Tonight I went to see ‘The Cardboard Cartel’, a sketch comedy show offered up as part of the Sydney Fringe festival.
The marketing for the show had been quite deliberately and deliciously ambiguous, with little more information than the fact it was a sketch comedy show coupled with absurdist ravings about various small animals. Given that sketch comedy as a medium can often be a hit-or-miss affair, not knowing more could be a cause for apprehension because even when done well, Sketch comedy has such a broad range of subjective appeal, yet when done poorly can be an excruciating experience.
The Cardboard Cartel was, to my mind, one of the best nights of sketch comedy I’ve seen in a very long time. Its routines, while engaging in the usual situational humour, offered a series of recurring characters whose individual sketches offered everything from comic critiques of Sydney’s social elite to broad stereotypes that exposed the hypocrisy within many a do-gooder. The mix of relatively topical characters, and more tried-and-tested comic archetypes kept the show flowing nicely between scenes, taking increasingly familiar characters to new and interesting places.
Like all sketch comedy, it had some hits and some misses. It did sometimes lean a little heavily on racial stereotypes and U.S. cultural images, but did so in a self-deprecating way. There was a lot of swearing at some points, but it came across as the product of ad-libbing on stage rather than being gratuitously scripted. Despite all that, for me the real strength of The Cardboard Cartel was the sense of narrative built up around some of the key characters, progressing through serial sketches towards a finale that not only brought them all together, but brought me to tears.
The only real drawback to the night was the venue. I’m all in favour of enterprising new venues offering a space for new works to be shown and tested, but there are a few necessities that even the smallest venue requires, such as a way of identifying when you patrons are locked outside on the street! Also, if going to this venue, make sure you leave that little bit of extra time to find parking.
Thankfully the comedic chops of the four writers/performers that comprise The Cardboard Cartel more than overcame the deficiencies of their environment and put on a show that was a bit absurd, a bit edgy, but all hilarious.
If its not too late, click here to get on the fringe website and buy tickets for one of the two remaining shows of The Cardboard Cartel, and whether you love it or hate it, there’s a pub right next door to help you carry on or drown those feelings.