So you accidentally stumbled into the middle of a major world comedy festival and thought you’d poke around a bit and have a giggle?
Good for you! You made an excellent decision.
What shows did you see? Were they good?
Here’s a breakdown of my festival experience. I’m disappointed that there were so many shows I was unable to make it to, due to other commitments. But here are my thoughts (because you were dying to hear them) of the shows I managed to see.
First show for me (as it was for many) was First Laughs. I’ve already given my thoughts on this. It was a fantastic night, with highlights being the mad MC skills from Ben Hurley, and the all-out genius insanity wrapped up in the bald, white, English package that is Terry Alderton.
There were one or two dull spots during the evening, but nothing the professionals couldn’t fix.
Next was the opening night of Simon McKinney’s ‘My Time as a Talking Fish’. I have always been a huge fan of McKinney since I first saw him many years ago at the San Fran Bathhouse. This year, he didn’t disappoint. His voices and sound effects are still spot-on, wrapping his audience up snugly, in a bright cast of characters, as he takes us down the backroads of his life and to the beginning of his performing career.
Cameron Murray (aka Pinchey) made his solo debut this year, and has brought with him a very intelligent, low energy, you-actually-have-to-use-your-brains-here-people kind of show, “I Won a T-Shirt Once”. Although he showed some tell-tale signs of his lack of experience (i.e. visibly slipping in and out of stage comfort), the small crowd is warm to him, and there is no question that he will be one to watch out for in future festivals.
Steve Wrigley’s show ‘@Wrigglemania’ is a completely random collection of his thoughts, and seemingly carries with it no narrative, purpose, or message. That being said, it is delivered in his usual frantic entertaining manner, and doesn’t fail to please. He is quick on his feet, and a large portion of his show feels spontaneous enough to have been made up on the spot. There’s no doubt he is a clever man. His ravings about the mince and cheese pie seems to be one of the hit gags of this year’s festival, although I personally find it nowhere near as clever or original as the rest of his material. Excluding, of course, a “The Apprentice NZ” joke that I heard Pinchey (almost identically) do an hour before.
Next, it’s back upstairs to see the newcomers of Wellington comedy, Bernard Steward, Danni Taylor, Nat Britten, Gabe Page, Nathan Winter, a new special guest each night (this night it was Daniel… something), and MC TJ McDonald. The house is almost full, but TJ fails to ignite their interests right from the offset. He brings the acts to the stage, starting with Daniel who, although very clever, is not energetic enough to get the audience fired up. The night has some top quality new acts, but never seems to get any reaction from the crowd, until Nat Britten got a great reception from the (very disruptive) young gay guys sitting at the back, and Gabe Page wrapped up the show with some of his more tried-and-tested songs. The gay guys said, very loudly at the end of the show, “Now HIS show is one we have to see.”
Personally, the highlight for me was the very intoxicated Bernard Steward, who announced to me shortly before the show was to begin “I just threw up downstairs.” Best laugh I had all night.
Thursday sees the only night of The Improvisors’ “Shakespeare: The Musical” that I managed to see (over the five show season), due to me being in it. I know you’re thinking “A full length improvised musical in Shakespearean style? That’s gotta be so hard!” It should be hard. But with the amazing crew from the Improvisors, it’s actually not. This night, we deliver the (made up) tale of the (completely real and obscure) King of France, someone the foreigner (I can’t remember). Based solely on the two line bio of this once-ruler, and some audience suggestions, the magic begins. An all-out tragic history is written in real-time, one of which the bard himself would be proud. Musical numbers a injected here, there, and damn near everywhere, and the crowd couldn’t have gone home any happier.
Friday night, in week one, was a big one. James Nokise, and Jamie Bowen at Bats Theatre, then off to the Fringe Bar to catch Javier Jarquin and The Comedy Den.
I have seen James Nokise many, many times, and he never fails to make me laugh. When he goes off on his improvised rants, stringing together all and sundry subjects, I often have to struggle for breath. His 2010 show, “Is This It?” is a much more open, and honest journey than usual, and he frequently puts the haha aside, in order to make room for the touchy-feelies. This is a refreshingly frank and vulnerable show, and I highly recommend it to anybody who wants to think, laugh, and also feel.
Jamie Bowen springs out onto the stage like your bubbly best friend, and begins by (intentionally?) committing a hat-missing-the-hat-rack-fail. It makes him seem accessible. Throughout his show he moves seamlessly between banter, material, and songs, making sure everybody gets a little something to enjoy. Although the show wasn’t as open as Nokise’s, Jamie still managed to drag the audience into his own life and background, telling us about the various fears he has, all loosely tied to concrete. (The show is called “A Rational Fear of Concrete, by the way).
Javier is the only Christchurch act to make it to the Wellington leg of the festival this year, and boy is he good. It is a travesty that he was not nominated for the Billy T, but I’m sure his time will come. “The Legend of the Card Ninja” is a 60 minute card-throwing extravaganza, which involves the crowd, and keeps them on the edge of their seats, praying for Javier to succeed. He has no enemies in the room. Javier has a friendly quality to everything he says and does, and leaves everybody wanting more.
The Den. What can be said about the Comedy Den? It’s the festival’s only late, late, LATE show, and things can get a little bit mental. This was the first night of The Comedy Den for 2010, and the crowd was small (but grew to epic numbers for other nights in the festival). Steve Wrigley is the MC, and he brings acts to the stage who must survive a ten minute stand-up set, and follow it up with Karaoke. Much to the delight of the crowd, and despair of the comedians. Javier Jarquin goes first, and although he leaves the stage without doing a song, is quickly dragged back, to sing La Bamba. The crowd love it. Then it’s me. The crowd appeared to enjoy my late night material, but the comics can only talk about one thing (they can’t get over my ridiculous t-shirt). My rendition of 3 Doors Down’s “Kryptonite”, is probably the most cringe-worthy thing in this year’s festival, and I quickly evict myself. The night gets weird after that. TJ McDonald doesn’t even get to do a set, instead he simply goes to the stage, downs some tequila shots (and an unfortunately placed gin shot as well) and then is forced by the blood-hungry crowd to do his karaoke song. As a karaoke regular at the Fringe Bar, TJ didn’t disappoint them. Rhys Mathewson had to clean up the mess and bring the crowd back. He does it by yelling at them, then trying some new stuff about the Wu Tang Clan. It’s freaking hilarious. He then sings some song (can’t remember, sorry Rhys) and the whole night is wrapped up by MC Steve Wrigley, getting almost everyone in the bar onto the stage to sing Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”. It is now 2am, and people go home.
The Improvisors’ Theatresports on Sunday, delivers the family-friendly improv laughs to a packed house at Circa Theatre. Personal highlight has to be Steve Wrigley becoming a fish inside the belly of Greg Ellis, and working his way through the digestive system to escape. You can’t write that shit.
That’s week one. I know, I know… insanely big post. But look out for Week two. I’ll write it eventually. As a head’s up, there’s gonna be TJ McDonald’s “A Maori Ate My Great Grandad”, Josie Long’s “Be Honourable”, Rhys Mathewson’s “Rhyspect”, Levin For Beginners (x5), The Comedy Den again, and the Speakeasy Comedy Showcase.