Randy Writes a Novel

Randy Feltface

Randy Feltface

The medium of comedy allows a performer to play, among other things, either an exaggerated or ruminative version of the themselves. Think the extraverted introvert versus the introverted extravert. How often we hear that a comedian is “nothing like they are on stage as they are in real life”. Through his multi-award winning character Randy Feltface (a.k.a. Randy the Purple Puppet), comedian and puppeteer Heath McIvor is able to incorporate both of these personality types, the former in style and the latter in content. It’s a balance that provides unique range and depth, and a skill that should not be discounted, because you’re never quite sure where one ends and the other begins, allowing McIvor to use artistic illusions to reveal resonant truths.

From divorce and tax fraud to tea totalling and veganism, Randy has spent the past nine years performing on and off with comedic partner Sammy J through a series of life events that no matter how bizarre, are strangely familiar and applicable. Such is the case in Randy Writes a Novel, where the titular comedian allows his observational comedy to distract him from a public reading of his novel “Walking to Skye”. From drink-driving and place-names to blue food and the most entertaining Gumtree purchase anecdote, Randy’s hyperactive yet ever-casual delivery allows for such seeming procrastination and seamless tangents to be subtly layered between an existential narrative drive that equals so much more than the sum of its parts. To delay an important task is nothing new, but to use such universal action (or lack thereof), to produce existential enlightenment is a rarity.

From Harper Lee to Ernest Hemingway, Randy waxes lyrical one minute, then drags you through the mud the next. He can quote Alain de Botton and express concern towards the interpretation of Buddhist philosophy, though it never comes across as supercilious or polemic, before usurping himself by appealing to our baser senses. And whether driving the narrative or expanding on an idea, he finds a joke at every turn, even when engaging with the uncertainty of audience interaction.

The success of comedy can often be judged by how deeply it burrows into your subconscious. Good luck hearing the name Morgan ever again without Randy’s voice in your head. And while it’s true that one can get away with so much more via a puppet, to reduce McIvor’s skill as a comedian to this one factor would be to ignore his flawless narrative, word economy, vocal affectations, timing, and delivery. Randy Writes a Novel is one of the most simple yet complex, hilarious, and profound hours of comedy, and for only $20AUD, it can all be yours.

Barnie Duncan: Tap Head

Barnie Duncan

Barnie Duncan

For many artists, diversification is the key to survival. I first came across Barnie Duncan as a musician in the mid-2000s (The [Funky] Hot Grits), and since then have witnessed his successful transitions into both theatre-maker (…him, Constantinople) and comedian (Calypso Nights, Juan, Two?). This cross-disciplinary development has provided Duncan with a range of skills and experiences, and by merging the mediums of comedy and theatre he has created a show that, while not a-laugh-a-minute, reflects his thoughts on the creative process in this surreal late-night palate cleanser.

Jumping between the titular Tap Head and a meta version of himself, Duncan explores the world of stand-up comedy through success, failure, and the moments in between. The irony is that the spectrum of each extreme yields similar results in terms of audience enjoyment. Whether dying as Duncan, or winning as Juancan, it’s not so much the content of the sets that changes, but the ability to deliver it with a unique style and confidence. It’s the journey upon which every comedian endeavours, and Duncan lampoons, criticises, and embraces every step of it.

Interspersed with the “offstage” moments that inform his observations, the non-linear narrative can be difficult to piece together, but for attentive audiences, the plants and callbacks will certainly pay off. While I would certainly place Tap Head into a more theatrical category of the festival, it’s an astute reflection wrapped in a deceptive bow of ridiculousness and absurdity.

Kura Forrester: Kura Shoulda Woulda

Kura Forrester

Kura Forrester

The best-titled show of the Comedy Festival, Kura Shoulda Woulda, isn’t so much a reflection on Billy T nominee Kura Forrester’s regrets (her autonomy over her role as black sheep indicates she has none), but on her role as the youngest in her family. The eponymous expression is used to convey either dismissiveness or disappointment, and there’s plenty of both as Forrester entertains with anecdotes on her childhood, formative years, and adult life.

The family food pyramid is a great metaphor, but the order in which Forrester constructs it, due to the tangential narrative of events, means it doesn’t build progressively with the show, and the final line/message consequently lacks punch. There’s plenty of familiarity in the dynamics Forrester presents, and she does so with a confident yet casual performative style that feels more like banter with friends (and some technical support) than a stage show. And while Forrester will occasionally employ comedic craft, such as the rule of three or pull back and reveal, they are often little more than mechanical devices that provide construct over content.

