NZICF 2014: My Top Picks!

NZICF 2014It’s that time of the year again for all us Kiwi comedy geeks – the New Zealand International Comedy Festival!  As I am on the other side of the world, sadly I will not be attending this year – my first in since forever! – but rest assured I will be supporting, reading reviews, tweeting, etc from afar.

Another top line up this year as to be expected with the usual suspects but also some new faces!  For those who are getting overwhelmed by all the shows that are on offer, here are my recommendations (in no particular order):

Chris Martin - NZICF 20141. Chris Martin

Chris’ warped perspective on many things in life and his great comedic sense is an excellent formula for a fantastic, laughs aplenty hour of comedy.

I went to his Edinburgh Fringe show last year and thoroughly enjoyed myself – check out my Broadway Baby review here.

Chris will be performing at the Loft at Q on 25 & 26 April and from 29 April to 3 May.  Click here for more details and to book tickets.

Markus Birdman - NZICF 20142. Markus Birdman

Markus is an extremely sharp and engaging comedian and a captivating raconteur.  His anecdotes are skillfully structured with pitch-perfect comedic timing and will have you in stitches.

Check out what I thought of this same show when I went to see it at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe here.

Markus is at The Classic on 25 & 26 April and from 28 April to 3 May.  He is then performing at the San Francisco Bath House in Wellington from 6 to 10 May before he’s off on a nationwide tour as part of the Comedy Convoy!  Click here for more details and to book tickets to his solo show.

Gordon Southern - NZICF 20143. Gordon Southern

Gordon is the best comedian to go see if you are after comedy that is witty, fast-paced, energetic and just so incredibly feel-good.

Last year’s show was such a joy to watch and one of my favorites from both last year’s festival and the Edinburgh Fringe – here’s my review of the latter show.

Gordon will be at The Vault at Q from 6 to 10 May and The Fringe Bar in Wellington from 13 to 17 May.  Click here for more details and to book tickets – also features my contributor The Laughing Kiwi’s review of this year’s show which is currently at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Jason Byrne - NZICF 20144. Jason Byrne

Jason is born to be on the stage and to do comedy – he is an absolute master at his craft.  His style of comedy is a little bit silly, very raucous and just bloody entertaining.

I was lucky enough to secure a review ticket to see his show – check out my Broadway Baby review here.

Jason is hosting the Comedy Gala on 24 April and then performing at the Rangatira at Q from 25 to 27 April – only three days so get in quick!  Click here for more details and to book tickets.

Marcel Lucont - NZICF 20145. Marcel Lucont

Everyone’s favorite Frenchman is back on NZ shores!  Sardonic, deliciously narcissistic and oh-so-dashing, Monsieur Lucont is a must-see.

The last solo show I attended was in 2012 when he was last in Auckland – read my review here.

Marcel will be gracing us with his presence at the Foxglove Ballroom in Wellington from 29 April to 3 May before his Auckland run in Rangatira at Q from 14 to 17 May.  Click here for more details and to book tickets.

James Acaster - NZICF 20146. James Acaster

James fast gained popularity during last year’s festival and all the buzz and rave reviews are true.  His material is sharp, witty and highly entertaining.

Here’s my review and if you need more convincing here is The Laughing Kiwi’s review who only just saw him at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

James will be at The Classic on 25 & 26 April and from 28 April to 5 May (not 4th).  His season sold out in a flash last year so get your tickets early!  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

Urzila Carlson - NZICF 20147. Urzila Carlson

Though she hails from South Africa, NZ has very much claimed her!  Urzila is extremely funny and a top notch comedian with a natural gift of the gab.

Check out what I thought of her show last year here.

Urzila is performing at the Rangatira at Q from 1-3 May and then at the San Francisco Bath House in Wellington from 6 to 10 May.  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

Dan Nightingale - NZICF 20148. Dan Nightingale

Dan’s affable nature and conversational style teamed with his hilarious stories and self-deprecating humor make for a genuinely enjoyable hour of comedy.

Here’s my review of the show he brought to last year’s festival.

