Visa First Laughs

Opera House, Wellington

01/05/2011 - 01/05/2011

NZ International Comedy Festival 2011

Production Details


Sixteen of the best from the 2011 NZ International Comedy Festival launch the ultimate comedy caper! Arj Barker and the gang are jazzed to be performing at the Opera House in Wellington for Visa First Laughs on Sunday May 1.

Visa First Laughs will blow the lid off the opening night of the 2011 NZ International Comedy Festival in New Zealand’s capital; the show kicks off the season of laughs with criticallyacclaimed international and local comedic talent.

Arj Barker (Flight of The Conchords) leads this sizzling lineup – an allstar cast of comedy’s finest, including: Mark Watson (UK); Greg Proops (US, Whose Line Is It Anyway?); Wilson Dixon (US); Wil Anderson (AUS, 7 Days, The Gruen Transfer); Terry Alderton (UK); The Boy With Tape On His Face (NZ); and stars of 7 Days Dai Henwood, Ben Hurley, Jeremy Elwood and Rhys Mathewson (2010 Billy T Award Winner).

Revel in a night of rollicking, raucous laughter at The Opera House for Visa First Laughs.

Purchase your tickets with Visa and be in to win a trip for two to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland!

For new, reviews and sweet deals, visit

Visa First Laughs
Sun 1 May, 7pm (duration: 2 hours)
Opera House, Wellington
Tickets: Adults $69.50, Groups 10+ $65
$1.50 Performing Arts Levy will apply; service fees will apply
Bookings: 0800 TICKETEK  


Strangely non-topical

Review by John Smythe 02nd May 2011

A tasting session of the Comedy Fest set to tickle our taste buds over the next three weeks dished up at Wellington’s Opera House last night.  By way of showcasing some of the fare on offer, ten and a half* Kiwi comics teamed with eight and a halfP imports – from Britain, Canada, the USA and Australia – to feed us tidbits of commentary, insights and whimsy in words, song and silence.

Host Arj Barker from San Francisco (Dave on the Flight of the Conchords TV series) has a relaxed style that ranges from observational to weirdly wacky, often garnished with a dollop of apparently unwitting self-effacement. He assured us none of his material – apart form his HIV song – would be in his show Arj Barker – Eleven (sometimes 10 just isn’t enough), playing in Auckland only.

A strange thing happens with his microphone technique. When he switches from intimate to loud ands so hold it away and down from his mouth, the whole tone changes, giving the impression of a conversation with an alter ego, which is not the case. That’s what Terry Alderton does (of whom more in a moment).

The full-on shouter of the night was Jarred Christmas. His often funny set – about what hasn’t changed in NZ since he exported himself to the UK; Facebook; the English class system; trying to discuss Saw Films – was marred for me by his abusive treatment of a randomly selected member of the audience who has offered no provocation whatever. Any appeal, overt or covert, to an audience to gang up on another innocent audience member leaves me cold.

While we’re on the negatives, in the second half Justine Smith peppered her set – mostly about being in love; being a waitress, getting older and her Willie Apiata fantasy – with “get fucked” and “fuck off” so many times that I was ready for her to take her own advice (the latter, that is) well before she did. Again her abusing of the audience is just plain nasty, even if it is for owning Crocs (which I do, and very useful and comfortable they are too!).

Back to the positives, British Mark Watson, of Welsh extraction, may find he has to update his Pakistani content after today’s news. And someone needs to show him a Tui billboard or three. His riff in feeling compelled to do things when you know you shouldn’t is a gem.

Our own Ben Hurley is another who scores highly on the relaxed confidence front as he chats about what distinguishes NZ from other cultures, coming from Taranaki and living in Ponsonby (Auckland), beards, Gore and self-deprecating Kiwi humour.

Speaking of which, a little later Rhys Mathewson offers a nice line or five in self-deprecating Kiwi humour with meteorological impressions of his sexual prowess, his mistakes with girls, his transition into Intermediate School, and how being a proud Kiwi manifested itself when he was drunk in Edinburgh. I liked his set a lot.

Allowing her frock’s Snow White puff-ball shoulders and big red bow (circa 1983, when she was denied the title on Miss Waikuku Beach) to presage her show about beauty pageants, Penny Ashton references her signature tits and the joys of puberty before delivering a place-name pun-laden poem on her search for the perfect man. And she is the first to mention Rodney Hide in his recently altered state.

