Guy Montgomery, Maria Williams, Guy Williams and more shows from the second half of the festival, reviewed.
Abby Howells: La Soupco
Oh the joy of seeing someone as weird as you just be happily weird in public. Off the top: I loved La Soupco. Having known little about Howells beyond her excellent five-minute set at Billy T Jams earlier this year, I was genuinely nervous about the concept of this show. La Soupco is a story (a nautical romance set right after WWII) that Howells wrote as a child, read aloud 20 years later. Shows relying heavily on format are often high risk, high reward affairs. But La Soupco is exactly as weird and beautifully earnest as you’d expect. Interspersed throughout the readings are the more classic stand-up anecdotes about life, love, hating the sea, the usual. But by marrying the two, Howells builds up enough audience connection with the sweet child screenplay to make her present-day foibles hit harder.
I imagine big things ahead for Howells, who, despite being early in her stand-up career, feels like she knows exactly how she wants to present on stage and isn’t afraid to commit to the bit. She’s a unique voice and made me laugh in a way that’s typically reserved for when I’m with my siblings and we’re just being silly. La Soupco is very silly, and if you get on board early, there’s a beautiful solo duet to look forward to. / Madeleine Chapman
Guy Williams: Comedy plus time equals tragedy
Fans expecting a live performance of New Zealand Today were in for a surprise when Guy Williams took the stage last week during the New Zealand International Comedy Festival. Guy’s unique brand of investigative journalism that delves into New Zealand’s hardest-hitting issues – like who shit in Invercargill’s pool – was nowhere to be seen. In its place, Guy passionately proclaimed, “this show is an hour of left-wing propaganda”.
He stood true to that proclamation, serving up a delicious bowl of wokebix with snowflakes sprinkled on top. The show provided spot-on – and hilarious – social commentary that shat on the likes of the patriarchy and colonisation, but particularly focused on racism and white supremacy. Guy Williams gave the friend I took to his show a better education about the sexist, racist reality of New Zealand in an hour than my mate received during his five years at Auckland Grammar School – maybe he can do the same for your ignorant loved one too! / Tommy de Silva
Brynley Stent: Frigid
I’ve mainly seen Brynley Stent’s work on TV, so it would be safe to say that I was ridiculously impressed by what she could achieve live. This show has singing! Photos! A PowerPoint! Props! Original music! The show follows Stent through her life, as she goes from being the queen of the playground in year four for knowing some sex facts, to being labelled “frigid” in high school for rejecting someone who asked her out, to the awkwardness of breaking up with her partner in lockdown and continuing to live with him. Stent is always delightful, completely commits to the bit – there’s an incredible opening sequence where she sings songs from the musical Cats, which is a recurring joke through the show – and is also unafraid to be very absurd.
The show manages to also take a relatively compassionate, nuanced look at adolescent friendships. That said, I wish she’d managed to analyse a bit more what made her feel different to other girls, yet still be friends with people who seem at times to have been quite cruel to her. She also asks: what compels people to join drama clubs at high school. (Is it the pretentious young men?)
Stent isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, either – she says she’s worried about a joke she makes about never washing her sheets not landing, but by that point in the show, the audience is so convinced by her that there’s no risk of that happening. The multimedia elements of the show work are perfectly integrated – I can’t imagine how much practice with the clicker it took to nail the transitions – and the details are excellent (I would 100% purchase the fake magazine covers as postcards). Altogether Frigid is an honest, slick hour of absurd personal comedy, and has me joining the collective of Brynley Stent fans. / Shanti Mathias
Kura Turuwhenua: hōhā guy
During Kura Turuwhenua’s debut solo show, she tells us how lucky she is to be doing comedy. This statement says so much about her as a performer – she is humble, generous, loves what she does and we are immediately on her side. She’s only been performing stand up for a few years and has already won several newcomer awards and it is clear that she’s got something great going.
Kura is warm and charming, you want to be her friend and this gives her permission to say almost anything. She isn’t trying to create any barriers between herself and the audience – the house lights stayed on throughout, we were greeted with a hug from her and the stage is set like a lounge. She tells us about her everyday life, her whānau and her childhood dorkiness. She’s smart and you can tell that she was studious as a teen (she played bassoon), so even though she is relaxed, cool and confident on stage, you know that she’s completely aware and thoughtful in her comedy.
Sure, the one hour wasn’t completely crafted to build to the payoff, but that’s a skill that you can learn. All we need to know for now is that Kura is funny and you can respect that she’s doing what she loves. / Sophie Dowson
Maria Williams: ADHD…The Musical?!
The venue tech sitting beside me was drinking a 6:45pm coffee (it is the last week of the comedy festival) and I asked if he would be there for the whole show. He replied “of course, there is a shitload of tech in this one.” This would usually be a red flag for me in a comedy show but it was clear from the party decorations, chalk on the floor and various props that any technical chaos was only going to add value to this glorious mess. Maria Williams is a Billy T nominee for 2023 and she’s made a show about musicals and having ADHD, or in her words “is it a show about ADHD? It was supposed to be but I can’t remember.”
