What do you get when you put a veritable smörgåsbord of top-tier international comics (more-often than not British) in New Zealand’s most famous comedy club on 10pm on Friday night? Usually magic. Last night… not so much.

Every year at the NZ International Comedy Festival, The Classic Comedy Club puts on a preview event split split across two two-hour shows. These tickets are always in demand as regardless of which show you end up going to, you’ll be witnessing a set from five or so of the festivals best acts.

This year saw the likes of Phil Nichol, Paul Sinha, Ian Smith, Eleanor Tiernan, Lauren Pattison, Alistair Barrie, Brennan Reece, Tom Houghton, Chris Henry, Alan McElroy and more show up, and I had no doubt that the 8pm crowd had a cracker of a show. So what went wrong for us? In a word – Alcohol.

Now before you ask, I’m not implying that the acts were turning up half cut. No they were excellent – every comedian on stage was a pro, there to welcome in the festival, flex their comedic muscles, and maybe sell a few extra tickets to their solo shows in the process.

The audience however stumbled into The Classic reeking of an after-work function gone-bad. While every audience by their very nature is different the one thing that connects a room of drunk hecklers is you can guarantee that 100% of them are douchebags, and it seemed all of them found their way to our show that night.

A stand-up comedian’s act depends on the audience reaction by nature, and can create moments of absolute hilarity if handled well (see Bryson Turner’s comeback). Other times they can create absolute train-wrecks. We had both last night.

First comedian up was Tom Houghton, a self-described “posh twat” from the UK didn’t know what was about to hit him when he started his obligatory crowd work (a crass Shore girl who may or may not have been on a date with her brother – the mystery went unsolved, a table of obnoxious baby boomers ft. a grumpy muscle farmer, an uptight interjector “Mr Google” as he became known, and a girl so pissed she literally fell face first to the floor half way through the night). Tom is an unbelievable storyteller and did his best to weave in hilariously unfathomable tales of his upper-class life (I’d term them ‘comically surreal), when he was not furiously parrying inane interjections from the audience. It’s hard to get in your flow when the audience is more interested in funneling a Smirnoff Ice that they snuck into the venue than they are in listening to your act, but he persevered.

Scotsman Chris Henry, took a different approach entirely telling the hecklers in no uncertain terms to either sit down and shut up or fuck off within the first 15 seconds of arriving on stage. It seemed to work. From there he delighted us with anecdotes of being 40, single and looking for ‘The One’, one swipe at a time. Chris is as hilarious as he is charming and he had the crowd in stitches up until his ‘see-it-to-believe -it’ choreographed dance finale. If you haven’t booked tickets to see Chris Henry yet, do it now.

Alistair Barrie, another charismatic Scot who managed to corral the drunken mob unscathed, delivered a tight set full of smart and snappy gags that were interspersed with rye observations on everything from the death of rational thought (thanks Twitter), to Brexit (they’re fucked), to the problems with millennial snowflake culture. Barrie is one of those comedians who is able to veer from highbrow to gutter gags with ease, delivering his cleverly-constructed set with a roguish glint in his eye.

After an intermission, Aussie surrealist Demi Lardner unleashed an onslaught of insanity on The Classic. It was intense, unpredictable, and aggressively weird. I loved her rapid fire and fragmented set. The baby boomers in the audience did not. Lardner admitted enough, wondering out loud if she bombed. I couldn’t help wishing that I could watch her in a room with less drunk fucktards present.

Brennan Reece wasn’t terribly impressed with what he’d seen throughout the night and the Lancashire-born millennial (and 2015 English Comedian of the Year) wasted little time in exacting revenge on the audience, with a series of truly devastating comebacks that had me literally spit-take at one point. When not ripping into boomers Reece put his boyish energy and affecting charm to great use, offering us an unpredictable collection of hilarious yarns, speedy ad-libs, and razor sharp one-liners. One to watch.

Last up was award-winning Brit Tom Deacon. It quickly became clear why he is so highly regarded on the comedy circuit. His warm and relaxed demeanor, and the lovably soft tones of his voice helped ease us through what turned out to be a slog of a show. It was hard not to be won over by his slick and charming set of observational comedy that more than justified his glowing reputation. Deacon’s set left me wanting more (which I guess is the point of turning up to these showcases) and if you’re only looking to attend a couple shows this year, make sure that Tom Deacon’s is one of them.

So that was The Classic Comedy Fest Preview., or as it became known in the car, five comedians doing their best to make two hours spent in a dark room full of drunk arseholes bearable. Each one of these act justified their billing. They’re inventive, funny, and worth checking out. So please do. But in the meantime, Auckland get your act together, you embarrassed yourself last night.

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