NZICF 2013: Arj Barker – Go Time

Arj Barker

If you don’t know “Arj Barker, the comedian” then you will almost certainly recognize him as “Dave from Flight of the Conchords“. Arj is back on our shores with an 85% new comedy show (so he says) and one which I found to be quite the scintillating experience.

The show kicks off on a bit of a musical high; Arj serenades us with a comical vocal performance where he promises to deliver gags until we all “L-O-L”. His set is a display of extremes that mesh together seamlessly – he is energetic yet low key and his material is unquestionably entertaining yet also surprisingly contemplative.

Arj eloquently describes Go Time as a “smorgasbord of treats” and this is definitely true. He goes from talking about the dangers of ordering spring rolls to how hide-and-seek has been ruined by technology to his very witty Utopian view of the future. Where he strikes comedic gold is one particular gag that becomes a running feature throughout the hour – I will not divulge any more as I really do think it is best coming from the man himself!

When some jokes do not get the response he was hoping for or when he discovers all too late that a bit was ill researched, he tells us that it’s all part of his new joke structure. I found this clever approach of critiquing his jokes to be incredibly endearing. His set consistently runs along this path of self reflection which makes for quite a candid and personal show.

Go Time is an insightful hour of profound and intelligent comedy with some really great laugh-out-loud moments – just as he promised in his opening number! It’s a rather mellow and philosophical show but one that is compelling, uplifting and extremely enjoyable.

The Whimsical Banana rates Go Time: 4/5 bananas!

Arj Barker is performing tonight May 10th and tomorrow May 11th at SKYCITY Theatre – click here for tickets. Seats are limited so get in quick!

NZICF 2013: Tom Gleeson

Tom Gleeson

It”s hard to believe that this is Tom Gleeson’s debut at the festival as he has been a familiar face on our televisions from his regular appearances on TV3’s 7Days.  After the hour, he proves that he can completely hold his own and is an excellent comedian in his own right.

Being an Australian comic, it is not surprising at all when he starts poking fun at New Zealand.  Calling us a self-deprecating and simultaneously progressive yet backward nation, he subsequently justifies this by saying that unlike other comics, he doesn’t do New Zealand jokes back home but saves them up so he can do it to our faces.

It is in this audacious and brash fashion that Tom delivers his hour-long set to us and boy does he do it so very well!  His material ranges from both reminiscing and griping about technology (“iCloud backs up your shame” – genius) to hilarious examples of how fatherhood has caused him to see things, like strippers, in a different light.

Each gag and every joke is brilliantly set up and superbly told with some truly remarkable punchlines that will alter your perspective on the most ordinary things – like bread rolls and why you should never pick a mirror up from the floor.  He tells us he is a rule-breaker in real life and this rings true in his stand up routine as well.

Tom himself said it best – he is an acquired taste.  But his crass, in-your-face style of comedy is genuinely funny and wildly entertaining.  A top notch hour of stand up that I would definitely recommend.

The Whimsical Banana rates Tom Gleeson: 4/5 bananas!

Tom Gleeson is performing at The Classic for 3 more nights – for tickets, click here.

NZICF 2013: Urzila Carlson – The Long Flight To Freedom

Urzila Carlson

Urzila Carlson has been a part of the local comedy scene for a while now but I believe she hit the comedic jackpot last year with her now famous catchphrase “don’t go falling in love now!”.  Since then she has become an undeniable local favorite.

Don’t let her South African accent throw you; she now calls Aotearoa home and we have been more than happy to return the favor, proudly embracing her as our own.  The Long Flight To Freedom, put simply, is an autobiographical recount of how Urzila came to be in New Zealand.

Throughout the hour, she shares candidly a collection of comical stories that span from birth to childhood and finally to present time.  Dreaded family holidays at the farm, a memorable family team building exercise involving a resident mouse, tips on dealing with noisy neighbors and her genius plan on disciplining her soon-to-be-born “Jesus baby” – Urzila bares all.  Her casual delivery and laidback style made it feel more like a conversation among friends which suited the narrative perfectly.

There is no doubt that Urzila was born to do comedy.  From start to finish she had the audience hooked on her every word.   Her ability to garner laughs from the crowd so effortlessly coupled with her skill in delivering material so naturally that it feels completely unscripted is a real gift and mark of a brilliant comedian.

