Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
Unconventional silent stand up comedy
May Contain Traces of Reading by Mitchell E Roberts is an unusual stand up comedy show: it's full of words, yet (almost) completely silent. And in case you're wondering, an hour of watching a silent stand up comedian hold up printed jokes for his audience to read is definitely funnier than it sounds.
Mitchell E Roberts performs this show as his alter ego, Robert Mitchell, who has consciously refrained from speaking a single word since 2002. He has instead mastered the art of planning all his speech in advance, making daily trips to Officeworks to print his script for the day ahead. It's mildly inconvenient, and makes for some awkward social interactions such as when he's trying to make conversation on a date (spoiler: it's not organic). But it also gives him an edge at other times, such as when his show is interrupted by hecklers, but he has a folder full of "sick burns" ready to respond with.
In May Contain Traces of Reading, Mitchell pays tribute to a lot of classic comedy techniques and styles: he has a fun collection of knock-knock jokes, dad jokes, bad puns, impressions, and heaps more. He's got a checklist to keep himself on track, and an adjustable laughter measure to keep checking in with audience responses. His punchlines, while funny, aren't necessarily what will you blow you away in this show - the unusual delivery is what makes the show novel, rather than the content. Audience heckling - which he encourages - infuses energy into the show at several crucial points.
The show is somewhat slow in the first half, but picks up in the second half and ends on a high note. Interestingly, Mitchell is conscious of this, and his laughter measure reflects the "funny level" of the show fairly accurately through most of it (although he does downplay it a little at times). It's hard to tell whether this is because of increased heckling in the second half, or increased audio effects - I'm inclined to say it's the latter. The first half could have benefited from more audio effects or background music; the music in the second half definitely added dimension and fullness to the show.
Mitchell is an immensely likeable performer and builds a great rapport with his audience in this unusual comedy show. You can definitely expect to have some very genuine laughs in this silly, somewhat formulaic, yet entertaining hour of printed script comedy.