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Print Version

NZ International Comedy Festival 2014

at Fringe Bar, 26 Allen St, Wellington
From 6 May 2014 to 10 May 2014

Reviewed by Hannah Smith, 8 May 2014

This is an odd show. Not because comedian Stephen Witt plays a range of oddball characters (he doesn't) and not because we are in for an hour of oddball humour (we are not). The energy in the room is odd. The vibe is off. The evening is … awkward. 

Witt appears to be a clean-cut fella, unnaturally neat and tidy – some kind of Stepford-Child-of-the-Corn. This could an adopted character, the manifestation of the “array of oddball personas” promised in the publicity material, or it just could be who he is.  He doesn't drop the act, or change character throughout the hour, so I am left feeling unsure.

Levin-born but currently living in Auckland, Witt bases his set around anecdotes from his past: girls he has gone out with, his family, one time when he went to the supermarket. He has some stuff on farting, and some other stuff on how little money he has. There is about twenty minutes of audience interaction interspersed throughout – of the typical “What's your name? What do you do for a job?” variety.

At one stage it appears he doesn't know what a policy analyst is. This is Wellington, Witt, half your audience are probably policy analysts - do your homework. The only time we really perk up is when he does a couple of magic tricks.  These actually work and his sleight of hand is well timed and satisfying. The jokes are not.  

I try to pin down what exactly it is that makes them fail but it is hard to say. There are structural problems: a lot of the punchlines are thrown away, sometimes the high point of the joke is in the second line, and then we have to listen to a lengthy wind down. I think the main problem is simply that the audience do not find the material funny.

Most of Witt's jokes revolve around wordplay and puns, which do not fly with this Wednesday night crowd. Some of his material is borderline offensive, and some of it is genuinely offensive… At one point he drops in a casual rape joke, and follows it up with an affected giggle. I think the idea here is that he is pushing boundaries, and being creepy in an ironic way – but from where I sit a stupid joke followed up with a wink and a nod is still a stupid joke. 

I don't want to be nasty, but I have to review the show I saw.  Witt struggles to get a laugh, and never really manages to get the audience onside, but he powers on anyway, displaying a surprising self-confidence.  I can imagine that with a big crowd who were warm to his style and personality – maybe who had been previously warmed up by another comedian – perhaps his low-key energy and mildly offensive persona could find its mark.  Maybe in front of a home crowd this show can roll, but last night at Fringe Bar, it most certainly did not.
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