REVIEWS: NZ International Comedy Festival 2014: Week One

More Lombre than man

Rose Matafeo / Eli Mathewson /Flashdunce / Rhys Mathewson / Nic Sampson / Luke Heggie

Rose Matafeo: Pizza Party [by Matt Baker]


Less of a narrative and more of a theme-based show, Matafeo’s ironically titled Pizza Party addresses the fact that she is probably the least likely person to host, or even attend, a party. Matafeo’s self-deprecating humour towards the uncool reality of her life might be justified (she is very persuasive and the evidence is all literally there), but it doesn’t take away from the fact that she is definitely justified as an award-winning comedienne.

Of her first award-nominated show, Matafeo said that she “…decided I wanted to do a show with all the things I find funny, and there’s perhaps not even a point to the show, but I’m just going to stand up on stage and do an hour of jokes.” It seems that this format has served her well, as the majority of the show is filled with short, sharp gags and commentaries that keep the audience humming along. Now and then, we segue into more personal territory, via the aforementioned evidence, in the form of web browsing and a public reading of her primary school stories.

None of these things, however, are accompanied by the world’s smallest violin, and Matafeo demonstrates her ability to take everything in stride, from public comments to personal Facebook messages. Even her asides and reactions to the audience are part and parcel with her performance. It is a testament to her ability to be funny without resorting to crass material, or conforming to things only because she thinks other people might think are humorous. Matafeo may not be cool, but she’s undoubtedly funny.

7pm at The Basement until Sat 3 May

Eli Mathewson’s Big Audition [by James Wenley]

My new best friend
My new best friend

Eli Mathewson is a exuberant ambassador for the Generation Y experience, peppering his stand-up with pop references and his love for Jurassic Park.

A Unitec grad and a regular om The Basement’s scene, Eli admits he always wanted to be a serious actor, not a stand-up comedian. While his lame examples of “serious” acting didn’t convince me towards the former (perhaps taking this segment more seriously bright increase the comedic value), I’m more convinced by the latter.

The  idea  is that he’s auditioning to be our best friend, but really he spends less time talking about himself and his potential best friend attributes, and more on his observations about relationships, hyper-sexualisation, and Blue Ivy. I was disappointed he didn’t keep so close to his theme (why don’t comedians stick to their premises?), and there was more Eli could have done to convince us why we should choose him, and comedic thoughts on friendship in general. He’s shameless however in  re-airing embarrassments from his past, including the painful confession of previous “bacne” (look it up if you dare).

Eli gets a good rapport with the audience going from the start, but the later audience participation set-pieces are a bit more forced, relying on their involvement to generate the laughs rather than from himself. A Beyoncé impression could have been one of the funniest moments in the show, but Eli chose to go back to his normal voice. Its these sorts of comic opportunities that Eli needs to grab hold of in the moment to extend our laughter.

Eli says he wants to be liked, and at the end of the show has more than succeeded, setting up an atmosphere where you feel he really is your mate.

7:15pm at The Basement until Sat 3 May

Flashdunce [by James Wenley]

What a feeling?
What a feeling?

While there is no connection to the 80s cult-hit film (thank goodness?), and the] dramatic horse poster may just be a catchy way to strike interest in their show, the main thing to clear up is that writer/performers Jonny Brugh and Jackie Van Beek are no dummies. Flashdunce contains a series of intelligently-ridiculous sketches of a style that, looking at the rest of the Comedy Festival program, would seem to be out of fashion.

These two, however, are very cool cats. They’re kicking back with bare feet as we enter, riffing on guitars. This turns out to be a rather long set-up for their opening gag (even longer thanks to the late start!) were they pull out some jazz scat aka funny noises. A few energetic dance moves later, and they are into their first sketch: an immediate crowd-pleaser sending up the absurdity of teachers’ instructions before an exam.

Their material shows an eye for the darker stuff of life: you don’t get much riskier than starting a sketch than the line “I want to kill myself”. And that was only the first of two sketches on the topic. High-risk, but in their hands, this dark comedy gets some of the biggest laughs.

