What’s good at the Comedy Festival? Matt Baker reviews the Comedy Gala

Review by Matt Baker

[NZ International Comedy Festival 2018 – Best Foods Comedy Gala]

Producing a comedy gala involving 20 comedians is no mean feat, so when a venue of calibre such as the ASB Theatre is unable to provide sufficient sound levels for the opening line-up show of the 2018 NZ Comedy Festival, the detriment is not only to itself, but to the performers who rely on both the live and televised coverage to publicise themselves. Following a longer than usual delay, host Arj Barker has immediate mic problems, and while some will attribute this to his varying mic proximity and volume, such suppositions relate to typical effects employed by comedians, which should have been adequately tested by house technicians. Fortunately, Barker pushes through, and his recent marriage and consequent new material, which avoids making his wife the target of the jokes as many male comedians do, keeps the crowd laughing throughout the night.

The international line-up begins with UK comedian Jimmy McGhie, who, running over his allocated time, sets a mild tone for the evening, as does fellow Brit Sarah Callaghan in a moment of overt racism – which isn’t rectified by the punchline. Fortunately, Hayley Sproull, the first of the New Zealand performers, provides a literal upbeat with her musical comedy. Where Andy Zaltzman uses intellect to argue the case that sports is better than the reality with an almost vaudevillian style, Dane Baptiste is the voice of conscience and reason of the night, his cool delivery juxtaposing his hard-hitting socio-political commentaries.

Justine Smith and Wilson Dixon are the clear stand-outs of the evening. Smith is inarguably one of New Zealand’s best comedians, her unapologetic directness and quick wit regarding aging wins over the entire audience, while Dixon once again shows his master of language and ironic circumstances with his musical musings in “It Ain’t No Good”.

Eli Matthewson utilises his encyclopaedic knowledge of pop culture and invites the audience to reinforce his plan to win X Factor. Fortunately, Matthewson demonstrates his skill a cappella. Unfortunately, the presence in the musical acts of the aforementioned technical difficulties meant literally nothing could be heard of Aunty Donna due to the treble.

Dai Henwood kicks off act two with plenty of movement and sound, but no real content, Andrew Maxwell has some hits and misses with his observations on New Zealand, while Lauren Pattison plays against her type with an honest and self-deprecating approach.

Rhys Mathewson nails a tight five, even when incorporating subtle changes to his lotto sketch. It’s the sign of a comedian who is always searching for the best content and delivery of already award-winning material.

The introduction of Fuq Boiz to a mainstream audience was always going to be interesting, and while it took some time for the latter to tune in to the duo’s absurdity, their confusion evolved into eventual, if not still confused, laughter. James Roque battles racism with a clever comparison in the societal viewpoint on dating Asian men versus Asian woman, providing the best example of the night of what his show, and his unique perspective as a comedian, has to offer.

Having debuted 30 years ago, The Umbilical Brothers prove that not only is tried and true still funny, but they are also masters of their craft, with a comically overblown scenario in which Trump takes on Kim Jong Un, while Marcel Lucont slows things down with his laconic and nonchalant observations of New Zealand’s attitude towards time and recreational adventure activities.

Heath Franklin closes the night in traditional Chopper style, his irreverent attitude illustrating a refined sense of social values. While the ASB Theatre had its technical issues, the gala itself was an even mix. In addition to Smith and Dixon, Sproull, Baptiste, Mathewson, Fuq Boiz, Roque, and the Umbilical Brothers each gave performances that indicated their respective shows had much more to offer to a wide range of audiences, which, regardless of varying tastes, are sure to be successes in their own rights.

The Best Foods Comedy Gala was held on 26th April. See Comedy Festival for this year’s full line up of shows. 

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