Last Laughs announces 2019 Fred and Billy T award winners

And so another NZ International Comedy Festival draws to a close – but not before we give out some awards!

As is tradition, the Last Laughs show ends the Comedy Festival on a high, celebrating the winners of both the Billy T Award – for best newcomer – and The Fred Award – for best New Zealand show.

Before the Awards were dished out, the finalists for each Award got the last chance to impress the judges by performing an 8-minute set.

The problem with line-up shows, is that while everyone was independently really good, audiences are a mixed bag. All of these comedians have had acclaimed shows – but it doesn’t mean everyone is going to get an equal reception on the night. As such, while a few performers got an incredible reception last night, there were definitely highs and lows over the evening.

First up were the Billy T nominees, starting with Donna Brookbanks. Endearing, awkward and relatable, Brookbanks made use of her social anxieties during her set. Being first up is tough, but Brookbanks got a warm reception from the crowd. Her performance reminded me of last year’s Billy T winner Melanie Bracewell.

Ray Shipley was next and got some of the biggest laughs of the night. Their set focused on their life outside comedy as a librarian and the difficulty of trying to be rebellious – but not succeeding. I can’t wait to see where Ray goes next. The future of New Zealand comedy feels in good hands.

Third on the bill, James Mustapic – who already has quite a name for himself due to his YouTube videos and involvement with the Spinoff last year. I’m a big fan of Mustapic, and love his self-aware awkwardness. His set was very well received, and I think slightly overshadowed Tom Sainsbury who didn’t quite manage to get the audience entirely on his side for the first half of his 8-minutes. Sainsbury is well known for his online impression videos; however, I wonder if without Snapchat filters they were diminished slightly. That being said, he finished his set on a high, with one of the most memorable anecdotes from the evening.

Finally – Kura Forrester. She had the difficult job of going last but did so with ease. Forrester is a delight to watch and had the audience enraptured in what she had to say. Forrester’s set was timely, relevant and had something important to say. I think this is what set her apart from the other performers, and why I was thrilled she took home the Billy T Award. Well done Kura!

kura forrester
2019 Billy T Award Winner Kura Forrester

After intermission, it was onto the Fred Nominees. It was clear why the three were nominated; they all used their platform to discuss important issues, rather than just stand at the front and tell jokes. James Nokise used his time to take stabs at politic. His discussion of why those opposed to marriage equality are so stupid brought the house down. I’m having huge regrets about missing his full show.

Barnie Duncan struggled to connect with the audience during his set, or perhaps it just coming straight after Nokise. I admired him for doing something different; there was music, props – it was certainly less straight forward. I don’t think it worked so well during an 8-minute set, but I’m intrigued to see more of his work.

Finally, James Roque. He’s been a well-known face in the comedy industry the last few years. Roque’s set was darker in tone than many of the others on the line-up, in that he spoke openly and honestly about his life growing up as an immigrant in New Zealand. It managed to be fascinating and funny at the same time. We’re going to be seeing a lot more from James Roque in the future, I’m sure.

James Nokise
2019 Fred Award Winner James Nokise

Ultimately, James Nokise took out the Fred Award, and I can’t help but feel the best performer won on the night.

Reviewed by Stewart Sowman-Lund