Australian musical trio Doug Anthony All-Stars were the anarchic kings of the alternative comedy scene in the late 80s and early 90s, achieving considerable success with such sleeper hits as "Commies for Christ" and "I Fuck Dogs". Partially reformed (Richard Fidler has been replaced on guitar by Paul Livingston) they are now back at the Fringe for the first time since 1994 and the sense of reverence from the comedy community is palpable - Russell Howard and Al Murray were both in the audience.
The presiding sense of good-will and the governing getting-the-band-back-together vibe made even their filthiest material somehow charming
They have certainly lost that youthful exuberance. They fully acknowledge that they are ‘broken men’ who look like your dad's pub band and rage self-deprecatingly against the cynicism of groups who partially reform in their twilight years. But sweet lord are they funny.
The easy chemistry between Paul McDermott and Tim Ferguson- who turn every conversation (many of them ad-libbed) into a prompt for howls of audience laughter- can only come with the immense mutual fondness of two veterans. The group know how to make a joke pay off - one gag about a rugby player who drank his own urine is carried through to a quite a brilliant conclusion.
The presiding sense of good-will and the governing getting-the-band-back-together vibe made even their filthiest material (one song about pornography habits turned the air especially blue) somehow charming. Neither do they solely depend on muck for laughs - a section involving a triangle (the instrument) and a song entitled ‘Brendan Behan is Dead’ develops into one of the most finely crafted and funniest comic routines you’re likely to see on the Fringe.
More extraordinary still is the obstacles that have been surmounted to get to this point. The group has been plagued by hardship in the last few years in the form of Ferguson’s worsening multiple sclerosis (MS) and he is currently bound to a wheelchair. He impresses with not only his courage (he informs us towards the end that he is present in direct defiance of his doctors' advice) but also his extraordinary capacity to mine his disability as an immensely fruitful comedic resource, whether he's guiding us through the staggering cocktail of drugs he is administered for treatment (he claims to be high as a kite throughout the show) or the messier details of his sex life.
There are flaws throughout the show: moments are ramshackle or go on too long, and a series of songs in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan dragged somewhat with only one basic joke to fuel them. Livingston, too, who performs a short stand-up set to open the show, could be somewhat better integrated as a new member of the band. Ultimately, the show is a triumph of humour over adversity and a joyful nostalgia trip into a bygone comic era.