Best Foods Comedy Gala

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The New Zealand International Comedy Festival is one of the most well-attended events in Auckland. With over 100 shows and nearly 200 artists, there really is something for everyone, and the 2019 Best Foods Comedy Gala proves it. Winner of the Best International Guest for 2018, host Rhys Nicholson’s (AUS) quick-fire delivery drives the pace of an otherwise notoriously long event, and his performative flair keeps the energy upbeat and fun throughout the night.

James Acaster (UK) is put on the back foot immediately with a prop gag that misfires at the top of the set, and while his admitted jet-lag shows, it works cohesively with his droll delivery. Having sold out before the festival even opened, he doesn’t need the gala, but Acaster is a New Zealand favourite, and ironically (according to him) makes the televised cut.

While Northerners Lauren Pattison (UK) and Ian Smith’s (UK) observational comedy is culturally circumstantial, Smith’s material proves more accessible, though both present endearing personae that New Zealand audiences will no doubt warm to.

Paul Sinha (UK) nails his New Zealand debut with a self-proclaimed well-researched set. He’s put in the work, as you’d expect from one of Britain’s most well-known quiz players, and it pays off. A sports fan in addition to his many notable achievements, New Zealand is prime material for Sinha, who has his finger on the pulse of our sporting climate of both past and present.

Musical act Two Hearts’ Moana parody, complete with semi-interpretive back-up dancers and an attempted rap ends the first act, while Urzila Carlson somehow manages to stretch a Bunnings gag into four-minute set in the second.

James Nokise provides an excellent and hilarious argument for the use of the Maori language, while Justine Smith tones down her sinfully enjoyable edge. While understandably for televised purposes, as a fan of Smith, her comedy should never be restrained.

It takes the audience a moment to adjust to Demi Lardner, who is by far the most eccentric act of the night, but for those of us who are immediately on board, every moment of her absurd, tech-heavy set is pure gold. A personal favourite and an absolute stand-out.

Jamali Maddix (UK) balances an aggressive yet playful tone, while Melanie Bracewell and Alice Snedden continue their feminine reflections on sex and politics respectively, their dry deliveries downplaying the hilarious yet astute social commentaries.

The delightful Chris Parker has a lot of fun with his gay versions of cinematic characters, while Guy Montgomery and Eli Matthewson experiment with new vocal qualities that may take time to which audiences will need to adjust.

Pax Assadi and Jamaine Ross each continue their social observations of racial stereotypes with light-hearted accessibility, dropping a pun-based truth-bomb in their even more playful sketch work with James Roque in Frickin Dangerous Bro.

There’s an unapologetic edge to Becky Lucas (AUS), which when combined with her word economy provides one of the best tight-fours of the nights, and relative newcomer Breenan Reece (UK) ironically ends the night on a high through audience abuse.

The gala format is by no means easy. Coordinating a genuine variety of acts while maintaining quality across the board is a sign of not only the skill of the comedians involved, but of the order in which they’re presented. They’re also arguably contradictory necessities, in that one’s sense of humour is not only incredibly personal, but often limiting. Fortunately, the 2019 Best Foods Comedy Gala struck gold, and while not all the acts will make the cut to the televised production, and some didn’t punch their way out of their set, every performer held their own on The Civic stage.