Today Tonight, Tomorrow the World

Nicholas J. Johnson – Australia’s self-proclaimed friendly con man

This article first appeared on Buzzcuts, Express Media’s cultural arts blog.  

Nicholas J. Johnson won’t be the funniest man you see at this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival, but he may well have the greatest mainstream appeal.

In the context of a grassroots cultural arts event – where the word “mainstream” is about as welcome as an X-Factor contestant – this could be construed as a backhanded insult. But one suspects that widespread engagement is exactly what Johnson craves. After all, his show is a 60-minute confession about selling out.

As the name suggests, Today Tonight, Tomorrow the World takes the audience behind the scenes of the Channel Seven current affairs namesake. As the programme’s resident con-man expert, Johnson recounts his rise from bullied child to Today Tonight regular. His tale of good fortune – if you can call it that – is littered with comic interruptions, many of which are aided by his futuristic iPhone-operated slide show.

Johnson’s show resonates with the audience because it strikes an almost-optimal balance between comedy, memoir, and audio-visual asides, with the occasional magic trick is also thrown into the mix – a reliable crowd pleaser if there ever was one. As such, he delivers a bit of everything for the tightly-packed Club Voltaire audience.

As should be expected, not every one of Johnson’s jokes hit the mark. Indeed, one off-hand remark about serial killers didn’t quite resonate with the North Melbourne crowd in the way he would have liked. It was the timing more than anything else; for obvious reasons, Melbourne audiences are a tad sensitive given the events of the prior week.

Nevertheless, for a non-professional comedian, Johnson’s charm and measured irony is welcome. To the relief of the crowd, he is also self deprecating about his personal narrative, guaranteeing that Today Tonight will never invite him back should their producer happen to stumble upon this set.

Without giving too much away, Today Tonight, Tomorrow the Worldhits its peak in a wonderfully satisfying finish. Prior to the commencement of the performance, Johnson’s slide show swears the crowd to secrecy on this very finale, so there’s only so much I can say. What I will reveal, however, is that the concluding minutes bring many of Johnson’s loose ends together, which is a credit to his writing ability and sense of theatre.

While it’s hard to categorise Johnson’s show into a watertight category – is it a stand-up show or the world’s most light-hearted TED Talk? – Today Tonight, Tomorrow the World is perhaps best described as an interactive version of The Hamster Wheel. It’s a performance that invites us to poke fun at a television show we all love to hate, while laughing with a man who gave the show so much of its “quality” content.

Today Tonight, Tomorrow the World runs until 6 October at Club Voltaire. Full ticketing information is available on the Fringe Festival website.