93KP Theatre, 93 Kelburn Parade, Wellington

05/03/2013 - 09/03/2013

Production Details


A group of stand up comedians deal with grief, guilt and responsibility after the celebrity they verbally destroy at a comedy roast commits suicide. 

Stand Up For Charlie is a dark comedy centred on the people who make us laugh for a living. It’s an examination on what it means to get a laugh out of an audience – and just how far we’ll go to do it.  

When the comedians are invited by a seedy entertainment manager to take part in a ‘Post Roast’ – a comedy roast dedicated to the already dead Charlie – questions, emotions and the dead are all raised, as the nature of comedy and the power of words are put on display. Just what does it take to roast a dead man? 

The play promises to be an interesting character study on the pressure it takes to make other people laugh, and how instilling happiness in other people doesn’t necessarily guarantee happiness in you. The shallow portrayal of the entertainment industry and the nature of celebrity are elements also explored in the play.  

It’s edgy – the show’s subject matter, along with the stand up routines that accompany it and the no holds barred, ugly truth the characters present to the audience allow a controversial look at comedy and what it means to entertain. 

Overall, Stand Up For Charlie promises to be an entertaining, controversial and thought provoking romp. It’s 7 Days by way of Chuck Palahniuk. 

5 – 9 March @ 8.30pm

93KP Theatre – 93 Kelburn Parade, Victoria University Theatre Department, Wellington
Tickets: $16 Full/$14 Concession – $10 Fringe Addicts & Preview Shows (28th/1st/2nd)
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Stylistic mash-up subverts potential

Review by John Smythe 06th Mar 2013

Plays about stand up comedy are notoriously difficult to pull off. British playwright Trevor Griffiths had a rather earnest but thought-provoking crack at it in 1975 with Comedians. More recently and closer to home, Gavin McGibbon used it to delineate a problematic relationship in Stand Up Love (2007).

Now Will Agnew – who enrolled in the Victoria University / International Institute of Modern Letters MA in Script Writing course in 2011 – has taken it on for his first stage play: Stand Up For Charlie.

The premise is strong, and well publicised, so this is not a spoiler: “A group of stand up comedians deal with grief, guilt and responsibility after the celebrity they verbally destroy at a comedy roast commits suicide.”

Charlie Knox (Chris Swney, who also directs) is the star of a hit TV sitcom and may or may not be “a stale, drug-addicted hack” and a bastard to his wife Lucy (Livvy Nonoa), who may or may not be a slut (sorry but that’s nothing compared with the ‘hate speech’ language that gets bandied about in the name of comedy).

It’s Charlie’s bitter and twisted co-star – or rather second-fiddle also-ran – Cameron Gunn (Jason Tolley) who leads the charge at the celebrity roast. Initially he seems to be solely responsible for provoking the suicide but later, in flashbacks, we find that Lucy and Charlie’s bother Andy (Kent Lambert) – less talented but still desperately keen to make it in stand up – have also had a good gnaw at the bone while standing at the mic.

These characters are well-conceived and played with an emotionally-rooted authenticity that makes us care about them, despite their flaws. Nonoa’s Lucy is especially impressive in her non-verbal responses to the slings and arrows inflicted on her and delightfully surprising in manifesting Lucy’s later behaviours.

Thanks to them I am happy to buy the developing story, grotesque as it is, as a searing satire on the sociopathic nature of stand-up comedy, as practiced by some. Comedians are a race apart and here is a chance to examine what make them tick – or a certain sub-species of them, anyway.

Bruce Colban also does well, albeit in a more heighted comic mode, as ‘various public servants’, the most memorable being his perving Gravedigger.

The first thing to derail the play, however, is Charlie and Cameron’s facile mugging in the sit-com flashbacks. If it was that bad it would never have been the success it is supposed to be and Charlie would never have been the celebrity the plot requires him to have been. By opting for shallow send up, any depth the play may have achieved is recklessly scuttled.

What turns it into a total train wreck, however, is the gross over-acting of Michael Pocock in the role of ‘reality’ TV producer Tayne Gondoli. Yes, the media world does include some pretentious, preening, egotistical scumbags but they do have to have some degree of charm and charisma to survive let alone succeed in their fields.

Put simply, we can’t see the character for the acting and its coarseness erodes and corrodes every scene he is in. From where I sit I am unable to tell whether he is uncontrollable or has been encouraged to play it this way but if the director and playwright are complicit in this I can only hope they see now what a very wrong move it is.

The potential for the already twisted moral fibre of Cameron, Lucy and Andy to be tested to breaking point when tempted by the fame of ‘reality’ show stardom is great, in principle, but there has to be credibility in the way it plays out for us to even begin to grapple with the implications, let alone ask ourselves, “what would I do?”. And if the play is not asking that of us, what are we here for?

Despite these flaws there are enough well-wrought exchanges of dialogue and riveting moments of truth as credible characters respond to life’s shocking realities to prove this playwright has potential and maybe the play does too.

Afterwards I find myself conjecturing that the script may have been quite sound to begin with (see the premise above) but during rehearsals they – the director perhaps and/or the playwright – got bored with it, as can so easily happen with comedies, and so introduced random and ill-judged meta-theatrical tricks to keep themselves amused. Or maybe there were earnest intellectual rationalisations for the mash up of styles. We can only guess.


John Smythe March 6th, 2013

Activating the image for this reminds me to mention the excellent lighting design and operation by Anna Robinson and Hayley McCarthy, and Te Aihe Bulter's on-the-button sound design.  

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