Review: Comedy Gala

By Russell Baillie

Jason Byrne stole the show as the comedy gala's MC.
Jason Byrne stole the show as the comedy gala's MC.

Clearly getting Jason Byrne to MC this year's comedy festival opener was either a) a stroke of genius or b) a very bad idea.

That's "a" if you are selling tickets to Jason Byrne's own festival show. Or if you were in the live audience for the exhausting three-hour plus opening night gig, one in which a buffet of 20 comedians did four minutes each.

That's "b" if you were one of those other comedians arriving on stage after Byrne, a gangly Irishman with a furball-cough of a laugh, had once again stolen the show with one of his own routines.

And that included his jaw-dropping entrance for the television broadcast, which involved [slight spoiler alert] a Miley Cyrus gag which risked, quite literally, bringing the house down.

That's also "b" if you were caught up in Byrne's audience participation efforts. Oh, poor Des, Sam and Aaron. They are sure to never hear that jolly synthesiser tune Popcorn quite the same way again after Byrne dragged them up on stage and made them his playthings.

Droll returning Englishman James Acaster was smart enough to make fun of the Byrne effect on the evening before heading into his own routine, a brilliant skewering of music fan snobbery and an daft but illuminating lesson in mariachi appreciation.

Acaster's stuff might be carefully scripted but his cool restraint makes his particular line of nonsense strangely convincing.

The half a dozen Brit comics on the bill had a higher brow approach than their mostly colonial colleagues

Among them was last year's festival best international act winner, Tom Binns who confounded as his creepy psychic alter-ego Ian D. Monfort. His performance managed to both send up the chicanery of clairvoyants and weirdly suggest he actually was one.

Among the fellow Brits, John Gordillo was entertaining enough as he dragged his overbearing Spanish father into the conversation; the dapper Stephen K. Amos was his usual erudite self on the joys of being black and British; Sarah Pascoe's elaborate thoughts on arachnophobia and having reached her sexual peak recommend her own show.

But possibly the best of the UKsquad was Carl Donnelly whose anecdote about a life-threatening encounter with a piece of crumpet - the breakfast, not the Benny Hill kind - showed just how a great comic can generate snowballing hilarity from humble beginnings.

And let us not forget Marcel Lucont, a Englishman impersonating an aloof Frenchman who thought it best to tell jokes about Australia and Australia Day ("celebrating their freedom from their Aboriginal masters") to New Zealanders. Truly international comedy, n'est-ce pas?

Talking of Oz, the unsettling nuttiness of Sam Simmons was infectious right from his beginning to its food-fight ending. He may well be the looniest thing at this year's festival.

Talking of nuts, UK-based Aussie Steve Hughes harden-up rant about allergies and those who suffer him was caustic enough to bring some out in a rash.

But the most uncomfortable spiel was that of Reginald D. Hunter, the smooth voiced UK-based dreadlocked dude from the US whose musings on the Oscar Pistorius case weren't so much too soon as too nasty.

And then there was our guys. Jamie Bowen's rant about life being a set of boxes wasn't as Forrest Gump as it might sound and made up for in manic energy what it lacked in profundity. Back from the UK, Jarred Christmas was his usual enjoyably shouty, if less than memorable self.

James Nokise won best-dressed for his white tux, an apt costume for contemplating pop's influence on the bedroom in the R&B era between Boyz II Men and Robin Thicke which sounds like it needs an LP running time to work rather than the short slot here.

Moonlighting 7 Days head writer Nick Rado proved he deserves more time on the other side of the camera, his moment in the spotlight ended with one of the best fart jokes the festival has ever witnessed.

The 7 Days regulars of Ben Hurley, Paul Ego and Urzila Carlson didn't over-extend themselves. Neither did local comedy whiz kids Guy Williams or Rose Matafeo. Matafeo's random ramble did finish on some amusing impersonations. Williams ended his slot by explaining a sarcastic tweet he once sent to Brian Tamaki (#wowsoedgy #easytarget).

And after all that it was Rhys Darby who finished the night with a routine that briefly threatened to become a jazz ballet performance but instead had him as a one-man anti-pickpocket honeytrap which made for an enjoyably silly four minutes of physical comedy.

- NZ Herald

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