WMBADX Idea Worth Spreading

BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

15/05/2018 - 19/05/2018

Hutton Theatre, Otago Museum, Dunedin

27/09/2018 - 29/09/2018

Dunedin Arts Festival 2018

NZ International Comedy Festival 2018

Production Details

Former comedian Robbie Nicol has an urgent message for you: stop laughing at political comedy before it’s too late.  

Robbie, once called a ‘satire genius’ by Jacinda Ardern, has seen the error of his ways.  

Having reached the heights of international comedy with ‘Best Newcomer – Wellington’ at last year’s Comedy Fest, he now returns with an entirely humourless seminar to convince you that politics and comedy should never mix again. While some have called the show a unique and spectacular theatrical comedy experience, we invite you to please take it seriously.

“Top-drawer brilliance … superbly subversive” Theatreview  

YouTube sensation as seen on TVNZ on Demand.
Best Newcomer at the NZ International Comedy Festival, 2017
Best Web Show at NZ WebFest, 2016

This show is part of the 2018 NZ International Comedy Festival with Best Foods Mayo from 26 April – 20 May. Scroll down to discover other great Comedy Fest performances at BATS recommended for you.

BATS Theatre: The Propeller Stage
15 – 19 May at 6:30pm
Full Price $20 | Cheap Wednesday $16
Concession Price $15 | Group 6+ $14 

The Propeller Stage is fully wheelchair accessible; please contact the BATS Box Office by 4.30pm on the show day if you have accessibility requirements so that the appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.


Arts Festival Dunedin

Thursday 27 – Saturday 29 Sept, 9pm

Book here

Starring Robbie Nicol and Finnius Teppett

Theatre , Political satire ,

1 hr

Interesting muddle of laughter and confusion

Review by Kate Timms-Dean 28th Sep 2018

The Hutton Theatre at Otago Museum is packed when we arrive, but we still manage to find seats on the fringes of the front row. I am excited to see one of my YouTube heroes Robbie Nichol AKA White Man behind a Desk (AKA WMBADX). His political satire and comedy has always been on point as he navigates topical issues in New Zealand politics.

As the lights dim, we are confronted by a Ted Talks-inspired scene, with Robbie presenting his thesis that humour and politics should not be mixed, a theme he explores through a range of experiences with audience participation as a core theme.  

Is it just Dunedin audiences, I wonder, that struggle to become part of the scene? Most of the audience are more mature – is this the reason why they are so hesitant to be involved? Would this be the case in another city or with another crowd? When asked to raise his hand, one gentleman in the front row responds with an unfortunate salute. It’s a tough crowd.

Nevertheless, Roger is here! Roger is a young man in the front row who happily steps forward when a volunteer from the audience is sought. He happily takes part and becomes the butt of Nichol’s jokes, always with a smile of his face. Here is the real star of the show.

At times I am confused – what is actually going on here? We seem to moving all over the place and, with 10 minutes to go, I am not convinced that all the threads will be woven discretely into the whole, as one expects from a theatrical piece. Connections to the theme are sometimes overt, others more vague.

At one point it becomes clear that the spectre of global politics is part of the inspiration behind the work, but much of the time, this is unclear.

With specks of humour spread throughout and some surprises in the offing, WMBADx provides an interesting evening, but be prepared to be swept along in a muddle of laughter and confusion.


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Impressive chutzpah and sang froid

Review by Dave Smith 16th May 2018

Robbie Nicol was one of the new sensations at the 2017 NZ Comedy Festival. He gets his performance reviews from the very top, in the shape of the Prime Minister herself. He has been in the exalted line of interviewing our top pols. This current season at BATS is seemingly sold out already though there were a few empty seats on the opening night. WMBADx is now the well-earned trademark for his classy work that has made huge headway in an impressively short time. 

As if to maintain continuity with his recent past Nicol and his creative associates, Stella Reid and Finnius Teppett, kick off this latest offering with a familiar turn from behind that desk on the radioactive subject of housing in this country. In this monologue we see Nicol’s amazing skill in navigating what might so easily be a Weetabix without milk ‘talk’ with a verbal surefootedness and an innate ability to engage an audience on just about any topic: top delivery on a breathtaking scale.

The thrust of this opening piece is second cousin to the student indictment of student loans i.e.  “A mortgage without a house”. With housing the formula is “a lifetime without a house for the young going on old.” The topic is cleverly pulled apart and put together again purely as an objective fact of life for ageing younger folk. No fingers are pointed at the politicos, just a clear eyed analysis that captivates the audience and leaves them in paroxysms of laughter. No mean achievement that: just sitting behind a desk and tossing it out. It is the perfect synthesis of material and performer that builds valuable rapport and belief. So far so good.  

Then our intrepid lad goes seriously off-piste. Nicol is known to be cannily disconnecting the political wagon from the traditional satire train. That is a commendably smart move because, worldwide, satire as such has been eerily supplanted by politics itself. The latter is increasingly seen as a new form of standup-cum-put down which (combined with Twitter and fake news) is bamboozling most of us. The old targets have been purloined and spirited away by their dark side spin doctors.   

The rest of the performance therefore is a fragmented transit around the nebulous, non-political, non-social theme that you should NEVER trust a comedian. That proposition is put to the practical test in a climax much beloved of slapstick comedians in pre-Hollywood days. This is the only thread that might be spoiler territory in this show. The rest is way too garbled to spoil.   

Nicol and his team abandon all conventional satirical structures and probe, rather more, the limits and comic potentialities of theatre. On that point, one might reflect that in a festival like this comedians are asked to perform clubbish routines on custom-built theatrical stages whereas actors are not usually compelled to perform their plays in clubs. At what point does a comedian start to explore theatrical concepts solely through being in one?

The audience takes it all in its stride and laughs loudly at haphazard points as the subject matter lurches into an abortive slide show, alarming (though pre-planned) mechanical malfunctions in the lighting array plus an exercise in terror in the Pinter tradition revolving around the delivery of an unpalatable drink by Uber Takeaways.

The overall effect is one of barely managed chaos – one of the most hazardous forms of comic presentation.  Nicol himself strides through it all unperturbed and in undisputed control. Writer-director Reid demonstrates confidence in her star man along with great trust in the steadfastness his audience – who adore him just as much during his casual forays into the unlit bleachers as when he is plonked behind that signature desk.  

We get no profound diagnosis of the human condition or anything as remotely cut and dried as the opening monologue but Nicol doesn’t turn a hair and convinces us he knows exactly what he is doing. There is a strong whiff of the theatrical experimentation that marked the fragile but innovative 1960s. If audience responses are any true gauge, Nicol’s is a successful initiative.

In the street afterwards I accost theatregoers and ask them if they really enjoyed the performance as much as they appeared to, given the eventual avant garde nature of the show. They espouse enthusiasm but, oddly, cannot, in any way, say why. For myself, I am more impressed with the chutzpah and sang froid of it all. Are we back with the medium being the message, or is that too 60s to contemplate? 

It is clear from the headlines in the show posters we see around town that Nicol can be a fairly polarizing figure. At his satirical best he is patently brilliant. When he is deliberately disengaging from the ‘let’s crucify-the-government’ gravy train, I find him challenging (though admirably brave). However, the audience doesn’t revolt and seems, on the whole, to enjoy the ride. In the end, of course, theatre is about audiences not critics.  I’m sure Mr. Trump himself would agree with that.


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