The sketches are long and developed, mining as much comedy from within the scenarios as possible. They take their – premises such as a drunk driver trying to get off, or a vet diagnosing everything from an app – into wonderfully absurd places. The long-form style does mean that if a particular sketch isn’t too your taste it does drag. Eastern European characters Ivan and Eva, on an existential journey of survival, are clearly characters Brugh and Van Beek have fallen for (featuring in three segments), but the humour doesn’t translate so easily into laughs.

Brugh and Van Beek are a likeable pair with a strong shared comic sympathy. Brugh keeps to type, while Van Beek shows the most versatility in her character range, and is rather good at going cross-eyed on cue.

For something a little different to the cavalcade of stand-up comedians, you can’t go wrong with Flashdunce.

8:30pm at The Basement until 3 May

Rhys Mathewson: Hombre Lobo [by Matt Baker]

More Lombre than man
More Lobo than man

Without taking away from his opening preamble, Rhys Mathewson’s Hombre Lobo addresses the profound, if not obscure, concept of the duality of man. While that may not necessarily come across as comedy gold, it provides a great centre-point for Mathewson’s material, as he takes us through a journey of introspection.

Fresh from the UK, with experiences that provide plenty of comedy fodder, Mathewson seems to have grown both as an individual and as a comedian. There is a real sense of completeness, which is not always found in comedy, in Mathewson’s show. The best example of this is his ability to abruptly switch into genuinely introspective and poignant moments, with the audience suddenly falling silent from laugh out loud moments, to the point where you could hear a pin drop.

Mathewson also has a great sense of both ease and control on stage, and deftly deals with a light-hearted, nevertheless disruptive, heckler. There is a classic self-deprecation in the comedy, but it is nicely balanced in a strong and confident performance. Of all the shows I have seen thus far in the comedy festival, Hombre Lobo is easily the one that gave me the most to think and laugh about.

8:45pm at The Basement until 3 May

Nic Sampson: Replaced by Dog [by Matt Baker]

Nic Sampson
Needing no introduction…

For those who have had their fingers on the pulse of the Auckland comedy scene, this show has been a long time coming. For the past several years, Nic Sampson; writer, actor, and Snort stalwart, has been solidifying his foothold as one of New Zealand’s up-and-coming young comedians. For his first one-hour solo show, Sampson takes us rocketing through his early adulthood, from age 18 till today, essentially surmising everything you need to know about him as he transitions into a more widely recognised public domain.

Sampson’s skills as both a writer and an actor are evident, from the cracking text and well-driven narrative, to bitterly characterised throwaway lines and occasional dialogue scenes. It seems everything in Sampson’s life has been material for a comedy show, then again, it could be that Sampson is simply one of those people who can make anything funny – even his kill-me-now expression to an earworm in a television commercial.

There is no doubt in my mind that Sampson is a comedian to follow, and it would behove audiences to catch him at this early stage in his career. If you have any interest in the future of New Zealand comedy, this is a show on which you will not want to miss out.

10pm at The Basement until Sat 3 May

Luke Heggie: Bush Week [by Matt Baker]

Luke Heggie
Luke Heggie

Since 2010, Brisbane-born Luke Heggie has made solid progress as a stand-up comedian. From his award-winning performance in Raw Comedy, to semi-finalising in Australia’s Got Talent in 2012, Heggie has gradually developed a reputation both back home and now here in New Zealand.

Heggie has a great vocabulary and dexterity with language. Although some of his metaphors and similes, which are inherently part of the Australian vernacular, have the potential to be lost in translation, Heggie takes the time to address this with his Kiwi audience. When doing so, however, with a quintessential New Zealand nonchalance, Heggie incidentally illustrates our similarities as much as our differences. His aforementioned placidity also means that no matter how colourful Heggie’s wordplay gets, there is never a sense of aggression in the extremity and ferocity of his words.

Bush Week is a narrative based on Heggie’s hostel experiences, sidelining into more commonplace scenarios complete with tidbits of advice based on his roles as a son, brother, and father. The opening crowd didn’t appear to have anyone under the age of twenty-five, which seemed the right age minimum for the show. Young parents and those with some life and especially travel experience are the ones with whom Heggie’s comedy will really resonate.

7:15pm at Q Vault until Sat 3 May



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