Forrester is a brilliant character actor, but “all of the eccentric characters in each story” are notably reduced to three, and aside from some superficial commentary on race relations through Amanda and Rosalind, and plot points from sister Kayla, there is very little that these characters contribute to the show. Added to this is the jarring jump between her stand up and character work, awkwardly parenthesised with “so that’s so-and-so” and “we’ll meet them again later”.

There’s no doubt that Forrester is funny, and while her comedy resonates and succeeds in entertaining the audience, the translation to a one-hour show ultimately lacks some fundamentals.

Ross Noble: Humournoid

Ross Noble

Ross Noble

Multi-award-winning British comedian Ross Noble states that his show rewards the punctual and those with an imagination, and it’s true. From the pre-show mobile phone announcement to the post-show Q&A, Noble performs what is inarguably the most unique comedy show of the 2019 New Zealand International Comedy Festival. The reason for this distinction is the spontaneous and consistent stream of consciousness that Noble delivers, which provides an array of absurd scenarios with which the audience can engage.

Structurally, there are only three brief anecdotes in Humournoid, but Noble fills an entire two-hour show with constant comedy through an ongoing series of surreal tangents. Instigated by latecomers, it’s the audience, both collectively and as individual members, from which Noble draws upon for the majority of his comedic content. In doing so, they become characters in themselves, interwoven in bizarre circumstances that are often seeded and hooked into the (for lack of a better word) narrative.

There are moments where Noble pushes the boundaries when discussing racism and gender politics, but he proclaims it’s “too daft to be offensive”. He follows this by commenting on the homogeny of the audience, and while he does pull himself back at times, I can’t help but wonder how a more diverse crowd would respond. But there is nothing malicious in Noble. He’s the goofy dad who embarrasses his wife and eldest daughter, while being egged on by his youngest who sees the wonder in the worlds he create.

The dominant backdrop, a huge inflated head split in two with lit wires traversing each side, is an apt representation of Noble’s process on stage. One of the biggest international stars of the festival, the opening night Sky City Theatre audience is smaller than expected. It may be a bit longer and bit more expensive than your average comedy show, but Noble proves to be worth every cent.

Tim Batt & Disasteradio: Spacecouch

Tim Batt & Luke Rowell

Tim Batt & Luke Rowell

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?”

James Roque: Boy Mestizo

James Roque

James Roque

Figuring out who you are isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey, because there’s no true terminus. You can travel as far as you like and engage new people and cultures, but it’s the internal processing of those experiences, which continue each day, that bring us closer to who we are. Comedian James Roque jokes that he is the Filipino step-son of New Zealand comedy, but he is so much more than that. Having migrated from the Philippines 20 years ago, his comedy has always hinted towards his grappling of the concept as other. In Boy Mestizo, Roque goes all in and reflects on his first trip back to the Philippines, and the result is an award-worthy hour of comedy.

With impeccable structure that provides a seamless narrative, Boy Mestizo is a masterful construction. No moment is wasted, and no joke is out of place. With some light crowd work upon their entry, Roque’s ease and desire to genuinely connect and share his story sets a tone which allows him not only perform in symbiotic cohesion with his audience, but also drop truths without any forced sense of emotional weight. They work, because he’s already put the work in. In one particular moment, Roque has the room as silent as to hear a pin drop, before releasing the tension by simply flipping the concept from a tragic to comedic perspective.

What makes the show so profound, however, is its accessibility. Roque may be telling a very personal story, and exploring a very specific set of stereotypes and experiences, which he acknowledges and explains to those who have not shared them, but the theme he has wrapped them in is threaded throughout, and comes together for all to hear. In doing so, he has found complexity in simplicity, and struck the vein of his comedic pulse.

Phil Nichol: Your Wrong

Phil Nichol

Phil Nichol

Squeezing a 110-minute show into 75 is no mean feat, but if anyone can do it, it’s award-winning comedian Phil Nichol. A legend in the comedy circuit, Nichol has a loud, fast, and manic delivery that belies the belated reflection that comes with his content. It’s important to note the potential delay in appreciation of his craft, because while the audience is not quite with him for the opening of his latest show, Your Wrong, there is plenty to take away. From love and loss to trolls and Flat Earthers, Nichol takes us on a roller coaster of romantic and familial incidences that have informed the insight he has attained.

