Less than a decade after The Ed Sullivan Show premiered on American television, the Russian’s launched Sputnik. Some 30 years later, New Zealand comedian Tim Batt was born. What do these three seemingly unrelated events have in common? Space Couch. “The live comedy chat show nobody asked for.” The 10pm slot in the Comedy Festival is an enigmatic one. While the competition with larger venues is diminished, the late night crowd have an inebriated desire for either chaos or bed. Neither of which is particularly promising for the chat show format.
Voiced by Paul F. Tompkins (yes, the Paul F. Tompkins), the eponymous furniture provides a setup into which the show never really leans far enough. A product of the Soviet space program, the American accented amenity pipes up now and then, but doesn’t offer anything unique to a structure that we see over and over, from The Daily Show to the Late Show.
Host Tim Batt delivers the mandatory opening monologue (where was the warm-up act?), before a bit of Q&A with co-host Luke Rowell, a.k.a. Disasteradio, in the Paul Shaffer/Steve Higgins role. Comedian Ray Shipley performs a tight five from their latest show, All This Crying Is Making Me Hungry, before literally shocking their hosts in a segment that while dialed up, doesn’t quite pay off.
Opening night guest Chlöe Swarbrick is a fan of Batt, as he is of her, but while they avoid sycophantic displays, it never feels like the exchange is comfortable. BAFTA award-winning presenter Graham Norton famously liquors up his guests, and while Swarbrick, pint in hand, throws out a shocking statistic almost immediately, reinforcing an erudite grasp on the issues beyond the opposition, Batt seems to have limited ammunition up his sleeve. He gently probes her political intentions and party choice, before launching into the more provocative question of Paula Bennett’s refusal to debate Swarbrick on cannabis reform (twice), but after the relatively short segment, I don’t feel like I know much more about his guest.
There are some promising segments, but the problem is that no one in the audience is familiar with them. From a tourism video for Johnsonville to a capitalist reprise of Fail Army, there is plenty to work with, but nothing feels tested. It’s as if the audience is expected to know the specific format, which they don’t, and then think that anything could happen, which it doesn’t. And while I don’t agree with the show-horned deus ex machina Larry Carmichael that the boys are “not fit for the chat show business,” there is more work to be done before the show finds its audience. Space Couch may not be fully realised, but in the words of Swarbrick, “What is the point of anything if you’re not trying?”