REVIEW: NZ International Comedy Festival Preview Week

Review by Matt Baker

Matt Baker reports on the early highlights from this year’s Comedy Festival

If the Best Foods Comedy Gala is any indication of what the year has to offer, 2019 looks to be a great year for the New Zealand International Comedy Festival. Winner of the 2018 Best International Guest, Rhys Nicholson is the perfect host for the two-and-half hour plus show, with a joke-a-second spitfire delivery that keeps his audience on its toes the entire night.

New Zealand favourite James Acaster (UK) has a shaky set, but wins over the audience regardless. He’s already sold out his entire season, so beg, borrow, steal, do whatever you need to do to get a ticket to Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999. His absurd comedic droll has been superseded by the anger manifested during the worst year of his life. It may have happened in 2017, but the timing is perfect for Acaster to present a show that digs even deeper than his Netflix special.

It takes the audience a few moments to adjust to Demi Lardner (AUS), but every moment of her surreal clowning is priceless comedy. Her solo show is a non-stop, laugh-a-minute ride, and Lardner’s awkward and endearing personality makes for a truly fun show. There’s only one night left, and it’s not to be missed.

Paul Sinha (UK) makes his New Zealand debut and smashes his tight-four in the Gala. An opportunity to meet the man behind the “minor” celebrity, Sinha warms the crowd with well-researched New Zealand-specific sporting material, before a hilarious and humbling journey on learning to let go of the past and take risks.

Pax Assadi and Jamaine Ross continue to lift the lid on racial stereotyping with light-hearted yet astute observations on their respective lives. Add James Roque to the mix, and sketch group Frickin Dangerous Bro take more liberties in how ridiculous, and consequently how poignant, they can make such observations.

Jamali Maddix (UK), on the other hand, incorporates an aggressive banter with his audience. Although playfully balanced in the gala, Maddix lets loose on his solo show crowd. Performed with excellent execution, it’s an ironic reflection on trying to be a better person, as Maddix often undercuts his woke commentary with base punchlines.

A more successful subversion comes from Becky Lucas (AUS), her light delivery drawing the audience into a false sense of security before hitting them with a punchline. There’s a dark edge to Lucas that belies her comfortable yet playful style, which makes her Week 1 solo show all the more intriguing.

Two Hearts have no doubt seen a boost in publicity thanks to Laura Daniel’s high-scoring appearances on Dancing with the Stars, and the duo do not disappoint. While a Moana parody allows for accessibility, Daniel and partner Joseph Moore have a phenomenally extravagant show up their sleeves, and continue to blend content with spectacle, addressing both social and absurd issues with style.

Winner of the 2018 Fred Award, I’d argue that with his degree of critical success in theatre, screen, and comedy, Chris Parker is already somewhat of an icon. His often innocent persona, exacerbated through an anxious gay lens, is both honest and accessible, and the perfect counter to his more sassy character bits. Parker can turn it on when he needs to, but he never relies on it, merely using it to balance his more weighted content.

Guy Montgomery seems to have adopted a bizarre vocal, but his absurd observations and physical comedy is still en pointe.

Preview weekend has come and gone, but there are many acts from the Gala that are performing in Week 1. If you haven’t already made your picks for the 2019 New Zealand International Comedy Festival, find shows here, make your shortlist, and get your tickets.

Follow Matt Baker’s coverage of the Comedy Festival at Up Your Arts

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