Best Food Comedy Gala – our picks for the fest

The 2018 Best Foods Comedy Gala kicked open the doors to the NZ International Comedy Festival and showcased twenty comedic acts, plus a littlesomethin’ somethin’ from the fourthConchord and compère for the night Arj Barker. Barker hosted proceedings with aplomb; his enthusiasm for NZ is obvious and it’s refreshing to have a familiar, yet non Kiwi, face leading us down the garden path. He truly is like a cool, wavy-haired neighbourhood drifter dropping in sage advice and wisdom pearls and offering regular shout-outs to the stage clearers/cleaner upperers that kept the crowd grinning.

UK comedian Jimmy McGhie kicked things off with a round of jabs at the millennial gen and how the future is looking grim. Pax Assadi then quickly dominated the stage with some home truths about growing up brown and is followed by Brit, Sarah Callaghan – making her NZ debut.

Hayley Sproull then delivered a fitting musical interlude before UK veteran Andy Zaltzman, lit a fire under the Syria question with a lecture – if said lecture was run by Krusty the Clown – laced with sarcasm. Zaltzman is followed by another NZ first timer Dane Baptiste who stunned with an awesome set that involved parental sex and his performance was a definite highlight for me.

Then a solid NZ section, led by Justine Smith of 7 days, passed the next 30 mins. Wearing platforms and lipstick so red it was visible in the back row, Smith tastefully explored the true reasoning’s behind women’s health checkups and coaxed giggles from the older crowd. Over the horizon came festival favourite, Wilson Dixon, bringing a melodic calm to proceedings before sending the crowd giggling with his hit single  “It Ain’t No Good”.

2017 Fred Award nominee Eli Matthewson beamed his winning smile and digressed to deliver many laughs, before showcasing his own singing abilities. The sets by Eli, Dai Henwood the Aussie school-boy trio, Aunty Donna, were a little on the lean side,  but perhaps this was a ploy to give more minutes to the Irish Itinerant Andrew Maxwell? The brogue and gall of this guy is something to behold as he lays waste to Australia with spot-on impersonations. Maxwell delivered the goods and charmed himself into the coveted position of audience favourite.

Andrew Maxwell - Showtime
Andrew Maxwell brings Showtime to the NZ International Comedy Festival.

Then a sequinned Lauren Pattison wandered onstage next and people rub their eyes wondering who let a minor into the joint. However, youth didn’t disadvantage her and formed the basis of her set as she explored classic flatmate issues and the ever-changing dating game.

Fuq Boiz, Hamish Parkinson (2015 Billy T Award winner, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Snort) and Ryan Richards (A Boy Wonder, Funny Girls, Jono and Ben), enacted a seriously intense baking based skit with a lot of berating of one particular gentleman silly enough to sit in the front row. Another Kiwi duo, The Fan Brigade, keep the funny going with their apt musical number about the ever so droll experiences at the RSA. This simple, yet effective piece gained the brigade truckloads of new fans and perhaps a few elderly enemies.

Former Billy T Winner, Rhys Mathewson showed he’s evolved into an affable comedian. Suited, booted and well rooted, Rhys handles the stage like a pro with a concise and punchy take on comedy in the modern era. His solo show The Clumsy Tango will no doubt be in hot demand after his performance. James Roque also stepped things up a gear, impressing fans and newbies alike with his confident personality and Asian-oriented advice on the dating wasteland.

James Roque is performing his show Legal Alien at this year’s comedy festival.

If Rhys Darby had two siblings it would be The Umbilical Brothers, who concocted a sound effect scheme to rival Darby’s. Hilarious and inventive, these two didn’t promise much but delivered more than anyone expected. Filthy Frenchman, Marcel Lucont, changed up the pace with a relaxed set of comedy gold. Glass of red in hand, he’s way too good for us as he peered down his nose and let the silence do the talking. A comedy fest regular, Lucont has established himself as the avant-garde film of the comedy circuit.

The legendary Chopper ended the night on a high sending the crowd into a fit of laughter while discussing his anti idiot stance and how best to remove them from society. Labeled as an Aussie act, Chopper has become such a regular on the NZ comedy and television circuit that we might as well claim him as our own too. Some audience members were fading in the later acts, but Chopper brought the circus home on a high.

Dane Baptiste, Arj Barker and Andrew Maxwell stand out as forces to reckon with and tickets will deplete quickly for these hilarious international acts. From this side of the ditch, the dependable Rhys Mathewson and James Roque have a swathe of hilarious material that’ll make them a must-see this year.

Overall the Comedy Gala is a win as festival-goers get a literal sampling tray of comedians and their brilliant work. The pacing of this mammoth event was suitably managed, more so than in other years, with an even sprinkling of Kiwi and overseas talent – although slightly UK skewed.  The strategic positioning of musical acts to break up the man-and-a-mic routine was a total win also. Following the three hours of laughs, festival-goers had one final giggle upon each receiving the parting gift of a jar of Best Foods Mayonnaise.

Reviewed by Nic Brookland.