If you were asked to pick the country's best-known comedian at the moment, there is a high chance you'd name Tom Sainsbury. After years of churning out plays of a consistently high quality, he exploded into the mainstream a few years ago through his Snapchat videos and political impressions.
It's easy to see why: he has an understated humour that allows his jokes to subtly build up towards their punchline, coupled with an uncanny ability to zone-in on our neurotic Kiwi-isms and shared pop culture to deliver comedy that always feels fresh and in the moment.
Those two key skills are on show in his latest stand-up show, Tom Foolery. Here, Sainsbury has pulled together all his greatest talents into one hour, delivering his "Fanburys" a disparate smorgasbord of everything they have come to love.
Sainsbury excels thanks to an almost subtle delivery. The jokes are not loud and obvious like some comedians; he tells his stories as if having a conversation, the punchlines often slipped in to his rambling dialogue that catches you off-guard.
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The more conversational comedy is what works best here. As Sainsbury shares stories from his childhood and discusses how he gets inspiration for his many characters, his everyman quality that makes him so appealing shines through and you hang onto every word.
Unfortunately, his keen storytelling ability that makes his plays work so well is missing here. The show takes quite sudden turns, often punctuated by a character or a visual aid, but is lacking in a through-line or theme tying it together. There's a loose attempt at questioning who we are as a society, but the stories rarely go near that theme and it feels aimless as a result.
There is no denying Sainsbury's comedy chops. Fans of his plays and his videos alike will find plenty here to satiate them, and if we're judging purely on jokes and stand-up presence, than Sainsbury has plenty of that in spades. Structurally though, Sainsbury needs to choose whether to focus on the observational comedy or his characters for future shows. He has done both separately and successfully, but the rapid, often unheralded changes here shows that the two don't mesh successfully.
Who: Tom Sainsbury, Tom Foolery
Where: Basement Theatre, until May 25th
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