Comedy Festival 2008, Transmission Room
April 22; May 6 | Reviewed by Darren Bevan

WHAT IS there to say about Jamie Bowen which hasn’t been said before? He’s been described by this very site as “entertaining, talented and hilarious” (I know that as it was on a flyer on the table I sat at at the show). So it’s curious to note this two show residency at the Transmission Room with “Bowen Arrow” seems to just fall short of the target.

To be fair to Jamie, I think he suffered from a case of the “not the right crowd and not quite the right material”. He also suffered from the kind of laid back, lackadaisical approach from the crowd which many of the comedians have had to deal with throughout the festival. To my mind, the Kiwi audience is at times, nearly comatose as it laughs quietly and reservedly at the observations. And in this case, it makes it incredibly difficult for such an energetic performer like Jamie to feed back on the audience.

That said, the three-times Billy T nominee didn’t quite have the edge over the show despite pledging he would “go as f***ing mental as I can” – and I think, in some ways, the audience threw him off track a little. He began the show by warning us this was a trip through some of the material which had led to him being voted by some of his peers as the “Most Improved Comic”, and then promptly chose to open with some skits on Bananas in Pyjamas which were recorded during the early years of his career. Unfortunately these didn’t appear to have aged well and have been around for much longer than their adequate shelf life – but if you like seeing cartoon characters visit sex shops on K’Road and drinking as well as snorting drugs, then this clearly was the material for you.

This then seguewayed beautifully into a wonderfully absurd trip back in time to see his first ever stand up material – or as Jamie himself put it, “something never before seen on stage”.

It was at this point that the lights went out and a midget (the almost scene stealing Mr Jimmy James) appeared from nowhere on the far left of the stage and as a younger Jamie, rolled out his first ever skit – much to the audience’s bemusement. This was a mad moment of genius which completely wrong-footed the crowd and those who had come to see Jamie himself were left wondering what was going on.

However, the same cannot be said for his Spanish character Jorge, a rambling caballero who proceeded to detail his birth from the womb in his mother’s neck which had been put there by a lover doing surgery while on cocaine. You’d actually have to be on drugs a) to understand that sentence and b) think it seemed like a good idea to carry on as a sketch character.

At times there were real flashes of manic energy as Jamie did some of his more familiar material such as routines on Sydney and his trademark banter with the crowds, as well as his songs for ex-girlfriends and a new to me version of ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ complete with ukelele.

But even the songs suffered from an audience who wouldn’t sing along with the choruses. At one point, Jamie even implored the crowd, the vein on top of his forehead bulging because of the energy to “Sing Bitch”, but he just couldn’t ruse them to find voice. Which is a real shame because you have the feeling Jamie would have been stellar if the crowd had been a bit more welcoming. Even towards the end, dealing with hecklers, Jamie seemed to release some of his own frustration and came across as somewhat vitriolic. (“You hear that silence – you made that – and you have to deal with bringing everyone down” was one of his more scathing barbs.) Although as ever, he did push it as far as he could with how absurd PC has become these days; his letter to the KKK has to be a real highlight.

But it does make you wonder: at what point, do you stop blaming the audience for the quality of the comedian on stage? Surely, a great comic would realise things are going as well as could be expected and maybe adapt what they’re doing to ensure some degree of success.

I can’t fault Jamie Bowen for energy, and to a degree for the majority of his material and the willingness to take a risk and try something different. But, at the same time, I just can’t shake the feeling that he had an off night from which he just couldn’t escape and soar as he normally would.