Anthony Noack: The Preacher review – standup sermon falls flat

Standup resembles biblical preaching, according to Australian writer Anthony Noack, a case he tries to make by performing the Book of Ecclesiastes in club-comedy style. I remain unpersuaded. The Preacher, performed to no audiences and delivered digitally as part of the Living Record festival, begins intriguingly, as Noack – in character as Dave Davidson – lures us in with lame jokes and suggestions of a life going off the rails. But that persona becomes tedious then evaporates altogether, and the show is revealed as a more or less faithful – and seemingly interminable – Bible recital.

And lo, I was transported traumatically to my few childhood experiences of churchgoing, which launched me into a life of enthusiastic atheism. While the matter of Noack’s show, and Ecclesiastes itself, is substantial – it’s about wisdom versus foolishness, and the meaning (and futility) of life – in performance it’s just a litany of fortune-cookie pronouncements. “What has been will be again,” “to everything there is a season”, and so on, without any coherent train of thought, far less any discernible jokes to cling to.

If there are meaningful parallels between standup and biblical philosophising, the point would be better made by a freer approach, one that took Ecclesiastes’ arguments, re-contextualised them and re-purposed them as comedy. But Noack cleaves tightly to the original, fulfilling his obligations to humour by grinning a lot, speaking in a jaunty-philosophical tone and adding “what’s the deal?” at the end of every homily. Far from demonstrating any standup/preaching affinity, text and delivery pull in precisely opposite directions. The result is still identifiable as preaching, more’s the pity, but not remotely so as comedy.

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