This is an entertaining hour of getting-to-know-Urzila that will bring endless laughs.  Everybody needs to see this extremely talented lady live – here’s hoping for an encore, and in a bigger venue!

The Whimsical Banana rates The Long Flight To Freedom: 5/5 bananas!

Urzila Carlson has already sold out her entire season but you can still see her in action as co-host at Le Comique this Sunday May 12th – for more details and tickets to this event, click here.

NZICF 2013: Gordon Southern – The Kerfuffle

Gordon Southern

After a successful run at last year’s festival, Gordon Southern is back in New Zealand with his trusty sound effects box and unique brand of edutainment-style comedy.  The Kerfuffle is a delightful hour of rapid fire stand up that is an absolute joy to watch.

There is a whole lot that gets covered throughout the show.  Audience members are designated celebrity personas (with weird hobbies like taking photos of meat), he relentlessly pokes fun at British idiosyncrasies and we find out why he has forty avocados in his flat.  We also get treated to an impromptu Bollywood dance lesson and learn about the time he threw caution to the wind and faced off against a certain Prince dubbed “Captain Wales” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

His material is upbeat, engaging and wonderfully witty with impeccable comedic timing, particularly when he chooses to use his signature “that’s a fun fact!” audio insert.  He also recounts some genuinely heartwarming and compelling stories from his family life which he manages to fit in seamlessly without significantly affecting the energy of the set.

Gordon is undeniably a gifted entertainer and skilled performer which he unabashedly credits to him having a drama degree.  Drama degree or not, his charismatic disposition, boundless energy and animated storytelling will have you captivated from start to finish.  If you weren’t a fan coming in to the show, I daresay you would leave as one.

The Kerfuffle exudes feel good, is immensely entertaining and packs a comedic punch.  If you enjoy fun facts, jokes about the Royal Family, toy giraffes and just bloody good comedy (with the odd rap thrown in for good measure), you will thoroughly enjoy this show.

The Whimsical Banana rates The Kerfuffle: 5/5 bananas!

Gordon Southern is performing at The Classic Studio until May 11th – click here for tickets.

This review can also be found on Keeping Up With NZ.

UPDATE: Here is my Broadway Baby review of the same show which I saw again at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

NZICF 2013: Wayne Brady – Still Makin’ Sh*t Up

Wayne Brady

Wayne Brady, star of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Don’t Forget The Lyrics is back in New Zealand and this time he’s brought along a sidekick – Jonathan Mangum, a fellow improv comedian.  Together they put on an extraordinary show which boasts an impressive display of improv, comedy and music.

At the top of the show, Jonathan lets us in on a little secret – just in case the name of the show wasn’t enough of a giveaway – everything is completely made up.  To prove that nothing is scripted and everything is improvised, audience participation is a welcome and integral part of the show.

Suggestions are taken from the crowd to help set certain scenes and some lucky audience members even get to be in on the action, like becoming human props and providing sound effects.  The show is broken up in to different parts but which all flow together cohesively providing one entertaining evening of exceptional improvisational comedy.

Both Wayne and Jonathan are thrown through the improv wringer but they do so effortlessly, taking everything in their stride and adapting where necessary. This talented duo jump through a variety of scenarios: date night at a doctor’s office performed in various film genres, a sci-fi story featuring Elmo and a Celebrity Idol concert where Prince sings “A Hobbit Stole My Baby” – to name a few.

Still Makin’ Sh*t Up is an outstanding showcase of off-the-cuff comedy that will blow you away and have you in stitches from beginning to end.  Wayne Brady really is the king of improv and the consummate entertainer – an absolute master at his craft.  This is a show that can only be fully appreciated and experienced live as you really have to see it to believe it.

The Whimsical Banana rates Still Makin’ Sh*t Up: 5/5 bananas!

Wayne Brady is performing next at the Opera House in Wellington on May 7th and then at the Aurora Centre in Christchurch on May 8th.  Click here for tickets.

NZICF 2013: Tom Green


Tom Green’s show was like no other comedy gig I have attended.  With non-stop (positive) “heckling” from the crowd, it definitely felt more like a Freddy Got Fingered catchphrases and appreciation night than anything else.

