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Eli Matthewson, Kura Forrester and James Mustapic: Funny. (Image: Archi Banal)
Eli Matthewson, Kura Forrester and James Mustapic: Funny. (Image: Archi Banal)

Pop CultureMay 18, 2023

Everyone we saw at the NZ International Comedy Festival 2023, part one

Eli Matthewson, Kura Forrester and James Mustapic: Funny. (Image: Archi Banal)
Eli Matthewson, Kura Forrester and James Mustapic: Funny. (Image: Archi Banal)

Kura Forrester, James Mustapic, Eli Matthewson and more shows from the first half of the Auckland festival, reviewed.

Kura Forrester: Here If You Need

Kura Forrester puts on one comedy show every four years. She’s the American president of comedy, she says. And while the show is delightful, it’s not one that took four years to make. She’s just been busy. Forrester spends much of the show catching the audience up on what she’s been doing since 2019: she bought a house, got a dog, and became a star* by being on Shortland Street. 

It’s an intimate show (there are genuine moments of sharing her life plans and ambitions), so much so that the premise – a love letter to the “wing defences” in her life – feels like an unnecessary flourish for the sake of having a theme. Forrester is just a funny person who is funny to hear yapping away about her life. 

While she’s not necessarily known for impressions, Forrester’s characters are the best parts of her show. Her impressions of Shortland Street fans seeing her in public are spot-on vignettes of everyday New Zealanders. And a monologue in the voice of her dog reciting its pepeha is a gag that has no right being as funny as it is. 

The show is swift (I forgot how nice it is to be in and out of an event in 60 minutes) and with Saturday’s closing night already sold out, it’s worth getting your admin friend to sort your tickets asap. /Mad Chapman

Kura Forrester (Photo: Supplied)

James Mustapic: Into the Multi-media-verse

One of New Zealand’s most useless resources is its rich seam of pop culture detritus, just sitting there waiting to be mined for content. I say this as someone with a long list of unwritten Spinoff story ideas like “Road safety ad rankings” and “Oral history of ‘somebody spin my feet’” – nobody does it better than James Mustapic. 

His latest show features plenty of callbacks to his favourite subjects – Drew Ne’emia, Sue Nicholson from Sensing Murder (he’s somehow still getting mileage out of their Facebook feud from four years ago) etc. But his best material is drawn from real life – specifically his mum Janet, who plays a key role as a multiverse of alternate reality Jameses (straight James, psychic James…) begins crawling out of the projector to save the world and deliver payoff on throwaway lines from earlier in the show.

There is plenty of craft beneath the deliberately amateurish video editing and PowerPoint presentation. Part of me wants to see Mustapic step out from behind the easy 2000s nostalgia, leave poor old Sue Nicholson alone and give the audience more of himself (and Janet). The other part thinks it’s important for a comedian to have a niche, and there’s still so many funny old ads and reality shows left to make jokes about – if he doesn’t do it, who will? /Calum Henderson

Josh Thomson: Horrible Man

Josh Thomson has become part of the television furniture over recent years – an affable, eccentric and reliably funny presence on The Project, or 7 Days, or Taskmaster. Given all that, it’s some surprise that he has not, until now, staged a show of his own. In Horrible Man, Thomson traverses familiar standup subject headers – relationships, weddings, parenthood – but floods it with a refreshing enema of Thomsonesque idiosyncrasy. Even in the moments of filth he’s somehow endearing. 

Highlights include a vivid account of a gruesome stay in Australian Covid quarantine and an extended disquisition on biscuits. But the show’s triumph is Thomson’s father, the eponymous star of the 2018 TV show Subject: Dad. Dad’s answer machine messages, as relayed in exquisite detail by his son, are a thing of hilarious perfection. /Toby Manhire

Josh Thomson (Photo: Supplied)

Eli Matthewson: Gutterball

He’s a Dancing with the Stars legend, an ex-breakfast radio co-host, a podcaster and soon to appear on the unorthodox new current affairs show Paddy Gower Has Issues. Eli Matthewson has done a lot – and he talks about much of that in his excellent new show Gutterball. His new stand-up hour, tenuously linked to a story from his childhood (when he dropped a bowling ball on his mother’s foot) feels candid and conversational. He does, in fact, chat to the audience on several occasions. But even when he’s mid-anecdote, it feels like you’re having a yarn with a good mate. 

That means you learn a lot about Matthewson, or at least learn what he wants you to learn. About buying a house as a millennial (I simply cannot relate), being in a relationship, work, health – there’s a lot of ground covered. At times, the variety of topics can feel slightly disjointed, like Matthewson is just going from anecdote to issue to topic without any specific connection. But the final 15 minutes pull many of these loose threads together and make the show’s title even clearer. It’s also this last quarter when the laughs become more frequent, possibly because they’re not so directly tied to stories but more to punchlines. It’s an impressive, confident and, above all, funny hour. /Stewart Sowman-Lund

Tim Batt: Is Climate Change Funny Yet?

Tim Batt has a go at potential reviewers early on in this show, saying he’s worried about the potential one-word review answering the question in his show title: No. But that would be unfair – there are some genuinely excellent jokes in here, ranging from fatherhood to the merits of doing drugs on planes, or at SpongeBob Squarepants musicals. 

I slightly resented the Americanness of it all – an extended bit about Elon Musk and references to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in the 1980s felt like missed opportunities to talk about the impact of climate change closer to Aotearoa, for instance. An offhand line about how absurdly cheap carbon offsetting for flights is could, conversely, have been longer – how many of his prospective audience will have checked the box while paying for flights and wondered what their $4 get out of jail free card actually represents? And I don’t think that jokes about people’s names being or not being appropriate for their profession are ever that funny. 

But those are smaller critiques, because there are some genuinely hilarious, absurd aspects of climate change – like the country’s biggest city being afflicted by severe floods while the mayor just wanted to play tennis, and the non-existence of Auckland buses. His impression of his son trying to eat boiled carrots is perfectly ridiculous, and his description of getting a mortgage and the absurdity of dealing with huge amounts of money was excellent. Batt’s self-deprecating style includes the audience in his bemusement and despair about the State of Things, offsetting that despair by pointing out that climate change wouldn’t be so scary if being alive wasn’t so great. Is Climate Change Funny Yet? Yes – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do anything about it. /Shanti Mathias

Tim Batt (Photo: Supplied)

Tom Sainsbury: Gone Bananas

From offstage, Tom Sainsbury introduces himself as “your friend for the evening” before briskly walking over to the microphone to greet the audience. And from the moment he starts chatting, this is exactly what Gone Bananas feels like: an hour with an old friend telling funny stories about the time they worked at the KFC in Matamata, taught after-school drama classes in Howick or bombed at the comedy fest in Wellington last week.

Personally I’ve always viewed Tom Sainsbury as more of a friend-of-a-friend or acquaintance – his extremely prolific “Snapchat Dude” era started to wear a bit thin after a while and his Instagram videos get shared so much that they feel like part of the app’s furniture. But lately I’ve been coming back around to his spot-on portrayals of Kiwi archetypes like “Boomer dad” and “80s mum”, and the live stand-up experience only confirms my new pro-Sainsbury stance.

It’s nice to see him out of character and unconstrained by the limitations of short form vertical video. He has an effortlessly charming stage presence and peppers his stories with the same specificity he deploys so well in his characters. It says a lot about the generosity of his comedy that all the main demographics he satirises in his videos now make up the bulk of his audience – a theatre full of boomer dads, 80s mums and the adult children who relentlessly spam them with Tom Sainsbury reels. /CH

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