Published on April 10th, 2023 | by Ben Veress
Patti Harrison’s Untitled Show Is A Fantastic Work In Progress @micomfestival
Summary: Patti Harrison's Untitled Show is a hilarious, chaotic and at times surreal window into the mind of one of the best-rising talents in the comedy scene today.
SOLD OUT SHOW – Town Hall Melbourne
Chaotic, sincere, uncomfy, hilarious, confusing. These are all things I’d say to describe Patti Harrison’s untitled show at the Melbourne Comedy Festival.
Patti Harrison is probably most known for her guest role in Tim Robinson‘s I Think You Should Leave. Whether frantically crying about her tables, or playing a Shark Tank judge who got all her money from suing the Thanksgiving parade, Patti became a fan favourite standing out in all the sketches she’d appeared in.
I wasn’t familiar with Patti’s work outside of her appearances in the show, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Although over a day later, I can’t stop thinking about it.
Patti’s show begins with her opening with a really vulnerable, sincere admission about how the show is still a work in progress and that she’s starting to be kinder to herself. She stammered over her words, seeming to be adlibbing. The mood in the room was ice thin, with some jokes earning polite chuckles here and there.
She then began a PowerPoint presentation highlighting all the show’s trigger warnings and sensitive content, which got a huge laugh from the audience, although something still seemed to be off.
This all fell away when Patti explained her relationship to trauma and therapy then seemingly got possessed by an Evil Dead spirit, throwing herself around the stage while singing a song in the style of Stevie Knicks about locking her baby in a car until it died of heat exposure.
I’d say this is when the show “officially” started and the room started to understand Patti a bit more.
I mentioned earlier that I’ve been thinking about this show a lot, and a huge reason is that I’m not too sure about what was sincere in the show, or if it was all a massive meta-joke.
The start of the show plays with your expectations of who Patti Harrison is. If you’re like me and expecting a similar comedy act to I Think You Should Leave, Patti’s sincerity and vulnerability at the start will entirely subvert that. However, when Patti hard commits to the expected persona, you’re completely thrown out of the loop again.
This ebb and flow was the structure of the show, and it made for really interesting comedy that kept you unsure of where things were going, or how much time was passing.
To flex my honours degree in comedy studies, there’s a theory in which all comedy is centred around incongruity theory. It’s the idea of setup and punchline or “the rule of threes”. The perfect setup with a punchline that subverts our expectations of what we thought the joke would be. Incongruity plays with our preconceptions of what to expect and then flips them on its head, which makes us laugh.
Many philosophers, academics and annoying people at parties would say that this is the perfect way to write a joke. Chris Rock himself would also say so, saying that as long as the audience understands the premise, they’re along with you for the ride of the joke, and will laugh at it.
Patti not only plays with the incongruity of herself but with larger things, most notably L.A, online culture, post-therapy, media, etc. A lot of Patti’s jokes stem from subject matter that New Yorker readers or people terminally online on TikTok or Twitter will be familiar with. And it’s great! I am those people!
A highlight of the show is Patti’s performative reluctance when segueing into her songs, and my personal favourite of this is Patti reading a pilot script for a show in the same vein as Emily In Paris, as she confesses it was her lockdown comfort show.
Patti starts off by satirising the typical rom-com voyeurism shows like Sex & The City or Emily In Paris present to viewers. The perfectly inclusive media agency, the absent-minded protagonist that everyone loves. This quickly becomes chaotic and increasingly dark as Patti satirises these character archetypes, but also the culture of the shows, and by extension, maybe society in how they hyper-fixate on gender and race, and how uncomfortable the descriptions for these characters can be on the page. Patti herself is trans, so there is so much authenticity in this bit.
An example of this is how Patti writes characters to hyper-fixate on if a character is a POC or has unique pronouns, and if so, everyone around them celebrates.
The reading of the pilot script is hilarious and plays with our expectations of a typical rom-com movie or Netflix teen show.
Patti is obviously an incredible writer, her hilarious descriptions and delivery had me perfectly imagining everything she was saying. From the dainty high fashion her characters were wearing, to the Emily character swinging in her chair, roundhouse kicking someone’s jaw clean from their face, killing them. The bit is an insane fever dream that continues to escalate, although if you’ve been following plenty of neo-liberal talking points, and have felt disillusioned and even angry, this bit will speak to you.
And that returns me to whether this show is meta-commentary or not. There’s been so much tension in comedy circles, media and culture about trans identity, gender politics, and sensitive issues such as accommodating to anxiety and trauma. These are such heavy topics that I myself (a straight white man) can’t really speak about due to my lack of experience or knowledge. However, what I understood from Patti’s show was that there was anger, but also humour in slightly exaggerating and referring to how we present them. Be it in stand-up or in movies.
The incongruity that’s come from the current culture wars, especially in America gave Patti a window to play into our expectations on how we think comedy should be done about these subjects.
Patti kept saying throughout her show that she didn’t want to come across as an angry comedian, and wanted to be a bit more sincere, and I think she succeeded. Her show wasn’t all about anger, although there were definitely moments she was angry. I took away that her comedy was very sincere, sensitive and introspective.
I’m very eager to see how Patti’s show evolves over time, how she continues to grow as a comedian and if these themes continue to be a main part of her storytelling in the future.