I was leaving Countdown Whangaparaoa with a bag of bananas and some chocolate milk when I saw the poster. “Gary McCormick and Mayor Tim Shadbolt,” it read. “Stand-up comedy at it’s best!” And there they stood, suited and grinning, framed in yellow hibiscus flowers. The poster raised more questions than it answered, like: what the hell is the Mayor of Invercargill doing performing stand up comedy in a restaurant on Auckland’s Hibiscus Coast. And: is he any good? Shadbolt’s pretty funny without even trying, I reasoned. With some intention and a good set he might just be a killer. McCormick I hadn’t heard of, but Wikipedia describes him as a raconteur and that’s good enough for me.
Worried about a sellout, I secured tickets early. I asked the bar manager for four. He asked why. The tickets were $25 each, and ran from #135 to #138. I assumed we’d get our own table. I was wrong, and ended up sitting with a few middle age couples and a bottle or two of Montana Festival Black. While the tables were loaded with steamed mussels by the bowl and bread by the stick, I appraised the room.
Informally, I’d estimate the median age as somewhere between 50 and 60. So too would McCormick. “I think I represent many men in this room,” he said, and he was right. McCormick knew his crowd, and across the room grey and balding heads bobbed up and down in agreement with his assertions that men are different from women, tourists are bloody irritating and haemorrhoids a real inconvenience. It was good, old fashioned, xenophobic, the-youth-of-today sort of stuff, and the crowd ate it up.
But the people of Whangaparaoa hadn’t come to Jellicoe and Cradock to see Gary McCormick. After a couple bottles of red they were ready for the main event. “Here he is, New Zealand’s longest serving Mayor, Tim Shadbolt” proclaimed McCormick, gesturing grandly at the door.
Unfortunately for them, I had spotted Shadbolt outside and sent a photographer to take a portrait, and they were forced to wait a while longer. It was an uncomfortable moment, but the tension broke when the pride of the South entered the room, his distinctive accent/interpretation of spoken English ringing across the PA. It was full throttle from the opening line. The trials and tribulations of small town Invercargill, rates increases, cat problems and more. Despite forgetting his place twice and losing his notes (“Can you believe I’m New Zealand’s longest running Mayor?”), Shadbolt was crushing it.
The set was straight humour for a straight audience, and very much in keeping with Shadbolt’s brand. There was no misdirection, no hidden surprises and as little cognitive dissonance as possible. Shadbolt is not a master comedian, but he also doesn’t try to be one. Nor does he need to be. Not for middle age New Zealand, anyway.
But the most humorous part of the night wasn’t part of the set, and it was witnessed only by me. After explaining the problems with the elderly spewing false teeth into the Invercargill sewerage system, Shadbolt dropped mic and headed directly for the door for halftime. I gave chase, hot on his heels. Out into the mall he went, then out again into the night. I followed, emerging just in time to catch the Mayor make a quick right turn into a Specsavers.
The glass doors slid shut behind him.
Don Rowe’s feature on Tim Shadbolt will appear in the summer edition of Barkers’ 1972 magazine – out in early November. Photography by Reagen Butler.