We have an enviable crop of talented comedians in New Zealand, but like it or loathe it, it often takes a few international drawcards to really capture people’s attention. That is where the NZ International Comedy Festival steps in, offering the perfect excuse to get Aucklanders out of their (probably rented) houses and into the city to watch some comedy.
One of the best ways to do so is to attend one of the many combo shows put on throughout the Festival (where a large number of comedians perform shorter sets), and Late and Live at The Classic is the pick of the bunch.
The two-hour show offers punters the chance to get a taste of the best international Festival headliners (as well as a few local heroes), while the late-night timeslot often results in comedians (and crowds) pushing the envelope. Basically, no two shows are ever the same.
When you then go and throw The Classic, New Zealand’s home of comedy, into the mix you’re onto a real winner. The venue is intimate and gets you close to the action, bars are well stocked and the staff attentive, what more can you ask for?
I attended the Friday show, nestled close to the front, and quickly cottoned on to the fact that the crowd seemed to be made up largely of comedy newbies. More on this later.
Our MC for the night was Brit Tom Deacon. Softly spoken, with a warm and relaxed demeanour, Tom inspected the room, zeroing in on a table of rather drunk twenty-somethings there celebrating a birthday. Mining the crowd for material is MCing 101 when it comes to a show like this though Tom brought something unexpected to the role, eliciting audience interaction while remaining friendly, positive, and inclusive – getting the front row to laugh with us rather than having to go low and belittle them for laughs. His approach got the crowd onside early and set us up for a great night.
Up-and-coming Aussie comic Aaron Chen was first up and treated the crowd to big laughs, brilliantly timed awkward pauses, and weird observations. Aaron came off as a sort of Asian Napoleon Dynamite (read: stilted delivery, weird pacing, and empty gaze), and honestly, I loved every second of his act. He got a lot of comedic mileage out of observational humour concerning his conservative family and his identity as an Aussie Asian. He walked off to thunderous applause and left me wishing his set went on longer.
Friday was the third time that I’ve seen Scottish comic Chris Henry perform at the Festival so far, but make no mistake, I could keep seeing him again and again and again. Each time I’ve seen Chris perform I’ve been able to notice something different about his act – it’s impressively constructed and layered and the jokes build to and build as he works his way through his set moving the audience from a chuckle to uncontrollable howling in a matter of minutes. Chris is a pro, he’s witty, charming, and very engaging – definitely worth checking out (you may even see me there).
Irish comedian Eleanor Tiernan was a real breath of fresh air that night. The only female comic on the bill interwove self-deprecating observations with hilarious jokes about feminism, womanhood, and misplaced nationalism into a tight set that had obviously been honed over countless nights at the mic. She’s a very smart comic who is as adept at making you laugh as she is at making you think. Tiernan also excels at playing against type and expectation, effortlessly delivering big punchlines that paid off her intricate set-ups. Tiernan swung to the fences right from the get-go, delivering a Chris Brown joke that turned out to be one of the best of the night.
Tom Houghton, the self-described ‘posh-twat’ comic from the UK was a real revelation at The Classic. While I’ve seen him perform a few times at the Festival already, each time has been markedly different and seen him dip into different areas of his enviably deep material. Friday saw him really lean into his aristocratic twatness, and honestly, I don’t think I’ve laughed that much in years. Many comics will tell you that the key to making an audience laugh is by being relatable and finding a universal truth. Tom doesn’t bother with any of that. His set was constructed around the central premise that he and everyone he went to school with are unrelatably upper-class. The jokes came thick, fast, and increasingly crass – perfect for a late-night audience. As with Chris Henry, they built on each other the laughs escalating as he double-downed on the absurdity of the world that he inhabits. Houghton ended the night with a new bit comparing rugby positions to the people he went to school with and honestly – it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed. I was laughing so hard that I was fighting to catch my breath by the time Houghton left the stage.
Show: Tom performs throughout the Festival.
I was really excited to check out the last act of the night, Jimmy McGhie. Jimmy is, as you probably could have guessed, is also from the UK, and arrived at the Festival as one of the top-billed international acts, his reputation built over years of delivering smart and unexpected comedy on the British comedy circuit. He brought a different sort of energy to the night than his predecessors. Jimmy is an absolute pro and began his set in a cool, calm, and in control – offering us a self-conscious exploration of the aftermath of a misspent youth (too many drugs, too much backpacking, not enough saving) which finds him now as a single, Gen Y comic, living out of his older sisters attic. However, things started to go off the rails a bit around the mid-point of his set. Kiwi audiences are a bit shit at the best of times – we’re reserved and stand-offish, we’re impatient, we’re shit at heckling, and was the case on Friday, often pissed out of our minds by the time 10pm rolls around on a Friday. This results in a hard-to-read audience that laughs at unexpected times, doesn’t always ‘get’ the punchlines, and often interjects without invitation. Jimmy got all of that during his commenting towards the end of his set that Kiwis most closely resemble the Dutch insofar that we’re horribly literal when it comes to comedy. He ended the night hitting his head against the mic, seemingly in frustration. It predictably collapsed on itself. His brilliant comedy may have been better suited to a more-sober and experienced comedy crowd. I shared his frustration.
That being said, Late and Live at The Classic did not disappoint. It acts as a sort of comedy smorgasbord, delivering on its reputation for delivering a loose environment, unexpected laughs, and unmatched variety. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to dip their toes int the Festival before deciding on which acts to check out as every night, you’ll be presented with a different line-up of some of the biggest names at the Festival.
Who: Various Acts
Where: The Classic
When: Every Friday and Saturday throughout the Festival.