Jason Cook’s Asylum

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

16/05/2009 - 23/05/2009

NZ International Comedy Festival 2007-09, 2013

Production Details

Amazing Comic’s Doing Amazing Things 

Fresh from winning the Best International Show at last years New Zealand Comedy Festival, Jason is back and he’s brought friends.

For the last 2 years The Asylum has been THE premier cult comedy night in the UK. Featuring international guests, stunts, world record attempts, songs, all under the watchful, demonic gaze of it’s creator, award-winning international comedian Jason Cook.

Together with curator Lee Martin, they bring an evening of guest comics performing outside of their comfort zone, with one unifying motto "Amazing comics doing amazing things". Be there. Or we will find you. In the face.

Dates:  Sat 16th, Fri 22nd and Sat 23rd May, 11.30pm
Venue:                 The Basement, Lower Greys Ave, City
Tickets:  Adults $10
Bookings:  0800 TICKETEK (842 5385), www.ticketek.co.nz   

1hr, no interval

The sordid underbelly of comedy

Review by Sian Robertson 18th May 2009

When I checked in the festival programme after the show I couldn’t believe my eyes. $10? Really?! The Asylum is absolutely the best value for money in the entire festival; a seemingly endless succession of world-class comedians hosted by the cheerfully wicked Jason Cook.

He has the place pumping, he owns our arses – helped by the fact that the show kicks off at 11.30pm and everyone’s already well lubricated. He laps up the energy from the audience and gives it straight back. The more interesting hecklers elicit great comebacks and your typical gormless hecklers are mercilessly shot down.

At the risk of sounding like a cracked record, what is up with the festival programme’s inaccurate show duration times? This one is billed as a one hour show. Actually, it started a little after 11.30pm and finished at 3am! The vibe started to deflate after about 2.30 (which is pretty good going, really), through no fault of the performers, who were consistently brilliant.

The Asylum is home to the sordid underbelly of comedy, and has been running for two years in Manchester, thanks to MC Jason Cook and behind-the-scenes sound engineer and ‘curator’ Lee Martin. You leave your morals and political correctness at the door.

Jason Cook tests us out at the start, discovers to his pleasure that we’re ripe for it, and proceeds to give a brief tutorial on applauding / booing etiquette, which we get ample opportunity to try out throughout the show. The invisible Lee uses the soundtrack at his disposal to express his own dis/approval, mockery, congratulations, etc, catching the performers off-guard.

As Hannah Gadsby will observe, tonight ‘rape is par for the course’, as are paedophilia and cruelty to animals, children and disabled people. Occasionally it turns into a quagmire of ‘let’s see how offensive we can be’. Now, I thrive on evil rotten humour as much as the next guy, but it isn’t automatically funny just because it’s mean. If we’re not laughing, it doesn’t mean we’re offended, it just means it wasn’t funny, mate.

That said, the funny rude jokes far outweigh the unfunny and the tradition seems to be to keep throwing outrageous stuff in there to see how far you can push it, which often does pay off.

Jason Cook has lots of cracks about midgets, of which we are privy to a selection in between the other acts. He’s got plenty more up his sleeve too. Much of his engaging, rapid fire MC routine involves interactive commentary on the proceedings and on what kind of audience we are, mingled with associative reminiscences. 

The audience are drawn into the show in more ways than one. Of note were The Drunks, who arrived well into the show and plonked themselves down in the middle of the front row. Well that’s asking for it. They had a poster of Ed Byrne, and it seems they genuinely thought that Jason Cook was Ed Byrne and tried to get him to sign it – what an opportunity for ribbing, which he seized with glee, making the slurring wastrels look like morons, not that they needed any help. They became the butt of many a jibe, and were made to move seats mainly because they were too impaired to argue properly. Awesome!

Later an audience competition involving two ‘volunteers’ has everyone on the edge of their seats, wincing, with bated breath. And then there’s The Book, which I understand is another Asylum tradition – it’s passed round the audience while the show is in progress, for everyone to write down their most weird/ cruel/ revolting experience (theme supplied on the night by JC). Apparently you can win a prize for the best entry, though JC wasn’t impressed enough by any on this particular night.

First up after Jason Cook’s energising introduction was compatriot Dan Nightingale, who I could tell was on his last legs, though he fought bravely. It didn’t impair his witty observations and scathing impressions of people who abuse the English language, English people who abuse the Spanish language, confessional anecdotes of childhood hero-worship and his cautionary notes on dating nineteen year olds. In Jason Cook’s words Dan was ‘still speeding from last night’ and was now ‘a comedian on his own comedown’. Though he seemed to be suffering from self-doubt, it was all funny stuff. I haven’t seen him before; maybe he’s usually even better.

Next up, Welshman Mark Watson starts off by announcing he’s drunk. Who isn’t? Most of the performers in this late night show ranged from ‘relaxed’ to patently wasted, though not a single one let this get in the way of delivering a highly entertaining piece of comedy. Anyway, back to Mark Watson. He’s in my top ten comedians of all time, maybe top five. A bundle of nervously exuberant whimsy, he talks so quickly that he stumbles over his words with the nervousness of a first date, and keeps stating the obvious (‘I’m quite drunk, I’m not calm’), which brings the house down. His best asset is his overactive, convoluted imagination that runs unchecked, propounding horrifying scenarios born of his weak-willed tendency to think of something extremely inappropriate and then to not be able to stop himself acting on it. He gets palpably excited about everything he talks about and it’s contagious. 