Dan is performing at The Basement from 6 to 10 May and then at the Foxglove Ballroom in Wellington from 13 to 17 May.  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

Tom Binns - NZICF 20149. Tom Binns as Ian D. Montfort

For something a little different, Tom’s unique brand of “comedium” comedy is a good option.  He is a talented and adept performer and whether you are a believer or a skeptic, I daresay you will leave impressed.

I went to see him last year and was both thoroughly entertained and amazed – have a read here.

Tom as his alter ego Ian will be at the Foxglove Ballroom in Wellington from 6-10 May and then the Loft at Q from 13 to 17 May.  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

Stephen K Amos - NZICF 201410.  Stephen K Amos

Stephen is an accomplished veteran in the industry and if you haven’t already seen him, you should!  He is extremely good at what he does, garnering laughs effortlessly with his feel-good style of comedy.

Here is my review of last year’s show.

Stephen is at the Rangatira at Q on 25 & 26 April and from 29 April to 3 May before doing one show at The Opera House in Wellington on 4 May.  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

Other Recommendations!

While I have not had the pleasure of seeing him do a solo show I would also totally recommend Stuart Goldsmith.  I saw him at last year’s Comedy All Stars where he was compère and in the brief times he came on stage, he delivered some really good material.  I also got to see him host his critically acclaimed comedy podcast at the Edinburgh Fringe which was excellent – here’s my review.

If you want more bang for your buck, you can’t go wrong with ensemble shows as they are like the ideal comedic tasting platter!  I would definitely recommend the Comedy Gala; it is quite pricey but well worth it and will get you pumped for the coming weeks of laughs.  There is also the 5 Star Comedy Preview, the Comedy All Stars (this year there are two – #1 and #2) and The Big Show (in the CBD and at the BMC).

For something a little different, Le Comique is a fun variety comedy show that is a great option if you have more eclectic taste.  And finally, for that last comedy festival fix, Last Laughs is a fantastic way to end the festival on a high.

So there you go, my fellow Kiwis – my humble recommendations based on what I have gone to see and enjoyed.  Now get booking and get excited for (in my opinion) one of the best few weeks in New Zealand’s live entertainment calendar!

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Unwrapping Christmas in the BIG little City

Unwrapping Christmas

Calling all Aucklanders!  If you’re looking for some jolly festivities to get you in to the spirit of the silly season, Aotea Square is the place to be.

This year, The EDGE team up with BIG little City to bring us a fun and unique Christmas experience Auckland-style.  With an eclectic line up of street theatre, live music, art, dance and more there is something for everybody.  Here’s the best news: it’s all FREE.

Back again for the fourth year running is the fantastic Random Acts programme which continues its tradition of taking theatre to the people.  I checked out the acts over the weekend and was thoroughly entertained!

Pacific Me CityPacific Me City 2

I thought Pacific Me City was a very clever spin on a dance routine.  Presented by Ura Tabu Pacific Dance, the performance is essentially a mobile interweaving dance mob which takes the living statue mime act to a whole new level.  The performance is almost entirely interactive – it’s “success” is heavily dependent on audience participation.  Four performers strike a pose in front of four posts which read “…stand here for dance instructions”.  It does take a few rather awkward minutes of staring at these frozen performers before the crowd get what is going on but soon there were quite a number of people who were game to get an impromptu dance lesson.  I loved the Pacific twist to it as well as those bright and colorful costumes!

Twas the Night before ChristmasMy personal favorite was the charming and magical ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by The People Who Play With Theatre.  If you love fairy tales and appreciate performance which incorporate beautiful imagery and puppetry, this one’s for you.  Imagined and constructed by Auckland playwright, puppet-maker and performer Ben Anderson, this famous poem is quite literally brought to life with the set and performance space being a giant book!  With each turn of the page, the world unfolds in a pop-up fashion – this innovative storytelling technique is truly a visual spectacle and engaging experience.

Comic Interludes

I was drawn to the re-styled truck which doubles as a mobile stage at the edge of the Square so I had high expectations for Comic Interludes, a masked street theatre show inspired by Renaissance European acting troupes and circus.  While I enjoyed the energy and comedic antics of the LAB Theatre performers, the actual story left me a little cold.  The story was easy enough to follow, it just didn’t have a “hook”.  Judging by the dwindling audience, I think the over-the-top mayhem became a little off-putting to some.  It’s a mighty shame because they are a talented ensemble and they effortlessly drew the crowd in at the start, they just weren’t able to capture the people’s attention for the entirety of the show.

