The format involves a string of comedians willing to stand up in front of an audience who is encouraged to demand that they be gonged off at any time. Various audience members were tapped at intervals to be one of three judges on stage who were handed red cards (including me at one point). If two judges held up a red card, the audience was meant to yell to encourage either another card to go up and thus the gong, or to persuade the judges to put their cards down and let the comic continue. Those comics who manage to complete a five minute set then come back after the interval to compete again and see who ends up winning the crown and a cash prize.
Despite their complimentary lollybags to give them some sugar rush aggro, the crowd weren’t quite sure at first, requiring the night’s referee, Jacques Barrett, to cajole them into releasing their “inner arseholes” and to be cruel to the comics if they faltered or went into areas that failed to enthrall. Barrett led by example, mocking with reckless abandon, and they gradually got into the mood.
By the time a few comics had fallen to the gong, the crowd well and truly had the idea, and their dander was up. The urge to gong seemed to come in waves. It took quite a lot for a comic to be allowed to complete 5 minutes, and if the last one up had done so then it was nearly guaranteed that the crowd would want the next one gonged no matter what, thus ensuring that some of Sydney’s funniest rising comics had barely a chance to deliver their first punchline before the punters were yelling to get them off the stage.
At the end of the second stage, we still had three ungonged comics, so another round of 1 minute each broke the deadlock to leave us with Oliver Phommavanh (2007 Quest for the Best champion) as the night’s winner, and new comic Amanda Gray coming runner-up. Well-deserved to both.
Bendall, who introduced the Red Card format at the Roxbury earlier this year, said that she had wanted a change from so many comedy audiences being so politically correct that they hardly heckle anymore. Judging by the grins on the crowd’s faces at the end of the night, they thoroughly enjoyed the freedom to yell at the stage, and will want to come back for more.
Next month’s referee will be Anthony Ackroyd. The last shows have been sellouts, so book early!