It's a curious coincidence of events that leads me to wonder if Michael Workman might not be an evangelical Catholic preaching post-post modern parables in the form of an extended and somewhat random multimedia merry-minstrel thing.
The show, called "Mercy", is a seemingly whimsical tale about a Cuban man set adrift on the high seas with nothing but a pile of cabbages for criticising Castro in a newspaper column. Why cabbages? Well, that's the slaw. Haw haw.
A fair chunk of Workman's routine is aimed as a gentle complaint against fascism and tyranny and "jerks in power": a psalm for freedom of speech and freedom of thought. In part this moral is simply a kind of feel-good buoyancy device used to support the jokes, to keep them above water, as it were, and for that it works fine; but even as this latest show -- brand new material to go with Workman's brand new platinum power-hair -- opened at the Comedy Festival, events half a world away suggested that maybe Workman had a more serious intention with his anti-Castro feeling.
Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba on the weekend and delivered an unusual homily to the Cubans, unusual because of its political edge, calling on the Castro regime to respect free thought, human dignity and grant greater freedoms to the Church.
Much of the commentary coming out of the Americas around this event touched on similar themes to those covered by Workman -- including even the inevitable jokes about Cubans imitating Jesus and walking on water to get to Florida.
There is also something a little bit Vatican II about the tunes Workman has written for the show, which have a kinda mawkish spirituality about them, something not quite whimsical. Indeed, the whole whimsical tag doesn't really sit well with Mercy. Yes, there are ninjas and sharks and affectedly daggy hand-drawn pictures on oversized flashcards, but overall the story is too rooted in its moral to properly be called absurd.
There's also the whole bit with the angel.
Does any of this matter? Even if he is part of a team of secret agents deployed around the world by the Vatican to surreptitiously agitate for the overthrow of the world's last Soviet state (which he probably isn't, probably, although somebody had to have paid for that hair), the show is still funny, funnier even than most of the gospels, though Luke still has it in the bag for my money.
Like Workman himself, this show is a well built unit, and there are very few weak spots in the presentation, mawkishness aside. It's one of the most interesting you'll see at the festival, and a great follow up act from the winner of the 2011 Sydney Fringe Award for Excellence and 2011 Best Newcomer Award at the Melbourne Comedy Festival.