There were no less than six (maybe seven??) costume changes and the segues made me feel like I was on the magic school bus in Maria’s brain. It was an adventure of flashbacks of her childhood and fantasies of what her life could have been. Despite many cover songs, the show felt original and it had a pace and a dynamic that I wish more comedians considered. She had the audience eating out of her hand by the end, lifting her up and getting involved without hesitation – a true skill and one that she achieved through an honest and open performance. / Sophie Dowson
Gabby Anderson – Bad(ish) Teacher
It was moments into Gabby Anderson’s show that I realised it’s been ages since I saw a stand-up comedian who didn’t also work in writing/media/television in their everyday life. On the one hand, extremely great we have a healthy enough industry to support so many comedians to do what they love all the time. On the other hand, watch too many at once and there starts to be a hazy feeling of sameness in worldview, that many of them have cut their teeth on the same panel shows and writers rooms, trained in the same places and now live in the same suburbs.
As a high school teacher from Pōneke, Gabby Anderson delivered an extremely wholesome and insightful hour of comedy that came from somewhere totally different. There were great anecdotes about her chaotic upbringing, but it was when she got into the day-to-day minutiae of being a teacher that it really started to soar. There’s no shortage of absurd and awkward student interactions to delve into, and she wasn’t afraid to get political beneath that beaming grin about how absolutely fucked the state of teaching is Aotearoa. It’s a big “shot, Miss,” from me. / Alex Casey
Guy Montgomery – My Brain is Blowing me Crazy
I cannot stop thinking about just how good this show was. I’ve seen Guy Montgomery live a few times and he’s never disappointed. But this show was a step up, to the point where I’m now convinced he’s on track to be snapped up for a Netflix special in the not too distant future. What can we do to keep him in the country? Throw money at this man, TV commissioners, please.
True, authentic “stand-up” seems to be becoming less and less common these days, but Montgomery delivered a relentless, quickfire 60 minutes of just jokes. Sure, there were anecdotes and tangents, but it was pretty much just jokes. They’re so fast that there was usually another joke before you had time to finish laughing at the last one. It was nicely personal, too, as Montgomery told us about his life as a step-father, often interspersed with his trademark passion for wordplay and, of course, given his burgeoning career as a TV host, spelling.
If I had one critique it would be that while Montgomery’s delivery made it seem like this was a loosely formatted show, it’s clear he’s perfectly rehearsed it, maybe even word for word. On opening night he seemed to forget a punchline, briefly letting down his guard as he worked out where he was meant to be in his set. It was still funny, making me briefly question whether this too was rehearsed. None of this changed how impressive or just plain funny the entire show was – though I did take severe issue with his ruthless take down of Peter Alexander pyjamas. But maybe that’s just me. / Stewart Sowman-Lund
Takashi Wakasugi: Welcome to Japan
I’d love to travel to Japan but can’t afford it. So my next best option was heading to Takashi Wakasugi’s New Zealand International Comedy Festival show “Welcome to Japan”.
I enjoy international comics best when they relate their sets to our corner of the world. Waka (the nickname he insisted we call him) did this superbly by shitting on Australians, a fail-safe way to receive a raucous reception from New Zealanders. He also pointed out how much English doesn’t make sense, asking important grammatical and vocabulary questions, like why are toothbrushes – used to brush multiple teeth at a time – not called teethbrushes?
The whole show felt like an engaging back-and-forth conversation between Waka and the crowd – and the venue added to that atmosphere. The Classic Comedy Club’s intimate upstairs “studio” was a perfect spot for Waka’s show, making it feel like a good lounge yarn with dear friends. Near the end of his set, Waka shared some hilarious, hand-crafted haikus. One of them was about how ridiculously slow Auckland’s City Rail Link build has been, which – as someone who often writes about transport – was my favourite joke of the night. I apologise to my fellow audience members for how loudly I hyena cackled over that haiku. / Tommy de Silva
Liv Parker: Werewolves, Vampires and Harry Styles
For a few years, Chris Parker owned the 10pm slot at The Basement, turning out one-room plays like Camping and Docking which detonated the late night ambience with electric energy and a brand new voice, clear as a bell. A few years later and his younger sister Liv is doing it all over again – same time, same venue – with her debut hour, Werewolves, Vampires and Harry Styles. It’s a tour of her inner life as a ferocious teenage romantic, all understood through the lens of various tangled strands of pop culture. That’s a familiar approach, sure, but the way she goes about it is incredibly compelling.
It opens in her childhood bedroom, under a One Direction duvet, before leaping into a scene from Twilight, with Parker playing Bella and Edward with a wild intensity, eyes bulging and occasionally crossing, limbs twitching, hair flying. She knows these lines like her own skin. From there we switch between her explaining, in a trembling, highly-strung style, how various basic pop culture phenomena – Grease, Hayley Westenra’s Wuthering Heights – came into her life. She then campily recreates them, faithfully rendering the blinding intensity of teenage obsession and imagination. The show is marginally more impressive as a performance than a product, but undeniably announces her arrival as a singular talent of rare charisma, one who could easily match her more famous sibling in the public imagination, given the right opportunity. / Duncan Greive