Penny Arcade would easily make it into my ‘top 3 people to invite to a dinner party’ list, my first remark to my plus one after spending an hour getting to know her at the Spiegeltent this Comedy Festival. This counterculture icon has led a remarkable life – running away from home age 16 to New York in the sixties, growing up with the likes of Lou Reed, Andy Warhol & Patti Smith “before they were famous”, spending her years “getting high and having sex” and remarkably never having seen Star Wars, ET or Raiders of the Lost Ark – as a statement.
With a flaming red hair and dress, she took the stage with a monologue slamming the post-gentrification state of our cities – where cupcake shops took over from the dive bars, strip joints and everything that was authentic from New York to King’s Cross. For those unfamiliar with Penny, and expecting stand-up comedy similar to any other hundreds of Comedy Festival performances, the first 10 minutes were a bit jarring. But the energetic vintage rock n’ roll soundtrack, her charisma and captivating wit won us over.
Penny herself claims that this was not stand-up, cabaret or performance art. It is quite an original mix of biography, travelogue and social commentary. It reminded me of a Ted Talk – Penny is very eloquent, her insights are well thought out, and she delivers them with an almost poetic beauty. While I stopped at time and thought that I didn’t quite agree with one observation or another, I can’t say that she is wrong about anything. She has an incredibly original view point to someone locked in the perspective of the 21st century. The more time we spent listening to her though, the more I wanted to find out more about this incredible person and what she had to say about the human condition – expensive cocktails, disengaged youths, propaganda or the characters she grew up with in the last 50 years. I’d recommend Penny Arcade to anyone, and I hear she is writing her biography – I’m going to read it and bring it to her to sign next time I have the chance!
Is an international man of mystery; lover of books, cats and the performing arts; moonlighting as a finance professional by day.
Penny Arcade – Longing Lasts Longer runs until 3 April, at the Melbourne Arts Centre Spiegeltent. The venue is accessible.
Check out our guide to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival for more great shows.