Unsung Heroes

If you’re not just popping by on a flying visit and plan to spend the afternoon enjoying everything Unwrapping Christmas has to offer (highly recommended!), you will no doubt come across the mischievous trio known as the White Face Crew interacting with passers-by as part of their Unsung Heroes act.  From entertaining short skits to spontaneous gags to coming at you with sunblock inviting you to “slip, slop, slap”, this cheeky characters will have you hooked with their silly antics, clowning and physical theatre.

Tango de Construct

Tango de Construct 2

Geoff Gilson of Beautiful Sake Productions and tango partner Victoria Szerdi will transport you to the vibrant streets of Buenos Aires with their sensuous Tango De Construct pop up dance performance.  Once they hit the dance floor, I couldn’t take my eyes off them – they glide across the “stage” so effortlessly and with such grace and skill.  For those keen to have a go, you’re in luck!  This year there is a new offering called Bandstand Under the Stars which gives you the opportunity to not only watch different styles of dance but to learn firsthand from the performers themselves.

Moving Canvas, a dynamic and colorful display of live body art is the last act in the Random Acts programme but which I have yet to see as unfortunately they weren’t performing on the day I was there.  It does sound very intriguing though so I am planning on popping down this Sunday to check them out.

Unwrapping Christmas - Aotea Square

Overall it was an extremely fun and fabulous day out in the BIG little City and one I would recommend to anyone – young, old, theatre lover or not – there is a whole array of activities on offer to keep everyone entertained.  And if somehow nothing tickles your fancy, pop down anyway for a drink and bite to eat, or a sunbake on the deck chairs – better than staying cooped up at home, at any rate!  We may not have a White Christmas but this wonderful Unwrapping Christmas programme proves that a Southern Hemisphere Christmas can be magical too!

Unwrapping Christmas is running until the 21st December at Aotea Square.  Below is when the Random Acts are on but for the full programme which includes Bandstand Under the Stars, Christmas Markets and an excellent Live at Lunch line up, click here.

Unwrapping Christmas - Random Acts programme

Jason Mraz: You Are Loved, November 15th 2011

He sings with so much heart and soul, he scats effortlessly, he plays the guitar like a boss (especially considering he is self-taught!), he writes his own songs, he raps like a pro and even sings opera – is there anything Jason Mraz can’t do?

About 3 weeks ago, I attended his concert – or more appropriately called, his “acoustic evening” – at the Civic and that was easily the BEST thing I did all year.

I have been a fan for a long time (from the beginning), and I had been hoping and waiting for YEARS for him to come this way for a gig.  I was beyond ecstatic when I found out he was coming; I purchased my tickets TWO MONTHS prior on day one of the fan pre-sale – which resulted in (I thought) the best seats in the house 🙂  Not only was I mere feet away from the stage but I was clever and lucky enough to have picked seats that were right smack bang in front of the mic!

I have watched some of his performances online but nothing could honestly prepare me for what I was about to experience on the night.  He is already ‘aMRAZing’ as a recording artist but he is absolutely phenomenal live.  Completely different energy and his voice almost takes on a whole different persona.  One of his trademarks is that he is very improvisational with his performance; he has said many a time in interviews that he rarely performs the same song the same way more than once.  And this is so true.  Even though many of the songs were tracks I had heard a million times, it was like I was listening to them for the first time.

From start to finish, I was completely mesmerized.  What made the experience that much better was how he engaged with the crowd – he is very charming in real life!  He had some really funny stories to tell but also heartfelt words of inspiration to share.  I also loved all the audience participation bits – quite an integral part to the overall evening.  He has said in an interview that when he performs live it’s not about people coming to stare at him for 2 hours but it’s about everyone coming together to enjoy the music and participating in the experience.  To me, that speaks a lot about him as an artist and really just makes me love and respect him even more!  I think it is this perspective that he has that explains why he also incorporates other singer’s songs in his performance which I think is so refreshing.

I definitely, totally fell in love with him even more after watching him live ❤  The only thing I wished was that he wasn’t sporting the long hair and was wearing his trademark fedora!  He’s still incredibly cute though, and just such a down-to-earth and genuine person.

