Moving image by Tina Tiller
Moving image by Tina Tiller

PoliticsApril 5, 2022

An open letter to Gary Brown: please run your mayoral campaign as Austin Powers

Moving image by Tina Tiller
Moving image by Tina Tiller

In 2017, Auckland mayoral hopeful and authorised Austin Powers impersonator Gary Brown performed at The Spinoff’s Christmas party. Alex Casey will never forget. 

Dear Gary Brown/Austin Powers,

Allow myself to introduce… myself. My name is Alex Casey, and this is not the first time our powerful paths have crossed like the laser beams emanating from sharks with frickin’ lasers attached to their heads. It was a life-changing experience to meet you at The Spinoff’s Christmas Party in 2017. Our boss Duncan Greive hired you as a surprise novelty guest after seeing you perform live at midnight at an Irish bar on Dominion Road. 

Asked to explain his actions, as he has been many times in the five years since, he offered his usual response: “can’t talk, in a meeting”.

At our Christmas party, you – or should we say Austin Powers – came in swinging and grooving and yeah-babying all around the suburban bowls club while we sat there, shellshocked on beanbags, not knowing where to look or what to say. Years later, my colleagues can still recall the crowd work in detail. “I remember a sense of absolute dread when he first showed up and was trying to do banter with everyone,” one recalled. 

Gary Brown and two anonymous Spinoff employees. (Photo: Alex Casey)

That banter included remarking how our Korean colleague looked like “Yoko Ono”, which didn’t go down great. Then you jokingly mistook a Māori colleague for Anika Moa, which didn’t make things better. Then you said that an older white colleague looked like Gene Wilder, and to be fair that did get a laugh. “It was just that sense of transferred embarrassment,” one colleague remembered. “Feeling bad for him because it was going down so badly, and bad for the general air of awkwardness.” 

I remember being so contorted in awkward agony that I decided to “throw you a frickin’ bone” by asking you what Dr Evil was up to tonight. You panicked and said “I don’t know, baby.” 

Then, Austin, you began to sing. And swing. You sang many, many songs that were not from the 60s, including The Proclaimers’ ‘500 Miles’ and Lou Bega’s ‘Mambo Number Five’. The blurry Snapchat videos (this was 2017, remember) are like watching a deleted scene from The Blair Witch Project, as you enthusiastically twist near a table of half-eaten pizzas to a room that is 100% pretending to be dead. “As I recall his audience dwindled quickly to zero and everyone went outside,” one colleague shrieked. 

Gary Brown doing the ‘mashed potato’ (Photo: Alex Casey)

The show was quickly over, Austin, but you couldn’t just jump in your Shaguar and speed off into the sunset. You had to pack down. “His vehicle was parked at the opposite end of the bowling greens from the clubrooms, so Austin Powers walked back and forth three or four times across the long flat grass carrying his equipment as everyone looked determinedly the other way,” the same colleague screamed. “I helped him,” replied another. “To try and make it go faster.”

In less than 45 minutes you came and went from our lives, but you changed everything for ever. The following year I got in touch for a feature about celebrity impersonators, in which you revealed just how much “mojo” you poured into your performances. “The job can be exhausting. When I’m in that outfit, I am the character. I’ve got no choice. I’ve got to keep up the mannerisms, the walk, the crazy one-liners – it’s what the people expect.”

You also recapped your legal battle with Warner Brothers, one that led to you becoming the world’s first authorised Austin Powers impersonator. You shared your struggles with crowds much tougher than our Christmas party, including one genuinely harrowing experience at the V8 Motorsport in Mansfield. “Some guy didn’t like Austin, so he threw me into the pool. I dislocated my shoulder and I couldn’t perform for the rest of the day.”

Gary Brown at home in Ōrewa (Photo: Adrian Malloch)

When we parted ways, you were looking to become the “grooviest person in real estate” and had Austin gigs booked until 2020. But the world has changed a lot since then, and three years later you have come tiger-crawling your way back into our lives as the latest candidate to join the Auckland mayoral race. The news was met with a flurry of activity on The Spinoff’s #politics Slack channel, with expert commentary including “Oh my god”, “this is HUGE” and “Holy shit”. 

Of course, the person running for mayor is Gary Brown, not Austin Powers. Gary Brown currently chairs the Hibiscus and Bays Community Board, and wants to offer “genuine leadership and forge a world-class city with united communities and empowered people”. Austin Powers once drank Fat Bastard’s stool sample and described it as “a bit nutty”. Gary Brown wants to get out into communities and learn from people, rather than assume what needs to be done.

If there’s one thing you could learn from this particular community, it is that you should strongly consider running your campaign as Austin Powers. No other character in recent history has made such an impact on our collective memory. It could also be a hell of a way to stand out, considering you’re already the second person with the surname Brown to join the race. In fact, there are now twice as many Browns vying for the mayoralty as there are women, or brown people.

Hibiscus and Bays Community Board chair Gary Brown, not Austin Powers (Photo: Supplied)

The only thing people love more than a novelty mayor – dog, goat, Clint Eastwood – is a reboot of anything from the early 2000s, even if that thing is also confusingly from the 60s. Austin Powers is not afraid to stand up to big business (Dr Evil’s “one million dollar” demands) and look out for the little guy (Mini Me). Austin Powers has a slew of relevant credentials (photographer, heavy machinery operator, hypnotist, martial artist) and experience all the way back to some time in the 1930s. 

I would be more than happy to volunteer to run your mayoral campaign as Austin Powers. My own relevant credentials include the fact that I saw Goldmember not once but three times in the cinema, that I only very recently sold my Dr Evil and Mini Me action figures at the age of 29, and that I still have your business card, in my drawer, even now. If you you need any more convincing, consider this list of five potential campaign slogans already dreamed up by our Powerful think tank:

“I will make the CCO behave” (authoritative yet flirty)

“Shall we tag now or tag later?” (controversial pro-graffiti policy)

“Shall we tag on now or tag on later?” (positive transport policy)

“Are these issues thorny, baby?” (directed at naysayers and Dr Evil types)

“Mayor baby, mayor!” (catch-all for billboards, bumper stickers etc)

Correction: Gary Brown was first seen performing at an Irish bar at midnight, not 2am. The Spinoff apologises for this error. 

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