Winston Aldworth

Winston Aldworth is the Herald's Travel Editor.

Cruising: A funny thing happened to me at sea

A few pearls of Pacific wit add to the glorious sights on the comedy cruise, writes Winston Aldworth.

White Island viewed through the safety rail of a cruise ship. Photo / Winston Aldworth
White Island viewed through the safety rail of a cruise ship. Photo / Winston Aldworth

"I was walking past a Trade Aid shop - you know, those stores that sell craft items made by people in poorer countries. They sell jewellery, little pottery items and handbags, and the money goes back to the community where the products were made. It's a worthy cause."

I pause for effect. My audience - two women I've just met at the Orient bar aboard the Pacific Pearl are nodding along, following my tale. Kind of. One glances at her watch.

"Anyway, as I walked past the Trade Aid store, a staff member in the doorway picked up a handful of these small, sweet-smelling candles - they were sort of apple-ish and cinnamon-y. And he took this handful of sweet-smelling candles and threw them at me! They hit me right in the face!"

Now my audience are hooked - their expectant expressions tell me they're ready for the punchline. It's all in the set up, y'see. Why would a Trade Aid staff member throw candles in my face? It's a great build-up for a killer punchline.

I lean forward.

"I was surprised," I tell them. "I was outraged. In fact, you could say I was incensed."

Time slows down. The gentle sway of the cruise ship seems to pause as the two women cast their still expectant expression at me.

I repeat: "I was incensed."

"Ohh, like incense."

"Yep. Incense."

The ship steams on.

Oddly enough, both of them had to be somewhere else a few minutes after that. Meaning I was alone at the Comedy Workshop, hosted by Bev Killick, on the Pacific Pearl's Comedy Cruise.

The cruise brings about 1800 passengers together for a three-night jaunt sailing out of Auckland and returning back to shore at - wait for it, folks - Auckland.

Earlier, Bev had us join up with those sitting around us to tell a story or a funny anecdote (that's how I met my "audience"). The only funny tale I could think of was the incense one - which is actually a gag by a mate of mine who does stand up in London (his name's Leo Kearse - check him out on YouTube).

Bev talks us through the key elements of good stand-up comedy, but mainly she's trying to make a few of us feel confident enough to take to the stage and tell our stories in front of the bigger audience.

"Comedy to me is very simple," she says. "It's just an extension of who we are."

Bev paints a cheery picture of stand-up comedy; it seems we all have an inner comedian.

"The jokes we're going to tell today are just extensions of the stories we're already telling."

From the 100 or so people at the workshop, about a dozen volunteer to get up and have a go at stand-up. They take to the small stage and try out their one-liners and comic stories. Bev offers feedback after each of them completes their "set" and she talks us through what worked and what didn't.

"I woke up this morning with a Weetbix up my bum," says Clayton. "Must have been a cereal rapist."

Ba-dum-chh!

Bev's top tips: Be confident and if you think that racist joke might be worth sharing, think for a moment on how the crowd went silent.

I have nothing but respect for everyone who gives it a go, and the crowd are very supportive.

After the horrors of my incense-punchline disgrace, I'm too scared to take to the stage. An eight-year-old boy, full of the confidence of youth, gets the biggest cheer of all: "How do you make a tissue dance? You put a little boogie in it."

That kid will go far.

It was meant to be a cruise to nowhere. Out of Auckland, northward, and back to Auckland with a casual crowd on a casual ship.

Grim weather to the north meant Captain Roger Bilton set a new course.

"On my last ship, there was a New Zealander on board," Captain Bilton tells us.

"They told me that if I ever got out here I simply had to go to White Island."

So we do. That's a pretty cool advantage of being in charge of your own cruise ship.

Passengers head for the top deck of the Pacific Pearl as we approach White Island from the ocean. The westerly wind blasts the smell of sulphur at us.

We steam around the East Coast's glorious active volcano, getting a privileged view of the seismic action.

Down below, there's a busy schedule of stand-up comedy in the ship's theatre.

"Forty-four: For an easy score, head to the Shore," says West Auckland's own Bingo Mistress Viv.

"I'm a s*** golfer," dapper hypnotist Anthony Laye tells his crowd. "I have my own set of rakes."

Sitting in the audience for the professionals' shows, I think over my own material and how I could have delivered it ... if I'd had the guts.

Nope. This comedy game is best left to the professionals and the eight-year-old kid with the boogie-in-a-tissue joke.

CHECKLIST

Details: P&O short-break cruises run throughout the year. The next three-night comedy-themed SeaBreak cruise departs Auckland on April 16, with prices starting at $649 pp. Fares include accommodation, main meals, and onboard entertainment and activities.

Winston Aldworth travelled as a guest of P&O Cruises.

- NZ Herald

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