Stand up comedy.
Quite possibly the most polarizing combination of three words in the English language. People either hate it – or love it, there doesn’t seem to be much by the way of middle ground.
I possibly fall into the former category due to my role in life as a humourless automaton, aka website developer, so you can imagine my distress when last Saturday night a friend mumbled; ‘It’s raining, I’m gonna go to the Classic to cheer myself up. Wanna come?’ Fortunately, my friend had not left me much time to consider his proposal so I found myself sipping a beer in a Queen Street bar before I’d even had a chance to think about how much I hate penis jokes.
What followed was a night I have to admit was thoroughly worth the admission – roughly the same as a movie. Sure, there were penis jokes – in abandon – but there was also so much more! We saw four completely different comics and an MC performing in a variety of styles and at levels of self-confidence the vast majority of us can only dream of. Plus, there were times when I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next – a genuinely exciting departure from the safe and predictable route of watching some formulaic Hollywood movie where you know the storyline beforehand just from looking at the poster. So for me, the thrill of the night moved the needle a long, long way closer toward ‘loving’ stand up comedy from where it had been at the beginning of the evening. Here are a few of the highlights:
Our MC was a gentleman by the name of Alan McElroy, who with his red hair, heavy accent and ‘gift of the gab’ marked him as obviously from the Emerald Isle. Alan likes performing so much he saw his task as an opportunity to do 4 or 5 sets himself with each introduction lasting almost as long as the following acts. And, due to his inherent Irish ability to tell stories, it doesn’t seem like he’s performing at all. You are transported to the most whisky-soaked party you’ve ever been to where some guy is just going off for a crowd of partygoers in the hallway. He interacts with the audience a little but not so much as to intimidate – which was lucky for me being in the front table (although he did think I’d like Engelbert Humperdinck for some reason – whatever that is!) The highlight for me was his ribald retelling of how he got together with his wife, as very little was left to the imagination.
What a start! Ray O’Leary is the best comedian I’ve seen in a long time and I thought if this is the lead off batter, then jeez we’re in for a massive night! Shuffling on in his ill-fitting suit, Ray has absolutely encapsulated the low energy office brainiac nerd full of ridiculous self-righteous opinions. He delivers these in a monotone that reminded me of the American Steven Wright with the same rhythmic grouping of gags on a theme before abruptly moving onto some completely unrelated subject without any preamble. I could watch this guy for hours! The highlight for me was the sunrise section – I’m still chuckling about it!
Billed as the best comedian from Wellington, Neil is a gay (ex-)New Yorker and it is impossible for you not to pick up on those attributes as his entire act was about one or the other – or both at the same time. The absolute opposite of Ray, Neil paces about on the stage with a delivery that ranges from nervous hysteria to genuine hysteria. The highlight for me was some very funny – and edgy – stuff about how New Zealand should learn from New York and deliberate corral gays into our crappy provincial towns and drab suburbs so they can zhoosh them up. Brilliant!
A character comedian like Ray, Becky portrays a nerdy loser so dorky she made O’Leary’s character seem like a party animal! She had some great moments relating tales from her, frankly, abysmal ‘life’ and the highlight for me was her clever trait of repeating hackneyed sayings only to add a surprise twist at the end of them. I really liked – and may imitate – that.
Our headline act seemed oddly diffident at the start as though he’d been told he was performing about 30 seconds before coming on. He also took particular umbrage at one of the stag party who stumbled off to the toilets to vomit just as he took the stage – which seemed a little intolerant of him considering we were at the Classic not the Opera House! Or maybe he was just looking for something to fire him up because James is not just a deliver-a-polished-set kind of guy. Sure, he’s got a solid funny routine which he delivers at a confidence level at least half a notch above the others, but James also kept slipping out of it to go topical and off-the-cuff which added an air of danger and excitement to his act. So we were treated to tirades about the freshly-departed Prince Phillip, some hilarious tales about Ashley Bloomfield and a fiery interchange with the stag party. Not all of it was necessarily ‘comic’ but much of it was thought-provoking and quite often brilliant.
And that is why I for one will be going back to the Classic as I’ve had enough pre-chewed, focus-grouped-to-death entertainment, I want something edgy, exciting and veined with risk. If that sounds like you too, check out the Classic – comics are performing Wednesday through Saturday with an Open Mic night on Mondays too for the truly adventurous. Plus, the 2021 NZ Comedy Festival runs from May 1 to 23 at the Classic and beyond.