When you end up in a heated argument with comedians, is that ironic? I’m not sure, I’ve never been particularly good with the higher forms of wit (irony that is, not comedians). Ironic or not, that was how I spent the opening night of the Wellington leg of the NZ International Comedy Festival.
Here’s the situation, tell me what you think. The opening night was a gala event, an assortment of comedians each doing a short set. Among them was Brendhan Lovegrove.
I must stress that I think Brendhan is a very funny comedian. He’s rude, crass, sexist, obnoxious – all those things that for me make for good comedy. Which is why I enjoyed seeing him open for Dom Irrera at last year’s festival, and then had a great time watching his solo show a week later. I didn’t mind that all the material in his opening act was part of the solo show, in fact it was expected – the opening act being like a trailer for the solo feature.
However hearing almost entirely the same material again, a year later, am I right to feel a little hard done by?
Even if, or possibly because you’re touring and performing regularly, wouldn’t new material constantly be tested and added, older material pushed aside, so that organically, over a period of time, the set is unrecognisable from that of a year ago? Or maybe you sit down at some point and throw your old show away and write a new one.
I reiterate, the gala sets were only six minutes long – is it that hard to find six minutes of good new material from one year to the next?
Isn’t that kinda the point of being a comedian, you’re supposed to be good at, I don’t know, writing funny stuff?
Of course this brought howls of derision from the jesters assembled post-gig.
“You wouldn’t go and watch the Rolling Stones and expect them not to play any of their old stuff!” said one. Well no, but when you find a joke as good as Wild Horses, we’ll talk.
“Do you know how hard it is to write an hour of new material?” I do write a fair amount, I offered. “Yeah, but not comedy.” Well, sure it’s not Wilde, I agreed, but some of it isn’t entirely without merit. “Yeah, but not stand up.” Yes, okay you got me there, no I have never written stand up comedy, and I’m sure it is unlike any other form of writing or comedy or comedic writing in that it’s impossible to come up with new stuff based on, I don’t know, stuff that happens to you in your life?
Brendhan was more realistic than his “I have been bestowed a gift from the comedy gods, a gift beyond your comprehension” mate. He said he guessed most of the people there wouldn’t have seen his show last year, so he played the odds and just went with his funniest material, the guaranteed laughs. And he got them.
Unfortunately they were at the expense of those of us who liked him enough to specifically seek him out in the first place. But I probably won’t go to his solo show this time around because comedy isn’t like music any more than it’s like painting.
And it’s not impossible to come up with new material each year. I’ve seen Australian comedian Charlie Pickering two years in a row, each time with an entirely new set based around a new theme. Both times he was very funny. Maybe the comedy gods have bestowed him with an entirely different gift than our local lads, or maybe he just works a little harder at the craft he’s made his bread and butter.
Before I hand this over for discussion, I do want to make clear a few things. I do respect a lot of our local comedians, and I’d hate to see this thread head down the “Why does NZ comedy suck” line. Because largely it doesn’t.
Also, there are a lot of people who work really hard to get the NZ International Comedy Festival up each year and it’s always a good time. And if you haven’t seen Brendhan Lovegrove before, then you really should, even if it is a case of "first-time funny, second time silly, third time a spanking."