Trying to break into Auckland's comedy scene in the early 1990s was no laughing matter.

With limited venues and chances to perform - the Classic Comedy Club was yet to open its doors; our comedy festival was still in its infancy - you had to take a DIY approach and create your own opportunities.

That's what Wade Jackson and a group of friends from the University of Auckland did, starting their own group dedicated to improv - a story-telling style of comedy made up pretty much on the spot and made popular by TV shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway?

In 1997, Jackson started the Improv Bandits who performed at the Silo Theatre (now the Basement) and then at their own venue, the Covert Theatre, until 2005 when the building was sold. They might not have had a home of their own but the Bandits have been going strong ever since.


They've won international awards and performed around the world while, under the Covert Theatre umbrella, they've trained other would-be comedians.

"We started off as the young guns of comedy and now we're the old men," says Jackson.

But they're not too old to celebrate.

This weekend, the Improv Bandits mark their 19th birthday with two shows at The Auckland Performing Arts Centre (TAPAC). There's a one-off show on Saturday which sees long-time Bandits returning from overseas to perform the fast, furious and funny routines which they're renowned for.

Before that, on Friday night, veteran comedians and newcomers, who've been training through Covert Theatre, appear in Coconut Mojitos. The audience sets the theme for the night and then it's non-stop characters, scenes and sagas based around that theme.

Jackson hopes it'll go some way to helping the Bandits with their next mission: find their own premises once more so they can continue training the next generation of improv comedians.

He says the best birthday present would be to find a big warehouse, with a high stud, which isn't in the centre of town. It wants to convert it into a training centre with programmes for kids and the community as well as somewhere they can perform.

What: Coconut Mojitos
Where & when: TAPAC, Friday at 8pm

What: Improv Bandits
Where & when: TAPAC, Saturday at 8pm