Fringe review: Hard Quiz Live

Making fun of a contestant’s nerd-factor is an artform Tom Gleeson has mastered in his knowledge-based game show Hard Quiz, and never has it felt so right to laugh with the tormenter. ★★★★ ½

Feb 23, 2023, updated Feb 23, 2023

After seven seasons of entertaining hundreds of thousands of TV viewers around Australia and almost as many overseas, Tom Gleeson’s hit game show Hard Quiz is also now a touring live show. And after a year on the road, it’s finally landed in Adelaide.

The set-up is simple: four contestants and a quasi-affable host who relentlessly taunts them with wit. The contestants show pride in their quirky expertise of a chosen subject, and in their quick comebacks. Only one can win the coveted cheap golden mug, and this year in the Garden of Unearthly Delights, it could be you.

Gleeson warms up the audience by flexing his stand-up muscles, and as a three-time Helpmann Award nominee, he’s one of Australia’s best gigging comedians. His style leans toward self-congratulation and the jeering of those nearest him, so his comedian friends are fair game, including ex-co-host Charlie Pickering. Gleeson was once a regular on The Weekly with Charlie Pickering, grilling not-so-major celebrities and politicians in what the ABC calls “a fine line between talk and torture”. He proved bold and hilariously caustic in his wit, with his “Hard Chat” segment on The Weekly going on to become the show that’s now Hard Quiz.

Audience members at his live show are given the topics in advance, with Gleeson then asking who’s up for the challenge. On opening night the volunteers were Roman, who put up his hand for Star Wars; Jo, who thought she’d give reality TV a go; Gabriel, who chose flags, since he plays a video FIFA soccer game and flags pop up on the screen; and Carla, who didn’t know a lot about Taylor Swift but said she was gay so fit the diversity bill. Like in the TV show, the contestants add to the mirth.

Because Gleeson is a ruthless mocker by trade, a bonus of the live show is bigger flinches during the laughs – there’s no censorship. “In the live show,” Gleeson reassures everyone, “they’d edit that out.” So it’s a reckless experiment. If Gleeson mishears the guest’s answer or forgets who’s winning, it’s fodder for more cheeky ridicule that lands on the contestants’ shoulders.

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Gleeson is a master quiz master, and since the Fringe show doubles the televised timeslot, you get double the laughs.

Hard Quiz Live: Hosted by Tom Gleeson is at The Boboli at the Garden of Unearthly Delights until March 5.

Read more 2023 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews on InReview here.

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