“No one is more judged in civilized society than a standup comedian. Every 12 seconds you’re rated.” Jerry Seinfeld
Contrary to popular belief, most stand-up comics are not wildly adventurous people who have hilarious things happen to them every day. Fortunately, Dave McCartney and Dave Nicholls aren’t ‘most comics’.
I was spending a quiet night at home, by that I mean me and the Internet, when the call came in that I’d be reviewing two of New Zealand’s best storytelling comics, Dave McCartney and Dave Nicholls.
As a writer this seemed like the perfect panacea for the trouble I was having in becoming a better storyteller in my own right.
While telling stories is about as old as time itself, storytelling as a comedic subgenre, is still a relatively new but rapidly growing phenomenon, particularly within the New Zealand comedy scene (just look to the increased use of storytelling in comedy-mainstay Brendhan Lovegrove’s sets for evidence of this).
And within this movement, which has become a kind of comedic counterweight to the restrictive brevity of Twitter, up-and-coming comics Dave McCartney and Dave Nicholls are the vanguard of this movement in the Kiwi comedy scene.
On entering the Q Theatre for the Dave’s festival show, ‘Honest Bro’, which came highly recommended as the perfect vehicle for McCartney and Nicholls natural charisma and nose for a punchline, it became immediately apparent that I wasn’t the only one who had high hopes for the show (there was standing room only).
While the crowd chatted expectantly amongst themselves, I couldn’t help but wonder if McCartney and Nicholls would be able to live up to the high expectations that I had set for them.
Fortunately, neither comic was in the mood to simply ‘meet expectations’, and soon discovered that ‘Honest Bro’ is not your average stand-up show. Wedged in between some of the craziest (and unbelievably true) yarns that I’ve heard, Nicholls and McCartney also had time to pack in improve, skits, and that much dreaded staple of comedy – audience participation.
Structuring the show in this way was a masterstroke – adding variety and pace to the proceedings while allowing each comic room to shine.
And while both comics are the sort of high-energy, laugh per minute, performers who would be naturally suited to crowd work and improv, it’s their shared gift for storytelling which really sets them apart – and in turn has seen them pick up various endorsements and accolades (Dave Nicholls was awarded the 2013 Best Newcomer nominee at the New Zealand Comedy Guild Awards, while Dave McCartney was a 2015 Raw Comedy Grand Finalist).
Flashing a wide cheeky grin as he walked onto the stage, it became immediately evident that Dave McCartney was one of those performers who could read the phone book and still leave the entire room in hysterics (which he did countless times throughout the night).
What separates Dave McCartney from many of the other storytelling comedians gigging currently is he, like the truly great stand-ups, makes it look easy. What he’s learnt is that great storytelling is not necessarily in the story, but rather how it’s told. His tales of sex, love, and fatherhood would be good in the hands of most comedians, but in McCartney’s they’re great.
His background as a clown has provided him with a wealth of tools that he is able to exploit on stage to his audience’s delight – high energy, sharp comedic timing, and a knack for connecting with his audience and bringing them along on his narrative.
With his unique approach to comedy, Dave McCartney is a bright light on the Kiwi comedy scene – witty, inspired, and horrendously charming – he puts a lot of effort into making being funny look easy. I’m always surprised by what he does next and can’t wait to see him again.
It’s long been said that a comedian should write about what they know, because it is through the familiar that an audience can connect. Ricky Gervais went as far to say that ‘making the ordinary extraordinary is better than starting with extraordinary.’
Fortunately for Dave Nicholls, he has the ability to explore the mundane, the taboo, and the extraordinary with the same boundless energy and enthusiasm – it’s almost exhausting to watch him at work.
Nicholls’ appears to treat storytelling as if it were some sort of verbal bobsledding. Each tale is nimble and imbued with a tremendous energy – keeping the crowd thoroughly engaged throughout.
All of his jokes have a storytelling style, which means that Nicholls has to live life and keep his eyes peeled for the weirdness that the day throws at him. Fortunately, he has a wealth of experience and stories to draw from – from his time as a police officer, a cage fighter, and a nurse.
In turn, this has enabled him (like Dave McCartney) to let the audience in on some of the most awkward and hilarious moments that they will ever encounter – from needing to fart while on a police sting, to a wildly inappropriate mix-up with his niece, to how those in the medical field use dark humour to cope with the daily onslaught of death that they’re faced with.
After a night spent observing Dave McCartney and Dave Nicholl’s, undoubtedly two of New Zealand’s best storytelling comics, it was clear to me that while a story well-told is powerful – it’s even better when it’s funny.
Who: Dave McCartney and Dave Nicholls
What: Dave McCartney is a host of “Live to you from the Apothecary!” and podcast co-host on “Attempted Comedians”.
Where: The Apothecary is located at 27 – 29 Picton Street in Howick.