MICF – Josh Earl Four Burners

by | Apr 14, 2024

By Nick Pilgrim

Each year prior to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Theatre Matters asks their team of writers to nominate which acts they would like to review. With over 500 choices on offer spanning across three hectic weeks, making the right move is no easy feat.

A master of audience interaction, observational humour, and long or short form jokes (no pun intended), this season I jumped at the chance to critique Josh Earl’s latest show.

Two previous experiences I saw (Josh Earl vs the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book in 2010 and Josh Earl is a Librarian in 2013), showcased presentations modelled on and expanded around a single theme. The first included adventures growing up in regional Tasmania, while the second unpacked tales of love gone wrong, career pratfalls and awkward walks of shame.

The good news is that for fans and followers of Earl’s inimitable house style, his latest experience, Four Burners, continues that trustworthy template of exploiting personal stories for comic effect.

For the uninitiated, the show’s title is actually built around a term Earl discovered while reading an essay by the American writer, David Sedaris. The author’s theory is that in life, we are governed by four aspects, ‘health’, ‘career’, ‘friends’, and ‘family’. To be successful in your area of choice, one of these components must be sacrificed for the sake of the other three. Just the overriding concept alone is food for thought.  Which burner would you extinguish?

Running at a swift fifty-five minutes, the zingers fly thick and fast. Topics for discussion include:

  • How people address you when you’re a certain height,
  • Begging to attend a Christian Youth Camp when he was the only non-believer,
  • The key differences between making friends at school, university, or in the workforce,
  • If meeting a longtime friend today instead of twenty years ago would still be viable,
  • Equating the relationship Earl shared with his dad against The Simpsons’ sitcom use-by date,
  • Studying to become an actor,
  • Why laughter is the best medicine,
  • Misunderstanding what kids want for Christmas, and
  • Earl’s affinity for Harry Potter books and how that passion helped a vision-impaired student.

The list goes on!

Two special highlights included stories about his chain-smoking grandmother and the special wreath that was made for her funeral, and the unfortunate nickname Earl was given by his employers for mastering how to assemble a particular food processing device at his workplace.

Set after a particularly traumatic gig, Four Burners ends on a very surprising note where Earl shares a personal yet touching story with us. This conclusion makes for an outstanding endpoint to the previous hour, reinforcing exactly which burners he would choose.

Playing for the duration of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, if you’re looking for comedy with punch and depth, this is the journey for you.

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