Sam Brooks kicks off the Comedy Festival with reviews of four shows: NZ favourite Rose Matafeo, international Daniel Sloss, rapping grandpa John Carr and Wellington circus trio Laser Kiwi. Plus – our first Spinoff Comedy Badge of Honour is awarded.
John Carr: Down With The Young Ones
“Is he for real?”
That’s what I asked myself during most of John Carr’s hour. I found myself wondering if Carr was playing some kind of genius Lynchian character or if this was Carr being himself, and by the end of the hour I couldn’t answer that question.
Carr is a man in his 60s who raps, and at some points his accent veers into a strange Iggy Azalea-esque blaccent. He tells long, rambling stories of rap battles with Leonard Cohen and dancing in Otahuhu, and these stories trail off without a punchline. He, for some reason, allows a young comedian to do a five minute set in the middle of his hour. It’s often awkward, even more often, stranger than it is funny.
But there’s a charm to Carr. He seems genuinely relieved to have an audience, and he plays to the crowd of school teachers, real estate agents and friends enthusiastically. There’s an authentic sense of fish-out-of-water appeal to watching someone of his age rap, and someone of his age do an hour of rough stand-up comedy, which is not worth nothing.
But the show, and Carr, rests in the uncanny valley between Lynchian send-up and genuine human being standing onstage telling jokes, and the hour lacks the energy or the incisiveness to make that uncanny valley a rewarding one to sit in.
You can buy tickets to John Carr here.
Rose Matafeo: Sassy Best Friend
There’s a trick you do when you’re rehearsing a play, or a film, or anything, where you take something to the extremes and then you pull it back. You find the core of an emotion, whether it’s sadness or happiness or anger, and you play it at a 10, and then you pull it back to maybe a 5 to find what’s more authentic or more real.
I’ve been watching Rose Matafeo onstage for about five years now, and I’ve seen her roller-skate across a stage, do an impression of Audrey Hepburn as a bad room mate and dance on a car outside The Basement. She’s one of our most theatrical comedians, going big and loud to find truths even bigger and louder. Those shows have been delightful and tremendous, Finally Dead especially, but Sassy Best Friend finds Rose bringing the theatricality down to a 5, and finding something darker and more vulnerable.
The things that makes Matafeo special are still here, the perfect balance of self-deprecating and outwardly incisive, her bizarrely specific impressions, and her rapport with her crowd, and all of these things are blended into the hour better than ever. But there’s a genuine anger here, anger at the world and especially the way the world is for women, that reads and lands with the audience. Late in the set, Matafeo tackles birth control and you feel the audience warm to her as she tackles the specifics of certain kinds of birth control that we’ve not heard onstage before, or maybe heard at all.
Rose Matafeo is already one of our greats. She proved it with Finally Dead, one of the best shows of 2015, she proved it on Funny Girls. But she goes even further, even darker, even deeper with Sassy Best Friend. Matafeo has found who she is as a performer, and that performer is one of the most effortlessly charismatic, disarmingly engaged and relentlessly ruthless comedians we’ve ever produced. She’s more than a sassy best friend, she’s a goddamned living legend.
The Spinoff Comedy Badge of Honour is awarded to shows that we believe to be truly excellent and exemplary in the Comedy Festival. These will be awarded throughout the festival.
You can buy tickets to Rose Matafeo here.
Daniel Sloss: So?
It says a lot about a comedian where you come out disagreeing with their world view rather than nipicking their comedy. Not that there’s a lot to nitpick here, I mean there’s a lot of vegan jokes that have been told before and by the time his show hits the 80 minute mark he’s repeating points he’s made before, but the most special and important thing about this show is when you see hundreds of people feel the penny drop.
The front half of Sloss’ set is dark jokes. I’m talking proper dark jokes, I’m talking Maria Bamford dark soul of the night dark not Ricky Gervais funny guy in your office dark. It’s great, and with each passing joke you feel the audience get more and more onboard – and they let their guard down.
The second half, really the second two thirds, is closer to a particularly pointed and particularly dark self-help lecture about love and relationships than it is a stand-up comedy set, and the audience laps it up like the gospel.
It’s a fascinating twist on the form, and Sloss stands very smartly on the borderline between “this is absolutely only my philosophy” and “obviously I’m right”. By the end of the show, the vast majority audience is left questioning their own relationships, some in laughter, some in quiet silence. You can tell Sloss loves this; he loves the fact that he’s made the audience question their entire approach to love – are they in love or just the idea of love?
The dude has a point, of course he does. If you’ve ever wanted to hear a straight dude rephrase and reframe RuPaul’s mantra, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love anybody else can I get an Amen in here?” in his own dark way, then Sloss is your dude.
Sloss says things that the dude standing in the corner at your flatwarming would say, and in that particular situation you’d probably just roll your eyes and walk away, but when it’s framed as stand-up, especially with hundreds of other people nodding along, it’s pretty goddamned persuasive.
You can buy tickets to Daniel Sloss here.
It’s a huge risk to build a show around the concept of ‘this is meaningless’ and ‘this isn’t funny’, especially when you’re very new on the scene. An audience isn’t conditioned to you, your material and frankly your brand yet, and it takes a while for the audience to realise that.
The first fifteen minutes of Laser Kiwi is a lot of the audience realising what the show actually is. Yes, it is going to be a series of sketches. Yes, they are going to be built around fairly short and fairly juvenile jokes. Yes, it is going to be a bit pointless.
But where the show shows a kernel, and a large kernel at that, of promise is when the performers introduce elements of circus. Circus is a frutiful, and frustratingly untapped, artform when it comes to both comedy and drama, and the scant circus sketches performed throughout the show display how much comedy there is to be mined from circus. One of the funniest things I saw all night was someone doing some beautiful silk works while someone vaped behind them.
A lot of people can do sketch, a lot of people can do stand-up, but not everybody can do circus, and especially not in a Comedy Festival setting. The circus is the core of this show, and by far leads to the most engaging moments of the show, and it makes me excited to see what these guys (Zane Jarvie, Imogen Stone, Deggie Jarvie) will do next.
You can buy tickets to Laser Kiwi here.