What a difference a day makes.
On Friday my partner and I were lucky enough to head down to The Classic to check out their festival preview, aptly named The Classic Comedy Fest Preview. It was a shit show, thanks by-in-large to a room full of nearly catatonically drunk hecklers. Joy.
However, fast-forward a day and here we are once again turning up to watch an all-star festival show of largely the same performers (with the addition of Phil Nichol and Paul Sinha). Before you mistake my tone, don’t get me wrong, The Comedy All Star Showcase was absolutely brilliant. I mean it helped that this time I could actually hear the performers rather than the insufferable din of a drunk muscle farmer trying to string a coherent sentence together (I narrowed it down to either making a drink order or asking his sister out…). Maybe I’m just getting old.
The Bruce Mason Theatre was the perfect backdrop to kick off the 2019 New Zealand International Comedy Festival’s run of shows on the North Shore. Host for the night Alistair Barrie thought as much, marvelling at both the size of the audience and grandness of the space.
Barrie is an absolute pro. Years spent on the international comedy circuit meant that he has developed a keen ability to read the room – knowing exactly when to work the crowd, dip into his pre-prepared material, or deviate completely on a flight of fancy. He had complete mastery of the stage, leaving the audience in hysterics while he glided from rye observation, to charming anecdote, to incisive social commentary with ease.
While every single performer more than sold the audience on their value as a comedian (and the need to snap up tickets to their own shows before they disappear), upper-class Brit Tom Houghton definitely shone on stage. Houghton MC’ed the Classic preview the night before, struggling to connect with an audience who were more interested in sneaking in booze than they were listening to a night of comedy. In contrast, he shone on the Bruce Mason Theatre. The self-described “posh twat” is a magnificent storyteller and shared hilariously unfathomable tales of his upper-class life (he actually lives in the Tower of London – trust me I’ve checked), his childhood strategy for convincing his Dad to stop disciplining him (pretend you like it WAAY too much “Oh Daddy leave the ring on!”). He was a captivating presence on stage.
I knew what to expect from Scotsman Chris Henry, though weirdly that just let my partner and I more excited for what was about to unfold – the mark of a master comedian I guess. Watching him for the second time in tow nights let me appreciate the careful construction of his jokes and how well he was able to carefully weave seemingly disparate anecdotes into a rewarding narrative that paid off wonderfully at the end (choreographed dance scene). I loved watching Chris Henry, he’s just so damn likable. You need to check him out!
British comic (yes I know, they’re everywhere) delivered a masterclass is self-aware and self-deprecating comedy. He knows he has a baby face and he knows he might look like an ‘eleven-year-old lesbian’, but he also knows how to make the most of it – providing the audience with an insight into his view of the world with carefully constructed jokes, witty one-liners, and a pleasant sprinkling of crass. He’s the sort of comic that keeps you wanting more and even though I saw him twice in tow days, I’d still be keen to check him out again and again and again.
Wow. That was something. Canadian comic Phil Nichol delivered a Tour de Force performance which left me a absolute hysterics. He’s loud, he’s energetic, he’s sweaty – an attack on the senses. His turbo-charged performance jumped from topic to topic, seemingly at a whim, climaxing in a musical number which saw Nichol massaging his sweat onto the head of a bald man in the front row (while furiously gyrating on him). I’m still processing everything that I saw during Nichol’s set. I guess you had to be there to believe it, something that I suggest you do – if you find a ticket to his show snap it up as fast as you can.
We capped off the night with a charming performance by crowd-favourite Paul Sinha. He walked on to a thunderous round of applause by an audience that was likely more the result of his starring role on British quiz show, ‘The Chase’ than it was the result of the Bruce Mason Theatre being familiar with his comedy. Fortunately, the world’s “only gay Anglo-Bengali GP turned stand-up comedian and professional quizzer” more than delivered with his comedy (and impressive recall of facts). Sinha took us through some of the key moments in his life that led him to becoming a comedian – coming out to his parents, struggling with the dating game, and yes starring in a top-rating television show. It was a thoughtful, charming, and affecting performance that left me wanting more!
Who: Phil Nichol, Paul Sinha, Alistair Barrie, Tom Houghton, Brennan Reece and Chris Henry
Where: Bruce Mason Centre
When: 4 May