Review: Asher Treleaven in Open Door
Starring: Asher Treleaven
Appearing at: Melbourne Town Hall, for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival
You always get sentimental about that one person who amused you more than you thought possible, and Asher Treleaven is the laugh of my life.
It happened in February 2007, at the Oyster Club, the comedy room Treleaven used to run at the Spanish Club. He told a joke about Kuato, the mutant leader from Total Recall, that was somehow so hilarious that I laughed long after the house lights came back up again. Treleaven walked past me on his way to the bar and I was still laughing. I continued to laugh at this joke over the next week or so, like Mr Burns remembering the time he crippled an Irishman with a dodgem car.
The gangly, erudite Treleaven is best known for reading passages from pulp novels in silly voices; at least that’s what I overheard a middle-aged man in the queue telling his companion. This same gentleman unwittingly became the fulcrum of the performance I witnessed, but more on that later. Open Door, which was awarded a Moosehead Award grant, is much more ambitious: almost a complete deconstruction of stand-up comedy tropes and audience expectations.
It’s not the sort of show you should watch if you enjoy sitting back and being entertained. Rather, you’ll need to climb on board with Treleaven for a seriously weird ride. The judges of the Barry Award must have done so – Open Door has been nominated as one of this festival’s most outstanding shows.
The show begins with Treleaven in voiceover, warning audiences that flash photography causes epileptic seizures whereas mobile phone usage gets incorporated into the show and the phone’s owner humiliated. Throughout, Treleaven reluctantly chugs large amounts of raspberry-flavoured Vodka Cruisers. The alcopop company may be a show sponsor, or Treleaven may simply be taking the piss out of sponsorship, but his descent into possible shitfacedness makes for even more bizarre antics.
Quite simply, Treleaven never does what audiences expect of a stand-up comedian. He spends four minutes on a dance routine to ‘Rock Your Body’ by Justin Timberlake, which hints at his gift for physical comedy. He launches into a standard set of gags about Melbourne landmarks, informing us that’s what comedians do to build rapport with local audiences, but this soon slides into more disturbing territory. His personal anecdotes turn similarly grim.
Early in the show, Treleaven called on that aforementioned audience member to volunteer. “I didn’t come here to be in the show, I came here to see you,” demurred the man. It turned out Treleaven only wanted someone to hold a pinata up while he bashed at it, and the second time Treleaven called on the same guy, he and his companion got up and left. While undeniably awkward, this actually broke the bubble of confusion and tension that had built up in the room. The audience – and Treleaven – appeared much more relaxed and willing to go with the nonsequiturs.
Even his straightest material – such as a tale of a Byron Bay roving entertainer attacked by a redheaded child – is very, very funny. But if you run with Open Door‘s chaos, it’s hilarious.
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