REVIEW: James Nokise: Talk a Big Game (NZ International Comedy Festival)

Review by Nathan Joe

James Nokise

[What We Talk About When We Talk About Sport]

James Nokise opens the show by telling us that this year he won’t be focussing his comedy on politics, and instead he’s decided to turn his attention towards New Zealand sports. It’s a simple and straightforward premise that Nokise beautifully subverts. Beginning with a brief explanation of why he’s made this decision, recapping events such as the flag referendum debacle and the dildo thrown at Steven Joyce, he then moves on to each individual sport that our country celebrates, naturally ending with Rugby.

But it’s no mistake that in discussing these sports, and the environments and cultures surrounding them, that Nokise ends up looping back to politics. As audience members we quickly realise how impossible separating the two is. That we don’t naturally see the two subjects intrinsically linked, is our first problem as a nation, and Nokise plays on that expertly. And while his passionate commentary, mixed with humour and despair, take cues from the likes of John Oliver, the difference is he’s no stranger to the Kiwi sensibility. He understands that the way we deal (or don’t deal) with politics is quintessentially us. That the art of sweeping things under the rug and self-deprecation has always been one of our strongest features.

All that said, Nokise isn’t interested in making us feel bad about sport or sport culture. He merely lifts the veil (or beer goggles) and tells us plainly how ridiculous some of our prejudices and biases are. If anything, he displays an equal skill at discussing sport as he does politics, and you’ll find yourself educated as well as amused.

A significant recurring theme in the show is how he recognising the impressive achievements of female athletes in their respective fields, from Serena Williams to Lydia Ko to the Black Ferns. There might not be a single woman on stage, but there’s a proud feminist streak running through Nokise’s veins that never veers into self-congratulatory territory.

Coming off the tail-end of ATC’s season of Boys, Nokise’s examination of New Zealand sport also feels especially prescient. The two shows couldn’t be further apart in form, but their shared content adds to the growing conversation around modern misogyny. Though it sounds didactic it never feels like anything less than a well structured hour of comedy, except perhaps in its closing moment where the show’s message is made loud and clear.

Talk a Big Game suggests that our most powerful tool for advocacy and social change may be humour. If James Nokise wanted to do a show without politics this year, he failed big time. Luckily, we’re better off for it.

James Nokise performs at Vault at Q until 13 May. Details see Comedy Festival

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