Lovers of comedy, rejoice! Iconic comedy venue The Classic is about to celebrate a legendary achievement of 20 years on Queen Street.
In October 1996, a group of young comedians and producers began a year-long process of launching New Zealand’s first club entirely dedicated to the art of comedy. Since its establishment in October 1997, The Classic is now recognised at one of the top ten comedy venues in the entire world and has kickstarted widely-acclaimed careers of many local comedians such as Flight of the Conchords, Rhys Darby, The Boy With Tape On His Face, and newcomers to fame, The Fan Brigade.
Director of The Classic and Godfather of the local stand-up comedy industry, Scott Blanks will be celebrating this milestone at The Classic with ‘A Year of It’, featuring over 400 live events.
This blockbuster year ahead includes regular weekly shows, international comedy festival guests, a Mini Summer Festival & Comedy Hui, the Raw Comedy competition for new faces, debates, workshops, and special club nights for ‘Frequent Laughers’.
In true anniversary style, The Classic will be trawling through the archives to find some of the images and memories that celebrate its role in making NZ live comedy the magnificent beast that it is today. The year will conclude with a VIP Comedy Ball on Saturday 28 October 2017.
The founding comedians that started gigging in the early years were only a handful of about 30 people who could claim to be professional comedians in NZ. Nowadays, The Classic hosts over 350 live comedy events every year and continues to be an iconic spot for fine local and international comedy, and a breeding ground for new comedians and comedy producers.
Another key indication of the health of live comedy at The Classic is the diversity, particularly the comedians’ representative of the new immigrants in NZ and the rapid increase in female comedians. Twenty years ago there were only a handful of professional female comedians amongst the ranks at The Classic. Today there are up to 20 regulars and as many rookies developing their craft.
It is from these foundations that a strong, encouraging comedy industry was built in New Zealand, a comment made and supported by many professional and aspiring comedians here.
Brendhan Lovegrove, one of the few who has been performing comedy since before The Classic opened, said it best in his Talking Comedy interview, “When I started there were very few people doing stand up. Now there are so many people and I love it, I love it… I just like that fact that I’m working with really good people who all have the same end goal, you know, everyone wants to be funny, everyone wants to get better.”
Newcomers to fame, Amanda and Livi from The Fan Brigade have also made similar comments,
“I wonder if the New Zealand comedy industry is completely different to other comedian industries? It’s so tight and supportive and everyone’s so bloody nice to each other. We thought we’d have to stick together because everyone would be out for themselves but it’s just not like that at all – Not how we see it, anyway.”
“Meeting your idols and having them be so kind in real life has been a really cool thing.”
The programme of events for ‘A Year of It’ will be announced over the next few weeks and rolled out throughout the months ahead.
THE CLASSIC TIMELINE
1982 – Retro Nightclub in O’Connell Street, Auckland ran a live comedy competition. It was in this crowd that Willy de Wit, Dean Butler, Ian Harcourt, Peter Murphy, Chris Hegan and manager, Scott Blanks, got together. Later they would become known as Funny Business who later inspired the formation of another comedy troupe, Facial DBX from Massey University.
1992 – Members of Funny Business and Facial DBX merge forming Comedyfest (not to be confused with the NZ International Comedy Festival) producing a live comedy gig every 6 weeks at the legendary Kitty O’Brien’s. Scott Blanks joins the party and Comedyfest quickly expands to weekly gigs and comedy nights at the Masonic in Devonport.
1992-1997 – Comedyfest established itself as the driving force of live comedy in Auckland and beyond. Their first international import was a young British comedian; Alan Davies, followed by Bill Bailey, Rich Hall and then Ed Bryne, Simon Pegg, Ardal O’Hanlon, Michael Smiley and more.
1995 – Comedyfest collaborated with Phoenix Television to create 8 seasons of the stand-up show Pulp Comedy launching the career of Mike King. NZ Comedy was served to the masses.
1996 – The idea of opening a dedicated local live stand-up venue was hatched and the search for an inner city location began.
1997 – The Classic Comedy & Bar opens at 321 Queen Street replacing the Classic Cinema aka Auckland’s Porn Cinema. The landscape of NZ comedy was changed forever with this, the first ever live comedy club. At this time the downstairs space, Basement (then Silo), was also renovated and handed over to the thespians of Auckland.
The first year at The Classic was legendary with capacity audiences checking out the unique venue. Alongside comics, a handful of cool bands jammed out live music.
1997-2017 – The Classic hosts over 350 live comedy events every year – that is nearly 8,000 live comedy gigs. The Classic becomes and continues to be a hotbed for fine local and international comedy, and a breeding ground for new comedians and comedy producers.
“A Year Of It”
Dates: November 2016 – October 2017.
Venues: The Classic and various clubs around NZ.
Programme to be announced on www.comedy.co.nz