With the New Zealand International Comedy Festival just around the corner, Sarah Ell caught up with comedian Jamie Bowen.

It's a scientific fact: kids laugh a lot more often than adults do. But does that make it easier to make them laugh? Not at all, according to comedian Jamie Bowen, who will be taking to the stage with his contemporaries in the Stand Up for Kids shows at the New Zealand International Comedy Festival, starting next week.

Bowen, who regularly writes for TV3's 7 Days and is also performing an adult stand-up show at the festival, says the brutal honesty of an under-10 audience is a great leveller.

"It is one of the toughest audiences you can imagine in terms of heckling," he says. "You go out there with the best of intentions to tell a story and it just gets completely derailed. What do you do when you're halfway through a story and it's kind of working, then someone yells out 'you've got poo on your head'?

"If they don't like something, they will tell you straight away. You've got about 30 seconds grace. You've got to think on your feet."

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The Stand Up for Kids show is aimed at children aged four to eight. Each show features an MC and three comedians attempting to perform a routine, but ready for things to go haywire. Audience interaction is expected -- and frequently takes the show in unexpected directions. Bowen tells the story of a fellow comedian who tried to do a kids' show when hung over, and ended up being tackled and sat on by most of his audience.

"It's just like doing a regular stand-up comedy show, but making sure all the material is kid-friendly," Bowen says. "It's part comedy-show, part wrestling match."

Bowen says his own routine is a combination of storytelling and physical theatre. "Kids love stories and I just try to tell funny stories with lots of big characters and big noises. And making fun of their mums and dads -- they love that," he says. "I've got a pretty stupid-looking face and I can do some pretty stupid things with it."

Given the scatological fascination of the target age group, Bowen says he is "definitely not averse to taking it to toilet humour" in his routine. "A fart is funny, and a fart in a room full of children is one of the greatest experiences you can have on stage."

Bowen is also taking part in The 5pm Project shows at the festival.

Aimed at teenagers who want to go to a live comedy gig without a parent looking over their shoulder and tutting, the three early evening sessions are hosted by Nick Rado, the head writer for 7 Days, and feature well-known comedians such as Rose Matafeo, Guy Williams and Guy Montgomery, winner of last year's Billy T Award.

Teens can also check out their contemporaries' comedy stylings at the Class Comedians showcase on May 10. Run by the New Zealand Comedy Trust for secondary students over 15, the Class Comedians programme gives budding humorists the opportunity to learn from experienced performers such as Dai Henwood, Ben Hurley, Te Radar and Michele A'Court.

The three-month after-school, weekend and holiday programme culminates in the festival showcase. Previous graduates include Matafeo and Rhys Mathewson, the youngest recipient of the Billy T Award.

Need to know

• Stand Up for Kids, Saturday May 2, 9 and 16, and Sunday May 10, 3pm,. All tickets $19.50.

• The 5pm Project, Saturday May 2, 9 and 16, 5pm. $20.

• Class Comedians showcase, Sunday May 10, 5pm. $25/$15. All at Loft at Q Theatre, 305 Queen St.