Dave: The Opener review – Zoë Coombs Marr’s toxic male comedian is back | Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Zoë Coombs Marr’s character, Dave, has come out of a coma and everything since 2016 is new to him. He missed the MeToo movement, JK Rowling’s pivot from beloved to controversial, the whole pandemic, thousands of new cultural references. Coombs Marr’s new show The Opener asks, how would Dave react to all of this? What does this hack comedian caricature have to say about “canceled culture”?
The Opener begins with Coombs Marr explaining that she was asked this question at a dinner party and felt compelled to create a show that answered it. Performing a “pre-show chat” in her dressing gown, she sets the context: in 2014, she created Dave, to parody the blokey, toxic masculinity she often saw in comedy. Dave was both a commentary on how alienated Coombs Marr felt upon entering the stand-up scene and a way to address it by protecting himself behind the performance.
Having performed as herself since 2016, following her award-winning series of Trigger Warning, Coombs Marr is clearly relishing the return to Dave. As he warms up, Dave jokes that he missed being on stage, but it’s clear that Coombs Marr has too. We see more than just sneak peek glimpses of its creator; “Zoë” is a character on the show just as much as Dave. Sometimes his voice speaks from the rafters to help run the show. She interrupts Dave’s routine, weaving in her own jokes between hers. Dave stops several times when his own material deviates from his voice, asking aloud why he speaks more like the “angry lesbian” within him. I admit that I also sometimes wondered why it was he who told these jokes. In the moments where the show deals most directly with its subject matter, it sounds more like the voice of Zoë we hear.
It’s Zoë slapping the Oscars and Louis CK winning a Grammy. Both of these events speak so directly to the subject matter of the series that it would be odd not to mention them – but both happened in the last one as well. 10 days. Not only is Dave catching up after waking up from a coma, but Coombs Marr is catching up with the news cycle, trying to parody a culture that grows more toxic with each award show. Although this tries to be a tightly structured hour of comedy, the seams are still visible in many places. A lot has happened while Dave was in a coma, but a lot has also happened in the months since Coombs Marr started testing this show earlier in the year. It’s no wonder, then, that The Opener doesn’t have the polish I expect from their shows.
When it works, the relationship between Zoe and Dave is the highlight. Trigger Warning saw Dave realize he was a character; The Opener sees him finding solace in that identity, with Zoë as a collaborator rather than an enemy. They discuss the flaws in his motivation, strive to share the same body, and even workshop over his pronouns. He’s a Dave who feels more settled in himself.
Despite its flaws, it remains a sight to behold. Coombs Marr’s absurd and theatrical approach to getting up is refreshing. And The Opener is full of good jokes: it’s hard to make the kind of tight liners you’ll find here. They are smart and lively and made me laugh out loud.
Few people do it better than Coombs Marr, who is excellent at what she does, combining her theatrical training with a love of jokes to produce surreal and deeply silly comedy. Dave is what propelled her into the limelight and helped her break into the Australian comedy scene – but since he left she’s also cemented a place without him. There’s joy in seeing Dave again, but it’s the glimpses of Zoë where this show shines. While Dave insists he came back because he was needed, I’m not sure Coombs Marr needs him anymore.