Russell Baillie: Bhoy stands up best to gala test

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Like the universe itself, the NZ International Comedy Festival has always started with a big bang - the gala night show in which nearly half the acts in the three-week bonanza run on, do their party piece and are off in time to make room for the next ad in its delayed TV broadcast (TV2, Wednesday 8.30pm).

It might seem an indecent haste for the performers but for the audience it can be endurance test, with this one stretching to nearly three admittedly entertaining hours.

And as always, this year's set - giant plasma screens screwed to the sort of neon framework last seen backing many an 80s pop video - was hilarious in itself.

Counting super-smooth quick-witted although autocue-chained MC Wayne Brady (from Whose Line is it Anyway? and Don't Forget the Lyrics), this Friday night opener came with 24 acts, roughly half domestic and half exotic, although many of the imports were on an umpteenth festival visit.

So while there was a chance to find some new favourites, there was more than a little deja vu about much of the show and its content.

Dai Henwood - who opted to arrive as himself rather than one of the characters which made their mad mark on past galas - thought it best not to waste too much new material to be broadcast on a network other than the one which employs him.

His gag about seals being like gang members in a sleeping bag has some miles on it.

Likewise, Te Radar delivered an anecdotal deleted scene from his sustainable living telly show, although his new forthcoming Eating the Dog show about great NZ failures possibly doesn't bear the cut-down preview treatment.

True they were original but worst, by far, of the locals was We Are Currently Experiencing Some Issues, a team - some with their own festival solo gigs - whose mock kiddie show slapstick farce involving animal costumes, roller skates and voice-overs seemed like a disastrous audition to a sequel to Meet the Feebles.

Elsewhere, there were a run of engaging stand-up routines from the locals. Among the more memorable were radio guy Paul Ego (bravely starting with a song extolling the virtues of his bum), Simon McKinney (with a heavy accent on accents), Benjamin Crellin and Ben Hurley.

Possibly the best local up-and-comer was James Nokise, whose take on things from a Polynesian perspective was fresh and amusingly self-deprecating. A star in the making, we suspect.

The new stand-outs among the festival's international stand-ups were Ireland's Maeve Higgins, whose absent-minded quirky charms and homespun subjects are sure to make her friends here, and Brit Carey Marx.

He was possibly the night's rudest act, but his surreal perspective and infectious mischief made him one of the most unpredictable bright spots.

Among other impressive foreign newbies were Aussies Hannah Gadsby and Wil Anderson - she with her thoughts on being not very good at much in life and one priceless heckle-response; he with a pointed routine of manic energy which took in Oz "terrorist" David Hicks and managed to extract new punchlines out of that perennial favourite - biosecurity at NZ airports.

So too did Wilson Dixon, singer of droll deeply amusing country songs who may sound like he's Nashville's answer to Flight of the Conchords but whose roots lie in Oz's 4 Noels and NZ.

The musical highlight of the night was the perennially unsettling Kransky Sisters, the Queensland trio extracting strange new levels of misfortune in the Bee Gees' Tragedy, among other tunes they rendered with tuba, guitar and musical saw.

Talking of tragedy, the sad streak that runs underneath the comedy of Glasgow's Janey Godley was palpable even in her short turn at the microphone but she remains a wee wonder of infectious stage presence.

She was among a fine bunch of exotically accented returning stars.

That included the brilliantly whimsical Welshman Mark Watson ("now there's a country with low self-esteem" he replied when we applauded him, saying he was glad to be back).

And there was the disarmingly frank Englishman Jason Cook, the ever-animated Irishman Ed Byrne, and the seemingly stoned but devastatingly sharp-thinking Canadian Glen Wool whose routine won the evening's prize for best lateral thinking about current events and global concerns.

But capping everyone was another regular festival star, Danny Bhoy, who after making some pointed quips about the show's duration and wacky stage set, launched into a hilarious spiel about a motel wildlife encounter in back-of-beyond Australia. He remains in a class of his own, that Bhoy.

- NZ Herald

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