It’s a bloody brave way of making a living. You stand up in front of strangers and try to make them laugh. Straightforward perhaps, but difficult. No special effects to fall back on, no musicians, no magic tricks. You live and die on your ability to make an audience “get you”, in the space of a few seconds, and then you have to hold on to them for the journey, as you pass comment on your life, and your audience’s lives, with what all hope is incisiveness, cleverness, and of course, laughter. It’s unadorned, but when a comedian gets it right, it sings to your soul.
Not having seen a live comedy show for a long time, this was the great mysterious feat I wanted to observe at The Big Show, part of the Auckland Comedy Festival, at the Rangatira at Q Theatre last Saturday night.
Four young British comedians were here out to impress. They were, in order of appearance, Ian Smith, who also acted as MC, Fin Taylor, Lauren Pattison, and lastly Phil Wang. They’re all in their 20’s, and have markedly different personalities and styles. They gave us a good night out. The first thing that struck me was how fast they all the hit the ground running. No flaffing around, time is precious. They need us to get to know them, quickly.
Ian Smith was a laid back host, and connected with the crowd almost immediately. His northern working class accent and self deprecating manner seemed to win everyone over. His opening salvo was tried and true – chat to the audience and see where they come from. Not original, no, but very successful. Smith demonstrated how the knack of getting this right – listen hard, and that will prompt a reply and away you go.
Fin Taylor started with a bang, and an observation about his own standard of education I thought was very clever. Of the four I felt he lost a little momentum towards the end of his act. Lots of sexual commentary of course, and that’s ok, but one observation about polyamory fell a tad flat and seemed to take the wind out of his sails somewhat.
Another northerner, Lauren Pattison, had the most singular approach. She told personal stories which contained few – if any – actual jokes – but she told them with such honesty and straightforwardness that they struck home. At times it felt like a therapy session. But for us, or for Lauren? She gave us laughs, but in discussing how she was making her way in the world, negotiating relationships and her own sense of herself, she gave something more. And she’s only 23.
Last up was Phil Wang. He was the outright funniest of the four, drawing humour from his mixed European and Chinese heritage. He got away with mimicking and satirising a stereotyped version of what a Chinese person looks like, that only a Chinese person could get away with.
One little gripe that two of them, Fin and Phil, mentioned Australia’s recent adoption of same sex marriages. Fair enough, all of them had obviously picked up on this as they toured Australia before coming here. But neither Fin nor Phil talked of this country passing its same sex marriage law before the Australians. They missed a chance to take a dig at the Aussies, and, more importantly, it sounded like they hadn’t done their homework.
That’s a minor grizzle. All in all this quartet gave us an excellent couple of hours of laughter. It was a reminder that no matter how much of this stuff you might watch on a screen, nothing beats the atmosphere and tension of seeing someone perform live. Especially with stand up, which seems to be such an organic form of entertainment, there’s a buzz you can’t beat.