One of the best things about the NZ International Comedy Festival in recent years has been the broadening of topics. Increasingly, we are seeing people use their hours more wisely and shaping their comedy around more personal topics, rather than riffing on whatever irreverent randomness comes to mind.
James Roque may have produced the most introspective set this year. Boy Mestizo begins as many sets do, with Roque reflecting on the past year. He returned to the Philippines for the first time as an adult, and uses the trip to joke about family members, discuss cultural differences before spring boarding to other matters, such being an Asian actor cast in traditionally European roles.
It begins with broad humour filtered through a specific world lens, and thanks to Roque's relaxed, fast-flowing demeanour on stage, with each joke delivered with a sparkling grin, it all flows as it should.
As the show progresses though, Roque starts unpacking what the trip home meant personally. Mestizo, as the uninformed in the crowd learn, is a Filipino term used to describe someone who is half-Filipino and half-white, a racial mix that is more desirable in the Philippines. Roque explores the racism around that worldview, examining the historical factors and the internalised effects on a society.
On paper, it may sound like a lecture, but Roque does his best to deliver it in a way that ensures his comedy still flows through each story. He comes close to getting the balance between humour and self-therapy right, and the result is a bold and often unflinching commitment to something deeply personal and poignantly emotive.
Which is why it makes the diarrhoea jokes that come at the end feel like a slap in the face. To Roque's credit, he effortlessly sells what is your basic toilet humour gag, but it feels very ill-placed after something so powerful.
It was the biggest example of a recurring, niggly issue where certain jokes felt forced in to lighten the mood. Roque himself talked during the show of having a self-apologetic, self-effacing Kiwi-side, and this felt like that coming through.
It shouldn't have to be that way. As someone with basically no knowledge of Filipino history, Roque's story was eye-opening and fascinating to listen to, and the more creative jokes kept it flowing. If it gets a little heavy, let it; it's what we've come to see, and just because it's a comedy festival doesn't mean it has to always be funny.
Who: James Roque, Boy Mestizo
Where: Basement Theatre