The end of the golden weather this morning seems timely. It’s been great, day after day basking in the warmth under blue skies, like the Summer we never got. But it had to end sometime, and what better way to deal with the rain than by gathering with friends for the NZ International Comedy Festival.
I love May. Every year my Beloved and I gorge ourselves on the best of international and local comedic talent – and anyone who still thinks it’s clever to question whether the latter exists can get their coat now – often four or more shows a week, back to back shows on some nights. I have friends who go ga-ga for the Film Festival, taking days off work to catch the matinee screenings of the latest independent Belgian doco; others stuff themselves with culture at the Arts Festival; and while I’ll happily pick at both, it’s the chance of laughs that get me out the door.
The best place to start each year is the Five Star Comedy Preview. It’s the day before the Gala (which is today), and features a hand-picked selection of the best international talent. Each performs for about 10 minutes, which as the name suggests, is a great preview. Some acts you can’t wait to see their solo show, others you think 10 minutes was great but enough, and then there’s the odd one you’re happy it was short, although they’re pretty rare.
So I was excited to head along to last night’s preview at Sky City Theatre (yes, I felt dirty sitting in the belly of the beast). Enough preamble, here’s my thoughts on the 8 artists.
Must See: Milton Jones. English. Classic droll delivery of one liners, perfectly timed, no hurry to get through a sentence. Hilarious. Best joke of the night was an off-the-cuff jibe (at/with, I’m not sure) a couple of the previous acts who had both told the same story.
Definitely worth a look: Chris Martin (UK), Brendon Burns (Australia). Both top-class comedians with great, original, observational and not-so-observational humour.
Would like to see more: Craig Campbell (Canada). I generally love Canadian comedians and their often bogan humour – Glenn Wool, who has come the last couple of years, is a great example of that – and Craig Campbell, with his bushy beard, long hair and crazy eyes looks like he could be too. And while there were plenty of hints that he is hilarious, last night he took the unusual step of using his entire 10 minutes to re-tell a story that the night’s host, Dan Willis (UK), had just told us. It involved the two of them being mugged overseas, it was a good anecdote, and Campbell certainly added and enriched its telling, but with so little time from each comic, I personally didn’t need two different journeys towards the same punchline – although I dare say any comedians in the audience would’ve loved it (cf the film The Aristrocrats).
Undecided: Bill Dawes (USA). I’m happy to hear offensive humour on any topic. Any topic. There are pretty much no ‘no-go zones’ for me, as long as it's funny and/or clever. Brendon Burns’ Michael Barrymore material is a good example of this. But Bill Dawes’ off-hand remark about not seeing the black folk in the audience until they smiled… let’s just say that delivered by a white guy with an American accent, it definitely challenged. And followed up with lots of jokes about exactly how gay Les Mills gym was, I’m not sure if he’s on the right side of ironic for me, even if I still laughed in places that weren't overtly racist or homophobic.
Not my thing: Stuart Taylor (South Africa), Dead Cat Bounce (Ireland). Stuart Taylor, just didn’t really find him that funny, although I do have a sort of visceral reaction to the South African accent, to be fair. Dead Cat Bounce are an Irish comedy-rock trio. Very talented musicians, they could probably spend more time working on the comedy than the guitar solos. Although NZ has set the bar pretty high when it comes to musical comedy. As the final act of the night, with an audience as warmed-up as they were ever going to get, it still fell a little flat. But judge for yourself, here’s a song they performed last night, “Kayaking”.
A couple of flat points aside, overall it was still a fantastic preview of the weeks to come. This is the first May with a wee-one at home, so I’ll have to choose a little more carefully than in the past, but I’ll still get my fix. There are dozens of acts other than these eight of course (Jason Byrne also comes highly recommended) and a swathe of local talent (The Boy with Tape on his Face, if you haven’t seen him before, is a must-see). Do it.
[EDIT: I just remembered that the first song Dead Cat Bounce performed, a macabre take on 'Old Macdonald', was actually quite funny. So that's one out of three.]