First Laughs 2010
25/04/2010 - 25/04/2010
Book Now: 0800 TICKETEK (842 5385) or www.comedyfestival.co.nz
Show Duration: 2 hours.
Get out and get into it people!
Review by John Smythe 26th Apr 2010
It’s like a food fair, except each purveyor showcases themselves and their ‘product’ for all the punters to ‘taste’ together. Then according to our respective tastes, we may or may not book for the full show – which will, in most cases, be presented under very different circumstances. So who will give best value? An image of the old slave markets springs to mind …
A chocker-bloc Opera House is very receptive to MC Ben Hurley’s warm-up routine, choosing to love it and offer waves of sympathy when his microphone fails upfront (a clever ruse, perhaps?). His four year stint in England allows him to explore a range of cultural differences and he offers a very popular theory as to why America keeps losing wars in the Middle East.
Hurley also sets the tone that many local comedians emulate of shouting into the microphone. Steve Wrigley, Sarah Harpur, ‘El Jaguar’, Jarred Christmas and Chris Brain all do it, as does Zoe Lyons from the UK. It’s not a bad thing per se but no-one will do it for their entire show, I hope. Once the pump is primed and their nervous energy has settled they’ll be connecting more effectively with their audiences, surely. But in a compilation show like this, we keep getting loud and hyper-energetic opening routines.
I find myself relishing those who know the mic is a sensitive instrument and bring lots of light and shade to their set.
Steve Wrigley shares the trauma of being a “well known comedian” last year in Auckland when one of his ilk was allowed name suppression after being charged with a particularly vile crime, and gets good and edgy with it. His deconstruction of a mince and cheese pie hits the spot. His musings on Moko the dolphin leads nicely into satire about our armed forces but when he gets to the Air Force, there is an instant chill as we hold our breaths on this particular night (of the fatal Iroquois crash). But the gag is a cute one and he gets away with it.
Sarah Harpur’s bright ‘please like me!’ grin and full-on delivery is at odds with her idiosyncratic observations on why sneezing is good, how to feel superior and the behaviours of her cat. Her style seems to ask for belly-laughs but her material is lower-key than that.
Two spots later the very Irish Maeve Higgins goes the other way with her quietly quirky commentary on ‘man and dog’ versus ‘woman and cat’, obesity and how Mountain Man and Mountain Woman might live, and the Weight Watchers and McDonalds merger. Even though it’s good material – and will be well suited to the much more intimate Bats Theatre – it does works here a set-up for Miles Jupp’s crack, later on, about the benefits for a comedian of having an Irish accent.
Meanwhile Jaime Bowen has changed the pace with an inspired ukulele set, proving you can use the tinkle tonkle toy to deliver a bad news song, not to mention one titled ‘The Gangsta Paradise’.
El Jaguar, the masked radio-mic-wearing pint-sized Mexican “former WWF Superstar” in spandex, goes all out with loud noise and chaos as he gets a punter up to play Lion to his Tamer. It works a treat here but, conversely to the Maeve Higgins scenario, that level could be over-whelming at The Classic Studio (Auckland) or the Fringe Bar (Wellington) and I rather think shouting is this performer’s irreversible stock in trade. As already noted: a matter of taste.
The terribly English Miles Jupp offers a total contrast as he happily trades on his well spoken and privileged status, telling us how it tends to attract aggression and make people jump to conclusions. His theory on how ventriloquism started is priceless.
Jan Maree, once and forever a Hutt Girl from Petone but now up-graded to Hamilton, regales us with tales of The Museum Hotel, opening for Mike King on Australia, the perils of booking accommodation on line and trying to remove heavy makeup. She’s a living treasure of the heavily varnished paua set in rimu variety: classic Kiwi kitch (which she’ll bring to a kitchen in her ‘Eat Me’ show at Sandwiches).
Jarred Christmas, also back from an extended sojourn in the UK, gets into the relativity of city sizes, the way we name our sports teams and some weird stuff about the Statue of Liberty’s underwear. He follows a random series of jokes with a seriously sick demonstration of how men might rate women according to the size of the firearm they’re pretending to wield. Apart from being an excuse to show off some sfx prowess, it does lead to an impressively long pause that is all the more welcome for the cacophony that has preceded it.
After interval Hurley revs us up again with queries about recent law changes, the definitive selfishness of mining and Kiwi men, before making sure we understand that the performers can’t hear smiles – i.e. we gotta make noise, geddit?
Geordie favourite Jason Cook endears himself to us by talking fondly of us – Blanket Man, Greymouth, the way we laugh – and sharing his love of how poetically offensive Australians can be. His story about his wife’s gastroenteritis and his role in showing hands-on compassion pushes the boundaries of good taste wonderfully, given what happened to him could happen to any of us and it’s all part of real life’s pungent soup.
Irishman Jarlath Regan brings a beautifully modulated tone to his observations on deregulated Auckland taxi drivers compared with coffee bar service, the commonalities we share with Ireland, stereotypes based on ignorance and the art of reading body language within a marriage, before demonstrating how to claim back the dance floor with a ‘Get Smart’ moment. Physical dexterity is always a bonus in a genre so dominated by verbal gymnastics.
Jeremy Elwood gets good mileage from the Wellywood sign, the things we worry about and Telecom’s XT network, then amusingly proves why no opinion should ever be censored.
A jetlagged Zoe Lyons – “I am an Iceland Volcano Survivor!” – reveals she’s an angry traveller, is bemused by Swiss audiences and people’s attraction to tramping, and is confronting her later 30s by running.
Back on home ground, Wadestown boy Dai Henwood riffs on testosterone, hairiness, the Vatican, the volcano, the trials of Eric Watson and the imminent remake of The Karate Kid before taking us back to the carefree days of his childhood by re-enacting a after-school fireworks fight. Again SFX and physicality up the ante.
It would appear that Jesse Griffin – well known to us as one of the Kiwi-bred, Melbourne-based comedy trio The Four Noels – has now fully metamorphosed into his alter-ego, Wilson Dixon from Cripple Creek Colorado: the manifestation of his enduring fixation with the laid-back American cowboy persona. He satirises American values by ‘being’ this ultra laid-back, poker-faced dude. Having gently intoned his view on why Kiwis can’t afford to piss anyone off, then deconstructed ‘Baa Baa Blacksheep’, he has us in stitches with his song about what NEVER to do.
Topping the UK contingent, and the whole First Laughs show, is the extraordinary Terry Alderton, who presents as rather fey and whimsical until he turns his back to converse with his dark and dangerous inner-self. Aware he’s come to Middle Earth he keeps telling himself to “do the Orc” while amusing us with more conventional gags, like the effect of Australians using the f-word. But his special skill is vocalised sound effects. Having warmed up with a stunning air raid siren sequence, he gobsmacks us by literally gobstopping himself with his microphone to manifest the ‘deep throat’ sound of The Orc. What a way to finish!
This night’s line-up augurs well for the Festival that is now upon us, and which also includes a great deal that was not represented on the night. Get out and get into it people!
To find out more about specific shows go to www.comedyfestival.co.nz (tip: to find the likes of Terry Alderton, whose name does not appear in a show title, type his name into the search field).
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