As someone who holds the value of facts over faith, I can appreciate the frustration that drives Nichol. As someone who is stubborn, I can also appreciate the self-acceptance of one’s foibles. No one likes to think they’re wrong, especially when it comes to their philosophical and/or religious perspective. However, as a self-professed “indie guy” and “freak”, who goes “too far sometimes”, it can be difficult to align with Nichol at times, though this probably more due to a general introversion among the crowd. “I wish you guys were responding more like her”, Nichol pines, regarding a more gleefully engaged woman in the audience, as he attempts antipodean provocations.

Tuesday may not be the easiest night to play, and I have no doubt that alcohol will aid an audience in tuning into Nichol’s vigour, but that’s not a reflection on his craft, which is en pointe. Perhaps it’s the slightly disjointed structure, or the occasional baseness of certain punchlines that are incongruous with his obvious intellect, that make it difficult to simply roll with Nichol’s flow. If, however, there’s room for a bit of mania in your Comedy Fest schedule, Phil Nichol might just be the comedian to provide you with an insightful commentary on the world in which we live for weeks two and three.

Hamish & Lynette Parkinson: Me 'n' Ma

Hamish & Lynette Parkinson

Hamish & Lynette Parkinson

They say you never really understand someone until you meet their parents. And while you could argue that comedian Hamish Parkinson’s father makes an appearance in Me ‘n’ Ma, it’s his mother, Lynette, who provides an insight into the life and mind of the absurd, often intense, but always enjoyable clown. This is done, ironically, by following Lynette’s journey that led to the Parkinson’s becoming a family, from meeting her future husband, to the revenge-fuelled fantasies in her career as a masseuse.

Prompted by Hamish through (often provocative) questions, Lynette regales us with amusing anecdotes and advice, as she reflects on the ups and downs her life as a wife and mother have given her. And while patriarchal in their roles, they are necessary narrative and thematic restraints. This is most notable as Hamish edits the content in real-time, and while he can afford to be more stringent in the process, which will no doubt happen as the season continues, it’s all part of the shows charm. It’s the uncertainty, from both Hamish and Lynette, of what could happen next, while wrapped in the comfort you feel when visiting a loving home.

Unfortunately, while this uncertainty is obviously heightened on opening night, The Dance of the Exes segment does drag due to entrances and exits, meaning the finale is not given enough room for the audience to enjoy as they’re rushed out the door.

There’s always been a sense of genuine play in Hamish’s work. He’s the kind of comedian who can make a one-word line side-splittingly hilarious. It’s a skill that he’s honed through improvisational work in Snort, but it comes from a place of optimism and wonder at the opportunities in front of him. And now, we see that this quality has been ingrained in him from an early age.

Lynette is not a performer – she is an open and honest person. And that’s what audiences want. Even in the rehearsed bits, there is never a sense of her trying to show us anything other than who she is. From throwaway comments to familial colloquialisms, the Parkinsons’ dynamic is a joy to observe. There’s even a guest cameo, who makes a brilliant offer. Mother’s Day may have come and gone, but there’s no reason for not taking yours along for a belated gift.

Chris Parker: Iconique

Chris Parker

Chris Parker

From performing weekly in the hugely successful improv show Snort, to co-head-writing and having his own segment on Jono and Ben, Fred Award Winner Chris Parker is paving his way as one of New Zealand’s most affable personalities of both theatre and screen.

The speed at which technology is advancing, and the effect it can have on one’s sense of self, can be intimidating, but with the help of Alexa (voiced by sister Liv), Parker explores the trepidation and curiosity with which we should and can respectively approach it in his latest comedic offer, Iconique. With humour ranging from the awkward to the salacious, physical comedy, and musical numbers, it’s everything you’d expect from a Chris Parker show.

However, while these components come together, they don’t equate to more than the sum of their parts. Perhaps it’s expecting too much, but Parker’s previous works have been not only hilarious, but also incredibly affecting. Iconique marks a progression in the legitimacy of Parker’s development from actor to comedian, and while justified, it lacks the punch that launched Parker as a solo performer.

Comedy doesn’t require pathos (though it can help), and perhaps the desire to draw upon the emotional strings he plays so well, was a tool which Parker actively tried to avoid. An attempt to push himself further as a performer. If so, it’s a laudable effort, but I can’t help but feel that even if trying something new, Parker could have given us a little bit more.

