Friday, May 12, 2017

Tessa Waters Over Promises

The Comedy Festival Greatest Hits rolls on, and for part two of Wednesday night’s entertainment, we went to see Tessa Waters Over Promises. Last year, we saw Tessa on a windswept, rainy night at the Fringe Bar, in the company of maybe a dozen other people. Tonight, however, she was at the Propeller Stage in the BATS Theatre, and it was fully booked.

One of the features of Tessa’s shows is audience participation. To prepare ourselves fully, we selected seats in mid-row, where we were unlikely to be called out and onto the stage. Sure enough, she restricted her victims to front- and second-row audience members, and those on the ends of the rows. Phew! No need to get up and waltz this time!

Her show followed a similar format to last time, but with new moves: a mix of comedy, dance, exercise, and mime. She got an audience member to mime throwing her some mime hula hoops, then mimed hula hooping. This is actually funnier than it sounds. In fact, the whole show had us in stitches. At the end, she got everyone to shout out body parts for her to do a dance with, then put the whole thing together into one ensemble dance…then got everyone to stand up and do the dance with her. There’s just no getting away from that audience participation.

It is a bizarre performance, but it’s also very uplifting and feelgood. I don’t think she over promises at all.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hand To God

We’re doubling up on the entertainment tonight, with a double bill starting at 6:30 at Circa Theatre and a performance of Hand To God, followed by another of NZ Comedy Festival’s Greatest Hits, a return to see what Tessa Waters has been up to in the year since we saw her last.

The first item to be dealt with was, of course, dinner. With an early start we couldn’t go anywhere too swanky, so decided to go to for a curry at Great India. We haven’t been there for a while and they’re a reliable all-purpose Indian restaurant.

Hand To God is a puppet show. Wait, what? Didn’t you just go to a puppet show? Why yes we did, and thank you for remembering. That was a ventriloquism show, though, whereas this is more a glove puppet show – like the muppets. But not like the muppets, in that the content is considerably darker. And it’s on during the comedy festival. Indeed, it is advertised on the comedy festival’s website as a show to go and see. So we went.

Hand To God isn’t a comedy show. OK, it has its blackly comedic moments, but mostly it’s a show about death, grief, coming of age, child abuse and religion. With puppets. Sounds like a bundle of laughs!

The action centres on a puppet club in the basement of a church in a small town in Texas. These are a thing in America, apparently. Americans are weird. Margery, recently widowed, has been asked to run the puppet club, whose members include her son, Jason. His puppet, Tyrone, becomes possessed by the devil, and high jinks ensue. The puppet says the things that Jason can’t say, to the girl he fancies in the club, to his mother, and to club delinquent Timothy. Jason tries to “kill” the puppet, but it comes back to life, and it’s not until he’s dealt with his feelings about his mother that he can finally remove the puppet from his hand. As I said, it’s not a comedy.

Monday, May 8, 2017

No One Puts Briney In The Corner

We do seem to be repeating ourselves a bit this year with the comedy festival. It’s a bit of a NZ Comedy Festival Greatest Hits, with artists that we’ve liked from previous years. So far we’ve seen Paco Erhard and Alice Brine, and later we’re seeing Tessa Waters and Penny Ashton. We will manage to see some new stuff, honestly (not least, Mr. & Mrs. Alexander earlier in April).

Alice Brine has come up in the world since we saw her last year and has now appeared on Seven Days, New Zealand’s topical news quiz, a couple of times – definitely a sign that you’ve arrived. Her new show has moved down from the upstairs Dome, where we saw her last year, to the main Propeller stage.

First up, a spot of dinner. We decided to visit our friends in Vista as we’ve not been there for dinner for a long while (we usually patronise them at the weekend for lunch). They do a short menu of well-cooked bistro-style food.

Alice Brine’s show, Nobody Puts Briney In The Corner, starts with a short film in which her face is superimposed on that of Jennifer Grey from Dirty Dancing, and also some shots of her trying (and failing) to perform some of the moves from the film.

