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From left to right: Bobby Wood, Ruby Esther, Janaye Henry and Sameena Zehra. (Photos: New Zealand International Comedy Festival / Design: Tina Tiller)
From left to right: Bobby Wood, Ruby Esther, Janaye Henry and Sameena Zehra. (Photos: New Zealand International Comedy Festival / Design: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureMay 8, 2023

Eight shows you should see in the New Zealand International Comedy Festival

From left to right: Bobby Wood, Ruby Esther, Janaye Henry and Sameena Zehra. (Photos: New Zealand International Comedy Festival / Design: Tina Tiller)
From left to right: Bobby Wood, Ruby Esther, Janaye Henry and Sameena Zehra. (Photos: New Zealand International Comedy Festival / Design: Tina Tiller)

The New Zealand International Comedy Festival is upon us, but what should you go and see? Here’s eight shows that are definitely worth checking out.

Liv Parker: Werewolves, Vampires and Harry Styles 

Auckland, May 24-May 27 at Basement Theatre Studio

When Basement Theatre did their Comedy Festival preview show a few weeks ago, the one consistent recommendation that people had was that you absolutely had to go and see Liv Parker. Her debut hour promises to reveal her “most intimate fangirl fantasies” through a blend of sketch, clown and Stage Challenge dance. A promise of Stage Challenge is enough to get me along to a theatre show, but the sheer amount of people who are absolutely not into Stage Challenge that recommended Parker after that showcase makes me very confident that this will be a must-see hour. / Sam Brooks

Janaye Henry in Crush Season. (Image: NZ International Comedy Festival)

Janaye Henry: Crush Season 

Auckland, May 23-May 27 at Basement Theatre, and Wellington, May 9-May 13 at BATs Theatre Stage

In these dreary times, I highly recommend seizing the opportunity to spend an hour with human sunbeam and Billy T nominee Janaye Henry. I’m embarrassed, mortified, humiliated to have missed on her sellout season of Literally Obsessed in 2021, and have already got my tickets for Crush Season. “It was ideally meant to be a show about every single crush I’d ever had,” she told Stuff. “And then I realised there’s been too many.” If her short set on the Comedy Mixtape is anything to go by, expect infectious energy, endless flirting, and a big serve of social and political commentary buried beneath all the sweetness and smiles./ Alex Casey

Ruby Esther: Ruby Esther Comedy Festher 

Auckland, May 9-May 13 at Basement Theatre Studio and Wellington, May 16-20

At a recent lineup show to launch the Comedy Festival, there was a lot of big energy in the room. Host Johanna Cosgrove arrived on a Lime e-bike, Abby Howells registered roughly 300 highly engaging words per minute, and Jonny Brugh went full comic goth, with pedals and an electric guitar. But Ruby Esther’s quiet, digressive storytelling was as impactful as anyone, without any volume or theatrics. She’s goofy and introspective vignettes about her family life which can seem on the verge of meandering, until she brings you to an ingeniously plotted conclusion. Her comedy relies on nothing more than sharp writing and laconic delivery, and stood out all the more due the quiet confidence that implies. / Duncan Greive

Sameena Zehra in Immigrunting. (Photo: NZ International Comedy Festival)

Sameena Zehra: Immigrunting 

Auckland, May 16-20 at Q Theatre Vault and Wellington, May 9-May 13 at Fringe Bar

Sameena Zehra is a straight-up legend. Her show, Tea with Terrorists, which had a run in Auckland this year, proved that she’s a performer with an unparalleled sense of control over an audience, knowing exactly when to stab the knife, where to twist it, and where to pull it out for maximum effect. Her new hour, Immigrunting, sees her sharing more stories from her wild life, and her struggle to convince ImmigrationNZ that she is, in fact, a human. / SB

Ray O’Leary: Everything Funny All The Time Always

Auckland, May 23-May 27 at Q Theatre Loft and Wellington, Te Auaha – Tapere Nui, May 19-20

Ray O’Leary is quickly becoming one of the more recognisable up-and-comers of our comedy scene. That’s almost ironic given much of his comedic style is derived from an, I think, intentional level of awkwardness. With his plain grey suit and slow, drawling delivery, it’s confronting how assuredly O’Leary can deliver a punchline and get a big laugh. He was one of the highlights of Friday’s Comedy Gala, delivering an anecdote that kept the audience hooked throughout. I have no idea what to expect from an hour-long dose of O’Leary – recently nominated for best newcomer at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and a previous Billy T nominee – but I am confident it will be very funny. / Stewart Sowman-Lund

Tess Sullivan as Bobby Wood in If You Met My Mum You’d Understand. (Image: New Zealand International Comedy Festival)

Bobby Wood: If You Met My Mum You’d Understand

Auckland, May 9-13 at Basement Theatre Studio

If you’re not feeling the straight stand-up vibe, may I recommend some character comedy instead? Bobby Wood is “untarnished by the modern excesses of high-speed internet, packaged meat and introspection”, and performer and creator Tess Sullivan won Best Newcomer (Wellington) at the festival in 2021. I can confirm that she’s an excellent clown who will dive so deep into a character, a bit, a gag, or whatever she has to do to make an audience laugh. There’s an obvious joy in seeing an established act kill it at the Comedy Festival, but something electric about catching someone as they’re on the rise, which Sullivan is. / SB

Kura Turuwhenua: Hōha Guy

Auckland, May 24-25 at Te Pou Theatre

If you don’t want to go into the CBD (and honestly, fair enough, it can be a nightmare), then I highly recommend going west for an evening and seeing Kura Turuwhenua, who comes into this year’s festival with a neat trio of awards under her belt (Raw Comedy Quest winner 2021/2022, Best Newcomer from the NZ Comedy Guild in 2021 and Outstanding Newcomer in 2022 from the Auckland Fringe Festival). The blurb promises a unique sense of humour that’s silly, a little bit dorky and “a little bit f*cked up”, bringing musings about her life, whānau and what it means to be a hōha guy. / SB

James Mustapic in Into the Multi-Media-Verse. (Photo: New Zealand International Comedy Festival)

James Mustapic: Into the Multi-Media-Verse

Auckland, May 10–Sat 13 at Basement Theatre and Wellington, May 16-20 at BATs Theatre Stage

I went to see a preview of this show in Christchurch a few weeks ago, and cried with laughter as James Mustapic navigated through his janky multi-media-verse with nothing but a big glass of wine and a tiny Mac keyboard. Still harnessing the hilariously shoddy editing skills and the relentless obsession with New Zealand popular culture that he had way back in his YouTube days, it was Mustapic’s deployment of a certain family member throughout the show that really brought the house down. I’m not going to say anything more, you’ve just got to see it. / AC

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