While his film roles and MTV show precedes him, Tom is a skilled and superb stand up comedian in his own right.  His unique brand of “shock humor” sits well with a Kiwi audience as does his cynical but comical thoughts on many things, like getting high on twink (the old school kind that came with a brush) and my personal favorite of the night – the discovery that there is no cheese in Chinese food.

Tom’s comedic style is edgy and “in your face” but not overly reproachful – put simply, he’s just bloody entertaining!  His material is made up of intelligently written one liners that sit in snappy scenarios rather than long drawn out anecdotes which means a lot is covered within the hour.

What I particularly enjoyed was his brilliant delivery of some really engaging social commentary which he incorporates seamlessly in to his set.  His thoughts on what if suicide was made to be illegal and how we reward bad behavior by “failing upwards” not only rouses much deserved laughs but is surprisingly insightful.

Judging by the popularity of his show and the exuberant vocal nature of the crowd, his arrival on our shores has been long overdue.  Let’s hope he returns for an encore.

The Whimsical Banana rates Tom Green: 4/5 bananas!

Tom Green is performing TONIGHT 9pm (May 5th) at the Opera House in Wellington and at the Aurora Centre in Christchurch, TOMORROW.  For tickets, click here.

NZICF 2013: Tom Rhodes

Tom Rhodes

It’s Tom Rhodes’ first time in New Zealand and I do hope it won’t be the last.  His style of comedy is brash and irreverent but certainly a breath of fresh air especially if, like me, British comedy is more your go-to for stand up.

Tom’s delivery initially seems haphazard but don’t let his erratic train of thought fool you – his set does flow together seamlessly and every story told is well prepared and masterfully set up with punchlines that are nothing short of comedic genius.  Being one of the most well traveled comedians on the circuit, his show is made up of diverse tales that span the globe from Europe to South East Asia.

His material displays a unique, tongue-in-cheek point of view of many things like what he would do to mess up the war (“sometimes bombs, sometimes confetti”), the origins of racism (too much sun) and who he wanted the next Pope to be (“Pope-rah”).  When some stories don’t quite hit the mark, Tom is quick to recover by claiming some of his stuff is prepared as “individually wrapped jokes”, tailored to only appeal to one person at a time – which quickly bring back the laughs.

While his humor is undeniably a little boisterous and sometimes teeters on the inappropriate side, there is genuine and brilliant comedy in the stories he tells.  He easily keeps you entertained for the hour and by the end of it you honestly feel like you have gone around the world – albeit a twisted, slightly more crude version of the world – with him.

Tom Rhodes is not afraid to ride the controversial train so his brand of comedy may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  But if you do not offend easy, I highly recommend this accomplished seasoned pro for a guaranteed raucous night of comedy!

The Whimsical Banana rates Tom Rhodes: 4/5 bananas!

Tom Rhodes is performing for another week (May 6th – 11th) at The Classic – for tickets, click here.

NZICF 2013: Danny Bhoy – Dear Epson…

Danny Bhoy

Danny Bhoy is no stranger to the comedy circuit and has always been a Kiwi favorite thus needs no introduction.  Every time he visits our shores, he is definitely one of the most anticipated acts of the comedy festival.

Dear Epson… is quite different from his previous shows but still has all the hallmarks of what fans have grown to expect and love at a Danny Bhoy gig.  After a fleeting too funny “too soon” Anne Frank reference and some friendly banter with the audience, Danny explains to the audience the story behind Dear Epson.

A year ago, Danny purchased an Epson printer only to realize soon after that the ink required was more expensive than the printer itself.  Infuriated by this absurdity, an irate Danny took to pen and paper and wrote a letter of complaint to the printer company, demanding an explanation.  This letter sparked a snowball effect and soon he found himself writing to other corporations that have angered him over the years.  Oil of Olay (formerly Oil of Ulay), Vodafone, British Airways – Danny shows them no mercy, exposing them for their empty marketing promises.

Danny is a gifted and skilled storyteller and excellent wordsmith – he effortlessly has the audience hanging on to his every word through his natural gift of the gab and irresistible charm.  The letters of complaint are brilliantly crafted prose; compelling, witty and delivered flawlessly. After letter number three, Danny takes a breather and assures us that the show is “not all ranting and raving”.

