Sammy J's warmth, timing and humour turned a good yarn into a truly great one.
Sammy J in Hero Complex, image via Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Stand-up comedians often assure audiences that the story they’re telling is true, even though everyone in the room knows it’s not. It’s mildly annoying, and partly what makes Hero Complex so satisfying: Sammy J’s real-life, show-long yarn is so extraordinary it must be fiction, yet it’s verifiably true – and utterly entertaining.
Setting aside frequent companion Randy the purple puppet, and only sparingly singing and playing keyboard (complete with his signature earnest juice-box sipping), the creator-host of ABC-TV’s Playground Politics turned to archive photos, video and the odd physical relic from his past for this show.
Starting with a neat teaser of where we would end up – with a knock on the door by a federal police officer – Sammy took the audience back to a fateful day in the school yard: a nerdy, 13-year-old outsider who keenly collected Phantom comics, he found a friend in the young school gardener who shared his passion for the Ghost Who Walks.
Thus began a 20-year-long rollercoaster ride through teenage awkwardness, moments of mystery and joy, and a whole lot of serendipity. Kept on track by a compelling, laser-focused narrative, the tale mostly swerved between pivotal moments in Melbourne and Canberra, including young Sammy’s trip to the capital as Ukraine’s representative in a mock United Nations council. There are also significant international sojourns to Samoa for a marriage proposal by a Phantom-esque waterfall, and Jack Reacher fan events in the United States.
Drawing on a remarkable array of hard evidence squirreled away during his life, particularly photos and excerpts from his juvenile diary projected on a screen, Sammy told his tale with charm and self-effacing humour. Drawing the audience in almost by stealth, he soon had us eating out of his hand, laughing and clapping almost constantly. Each time there was a twist in the tale, twists that became increasingly incredible, we bellowed with delighted surprise (and nearly raised the roof when opening night’s bonus, grand finale surprise was revealed).
While serendipity and the unexpected hero of the story could claim one star for their part in making Hero Complex so enjoyable, this is five-star entertainment mostly thanks to Sammy J. His warmth, timing and humour turned a good yarn into a truly great one. It’s not side-splitting stuff, but rather a heart-warming hour of constant grinning, chuckling and laughing, punctuated with revelations that may just blow your mind.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Written and performed by Sammy J
Directed by Chris McDonald
Banquet Room, Victoria Hotel, Melbourne, until 23 April