And then we’re into the show proper. Alice introduced us to the three main events in her life since we saw her last: moving to Auckland (she’s a Hutt girl originally), an associated change in her relationship status to single, and Becoming A Feminist. She became a feminist by accident last year, when a Facebook post she wrote “went viral” as the marketing kids say. That is, it was shared many times over and reached a much wider audience than she was expecting. This led to her gaining a lot of followers who, no doubt, expected more of the same from her.

This was the status:

Alice has spent the best part of a year trying to live up to expectations so that she could use this material in her show…with some varying results. She detailed these to us in, er, detail. And as last time, she had us in stitches with her pithy observations of human behaviour. Especially her own. Everything from asking for permission on a Women’s March, free toilet roll and some distinctly sketchy dating decisions get the treatment. And for the final instalment, treatment was definitely needed.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

How To Be German

Yes, the comedy festival is back, and with it, our favourite German comedian (it’s quite a small field here in New Zealand), Paco Erhard. Paco, you may remember, was the Worst. German. Ever. in 2015, and now he’s back with a new show in which he promises “I can make you German” in five easy steps. This may not have been a state of affairs to which I’d previously aspired, but what the hell, I thought I’d give it a go.

First, of course, dinner. I’d tried to book St John’s Bar via their online booking system, but it insisted that they had no tables at 5:30 and 6:00pm, so I abandoned that idea, and instead we went to Cuba Street fave, Plum CafĂ©. We’d not been there in a while and I had an outstanding Entertainment book offer burning a hole in my phone, so that was my next choice. OK, it’s a short walk to the venue from Cuba Street, but nothing we can’t manage, even on a wind- and rainswept Wellington evening. They did a very nice pork belly with Israeli couscous, washed down with a Martinborough Riesling.

We crossed over to The Boatshed for the evening’s entertainment. Not normally open to the public, the venue was set up with a marquee atop the building, which was serving wine, beer and pizza. This was a “holding pen” for the audience before the doors were opened just before 7pm and we were able to take our seats in the top-floor room of the rowing club. The venue is normally used for weddings, functions and corporate events, but tonight was set out with theatre-style rows of seats. Given the space available and the number of tickets sold they could have set it up with tables and chairs, but hey…nitpicking.

Paco came on stage shortly after 7:00pm, and proceeded to inform us about the first step to being German: punctuality! His show is an exploration of all things German, other nationalities, and the difficulties of admitting to being German when meeting, for example, anyone Jewish. He asked if any Germans in the audience could raise their hands (“No! Not like that!”), and finding a token English person in the audience to be the foil for all his English jokes. Some of the material was the same or similar to when we saw him two years ago, but he’s expanded his repertoire a bit further. He covered some of the same stories about his schooling, learning about the Holocaust in history lessons, maths lessons, geography lessons…

There aren’t really five steps to becoming German, because we all start from different places, and anyway, which type of German do you want to be? He detailed several stereotypes, both as experienced by the world outside Germany, and those experienced by other Germans inside Germany, of which we may have been less aware. His show was longer this time around, but he is going to need some new material at some point to progress up the comedy ladder. We all left feeling slightly more German than when we’d entered, apart from maybe the Germans, who probably felt more smug.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Outside Looking In

The New Zealand comedy festival didn’t officially start until 29th April. However, some acts are here as part of it and have scheduled their runs to coincide at least in part, with the comedy festival. One such act is Ed Byrne, here to perform his Outside Looking In tour.

Autumn has definitely arrived in Wellington now, and it was a windy and damp evening as we trotted along to Wellington’s second-best seafood restaurant, Shed 5. Whether it is first, second or third best depends really on how you rank Whitebait and Ortega, but this is where I put it. Second-best in Wellington is still pretty good, however. We had scallops and calamari to start with, followed by the risotto and snapper. All dishes cooked excellently, and we had neither the time nor the inclination to stay for a pudding before heading off to the Opera House for a 7:30pm start.

