It was around October 1996 that a group of young, local comedians and producers started eyeing up the old adult cinema at 321 Queen St, launching a year-long journey towards opening the doors of New Zealand’s first ever dedicated live comedy club: The Classic. From humble beginnings in October 1997, The Classic has established itself as one of the most highly regarded comedy clubs in the world. The venue has been at the forefront of New Zealand comedy and fostered generations of home-grown talent as well as breaking new international stars to local audiences.
Director of The Classic and Godfather of the local stand-up comedy industry, Scott Blanks will be celebrating this milestone at The Classic with ‘A Year of It’, featuring over 400 live events. The 20th Year includes regular weekly shows, international comedy festival guests, a Mini Summer Festival & Comedy Hui, the Raw Comedy competition for new faces, debates, workshops and special club nights for ‘Frequent Laughers’. In true anniversary style, The Classic will be trawling through the archives to find some of the images and memories that celebrate its role in making NZ live comedy the magnificent beast that it is today. The year will conclude with a VIP Comedy Ball on Sat 28 October, 2017.
Since opening in 1997, The Classic has hosted over 7,500 live comedy events and attracted up to 25,000 punters every year! The founding comedians that started gigging in the early years were only a handful of about 30 people who could claim to be professional comedians in NZ. Today there are around 90 resident comedians in Auckland, about half as many in Wellington and a handful in Christchurch and Dunedin. And, even more importantly, there is an increasing number of live gigs and supporting infrastructure including managers and new producers.
Not included in this are the 100 or so rookies who have a crack in the annual Raw Comedy Quest. Since The Classic opened over 1,500 would-be comedians have given it a go on the Raw Comedy nights. Some have gone on to find varying degrees of local and international fame including notables like the Flight of the Conchords, Rhys Darby and The Boy with Tape on His Face. The 20th ‘Year of It’ will see The Classic tour the Raw Comedy Quest to NZ’s main centres and various regions, broadening the hunt for fresh comedy talent.
Another key indication of the health of live comedy at The Classic is the diversity particularly the comedian’s representative of the new immigrants in NZ and the rapid increase in female comedians. Twenty years ago there were only a handful of professional female comedians amongst the ranks at The Classic. Today there are up to 20 regulars and as many rookies developing their craft.
The programme of events for ‘A Year of It’ will be announced over the next few weeks and rolled out throughout the months ahead.
Join The Classic in celebrating the amazing metamorphosis of the NZ live comedy scene!
THE CLASSIC TIMELINE
1982 – Retro Nightclub in O’Connell Street, Auckland ran a live comedy competition. It was in this crowd that Willy de Wit, Dean Butler, Ian Harcourt, Peter Murphy, Chris Hegan and manager, Scott Blanks, got together. Later they would become known as Funny Business who later inspired the formation of another comedy troupe, Facial DBX from Massey University.
1992 – Members of Funny Business and Facial DBX merge forming Comedyfest (not to be confused with the NZ International Comedy Festival) producing a live comedy gig every 6 weeks at the legendary Kitty O’Brien’s. Scott Blanks joins the party and Comedyfest quickly expands to weekly gigs and comedy nights at the Masonic in Devonport.
1992-1997 – Comedyfest established itself as the driving force of live comedy in Auckland and beyond. Their first international import was a young British comedian; Alan Davies, followed by Bill Bailey, Rich Hall and then Ed Bryne, Simon Pegg, Ardal O’Hanlon, Michael Smiley and more.
1995 – Comedyfest collaborated with Phoenix Television to create 8 seasons of the stand-up show Pulp Comedy launching the career of Mike King. NZ Comedy was served to the masses.
1996 – The idea of opening a dedicated local live stand-up venue was hatched and the search for an inner city location began.
1997 – The Classic Comedy & Bar opens at 321 Queen Street replacing the Classic Cinema aka Auckland’s Porn Cinema. The landscape of NZ comedy was changed forever with this, the first ever live comedy club. At this time the downstairs space, Basement (then Silo), was also renovated and handed over to the thespians of Auckland.
The first year at The Classic was legendary with capacity audiences checking out the unique venue. Alongside comics, a handful of cool bands jammed out live music.
1997-2017 – The Classic hosts over 350 live comedy events every year – that is nearly 8,000 live comedy gigs. The Classic becomes and continues to be a hotbed for fine local and international comedy, and a breeding ground for new comedians and comedy producers.
A Year Of It
Dates: November 2016 – October 2017.
Venues: The Classic and Various clubs around NZ.
Programme to be announced on www.comedy.co.nz