JOSEPH HARPER - I AM A CAT
Tararua Tramping Club, Wellington
07/05/2015 - 09/05/2015
NZ International Comedy Festival 2015
Rota Fortunae set to the sound of hard electronica and thinning hope, as told by a cat.
“Almost def[ies] description” – Dominion Post
“Joseph Harper – I remember him when he worked at a bakery in Pt Chev… is quite possibly a genius” – Steve Braunias
Wellington Thu 7 & Sat 9 May, 7pm No Friday show
Tararua Tramping Club, Wellington
Entry by Koha* service fees may apply
Exasperating, awkward and brilliant
Review by Lena Fransham 10th May 2015
Rambling and strange, like a somnambulist’s internal monologue, this story goes everywhere but where you expect it to.
Joseph Harper firstly launches into a discussion of Hellenistic astrologer Vettius Valens’ writings on the concentric wheels of the universe. The ninth wheel, beyond the stars and beyond the zodiac, was the wheel of fortune. Joseph illustrates the function of the wheel of fortune for us with a painful tale from his adolescence about a pimple on his butt, suitably embellished with the language of Shakespearean tragedy.
Then a bizarre and digressive fable asking us to imagine being Jay-Z, and buying up Luxembourg, and ending up having a hand amputated by a horse who is also the country’s only medical professional. Now we are suitably dizzy and well-primed for a carnival ride of absurd propositions, he dons his philosophical cat persona to tell us another story of the mysterious cycling of fortune.
The effect of his storytelling is like overhearing someone’s associative thought processes, without censorship or conscious shaping for the listener, although there is clearly a design to Joseph’s rambling. His interminable, though funny, tangential wanderings (which I understand are a trademark for him) tortuously subvert the hapless audience’s expectations (and like a cat with a mouse, he’s enjoying the game), till the suspense itself becomes the punchline.
It is pretty hard work, as an audience, to follow him through this labyrinth without getting lost. His pace is a sleepy, laconic ‘whatevs’kind of approach, which makes you feel that you are being led through the maze by a guide who is himself lost. This on the one hand is frustrating and difficult but on the other, it takes you out of the familiar and demands more cerebral attention to his seductively intelligent storytelling.
Joseph’s manner appears so affectedly disengaged at times that it’s off-putting. He is experimenting with pace and suspense and digression and sometimes comes close to losing you, but the dorky wordplay, self-referential hooks, literary references – from Chaucer to Melville – and the bizarre but relatable allegories keep you laughing and engaged, if bemused.
And as for the cat, she is quite a personality. Combining some convincingly feline characteristics with human bloke-like mannerisms and a dry, cynical, stray-cat world-view, she relates the bittersweet turning of her fortunes in fateful intersection with those of Bill English and David Cunliffe, and she ponders the meaning of life in view of the impersonal turning of the wheel. ‘Is there any point in being a cat? Is there any point in being a thing?’
It’s a slow-burning, acquired taste sort of humour. There is an inherent roughness, a lack of precision in the offhandedness of the delivery, which I think smudges the edges of Harper’s creation a little, or at least my comprehension of it. But the apparently meandering formlessness of his storytelling seems to resolve itself organically into a thing of rich cohesion. A bit like the universe. It’s funny saying that about a comedy routine that features a man dressed up as a cat pretending to spray urine on the walls.
It’s exasperating, awkward and brilliant. Never seen anything quite like it.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer