Are there any New Zealand comedians that are as polarising as Guy Williams? After more than a decade in the local scene, the Billy T award winner has proven his versatility across the stage, radio and television. His latest project New Zealand Today is arguably one of the funniest shows on TV, yet the Facebook page "Guy Williams is Not Funny" is liked by over 4000 people. While his shows aren't notably controversial, ask a group of people what they think of Williams and you'll receive some passionate responses.
Williams' latest stand up show All Night Long (One Hour Duration) is a little haphazard but never boring. Racism, climate change and suicide aren't easy subjects to tackle but he is mostly successful in these endeavours. Like his TV show, Williams is at his funniest when he explores our sense of national identity and the quirky parts of our culture. His insight into our obsession with the heated towel rail had the Q Theatre filled with laughter.
In the opening minutes of his set, Williams pokes fun at his public persona and acknowledges the perception that he is a "bully". Throughout the show, he cleverly walks the line between being observational and egocentric. As the show progresses, it becomes clearer that confidence might be the very reason he is a polarising figure. This 1.9m tall poppy might be a little too much for some Kiwis.
Williams jokes that he doesn't care about what people think because he gets paid the same, irrelevant of the crowd reaction. I don't believe this to be true. His edgier riffs around classism and social injustice end with a jokey apology when they're not well-received by the audience. I hope Williams continues to be bold with his brand of comedy because that's what makes him so watchable.
In general, I've found that New Zealand crowds aren't particularly vocal at live comedy shows. Williams knows how to read a room and actively engages with the audience when given the opportunity. While risky, this breaks down a barrier that makes the audience feel comfortable laughing out loud. His interaction with a heckler was a highlight and created a lively atmosphere, not what I was expecting.
The weakest parts of his show are when he explores pop culture. His references to Bill Cosby, David Bain and Katy Perry feel outdated and uninsightful. Veering back into local news and personal anecdotes, it's immediately apparent that this is where his best material lies. At one point, Williams compares his friend's children with a road and makes a hilarious argument that the latter is far more useful.
Williams is anything but forgettable and well worth checking out at the NZ International Comedy Festival. No longer the new kid on the block, his self-awareness and stage presence continue to be undeniable.
What: Guy Williams - All Night Long (One Hour Duration)
Where: Q Theatre on May 14