Heard the one about the comedian who wanted to open his own comedy theatre?

Ignoring the naysayers and dealing with a global pandemic that ended grand opening plans, he's got the last laugh - although Wade Jackson, a founder of the Improv Bandits and Covert Theatre, hopes there will be many more to come.

Next month, Jackson opens the Covert Theatre in MacKelvie St, Ponsonby.

"Talk about location, location, location," he says, surveying renovations that have transformed the former TV studio into a pocket theatre. "We've looked at a lot of different spaces but this one was perfect, and the landlord was keen to have it used as a community space."


Jackson spent three years looking for premises and fundraising and planned to open in March with an improv festival followed by shows from this year's NZ Comedy Festival. However, those were cancelled and like the rest of us, Jackson found himself in lockdown at home because of the Covid-19 virus.

"Through the lockdown, I had to integrate everything I teach [in improv classes] with day-to-day life which meant I just had to quickly adjust to what was happening, accept it and move with it," he says. "Despite the financial implications, I was able to take a break, relax and find my calm after all the pressure of trying to get the theatre open."

Jackson says he and his team are now ready to make Auckland laugh again.

"People need to laugh, and we laugh even in the darkest of times. It is the quickest way for people to feel connected."

It's taken around $400,000 and much more "sweat equity" for the 86-seat theatre to open on June 18 with, if and as required, social distancing between audience members. Jackson says colleagues around the world are looking on with envy as he gets ready to open while their venues remain shut for the foreseeable future.

Three years ago, he told the New Zealand Herald he wanted to celebrate the Improv Bandits' 21st birthday by opening its own venue. He formed a charitable trust and started fundraising assisted by the corporates, community organisations and patrons he's helped to see the funny side of life through comedy training workshops and courses.

When the Improv Bandits started in 1997, partly inspired by shows such as the international TV hit Whose Line Is It Anyway, lack of venues and even awareness of what improvised comedy was meant they had to create their own opportunities.

That included running training programmes for businesses, workshops for schools and young people and starting night classes. The Improv Bandits also continued performing, taking shows worldwide and winning international awards. Last year, it staged its improvised Shakespeare show at the Pop-up Globe.


While the Bandits set up a small venue in K-Rd in 2001, four years later rising rents saw the group homeless. But Jackson never gave up on the dream of finding new premises while fostering human connection through comedy and play.

"It is like a form of mindfulness because it brings you into the present moment and it's fun and laughter, too."

He acknowledges opening a theatre, especially now, is a big risk but says the thought of how it will look, and its possible impact of the next generation of comedians, spurs him on. As well as regular comedy shows, workshops and courses, including some for at-risk-youth, will be held at the new theatre.

"The future me will be grateful we carried on," Jackson says.