Comedy review: Stephen Merchant, Auckland Town Hall

By Russell Baillie

Stephen Merchant. Photo / AP
Stephen Merchant. Photo / AP

He does a good bookend, does Stephen Merchant. There during the encore part of this stand-up show is a performance of one of his first scripts - a play called Issues, apparently penned and first performed in his late 80s high school years.

Aided by a couple of audience volunteers, it was a hilarious wrap-up to the largely hilarious preceding hour. When one of his supporting players has to give birth, the only prop to hand to portray the newborn was, fancy that, the Golden Globe he won as co-creator of The Office, the groundbreaking early 2000s Brit-com which, with its US spin-off probably means he really doesn't have to work again.

But there it was - Merchant's fledging talent and proof of his showbiz success colliding in a telling punchline.

Merchant's show, entitled Hello Ladies, might have been themed on his ongoing search for a Mrs Merchant. And that despite his trophy-laden mantelpiece, how his various flaws - lankiess, geekiness, stinginess among them, all neatly exaggerated on stage - hasn't made it any easier.

But, there's another undercurrent to his routine: Shouldn't all that success make you feel better, even if you have no-one to share it with? Oh and what happens when you're an unfeasibly tall funny bloke who gets famous, but not as famous as your writing-directing-acting partner?

You get your name spelt wrong in magazine interviews and your high-altitude head cropped out of newspaper pictures when you win Golden Globes, that's what - they were just some of the images on a videoscreen Merchant used to back up his various arguments, the most alarming of which involved a close-up on what his non-bespectacled face might look like in a close-up boudouir situation.

Yes, it was probably unsurprising that this script-master's show wasn't exactly a riot of spontaneity and it hit some patches where you could feel the pages being turned. Then again, you can sure see why HBO want to make a sitcom out of the Hello Ladies raw material.

Live, though, Merchant still flipped the chuckle-o-meter frequently into the red, his jokes neatly emphasised by his stringbean frame's physical punctuation which frequently reminded of John Cleese on one of his silly walks.

There were hints in some of the gags of the caustic wit of comedy partner Ricky Gervais - who Merchant referred to as "You Know Who" and "His Nibs" throughout - but Merchant, only slightly foul-mouthed, didn't seem the misanthrope of his higher profile offsider.

But if he was self-deprecating and easy to warm to, Merchant still veered into some outlandish territorty. And that combo of affable Merchant and lanky weirdo Merchant made Hello Ladies quite the side-splitter.

Comedy Review

Who: Stephen Merchant
What: His Hello Ladies tour
When: Auckland Town Hall tonight and again tomorrow night.

- NZ Herald

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