Content warning: Mentions of mental health, death and suicide
Down Corrs Lane are some of Melbourne’s most beloved Asian food spots. FAD Gallery sits adjacent to Sichuan House, existing as a somewhat dingy (at least aesthetically) old rocker-style dive bar, walls adorned with some shockingly lewd yet macabre indie art. Perfect for someone like Kaine Hansen – a comedian who’s evidently been ushered into the comedy world through sheer proximity to death.
Wonderwall begins rather unwittingly as Kaine Hansen’s raspy, Darth-Vader-esque low-pitched drone fills the room. It is only through looking at the audience that I realise the voice is not, in fact, coming from speakers. Then enters the comedian, dressed top to bottom in the grim reaper’s ensemble – a black hooded cloak. He continues the same low-pitched drone as he walks down the aisle towards the stage, palms together, stopping incrementally for dramatic effect. We are already near symbolic death, but the audience is already laughing along.
The actor-turned-comedian takes off the death hood when he reaches the stage, picks up his guitar and welcomes us to, quite literally, being dead. Songs and ballads take us through an absurdist journey about facing death, the insanity of grief and the existentialism of living. Ruptured by moments of sometimes awkward, sometimes intimate confessionals and eccentric references to sex, every a cappella break feels like catharsis. We are right there with him, facing death, our death, through liberating laughter and the emotional roller-coaster of joyful melodies to the contrasting, darker eruptions of angsty guitar strumming.
Half a glass of wine down and I am feeling the grim reaper, as Hansen would (probably) describe, “up the arse”. Anecdotes about sleeping with a mate’s girlfriend, mental health and suicide, are some of the more confronting topics referenced. But these are balanced with expertly placed musical upturns and accompanying jests. Hansen skilfully turns some of life’s more morose topics into hilarity, releasing our fear of death and the absurdity of living through cathartic laughter. We are quite literally laughing death in its face. The artist’s skill and bravery in dealing with such lofty topics must be admired.
Hansen’s musical influence has been described as a mix between two Australian rock artists: Paul Kelly and TISM, and Wonderwall doesn’t fall short. Between the Darth Vader cloak, cleverly written sentimental ballads and satirical references, Hansen manages to transform the morbid into something familiar, maybe even nostalgic. Hansen is a Fringe Sound Technical Excellence award-winner, it is easy to see why.
Amidst all the jest, Wonderwall reminds us to not take life so seriously, to play and embrace our child-selves as a cure to live fully, even when we might be at death’s door. Before we all become the businessmen dressed in suits walking down Flinders Street – or if we are already there – the show is a reminder that like death, life can border on both grim and ridiculous, with the grim reaper just around the corner.
Kaine Hansen’s solo show Wonderwall is a first for the Victorian College of the Arts graduate and former kids TV show host, but it is clear Hansen is a comedian on the rise. Smart, brave, technically rich and surprisingly thought-provoking, Wonderwall is a show for every kind of audience. Despite it being a comedy piece, I could easily call it performance art. If you are thinking of seeing a comedy show with a little bit more edge, keep your eyes open and ears peeled for Kaine Hansen.