Kiwi Rhys Mathewson is a relative newcomer whose skill is way beyond his eighteen years. He’s got some new material with similar themes to the show I saw him in last year (poking fun at his appearance and his inability to score girls or hold down a real job) plus some totally new stuff which I won’t spoil because you need to go and see him. 

Englishman Carey Marx comes across as detached and little jaded, like half of him is somewhere else. His humour is designed to appal, and he seems to get a wicked kick out of wryly poking and prodding us to see how we’ll react. Yet my favourite line, which had me gasping for air, was a G-rated one about talking to the TV. This downbeat Brit has brought a teddy bear with him to be his cute, innocent alter ego for us to look at and be soothed by in the event that we are offended by something he says. He also demonstrates a cruel but excellent trick you can try at home with a piece of pasta. 

Good-natured Australian maniac Mickey D drops in the obligatory pat paedo joke, but then moves on to some genuinely funny stuff for which he is rightly famous, including hilarious anecdotal evidence that he’s too excitable for his own good. 

This year’s festival is the first time I’ve seen or even heard of Hannah Gadsby. The dry, self-effacing Australian is original in both style and material. She’s as deadpan as they come and very funny. She’s on about being ‘a bit lesbian’ but manages to completely circumnavigate the obvious clichés, and has some side-splitting observations, with the best analogy I’ve ever heard for lesbianism. She also covers such topics as the woeful inadequacy of parental advice, palindromes, hairstyles and bogans. 

Simon McKinney made my face ache with his impressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He animatedly relates his hilarious experiences of communicating with Glaswegians, drunken cooking, and clever impressions of the Queen, Prince Philip and Sylvester Stallone… and some more Arnie. 

Charismatic Aussie Wil Anderson chooses to stick to the well-worn subjects of experimental drug taking, binge drinking, Aussie and NZ culture, homosexuality and war, but he’s a true entertainer and his charm and impeccable timing set him apart. He delivers a short and sweet set and adds a midget joke of his own to the collection.

By the end Jason Cook’s alcohol-to-blood ratio is getting the better of him, and he’s starting to lose his previously telepathic connection with the audience. He drags out the end of the show a bit too long. We’re tired and laughed-out, but still faithfully paying attention as best we can, for we have been entertained the fuck out of and are grateful.

I felt for Australian Lesley Webb, who was last up. Besides seeming to be a bit shagged out himself (at nigh on 3am), he had the hardest job reviving the rapidly-fading audience. I liked him though, even when I didn’t get his jokes because I was too tired to listen properly.

Some of the acts were in Auckland for their last night, so I expect the shows next Friday and Saturday will have a few of the same faces and several new ones.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.



Siân Robertson May 20th, 2009

DanAndrea (and anyone else with similar concerns)

If you re-read my review you will find that I don't suggest the show should be less risk filled or less drunken or indeed tamer. The fact that some of the performers were drunk was not a criticism. I loved it. I only wished I'd known how long it was going to be so I could have managed my caffeine levels better. It seems a bit greedy, wanting to keep it a secret all to yourself.

Brendan McGrath May 19th, 2009

What is the point of being outrageous if nobody is outraged? Or at least nudged a little in the discomfort zones. And isn’t it good that it goes on the record that this was achieved?  Of course it is. How better to encourage the comics to keep it up?

Plus of course the critic has a role in letting people know what they are in for at gigs like this – including the time thing which, in the real world, may have important implications (expiring baby sitters, closing parking buildings ….)?  

Personally I think Sian deserves a medal for seeing it through to the bitter end so she could do her job, well beyond expectations. She and her colleagues are heroes for building this archive of who did what, when and how.  Bloody brilliant.

Michael Smythe May 18th, 2009

DanAndrea - Are you really suggesting that performers would modify their material if they thought a reviewer was in the audience?

Are you really suggesting that reviewers would respond as anything other than members of the audience?

Or are you just saying you want a naughty behind-the-bike-shed experience with no tell-tale-tits?

DanAndrea May 18th, 2009

Ha ha.

It's great to see you are all getting involved in every aspect of the comedy festival, but this is potentially a bad idea for a review. I mean that in the most jovial way possible. let me explain:

Being a HUGE fan of the late late shows (Late and Live and other 10pm shows are becoming more and more tame) I feel that once word gets out to the comics that these shows are also being scrutenized they will become less risk filled, less drunken, and another tame showcase full of comics falling back on tried and true safe as houses jokes. I went to the Phat Cave last week, and you could smell which comics were using old jokes and who was launching into the wild and entertaining seat of your pants schtick that I think makes these shows what they are. That gig has one rule, What happens in the cave - stays in the cave (The host was delighted when a room full of people yelled that back at him) and that's all I'll say about what happened there. Rules are rules.

I think that this review should have read, in the interest of nothing more then preserving these seat of the comedy pants late night gems:

"I went to Asylum, it was drunken comedy mayhem, but you had to be there."

No dis to Sian, But I hope you see what I'm getting at. Otherwise next year we will need a 3am show to make sure I can get my fix.

Me and my girlfriend are massive festival fans. And read most of the reviews of every show we go to then talk about it over breakfast. I know, lame. We also poke a lot of fun at the people who comment on reviews but I feel so compelled here.

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