I have been listening to his music non-stop since then and watching countless videos of his other live performances all over the world and I just cannot get enough of him!!  He truly has a remarkable gift – he has such a beautiful character and tone to his voice and I think what’s even more appealing than that is just the way his songs tell a story.  He is such a fantastic lyricist; the way he expresses himself through song is a breath of fresh air – he is so clever and sometimes whimsical with his words.  His songs are all full of meaning, heart and soul and even though he is singing to a crowd of hundreds or thousands he has this uncanny, amazing ability to perform as if he was singing to only you.  And I have to say he has some crazy breathing skills; how he gets out so many words in one breath (and so succintly too!) is beyond me.

I must also mention the extremely talented Toca Rivera, Jason’s percussionist/right-hand-man who is a star in his own right, in my opinion.  His vocals perfectly complement Jason’s and don’t get me started on how he works his magic with all the percussion instruments he has at his disposal!  During the few times I wasn’t so busy staring at Jason, I was completely sucked in to Toca in action.

I didn’t record any videos myself because I just wanted to fully enjoy the evening without getting distracted, but thanks to Youtube there are quite a number out there and I’m going to share some of them here – because I don’t think my words can really justify how amazing he is!  There were, of course, SO MANY to choose from – I knew I couldn’t put them all here so I’ve picked the better quality ones and (hopefully) a good mix of tunes.  If these whet your Mraz appetite then go check out the other performances on Youtube, they’re not difficult to find.

In this one he talks about why he says “water” the way he does, hehe – he’s so adorable ❤

*Thanks to sienetta for the video

When this happened, I pretty much died of jealousy right there and then – no doubt every girl in the crowd was completely jealous of Esther!  Even now after the fact, every time I watch this video I get so sick to my stomach with jealousy!  I hope I am fortunate enough to get to sing a duet with him one day…a girl can hope!

*Thanks to j9broom for the video

This song leaves me so gobsmacked each time.  His range is mind-blowing – not only can he go really low but to be able to go operatic as he does here is just incredible. I also love the words behind the song too – one of my faves, in terms of the lyrics.

(Whoever keeps laughing in the background is really irritating though!)

*Thanks to sienetta for the video

Some of you may have heard this song on the radio – apart from his “hit singles” this would be another familiar song to the non-Mraz-fan ear because he won a Grammy for this song a couple of years back.  I think it has a very interesting beat to it, always makes me feel happy when I listen to it!

*Thanks to TheFletcherStewart for the video

This is one of my fave up-tempo tracks from him – I can’t get over how dirty the song is though, LOL.  I love the scatting he does in this performance, and the guitar lick at the beginning is freaking wicked!!

*Thanks to GriefHammer for the video

A new track which I hope will make it onto his next album!!  I love the guitar riff in this track and the harmonies between him and Toca are beautiful!  The lyrics are really interesting too if you listen closely.

*Thanks to sienetta for the video

And finally, I will leave you with the song he is best known for, with a little bit extra at the end!

*Thanks to kangta164 for the video

Thank you, Jason Mraz, for coming to New Zealand.  You changed my life that night – something you said near the end really spoke to me and changed my entire perspective on life.  So thank you!!  I can only hope I will be fortunate enough to watch you perform live again.

YOU ARE LOVED, JASON ❤

Mamak has FINALLY arrived in NZ!!

In Malaysia, the term “mamak” refers to the Tamil Muslims of Malaysian nationality.  Mamak stalls are popular among Malaysians as hang out spots, serving Malaysian street food and beverages. [taken from the menu at Mamak @ Chancery]

When I first heard that someone had finally been crazy smart brave enough to open up Auckland’s very first mamak, I was surprised (at first) but this was quickly replaced by elation and excitement.  About bloody time!

Simply named “Mamak“, this quaint little eatery is tucked away at a corner in the very chic Chancery courtyard just off High Street.  My first thought was that this was an interesting, slightly strange location to choose to open a mamak.  Definitely worlds away from where most, if not all, mamaks are located back home!