We were there in plenty of time…and yet the doors weren’t open. What was going on? No explanation from Opera House staff was forthcoming, as they opened the doors with about 5 minutes to spare. We took our seats, and then waited, and waited. Finally, at around 7:45, Ed Byrne came on stage, and apologised for keeping us waiting. Apparently his flight had got all the way to Wellington before the driver decided that the weather was too dodgy to land, and so…flew back to Auckland. After a wait for another flight, he finally made it on the second go round at a landing, and hared it over to the Opera House. I’m assuming he probably stopped for a breather before coming on stage. Anyway, that’s the story he told us, and I have no reason to suspect that he’s lying.

He then gave us the rest of his show. Observations on his life, really, in the way that comedians do, with quite a long section on diarrhoea, and things that people had said that made them too stupid to stay in a relationship with. “Clear left” is the one that sticks out in my mind. Also obligatory is the comedic gold provided by children, six and four (“we’re not big on names in the Byrne household”). He also gave us a long and involved story about a corporate gig he once did, where he walked off “to the sound of my own feet”. Feet were also the subject of the finale of the show, which revolved around his son’s choice of trainers and the imposition of another parent’s values at kindergarten, and how that was resolved.

The show doesn’t have the theme or structure of an Izzard or a Bailey show. It was funny, but you have to strain to remember why, exactly. Although I laughed like a drain, it’s not quotably funny.

It also wasn’t hugely long, with no encore, so we were out and home by around ten. I switched on the telly to watch Seven Days on +1, and saw…Ed Byrne on the panel. This was followed by First Laughs, hosted by Urzila Carlson, and featuring…Ed Byrne. Fortunately, not doing a routine from the show, so a little extra bonus there.

Saturday, April 29, 2017


What’s the secret to good comedy?


Timing is everything. Nicola’s sister, Sacha, and husband Paul, are touring New Zealand in a camper van in April. They’d planned to visit us in Wellington on the weekend of 22/23 April. Unfortunately, Saturday 22nd April is also the date of the New Zealand Sweet Adelines Convention, to be held this year in Dunedin, which Nicola is committed to attend.

Not wanting to miss out on seeing her sister, therefore, we decided to head down to Queenstown at Easter and see them on their tours there. Serendipitously, niece Ishbel was also planning to be in New Zealand visiting other niece Eli, who is here for a year on a working visa. Hope you’re following this? Good. They also planned to be in Queenstown for Easter, so we could all meet up for a couple of days and do whatever there is to do in Queenstown.

We flew down on Maundy Thursday and arranged to meet up. We’d arrived first, so we had a quick lunch at Pier 19 and awaited their arrival. Once they were all ensconced in their camper van site, we met up and had a wander around town. Whilst the weather wasn’t the finest, the rain appeared to be holding off so we went for a walk through the Queenstown Gardens park, then headed back into town. We went to the Pub On Wharf – a Mac’s pub, unsurprisingly located on the wharf – for a pre-dinner drink before going to Jervois Steak House (“JSH”) for dinner.

JSH is a Nourish Group restaurant, and therefore we expected a high standard. Whilst primarily a steak house, it catered for all tastes, and everyone got what they wanted from salads to fish to steak. The waitress had explained in detail what steaks were on offer, from the marbled wagyu to the locally-produced grass-fed wakanui. After hearing her sales pitch,  I wet for the wakanui sirloin rather than my usual choice of fillet. And it was great, as was everyone else’s dinners. So thumbs up to JSH from us.

After dinner we headed back to our vans and hotels, as we were up early the next morning to go white water rafting on the Shotover river.

We met up at the Queenstown Rafting shop on Shotover street at 8:00am, and were then driven the short distance out of town to the lower end of the Shotover river, i.e. the point at which we would end up. We were then equipped with wetsuit, surf boots, jacket, waterproof, life jacket and helmets, and boarded our bus to take us to the top of the river. The bus goes along Skippers Road, an ancient and treacherous way up the gorge, unsealed and narrow. Whilst towing a trailer loaded with inflatable boats. Presumably they must have some system of regulating the traffic along the road, as there’s no way to pass if you meet something head-on – one of you is going to have to reverse several miles until you get to a wide space on the road.

