of the act is Valvo’s decision whether (or not) to have a child with his partner, and from this broad theme the show cleverly covers a range of topics from dads to degustations.
But about fifteen minutes into the show, I flatter myself into thinking I have Valvo’s act all figured out. While I’m smiling at most of the jokes, few are procuring actual laughs, and I think I know why. It’s because I’m about fifteen years too young. As Valvo mocks Melbourne’s pretentious fine dining scene and speakeasy birthday parties, I can’t help but feel that this humour is highly generational. I understand most of the jokes, but they simply aren’t resonating with me – they’re drawing on and mocking a middle-class, inner-Melbourne lifestyle you experience in your thirties, and as someone in their early twenties, its mostly foreign to me.
This is hardly a reflection on the quality of Valvo’s comedy. At one point he remarks to the audience “I’m glad I’ve got you guys figured out – you’re my kind of people.” And boy, are they ever. I’m surrounded by both men and women of the aforementioned age-group in absolute hysterics from the word go. If Valvo’s comedy is generational, it’s certainly hitting its mark.
However, I’m forced to eat my words. As the show goes on, the jokes become less inner-Melbourne oriented and more accessible. Whatever it is, by the show’s halfway mark, I’m in hysterics with the rest of the crowd. What strikes me at this point is how carefully crafted the show is, despite Valvo’s relaxed, ad lib-y manner. The quality of the jokes is bolstered by subtle gestural comedy which ensures the set stays engaging and varied. Furthermore, it becomes clear that Valvo both self-aware and highly perceptive. Underlying many of his jokes is a criticism of the inequalities of the comfortable Melbourne bubble in which most of us reside. It’s critical without being blatant, luring the audience in before having them realise that what they’re laughing at is just a little messed up. It’s a refreshing change from comedy that is either tone deaf or overly forceful.
When the show ends, I hear a woman beside me remark that her face hurts from laughing so much. Mine does too – in fact for the last few minutes of the show I’ve had to consciously try to wipe off a very large smile to give my facial muscles some much needed respite. And if that’s not testament to the humour of Nath Valvo, I don’t know what is.
I’m Happy for You by Nath Valvo runs at The Melbourne Town Hall in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from 28 March — 21 April 2019.