Joseph Harper: Bikes I’ve Owned Versus Girls I’ve Fallen In Love With

St Kevins Arcade, K’ Rd, Auckland

12/05/2011 - 14/05/2011

Tararua Tramping Club, 4 Moncrieff St, Mt Victoria, Wellington

06/05/2011 - 07/05/2011

Fred’s, 46 Frederick Street, Wellington

19/10/2011 - 22/10/2011

NZ International Comedy Festival 2011

Production Details

A show about irrational relationships with bicycles, and misanthropy. 

Highly idiosyncratic 2011 Billy T Award Nominee, Joseph Harper, has written an autobiographical show to examine his personal experiences with girls and bicycles. The show touches on cycliceroticism, adolescent sexuality, severe depression, Chinamans Hill, and Sarah Ulmer. In spite of the at times ‘dangerous’ subject matter, Harper refuses to let his show veer into unpleasant and unwanted, offensive waters; it remains meditative, honest and analytical throughout. Along with its ‘pay what you want’ pricing, it is likely this will be one of the most interesting and cost-effective shows in this year’s comedy festival. It will play for two nights in Wellington from the 6th of May, then for three nights in Auckland from the 12th.

Not wanting to have any audience members feel ripped off, Joseph will be performing for donations rather than a standard ticket price. The audience is advised to pay what they thought the show was worth, after its completion. 

Joseph Ernest Harper was born and raised on bicycles, in Christchurch. He fell in love for the first time at the age of four, and since then has been involved in a string of beautiful and crushing relationships with both girls and bikes. He currently lives in Auckland, and has been described as, “a supremely gifted performer and one of the leading alternative comedians working today.” This is his third comedy festival, and the first in which he’ll be performing a show all by himself.

Dates: May 6th and 7th, 8:30pm
Venue: The Tararua Tramping Club, 4 Moncrieff Street (off Elizabeth St)
Tickets: Donation after the show
Bookings: Call Joseph on 0273924447 or visit his blog

Dates: May 12th, 13th and 14th, 9pm
Venue: The Wine Cellar, St Kevins Arcade, K Rd
Tickets: Donation after the show
Bookings: Call Joseph on 0273924447 or visit his blog 

at Fred’s, 46 Frederick Street 

on the 20th and 21st of October
starting at 7pm. 
The Boy and the Bicycle   

at Fred’s, same date, 8.30pm


Comedy of anguish generously shared

Review by John Smythe 21st Oct 2011

Nothing sucks an audience in and massages their empathy glands quite so effectively as an authentic sharing of true life experience, especially when the storyteller reciprocates the empathy and has the skill to maintain audience interest.  

Joseph Harper’s Bikes I’ve Owned Versus Girls I’ve Fallen In Love With is a delight from his initial apology for having to tell of his first wet dream involving a velodrome, lycra and Sarah Ulmer (all very innocent), to his final musings on the similarities and differences between being in love and riding a bike.

The intervening 75 minutes or so traces the twenty-something span of his life story to date by punctuating the progress of his love life with various bike upgrades.  He was literally born on the back of a bike into a family with a proud bicycling heritage. It’s not as if the girlfriends have had to compete with the bikes, its more that the bikes brings balance; restore equilibrium when inevitable trauma’s of the heart have struck.

Also inevitable is the social history that emerges, merging the universal and timeless elements of growing up with the specifics of a childhood spent mostly in Christchurch.  His peers enjoy the recognition while older folk like me are fascinated at the cultural referencing.

Delivered in a very relaxed and chatty style, this is ‘comedy of anguish’ (truth + pain = comedy), generously shared. Down from Auckland, its brief Fringe season back in February was easily missed and it’s in only on once more in Wellington, tonight, but hopefully is bound for more road trips to maybe a venue near you. Climb aboard when and where you can.  

And here – at a tiny deconsecrated church called Fred’s (because it is in Frederick Street) – it is followed by Harper’s other solo show (with live musicians), The Boy and The Bicycle which offers a very different take on life and bikes.  Seen together they comprise a yinyang treatment of the same themes.  


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Genuinely likeable autobiographical chat

Review by Robbie Ellis 07th May 2011

The festival brochure bills this show as “an autobiographical piece about bicycles, love and misanthropy.” But how could anyone possibly call Joseph Harper misanthropic? He bares his feelings, his failings and his triumphs in such a way that you can’t help but feel more human. 

Held in the oft-overlooked Tararua Tramping Club in Mt Victoria, Joseph himself greets us at the door. The DIY ethos is clear: there’s no venue manager, no ticket taker (attendance is by koha), no technical operator, no distracting AV: the presentation is a completely straightforward hour of him talking to us, telling us his stories.

He begins with a recent personal nadir. Some months ago, not long after a relationship break-up, his bicycle fell apart on a steep downhill run and sent him flying into a rhododendron bush. With no girlfriend and no transport, he reflected on which of the two losses made him sadder.

From there he explores his highs and lows of attachments to humans and bicycles. Starting in the womb and with the safety he felt around his mother, Joseph (age 22) traces a chronological journey of anecdotes from birth to the end of high school. Rides progress from a tricycle to a 10-speed road bike; romantic entanglements progress from puppy love in kindergarten to his first steady relationship and sexual encounters. 

Along the way his language and detail are utterly evocative: he recalls pop songs, movies and technology to ground the stories in time and place; he uses the quaint yet universal schooldays device of referring to classmates by their full names. A triumph over a primary school bully (I admire his use of the term “pre-adolescent calculus”) gets a spectacular round of applause, and a turgid love-letter makes reference to the Flying Windows screensaver – the telling is hilarious.

He’s not afraid to reveal his inner thoughts, his insecurities (past and present) and his bad poetry. Likewise, he openly subjects his thoughts and actions to amateur psychoanalysis. However, I want to make one thing clear: this is no narcissistic, self-obsessed solo show written more for therapeutic reasons than for audience enjoyment. Joseph Harper and his stories are endearing, witty, and charming; he keeps the presentation grounded in reality; he has no need to affect a character. He’d do well to transform this material into a novel. 

A couple of minor quibbles: for much of the show he’s seated at a desk. I was in the third row and I often couldn’t see his face because he wasn’t standing up; I imagine that others seated further back among the 90 or 100-strong crowd would have had a harder time still. And his pace of delivery is generally the same throughout the show. Occasionally he’ll put on a voice or two (I’d like to see more of this) and his material doesn’t need a lot of dressing up (best served deadpan), but a bit more variance in pace would make the show just that bit stronger.

This isn’t testosterone-fuelled stand-up comedy. It barely fits the mould of stand-up at all – call it an autobiographical chat or a personal lecture, perhaps. Joseph Harper delivers a genuinely likeable presentation: we believe him, we side with him, we feel for his losses and rejoice in his victories. His way with words is both clever and direct, and his conclusions are heartfelt.

Bikes vs Girls goes against the norm for a Billy T nomination, but don’t write it off: in this race, Joseph is the dark horse (or the purple bike). Go see it and be generous with your koha at the end. 
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.  


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