Leon Wadham: Funk

Leon Wadham

Leon Wadham

Following the unanimous critical success of his 2018 show, Leon Wadham returns to the stage for more unbridled, non-stop hilarity in the 2019 New Zealand International Comedy Festival. Employing a more structured narrative than Giddy, yet no less garrulous, Funk is a journey of self-discovery that uses personal anecdotes to reflect the universal themes of identity and one’s place in the world.

Instigated by the paralysis of ageing, Wadham searches for meaning in his day-to-day life, before embarking on the mandatory overseas experience of the privileged and cultured elite. From the Sistine Chapel to the Sedlec Ossuary, he visits a variety of tourist hotpots, all of which remain unnamed yet identifiable thanks to Wadham’s physicality and observations, in an attempt to find a way out of the funk.

As a comedian, Wadham is, quite simply, brilliant. Not one word of the voluble text is either superfluous or wasted, as Wadham articulates his way with gymnastic dexterity through an avalanche of thoughts. It’s a narrative style the closest of which you’ll ever hear to an inner monologue being spoken aloud, and when coupled with his physical comedy, to which he fully commits in even the most surreal symbolisms, the result is a masterclass in performance.

What gives Wadham the extra edge though, is his relationship to the audience. This self-proclaimed need for attention may seem narcissistic at first, but when Wadham connects with you, be it with a simple glance, it’s a moment of pure joy. This extraversion extends to near masochistic levels when you realise Wadham has given you everything he has for the past hour. A truly humbling gift from a truly great performer.

Two Hearts: The Winery Tour

Two Hearts

Two Hearts

Two Hearts: The Winery Tour is undoubtedly the most extravagant show you’ll see this Comedy Festival. Complete with grand piano, television screens, and novelty-sized glasses, the production value alone is worth the price of the ticket. While spectacle can come at the price of content, musical comedy duo Laura Daniel and Joseph Moore have created a show that sustains comedic and creative value for a full sixty minutes, as they attempt to secure a new audience demographic.

Armed with buttery Chards and beats, while a winery tour may reflect maturity, the duo quickly lapse from an acoustic ode to wine into more irreverent material. From baby boomers and factory farming, to environmental awareness and cybersex, no one and nothing is safe from Moore’s lampooning lyrics or Daniel’s vociferous vocals. Every number is a crowd pleaser, although Moore’s Dave Dobbyn tribute and a back catalogue rendition are particular highlights.

As not only a performative, but also romantic duo, Daniel and Moore play up their pop star dynamic, the diva and the tech nerd respectively, to generate low key drama between the musical numbers. It’s a goldmine, and there’s a lot of room for it to develop over the years to come, especially as a genuinely affecting relationship in which the audience can invest. At the moment it’s merely touched upon, but the dramatic weight it could bring could be what takes them to the next level.

It’s worth noting their most recent draw card, if only because Daniel does so herself, often to the chagrin of Moore, throughout the evening. Dancing with the Stars fame has allowed the duo to connect with TV viewers, and while Comedy Festival should be lauded for generating venue revenue, Two Hearts’ theatrical endeavours may just help the industry reach an even wider audience not only in Auckland, but nation-wide.

Rhiannon McCall: Eat Slay Love

Rhiannon McCall

Rhiannon McCall

With a strong theatrical background, the prospect of a solo show by Rhiannon McCall was an anticipative one. Stepping away from the safety net of ensemble improvisation (Snort, MacKenzie’s Daughters, The Salem Bitch Trials), Eat Slay Love is a character comedy in which McCall introduces us to self-help guru Dr. Rhirhi on her latest book tour – complete with a back catalogue of hilarious titles.

The nerves are evident as to be expected, but ultimately they prevent McCall from grounding herself in this character, so when the wheels come off as planned, the result isn’t as satisfying as it could be, because we don’t see a dramatic enough change in the doctor’s false sense of stability, which is fundamentally what the show is about.

Structurally, the third act comes from left field, and can afford to be seeded earlier, and while there is a simplicity to the narrative that allows McCall room for depth, ironically, the jokes remain surface level. There’s also the odd bit of craft missing, such as the rule of three for the “mimosa time” and “congratulating” bit.

It all makes me wonder what director Laura Daniel contributed to the show. The self-help guru provides plenty of material to lampoon, and while McCall might not slay her solo debut, the character, structure, and jokes are all there. At the moment, it just feels a bit safe. The comedy comes when McCall commits to taking a risk, and with more rigor in exploring the depth and resilience of the material, her comedic voice, and the consequent confidence to deliver it, will no doubt develop.