Canadian Jason John Whitehead gets good mileage out of being newly single, considering what he does and doesn’t want in his next girlfriend, trying to communicate with a bank by phone, and the dynamics of men trying to argue with women.

Jamie Bowen (NZ) was the first to feature music in his set, his natty little electric ukulele offsetting a blues voice like Oscar the Grouch. His silent movie soundtrack impression and one to evoke his girlfriend’s dreaming are a treat, as is his break-up song complete with samples box-kicked percussion.

In the second half, Matt Mulholland (NZ), with two backing singers, offered a piquant taste of his Beyond Emotion show with the romantic ‘When We Kiss’ and the Boy Bandesque ‘No Matter Where You Are You Will Always Be There’.

The penultimate act is mostly musical too. Having mused in his poker-faced low-key style on NZ’s similarities and differences with America, the tourist attractions in Cripple Creek Colorado and his chat in Auckland with the driver of a car with a light under it, ‘Wilson Dixon’s song ‘More than Words’ draws great hilarity from the proposition that when some says x, y or z, they probably don’t mean exactly that. You have to be there.

Back to the first half, Australia’s Will Anderson riffs on warnings that don’t make sense, how everything is bad for you and everything is sexual too, the dangers of letter 15 year old boys have high speed broadband in their bedrooms, and the trend among the very young to confuse wants with needs.  

And taking us to interval was the extraordinarily unique Terry Alderton (UK) who confound all preconceptions and formulations about how to do a comedy set. Perfectly placed after nine (including the host) relatively standard performers, he plays on our anticipation with minutes of minimalist non-verbal behaviour before getting into his inner dialogue with his alter-ego bit. Then there is the rewind … Indescribably brilliant.

Following Arj Barker’s welcome back, Greg Proops (USA, from Whose Line Is It Anyway?) is the first to get into some serious political satire, getting topical (at last!) with the Trump vs Obama thing then lampooning the warped attitudes many Americans have about their president being black – or “not that black”. Who owns Iraq oil comes up for question too, and he tells us why women are stronger than men. Excellent.

Tackling political and strong social satire on the home front is Jeremy Elwood, the next and only other Kiwi comic to mention Rodney Hide, along with Don Brash and John Key – the latter including a mention of his meeting with the Queen – which, incredibly, was the only moment all night that got anywhere near the Big Event of last Friday night (OK, they were on stage in Auckland at the time, or in that audience, but hey, there’s be saturation coverage on all media – isn’t stand-up supposed to keep up with current event and put them in perspective for us?). Elwood also gets into some excellent territory about passing stupid laws, which includes an excellent piece of reasoning about why it’s unnecessary to ban texting when driving. Good stuff.  

Shambling, rambling Cary Marx (UK) also gets into women v men territory, and clowns, cows, bestiality and how to be a good person in the modern age, bigotry, and how to save the plant. His magic mushroom anecdote is … magic.

Canadian Glen Wool’s amusing musings include the idea of older generations losing their phones, the difference between Canada and Ohio, what Uncle Sam wants and racism.

Happy to be back in Wellington after touring regional NZ, the physically dextrous Dai Henwood wittily reveals how some of them – Cambridge, Taranaki, Thames – define themselves. Recent experience allows him to comment on what you discover about your spouse after you marry them. And his potted summary of Star Wars, for the benefit of his wife, is classic.   

Just as the first half closed with a very unusual act, so the whole show does, with Sam Wills giving us a glimpse of The Boy With Tape On His Face. Although he is mute, thanks to the gaffer tape, it’s not a silent act in that there is a sound track as he animates oven mitts, purloins a man from the audience to compete on a matter of length, and embraces, strokes and seduces an illusory woman in red. Very few people will have seen that much and not wanted more.  

Each year it’s tempting to contemplate what the Comedy Festival’s most topical themes will be. Given the therapeutic potential of comedy, I’d have thought the Christchurch Earthquake would be ready for inclusion. And surely it would never be too early to mention the Royal Wedding, the ACT and Te Mana Party activities and the looming election in general. Maybe they’re saving all that for their individual shows. It’ll be interesting to see how soon the death of Osama Bin Laden gets included.  

For more on the programmes, go to:
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*NZ-born Jessie Griffin who was part of the Melbourne-based troupe The 4 Noels manifests as Wilson Dixon from Cripple Creek Colorado and get a stars and stripes flag in the Festival brochure, hence the halves.
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