The pretty fairy lights, bright and inviting ambiance, along with the friendly beckoning staff all create a very welcoming atmosphere and definitely great first impression.  The writing on the walls which bear typical “mamak speak” (in Malay, with accompanying English translation) instantly makes any Malaysian feel at home, but at the same time give non-Malaysians a glimpse into Malaysian culture, or at least the mamak culture.

The excitement and expectations were definitely mounting and considering how many various Malaysian cafes/restaurants/eateries I have eaten in in the 8 years that I have been living here, I was really curious to see how this “newbie” will stack up, and stand out.

The hosts/staff were incredibly hospitable and warm – they greeted us immediately on arrival and they seemed genuinely happy to have us; it felt more like being welcomed at a friend’s house, which I liked.  Anyone who frequents Asian eating places knows that this does not happen often!

The menu boasts a good variety of tasty, well-known Malaysian delicacies – all mamak-influenced, of course.  What I thought was pretty cool was the menu was divided into two – Mamak tapas and Mains.  It’s interesting that tapas as we all know originates from Spain but these days every other cuisine has its own localized version of tapas.  I thought having the menu worded in this “Western-friendly” format was a good move for the non-Malaysian customers.

Back to the food – there was just so much to choose from!  There were the usual “goodies” on offer – nasi lemak, mee goreng, nasi goreng, beef rendang – but then there were also SEVEN types of roti available – all homemade – including roti pisang and roti tissue!!  Plus murtabak (onion omelette), which I’ve never seen served anywhere else.  And satay…yum!  After salivating for a bit, I finally decided on sticking to the basics and went for the nasi lemak.  And to wash it all down – teh tarik…again, YUM!  I have an unofficial rule of thumb when it comes to ordering for the first time at a new restaurant, specifically a Malaysian one; I believe that the mark of a good Malaysian restaurant (overseas) is if they can get the “classics” right.  Dad decided to try the original roti canai, and Mum picked mee goreng.  So we had a good variety to taste test!

While we waited for our food to arrive, the host entertained us with talk about what they had planned for the restaurant, namely what new dishes were going to be rolled out in the coming weeks.  Very ambitious and very optimistic considering it’s still early days but I say good on him!  As the chatter progressed to discussing ways to generate more business/traffic to his door and then unavoidably to which part of Malaysia we were from before we came to Auckland, the wonderful aroma of our dinner came wafting through the kitchen, dining area, and to where we were sitting (we were outside).  If the smells were anything to go by, this was gonna be one satisfying meal!

Food arrived in under 20 minutes which is pretty decent timing (not too long in that you’re getting impatient, and not too quick so much so that you suspect food is just being microwaved and not cooked fresh).

VERDICT: AMAZING!!!  My nasi lemak was excellent – chicken curry was cooked to perfection and the rice had just the right amount of coconut in it.  Sambal was a wee bit on the spicy side, but then I like spicy!  Roti canai could have been crispier but considering it’s homemade – hats off to the chef!  The accompanying fish curry and dahl to dip the roti in was delicious – very authentic!  Loved that they served it in those silver tin trays, just like at the real mamaks back home.  Mee goreng was also top notch – just the right amount of spice and ‘tomato-ey-ness’.  Mee goreng is one of my all-time favorite Malaysian dishes and so I order it the most often when dining at a Malaysian restaurant.  I have never had a bad mee goreng, all Malaysian restaurants seem to know how to get it right, but this one is definitely one of the better ones I’ve tasted.

All in all, it was a super tasty dinner and a great dining experience – I will definitely be returning!  If you are Malaysian, or if you are not a Malaysian but love Malaysian food, then Mamak at Chancery is a must visit!  They are located at Unit 21, Chancery Court –  just off High Street in the courtyard where Invito and Mecca Cafe are.  I truly hope this very unique Malaysian eatery – Auckland’s first mamak, no less – will have a long and prosperous life!

Whimsical Banana rates Mamak @ Chancery: 4/5 Bananas!

Excellent and authentic Malaysian mamak food, warm and efficient service, inviting and cozy ambiance.  It loses 1 banana for being slightly over-priced (most mains are about $12) but that’s understandable considering the location.  Another downside is there aren’t any desserts!  What can I say, I’m a sucker for something sweet at the end of a meal.  Bring on the cendol and ais kacang! *hint hint*