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Print Version

NZ International Comedy Festival

at Opera House, Wellington
3 May 2013

Reviewed by Gabrielle Beran, 4 May 2013

The set up is like a bad joke: four Englishmen and an Australian walk into the Opera House… Fortunately for The Five Star Comedy Tour, the jokes are anything but. 

Host Stuart Goldsmith knows how to endear an audience with observational jokes about New Zealand life along with a healthy dose of flattery. To his delight, the first heckle occurs twenty seconds into the show and he manages to get the audience to put their arms around their neighbours resulting in, “Not the beginning any of us imagined.”

The first act is friendly and tame Andrew Bird, whose quintessentially English quips make him an appreciative tourist and he even dares to make a joke about Hamilton. Mostly stories about life in England go down well but some of the subtleties are lost on the mostly New Zealand audience. Bird's half hour set flies by, covering the topics of domestic life, relationships, marriage, parenthood and then venturing into the areas of sex and religion where there are a few shock tactics to round it out.

Australian Tom Gleeson addresses the same life stages as Bird, but gives them a harsher, more graphic treatment. His ‘painful truth' attitude elicits nods of agreement from the surrounding audience members, particularly when he bemoans his aging and sex life. His material is very narcissistic and at times offensive. His strongest moment is when he combines the latter with his wit to question religion. While his words may not be terribly clever, he has an effective physical component to his act. 

James Acaster shuffles onstage looking like he got lost leaving the library. The character that he builds up of a shy, quirky young man elicits sympathetic sounds from the audience, yet is played to his comic advantage with lots of his humour coming from breaking the audience's assumptions. He has an absolutely original repertoire, including a brilliant segment on the board game Twister.

In complete contrast, Marcus Birdman explodes with infectious energy, cutting a figure of slick hair, black clothes and arms of tattoos. At times he does not seem to have figured out the line between bad taste and big laughs as he forays into the now familiar territory of parenthood and relationships. He carries many of his jokes through his set, which keeps it tight. Birdman is certainly comfortable and amiable onstage, even if a few of his jokes are not. 

Goldsmith seamlessly links the show together, building on the strong rapport that he created at the opening, with clever anecdotes. He hits the right tone with the audience and shows how very funny he is.

The Five Star Comedy Tour is one of big laughs and at times, big contrasts. It leaves you exhausted from laughing and grateful that these internationals decided come all the way to Wellington.
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 Kathryn van Beek