The Reviewed Speaks Back

Reviewer Cartoon(Article first appeared on Arts Hub on Friday, April 10. See it here:

‘Has that review of your show appeared yet?’
‘How did you go?’
‘Not well. The idiot reviewer missed the point entirely.’

If you get four stars or higher, then it’s what you deserved. Around three stars is passable, but it was possibly the wrong reviewer for the show. Less than three stars, the reviewer missed the point completely, and everything else they’ve ever written is rubbish too, because I’ve just spent all morning reading it.

I’ve been reviewed, both positively and negatively. You’re probably looking up my reviews right now. They’re easy to find as ‘Xavier Toby’ is a common name. Add to that the word ‘review’ and you’re there. Please ignore the Crikey one and the ones from Edinburgh. Those people were all just mean, frustrated failed performers with terrible hair.

After working as a journalist who reviewed shows, and now a comedian who is sometimes reviewed, I’ve been on both sides. I no longer review comedy shows, because as a working comedian I believe that’s a horrendous conflict of interest. Instead I restrict my reviews to whingeing to mates about why so and so, who’s not as funny as me, always gets bigger audiences and better reviews.

Sometimes a friend will be brave enough to say, ‘Maybe they are a bit more accomplished than you. They have been at it for longer, and they do get more laughs.’ I am yet to come up with an adequate response to this argument.

Getting a negative review hurts a lot more than the uplift you get from a positive one. Sometimes it was just the wrong reviewer for the show, and in a better world, reviewers would be allocated based on their interests. I know there’s an attempt to do this, but often reviewers aren’t paid, or paid very little and are extremely overworked so the fact that you’re being reviewed at all should be seen as a privilege.

Or maybe all reviewing should be banned? I don’t think so. As a comedian I rarely get feedback, so to get any at all is appreciated. The fact that someone takes the time to write about you means that you’re getting somewhere. Maybe that somewhere involves travelling quickly downhill, but it’s somewhere.

As a performer it’s tough having critical words about you circulating in the wide world, which may affect your ticket sales and more importantly, bruise your ego. However I think reviewing is just something performers have to put up with – the good and the bad. A world without reviewers would be much worse for everyone.

What most annoys me is reviewers who don’t know how to review. Proper reviewing is a simple skill to learn, and if you’re going to be critical of someone else, at least make the effort to learn the basics of how to go about it.

Another constant gripe from performers is that the reviewer didn’t review the show, but the venue and the audience’s reactions. Is it a coincidence that most of these reviews are negative? Not at all. Nobody ever picks on a positive review. You just nod gratefully and thank the comedy gods.

In relation to audience reactions, it’s much easier to sound funny in a room of hundreds of people, as opposed to a room of twelve. The sound of one quarter of four hundred people laughing is way louder than the sound of three people tittering. In a not at all surprising revelation, it was one of my quietest shows that was reviewed at this year’s Melbourne Comedy Festival. So where was my rent a crowd? At Arj Barker apparently. Dammit.

Also, it’s far easier and safer to belt an unknown comedian for who a review could break them, over a well known comedian who’s already sitting atop a mountain of stars.

What about star ratings? Personally I’m a fan of them because stars look good on a poster. I read the words sure, but the first thing I look at is the number of stars hoping for four or more. From experience, I’ve also learnt that it’s not okay to add them together. People have trouble believing that I got a seven star review from the Age Herald Sun.

The main thing I’ve learned about reviews is that they only matter as much as you let them, and usually they matter to you a lot more than they should. However, re-reading some of my early reviews as part of preparing this piece, I have to admit that although difficult to hear, some of what they say is spot on.

Apart from that Crikey review. That was absolute rubbish.

You can review Xavier Toby’s current show 2013 When we Were Idiots for yourself at the:

Melbourne International Comedy Festival (Mar 27-Apr 21)

Sydney Comedy Festival (May 7-11)

Brisbane Anywhere Theatre Festival (May 12-19)