I always get a little nervous taking my Mum to a comedy show. What if she doesn’t find it funny? What if I start cracking up at a dark or crass joke and she finds out how twisted my sense of humour is? Even worse – what if she’s the one laughing at it instead?
I put all of that behind me and found myself sitting with her at
Q Theatre, Rangatira on Sunday, aiming to cement my place as her favourite child on Mother’s Day.
We were there to witness a quickfire hour and a half of largely Kiwi comedy at the “Best Comedy Show on Earth – Mother’s Day Special”. The show saw 10 comedians (a mix of Festival headliners and fresh-faced up-and-comers) deliver what hosts Chris Parker and Tom Sainsbury (appropriately performing as their mothers, Vicky and Gaynor) called “a smorgasbord or amuse bouche of comedy – a wee pickle, or cold meats preview of what the acts have to offer.”
Chris Parker & Tom Sainsbury
Parker and Sainsbury were the perfect hosts for a showcase like this. Their irreverent brand of humour and high energy and effervescent comedic personas kept the energy up throughout the night while performing as their mothers allowed them to till the fertile ground that baby boomers have provided to comedians (think getting drunk one wine while watching Graeme Norton and criticising your children).
The first comic up was Festival-favourite Guy Montgomery. The co-host of one of my favourite podcasts, “The Worst Idea of All Time”, has recently relocated to New York (due to what he deems to be hubris), which has provided him with an opportunity to observe the idiosyncrasies of Americans (loud, brash, over-sharing) as well a few challenges that will be familiar to anyone who moved to a new city as an adult – making friends (or not making them) and having too much spare time on his hands. Guy’s observational comedy is delivered with a heavy dose of absurdity – he can riff off relatively normal situations and take them to fantastic and surreal places that take you by surprise, but also leave you keen to take that weird journey with him.
Next up was Irish comic, Eleanor Tiernan, one of the night’s international headliners. I’ve seen her a couple times now and have come to appreciate ho cleverly constructed and layered her comedy is. Combine that with her self-deprecating manner, wry smile, and wonderful turn of phrase and you have all the ingredients for a brilliant set. That’s exactly what we had on the night; Mum was in absolute hysterics – her favourite act of the first half. She’s one of those comics that you can’t help but love and if you haven’t seen her yet I’d highly recommend that you snap up whatever tickets she has left. You won’t be disappointed.
Show: Success without a sex tapes
Following Tiernan was Kiwi comic, by way of Pakistan, Ed Amon. This was my first-time seeing Ed and I was pretty blown away with just how good he was. His charmingly stilted delivery (which served to only amply the hilarity of his jokes) belied just how smart his act was put together – weaving in comparisons between life in the Middle East and New Zealand with the difficulties he has being a good son in the eyes of his hard-to-please Muslim mother. Ed’s comedy was engaging and relatable and he left us in hysterics. A wonderful reminder of just how good our local comedy scene is and an early highlight for me.
Show: My Country
Jack Ansett offered another glimpse into just how good we have it in New Zealand. He brought a lot of energy to his set (Boomers might go with ‘youthful exuberance’), want he moved his tall and gangly frame wildly around the stage synched with the flow of his jokes (it was actually a bit hypnotic), his expressive movements complimented his syncopated delivery. Ansett burst on stage and didn’t let up until the light started flashing, rattling out his material with frantic pace. His self-deprecating set touched on his misadventures living in London, difficulties with making friends in Auckland, and constantly being mistaken for being gay (delivering one of the biggest laughs of the night). Ansett is an up-and-coming comic and performances like this are exactly what he needs to be doing to make the step up to the next level.
Show: In His Prime
Bubbly and awkward, Billy T Award Nominee Donna Brookbanks is another Kiwi comic who is going from strength-to-strength. She’s a comic with a lot of bows in her a comedy arsenal; Brookbanks’ left no stone unturned in her pursuit of getting a laugh. A fan of physical comedy, I loved how she used mannerisms and movement to complement her material – largely concerned with how her awkward presence leads her struggle with love and, well life in general really. Donna Brookbanks is awkward, engaging, bubbly, and incredibly funny. Go out and see her if you haven’t yet.
The second half kicked off with one of my favourite Kiwi comics, Tim Batt (the other host of podcast ‘The Worst Idea of All Time’). A lot has happened since I last saw Batt perform, he got married (‘punching above his weight’) and turned vegan. In the wrong hands, these topics can torpedo a set, but Tim’s slickly delivered set of self-depreciating gags and observations delivered massive laughs and more than justified his reputation as one of the best Kiwis on the comedy circuit. Tim’s a comic with something to say and a great way of saying it.
Hannah Campbell was another bright-faced comic who made the most of her opportunity to perform in front of a large audience, grabbing our attention from the get-go and not letting go until it was time to leave the stage (too soon in my opinion). The Dunedin-based comic (by way of Scotland) started off by joking about her relationship status “long-term and stable if anyone from immigration is in attendance” and desire to leave the UK to escape the cold (Dunedin must have come as a surprise). She’s a charming performer whose escalating material moved us from chuckling to howling with laughter within a few short minutes. Worth checking out.
Show: I Am Screaming
2017 NZICF Best Newcomer Nominee Brynley Stent is someone who you may be familiar with from her work on the Jono & Ben Show or Friday Night institution Snort. She’s an immensely talented comedic actress who was able to utilize her extensive theatre training to deliver 10 or so minutes of delightfully absurd sketch comedy. The largely physical set, which melded clowning and mime with pre-recorded audio, was concerned with the struggles of successfully navigating the self-check aisle at Countdown. It was weird, surreal, unexpected, and oddly sweet – a real breath of fresh air. The key thing with a performance like this is to ensure that the narrative pays off and that the show remains funny throughout. Brynley’s immense talent meant that neither was an issue for her on the night.
Show: Filthy Little Goblin
US comedian Josh Wolf has had a varied career that has seen him work as a sitcom writer, make regular appearances on “Chelsea Lately,” author a book, and host several podcasts. The sought-after comic was our headliner and more than earned the slot, unquestionably delivering the performance of the night. Wolf is a down-to-earth comic and a master storyteller who excels at telling relatable and ridiculous long-form stories about his life. A lot of these stories have to do with his youngest son, due in large part because, in Wolf’s own words, he’s the dumbest of his three kids and gives him the most material. Wolf treated us to one of these moments, an unbelievably funny story about the time that he caught his then 15-year-old son watching porn. The obvious love that Josh has for his children is seemingly only matched by the joy that he takes out of messing with them, he could barely contain his laughter at some of his son’s dumber moments in the story. He kept us hooked and laughing along throughout his story, only pausing to assure the staff at the Rangatira Theatre that he knew that the blinking light meant that it was time for him to depart. Instead of doing that Wolf delivered one of the best endings that I have seen to a Festival set this year. If you’re only going to check out a couple of comedians during the NZ International Comedy Festival, make sure that Josh Wolf is one of them!
Show: The NZ Debut
When: 12 May
Where: Q Theatre, Rangatira