Ross Sutherland has performed his show more than 300 times - but he still struggles to explain what it's about.

"I've been doing the show for six years and I still don't know how to describe it," he says, laughing down the phone to the Herald.

"I don't think people know what they're getting into."

Sutherland is bringing Standby for The Tape Back-up to Auckland for the first time this Friday, before taking the one-man show to Wellington next week.


His one-hour performance is a mix of spoken word poetry and a Ted Talks experience, including elements of freestyle rap, stand-up comedy and live theatre.

But the undoubted star of Sutherland's show is a videotape he found sitting in his loft in 2010 that plays throughout the one-hour duration.

The VHS cassette was the only one Sutherland's grandparents owned, one he used frequently as a child to record his favourite shows whenever he visited.

"It's this amazing little artefact from my childhood. I don't have a lot of stuff reconnecting me to my grandparents but this tape does," he says. "It's personal."

Featuring everything from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air to Ghostbusters, old advertisements and game shows, Sutherland says the tape is "a mess".

"We had no idea what we were doing. We'd slam the tape in and hit record. The contents now are so worn and layered up on one another. It's a three-hour tape and about two hours 55 minutes into it, Jaws starts," he laughs.

"That one didn't come out then."

When his grandparents died, Sutherland became obsessed with its contents and quickly realised it he could use it as a performance art piece to address universal themes.

"It kept triggering all these memories," he says. "Whatever is happening on screen is a metaphor for what I'm talking about. It takes you back there."

Sutherland turned the show into a movie in 2015, but he's still touring to rave reviews, even though he plans to start limiting the amount of times he performs it.

Stand By for Tape Back-Up from Ross Sutherland on Vimeo.

No one show is like the other, and Sutherland says it can be "impossible" to perform as he has multiple cues to hit that time with the video's cuts.

But imperfections and accidents are part of the show's charm, he says.

"It's a weird balancing act. You have to listen to me and watch the screen and put it all together. It can be quite hypnotic. People sort of fade in and out as it goes," he says.

"People do come back multiple times because it's so dense."

Who: Ross Sutherland
What: Standby for The Tape Back-up
Where and when: Auckland's Hollywood Cinema, Friday; Wellington's Roxy, Tuesday.
More information: Visit Under the Radar for tickets