Comedy Festival 2009, Opera House
May 3 | Reviewed by Kate Blackhurst

ONCE AGAIN the New Zealand International Comedy Festival began in Wellington with First Laughs – a pick and mix of the talent to be showcased over the next three weeks. Local and international acts shared the stage at the Opera House competing for audience attention and hoping to woo them along to their forthcoming full-length show.

The night was ably compèred by Steve Wrigley leaping about the stage with his ‘seducto dance’, dislike of Easter and advice to cheer up and stop taking the recession so seriously. Some of his material was a little jaded (aren’t we over jokes about LOTR yet?) but his delivery was engaging and he’s generous towards his fellow performers.

Despite Wrigley’s introductions, it was harder to differentiate between the acts, because none of them have a particular schtick. Last year we had unicycles, flow charts, impressions and musical comedy. This year we had a load of blokes (with only two women performing), one of whom (Mark Scott) has a guitar and one of whom (Te Radar) has a sustainability TV series – I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard jokes about pig hunting.

In general the night was mercifully short of swine flu jokes, although Benjamin Crellin (with excellent stage presence) handed out masks for people in the front row and then chastised one for not putting it on – ‘I bet you’re the sort of guy who has sex with a condom – in his pocket.’ Instead the jokes were mainly aimed at Facebook, the New Zealand Defence Force (which seems fractionally unfair as apparently it can’t defend itself) and the emotionless reaction of the Kiwi male (or Aussie in the case of Mickey D).

According to Steve Wrigley all reviewers are f*&%wits and the worse a review is, the better a comedy show sells. Apparently if we hate it, it must be good. But what if we like it, because on the basis of these condensed comedy skits there was lots to like. International highlights included Janey Godley, back with her hard-hitting self-effacing Glaswegian approach, Jason John Whitehead, whose charming Canadian wordplay is effortlessly original, and Geordie Jason Cook saying inappropriate things because of the voice in his head.

Among the home-grown gems were Cori Gonzalez-Macuer who manages to make terrorists on the tube funny and Dai Henwood who has started hating things he has no reason to hate, like helping his friends move and toffee apples. TJ MacDonald also merits a longer stint with his laconic observations – does he really love Secret Santa because he enjoys being the anonymous cause of someone else’s disappointment? Without wishing to inversely influence anyone’s shows, I encourage you to find out.