MICF: Ben Pobjie, Degrassi Junior High: The Dining Experience
For those of you who don’t know him, Ben Pobjie is a self-described writer, comedian and poet with ‘no journalistic qualifications whatsoever.’
He’s also a massive T.V. nerd who I first became aware of by reading his recaps of reality television show My Kitchen Rules. I’m going to put it out there now and say that Pobjie’s MKR recaps are consistently the best part of my week. And yes, this may read as a sad indictment of me personally, but I assure you I lead a busy and fulfilling life; Pobjie’s recaps are just that funny. He’s a great comedy writer and that’s a rare thing, so when the opportunity arises to review his 2017 MICF offering Degrassi Junior High: The Dining Experience, I jump at it with embarrassing enthusiasm.
The performance space has a capacity of about 50 people and is under half full, but Pobjie is an imposing stage presence with a loud, didactic delivery and he doesn’t seem fazed by the intimacy of the setting. He makes self-deprecating jokes about wanting to keep the crowd small for artistic purposes. That said he doesn’t seem particularly comfortable on stage.
The show is loosely divided into three topics: sex, food and art, all of which Pobjie sees as fundamentally important to the human experience. He starts strong with material about his twin daughters – twins being ‘God’s cruelest joke,’ – and the difficulties of learning about sex from your parents. This has the audience both laughing and cringing with recognition.
It feels like Pobjie is hitting his stride when he suddenly leaves the stage and we watch a short video comprised of scenes from popular 90s teen drama Degrassi Junior High. Pobjie’s show is billed as a ‘multimedia comedy extravaganza’ and audiovisual clips are used to divide it into sections. Not all of them add something to the performance. The Attenborough-style voiceover of a penguin documentary is hilarious; the montage of scenes from Degrassi feels like filler.
Interwoven throughout the night are interludes of interpretive dance, cheese eating, drumming, songs, poetry readings and recitation of some of Mark Latham’s most nonsensical tweets. Some of these elements work and some don’t.
The interpretive dance receives only reluctant applause; in theory someone dancing their feelings on a political issue is funny, but the laughs don’t translate in practice.
The poems are hysterical, as mentioned above Pobjie has a talent for comedic writing, and the cheese eating is odd enough to get a laugh. But ultimately paring back some of the distractions would make for a stronger performance. There is an experimental feel to many of them; Pobjie doing what makes him laugh and testing whether the audience shares his sense of humour. I find it endearing but then I like odd people.
Some of the biggest laughs of the night come when Pobjie riffs off the audience. He’s quick witted with a talent for funny turns of phrase and manages to twist the job description of each person he speaks to into a hilarious monologue about the nature of art. My partner reveals she works in a steel mill and Pobjie declared that it takes an artist’s vision to look at a verdant field and see a future site for a steel and concrete construction. The audience loves it.
At one point Pobjie says people have asked why he didn’t call the show something more crowd pleasing like, ‘That’s Bentertainment’. In my opinion, if he had it wouldn’t have sat quite right. Pobjie’s style isn’t laugh-a-minute quick fire jokes. He takes you on a journey of his strange inner world which is alternately confusing, laugh out loud funny, bemusing and strange. The one thing it isn’t is dull.