Paul Sinha: A Stand-Up Comedy NZ Premiere

Paul Sinha

Paul Sinha

Sunday night is dinner at mum and dad’s while watching The Chase, so the opportunity to see Paul Sinha, the GP-turned-comedian who smashed his set for the Best Foods Comedy Gala, live in not only A Stand-up Comedy NZ Premiere, but also his first overseas solo show, was not to be missed.

Sinha’s delivery seems somewhat nervous, which is surprising only due to most audiences knowing him from a position where his encyclopaedic knowledge and rapid-fire delivery shows us a man in total control. It’s not bad, it’s just unexpected. More importantly, it’s in tune with the person Sinha is showing us; the man behind the “minor” celebrity.

And in that respect, the show is incredibly honest. Being the openly gay son of immigrant parents, Sinha has a wealth of experience from which to draw. It’s not uncommon for a comedian to draw upon times of hardship for comedic value, but the level of Sinha’s humility is humbling.

There are moments when more drive is required between jokes to prevent the show from becoming one-noted, however, this could also be a matter of structural re-editing more cohesive with Sinha’s pacing.

Regardless, A Stand-up Comedy NZ Premiere is an endearing introduction to the man you think you know. It’s a reminder that no matter who you are or where you are in life, to let go of the past and take risks.

James Acaster: Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999

James Acaster

James Acaster

I’ve never been a fan of your typical insult comic, but I think it’s fair to say that James Acaster is anything but typical. For the first fifteen minutes of his 2019 show, Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999, Acaster derides his audience, both past and present, in an attempt rid himself of that which has previously held him back.

For those who are fans of Acaster, rest assured that this edgy new persona is actually a guise, a set up allowing him to be more explicit and personal with his material. It is a brilliant device from a comedian who is giving his audience everything he has. There has always been a sense of anger behind the mask of seemingly nonsensical logic from Acaster. This time, he’s simply tipped the scales in the other direction, yet continued to allow his absurd metaphors to coalesce into a thematically pleasing whole.

Taking us through the worst year of his life, involving both a romantic and business break up, and an embarrassing anecdote, Acaster skilfully subverts the direction of all three and stretches them into over an hour of not only comedy, but also therapeutic catharsis. It’s the kind of depth developed over a career that can only make you excited for what comes next.

Though literally no one can claim complete empathetic understanding of his first two stories, there is a universality to them that is genuinely touching. At moments, the honesty is heart-breaking. But Acaster is, ironically, not the angry young man he claims to be. While he can extend a seemingly minute point into a third of the show’s duration, it never comes across as bitter resentment or unhealthy dwelling.

If you haven’t seen his Netflix specials, the homework definitely pays off. Acaster may joke that he hates New Zealand, but this is his fourth time attending the NZ International Comedy Festival, and his Kiwi-specific jibes reveal an understanding that only comes with love. And based on a sold out season, it’s no secret that New Zealand loves him back.

Demi Lardner: Ditch Witch 800

Demi Lardner

Demi Lardner

At one point early in the show, Demi Lardner apologises to those in audience who “didn’t know what they were getting themselves into”. There is no apology necessary. While it’s understandable that some audience members may not be able to tune into Lardner’s absurd clowning, the opening night Basement Theatre crowd are with her every step of the way. Ditch Witch 800 is by far the weirdest comedy show I have ever seen, and I loved every bizarre moment of it.

Not only is Lardner an incredibly charismatic performer with an infectious high-octane energy, her comedy clearly comes from a place of what she finds funny, not what she thinks will be funny for other people. Nothing feels forced or catered to. But her audience is not simply on the receiving end of a tangential brainstorm, as there is a genuine sense of sharing and caring in Lardner’s performance.

She mentions past reviews in which the reviewers have felt “unsafe” and “uncomfortable”, but I simply cannot understand how anyone would feel this way in the hands of a performer who is so clearly in control of her craft. To assume the erratic nature of the structure is simply that, is to undermine the skill Lardner has put into constructing it.

Whether commenting on the millennial zeitgeist, satirising television, or simply reflecting on her childhood, Lardner makes the most of every gag. There is literally never a dull moment. Preview week may be too early to pick a favourite show, but I doubt you’ll see anything that comes close to Ditch Witch 800.

Best Foods Comedy Gala

Comedy Gala.jpg

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.