The Manangatang International Festival Of Comedy

Manangatang in Victoria occupies a fond place in my heart. On a motor trip east from Adelaide in 1996 its arrival on the horizon during a thunderstorm reassured me that the world had not ended. The road takes a jog in Manangatang, and you get to slow down. It is good for the soul.

I was reminded of Manangatang when I saw a recent YouTube clip taken at a comedy festival in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Now Winnipeg is larger than Manangatang and has fewer kangaroos, but apart from being halfway between Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Regina Saskatchewan* I can see no essential difference in the two municipalities. And if Winnipeg can laugh, so can Manangatang. Possibly at each other.

Most comedy festivals are held to allow people to see entertainers who cannot get exposure on television or in the movies. This is not because they are bad comics – indeed many of them are genuinely funny – but the conventions of the entertainment industry make it very difficult to advance yourself via a casting couch if you are wearing a red nose and a bow tie that twirls round. Funny business is harder to sell than funny business – so the journeymen and journeywomen of the trade do their work in the off-time off-city festivals.

There is no place I have seen in Australia that suggests off-time or place better than Managatang. Oh, granted, Caiguna has its roadhouses, and the staff of these can be right comedians – and there is nothing on earth to match the restaurants of Bridgetown…but for downright rural spunkiness, Manangatang takes the biscuit.

There is nothing to stop the place from becoming the Las Vegas of the Swan Hill Shire. Top acts, showgirls, the pokies…nothing is wanting. All they need to do is book the comedians and the world will beat a path to their door. The Victorian Roads Board has pre-empted them to some extent, but not so much that it could not be improved. They might have to wait a little on an 8-lane freeway from Shepparton but it could only be a matter of time.

I wonder if Winnipeg is looking for a twin-town…?

*  Which must have the effect of evening up the distress…

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