The Cloak Room at the Melbourne Town Hall is packed and buzzing with anticipation. Happy Talk from South Pacific is playing on the PA and there are thought bubbles on a board at the back of the stage: people who love their pets too much; travel; eavesdropping; family lies; mortification; sex. The stage is set for an hour of non-stop laughter courtesy of the one and only Cal Wilson.
Wilson is announced and springs onto the stage asking her audience whether they noticed that she had introduced herself. There's a roar of YES from the audience. The pace does not flag from that moment on. Stories are what Wilson loves best, real life stories. Not only are we treated to hilarious accounts of her own experiences but the audience is encouraged to share stories of their own. There is no sense of being sent up or set up, everyone is in this together, laughing with each other over shared life experiences.
Courtesy of Wilson's quick wit, story-tellers earn names such as – Megan, the corpse magnet (her travel stories involve finding herself, on more than one occasion, near a dead body); Emma 'magination who admits to having an imaginary dog called Blue; and Susie the Baby Skeleton whose mother answered her question of where she she came from by saying that God had given her a skeleton to which she added the flesh. Wilson adds the names to a list at the side of the stage and at the end of the show a 'winner' is decided on. Last night it was Dave, the world's youngest Drag Queen, a title earned because his elder siblings used to dress him up as a girl and push him down a hill in a pram!
As these stories all came from the audience on the night I haven't given anything away. You can be sure that there will be other and different delights depending on which performance you attend, and who happens to be in the audience The one thing you may be certain of is that Cal Wilson will be there to share her experiences and orchestrate the comedy in her own wonderfully idiosyncratic way.
In the end, whatever the topic picked off the board or captured from somewhere in the Wilson's memory, it is her skill as a comedian that makes the night. From start to finish there are no 'dead' spots and the banter and laughs roll on at a great rate. There's not a cheap, smutty joke to be heard, proving that you don't have to be 'rude' to make your audience laugh out loud.
If you want an hour of laughter secure in the hands of a delightful and very funny woman then Cal Wilson: All Ears is a definite must for your Comedy Festival diary.
Quick-witted, high-spirited and a dab hand at impersonations, Cal Wilson is, nevertheless, not here to tell jokes.
Stories, she assures us, are a much more interesting field of endeavour, and her All Ears show sets out to mine the audience members' back stories - as well as her own - for life's mortifying, thrilling and hilarious moments.
People who love their pets too much, lies our family told us when we were little, getting caught in the act and over-the-top travel stories are among the topical nuggets Cal moves through at break-neck speed.
We learn of her shocking public faux pas in the grip of migraines, the strange personalities she has assigned to her pets and her penchant for eavesdropping.
Amiable and hugely likable, Cal has developed a style of friendly banter-meets-humour that clearly works.
She's all grown up now, with child, husband and a flash career in Melbourne, yet Cal Wilson is still the energizer bunny of the comedy circuit. Oozing boundless enthusiasm, she's one of the brightest, most vivacious and uplifting women I know. She makes delivering a story-filled show, complete with unscheduled technical failure, look natural, easy and even pleasurable.
We leave the theatre bubbling with stories of our own – In fact, I have no doubt Cal's premise (sharing a swag of stories with a bunch of folk in a low lit room) inspires everyone else in the audience to do the same: share good ole fashioned 'beginning-middle-end' stories with their mates.
Being part of an interactive, inclusive and exposing night, is effortless, as Cal is so free and friendly with her own memories and tales, plus supportive of all the offers her audience gives, that it's impossible not to feel a willingness to share. Folks are all too keen to do so, with some – such as ex flatmates Mike and Warren – revealing many sordid details.
Cal leads us to her story-board, with colourful speech bubbles Velcroed on the back wall of the stage, which act as story-starters, with topics like 'Sex', 'Moments of mortification', 'Lies Your Family Told You' and so on.
Our crowd need little more encouragement than that. Admittedly the open night posse is dotted with friends but even so, the dialogue between performer and audience is overflowing and hugely entertaining.
I imagine Cal's material for this show keeps growing. Just as she shares the best offers from previous audiences, so too will our gems of the night (such as Mr Whippy's timely tune) become part of future shows. We are an awesome audience, especially the row of merry nurses at the back.
Before we get to the stories proper, on opening night, Cal has to deal with a stand-up comedian's worst nightmare: microphone failure. However, the outcome is a seamless bonus comedy routine, with Josh the tech endowed with an on-stage support role, as Cal successfully directs the dilemma, including a partial strip, as she takes off the faulty mic, describing her move as “The World's Saddest Burlesque Show”. She doesn't miss a beat, and we hear ever word. Kiwi ingenuity. Much respect.
Once we are safely back on the story-wagon, Cal's show is a treat from start to finish; from recounting urban legends to sharing personal experiences from childhood, youth, love and life. Even though her opening night is “a shambles" from Cal's perspective, from where her audience's is sitting, it's the opposite: her stories are fresh and totally natural in the telling, plus very funny in content and delivery.
Ever heard of Dave the Tiny Drag Queen, Annette Curtain or Baby Skeleton Susan? All of these people and more got a guest spot in Cal Wilson's show, All Ears, right from their comfortable seat in the audience.
Now I get a little bit scared by rumours of audience interaction: I'm torn between a desire to head for the front rows in order to secure a good view and the urge to hide myself wherever I am least likely to be harangued by the comedian. Luckily Cal wasn't a scary participation enforcer. Anyone could put up their hand if they wanted to volunteer a story and no one was singled out or put on the spot.
A clever tactic is that the show revolves around a backdrop set up with different topics, things like Sex, People Who Love Their Pets Too Much, Travel and Overheard. The audience pick the topics they wanted to talk about, and therefore in effect tailor the show to their own funnybone.
These are subjects where most people think they have a good story to tell, but just how many of those stories are actually funny? Cal managed the audience interaction with skill, spinning out the stories to amplify the laughs and had plenty of her own material to keep the show trucking along at a very fast, funny pace. She even managed to make migraines hilarious, and had us right there with her, running from a horde of cats and vomiting in Venice.
Given the nature of the show, the content will change every night, depending on what topics that audience wants, and what stories they are offering. From Cal Wilson you should expect a quality show that combines well-written, cleverly segued material, audience banter, physical comedy and accents too.
Chuckle factor: 4.5 / 5
Last night Cal Wilson opened her first NZ International Comedy Festival show in over ten years at The Basement. Wilson’s typical effervescence was on display from the second she peeked around the curtain, and she immediately had the crowd in the palm of her hands.
Technical problems aside (Yarr That’ll teach you to deviate from the standard talking stick!) this show had an awesome level of Audience interaction. It wasn’t just a stand-up standing at the front of the room, telling you how it is, for 55 minutes. Cal Wilson bought the best stories out of everyone in the room, showing you just how much better it is to get a laugh out of something that actually happened, rather than a boring story with the typical comedic inflation.
This brilliant concept of a show is delivered perfectly by the Cal Wilson that this country has missed for so long, and I do genuinely hope you all get to see it. It’s a 7pm show, a great laugh, at a fantastic venue.
This show gets a rating of 4 out of 5 Annoying Older Brothers. (That’s a good thing)