In between the collection of letters, Danny also treats us with entertaining and hilarious stories from his life, like the awkward encounter he had with a German shopkeeper when he was Christmas shopping, his determination to not be bested by a waiter at a Michelin-star restaurant and my personal favorite, his amusing but oh-so-true “rules of receiving canapés”.

Dear Epson… is observational comedy at its best and this time with added cleverly channeled consumer rage.  Laughter really is the best medicine and Danny Bhoy is the perfect remedy.

The Whimsical Banana rates Dear Epson…: 5/5 bananas!

Danny Bhoy has finished his Auckland and Wellington run but will be performing in Dunedin (tickets here) and Christchurch (tickets here) on May 6th and 7th respectively for ONE night only.  Tickets go like hot cakes so get in quick!

This review can also be found on Keeping Up With NZ.

NZICF 2013: Terry Williams – The Grin Reaper

Terry Williams

Terry Williams explains to us that this is his first solo show in a few years but it sure doesn’t feel like it.  He takes to the stage like a seasoned pro and very quickly establishes a great rapport with his audience.

The Grin Reaper came to be when Terry read a study of places on earth with the longest life expectancy.  He tells us that over the course of the show we will learn how to add ten quality years to our life.  I was very pleased to know that “wine at 5pm” was one of the ways!

Like most if not all homegrown comedians, his set is tailored more towards a Kiwi audience but that said his style of anecdotal comedy is one that has great universal appeal.  His show is made up of a collection of short stories  most of which end with some of the best punchlines I’ve heard.

From the hilarious tale of his father confusing fellatio and focaccia to the time he battled gravity Matrix-style in a bid to save a mayonnaise jar, Terry’s superb comedic timing and innate ability to tell and build up a good story will have you hooked.  His stories are engaging, well written and just downright funny.

Terry Williams’ The Grin Reaper is an entertaining hour of sharp and witty comedy that will have you laughing and, if you paid attention, living longer.  It’s easy to overlook the locals with all the many international comics currently in town, but if you do want to check out some of our homegrown comedic talent, you can’t go wrong with this one!

The Whimsical Banana rates The Grin Reaper: 4/5 bananas!

Terry Williams is performing at Brooklyn Bar for two more nights – for tickets, click here.

NZICF 2013: Doctor Brown in Befrdfgth

Dr Brown in Befrdfgth

They say silence is golden and this could not ring truer with Doctor Brown’s befrdfgth – the name alone should spark enough curiosity to get a ticket!  This award-winning wordless show is one of the strangest most ridiculous theatrical acts I have ever seen.

The tension and anticipation that builds in the first ten minutes really foreshadows what is to come that is us, the audience, waiting with bated breath both in trepidation and excitement at what the cloaked wizard-esque Doctor Brown will do next.  The show starts off innocently enough – a sneaky bag-snatching and a playful game of tag with members of the audience.  We are lulled into a false sense of security that this is all the show is going to be about.

When the Doctor finally reveals himself we are thrown headfirst in to the rabbit hole, very much like Alice in Wonderland.  Through animated hand gestures and often comical facial expressions, Doctor Brown embodies a number of characters and we are transported to many odd places, each one getting weirder than the next.  It is not immediately clear what is happening, or what Doctor Brown is trying to tell us.  This is definitely a show that requires you to have an open mind and allow your imagination to run wild.

Doctor Brown challenges the boundaries of theatre and breaks the Fourth Wall as he runs around invading people’s personal space, clambering over audience members and even throwing personal items away (one was a reviewer’s notepad – glad it wasn’t mine!).  The whole theater becomes the stage and audience members become potential playthings or participants in the madness that unfolds.

It’s not easy holding an audience’s attention for a whole hour particularly without using words but Phil Burgers does this effortlessly and masterfully.  Stuart Bowden, the other performer on stage may only jump in intermittently and on cue but his natural aptitude with the humble ukulele provide the perfect soundtrack for this very bizarre anti-comedy.

Doctor Brown in befrdfgth is wonderfully weird, utterly unpredictable and absolutely hysterical!  A dark yet whimsical world of “absurdist mime” that every avid theatre goer must experience.

The Whimsical Banana rates Doctor Brown’s befrdfgth:  4/5 bananas!

Doctor Brown in befrdfgth is on for two more nights at the Herald Theatre – for tickets, click here.