This portion of the drive lasted around 45 minutes, and took us to our jumping-off point. We were given another safety briefing, what to do if we exited the boat at any point, and what to do if the boat turned over on us. This is the last point at which you can back out of the tour…once you’re on the water there’s no turning back or saying “I want to get off”.

We were allocated a guide – in our case, Chief, who we’d had the privilege of rowing with when we went down the Kawarau four years ago. He didn’t recognise us. Ishbel and Eli went up the front, Paul and I took the middle, and Nicola and Sacha had the rear of the boat.

Last time when we'd done the Kawarau, Chief had berated us for "not being real kiwis" for not doing the Shotover. The river does have a higher grade - some of the rapids are graded 4/5, and 5 is where you really want to be experienced in doing this kind of stuff. But the conditions were OK for us - in fact, there'd been so little rain recently that the water flow was getting to dangerously slow levels and if it hadn't started raining a couple of days beforehand, they were seriously thinking about cancelling trips. Fortunately, the flow was back up after the rains, but the water was turbid due to the rainfall, instead of its normal crystal clarity.

Chief was clear in his instructions, rehearsing us on commands whilst we were in the calmer areas, and then we were doing it for real. After a couple of hair-raising rapids, we came over one particular fall, and then were caught in an eddy and couldn't escape! Eventually, we managed to get enough horsepower to break free and carry on down.

At the end, we went through the Oxenbridge Tunnel (literally - a 170 metre tunnel through the rock) and then down the final fall, the biggest of them all. Chief had forewarned us, though, and when he shouted "Get down!" we got as down as we possibly could into the boat. the force of the drop is such that the entire boat gets pushed underwater, and you along with it! However, we surfaced quickly and the boat drains itself, and we finished up on the shore.

Going under water!
After helping stack the boats back on the trailer, we went through the dressing process in reverse, rinsing our gear and then heading for a hot shower and a hot drink. The bus ride back into town was only 10 minutes, and we then queued for an hour or so to get a Fergburger.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Cosmic Shambles

Cosmic Shambles is the name that Robin Ince gives to his show, currently touring Australia and New Zealand, in which he gathers together scientists, comedians, and musicians, both local and imported, and puts on a collection of stories and demonstrations. Each performer gets a slot of around 15 minutes, and other than that, it’s anything goes, really.

We met up in Courtenay Place at the Bangalore Polo Club for some dinner beforehand. The food was fairly standard pub grub, washed down with a beer or cocktail.

The show started at 7:00pm, as there’s quite a lot to get through. At the beginning there’s a short film starring the puppets of Brian Cox and Robin Ince discussing science things. Brian Cox is far too famous and busy doing television in the UK to come on tour, so this was a substitute for that. Brian and Robin go way back, though, having presented The Infinite Monkey Cage since 2009. The rest of the cast were:   

Robin Ince (puppet)
Brian Cox (puppet)
Robin Ince – comedian/mc
Josie Long – comedian
Helen Czerski – bubble scientist
Lucie Green – solar scientist 
Matt Parker – mathematician
Nation – music
Michelle Dickinson – nanotechnologist
Siouxsie Wiles – microbiologist
James Nokise – comedian
Shaun Hendy – physicist
Matt Stellingwerf – comedian
Jon Toogood – music

After an introduction from Robin, he introduced the first live guest, Josie Long, who undertook the first experiment of the night. This was based around “what do ghosts eat? Spook-etti”, a joke from a Christmas cracker. This involved opening two tins of spaghetti, leaving one for the ghost, and Robin Ince eating the other (cold, natch), whilst leaving the third unopened as a control. This proved absolutely nothing, but was much funnier than described here.

After that, each act came on individually, and did their bit. Matt Parker, a mad Australian mathematician, demonstrated how to calculate pi with pies in several different ways, and also explained how pi, and indeed pie, gets into everything. The main event was using a pi-endulum to calculate pi with a little help from an audience member.

Siouxsie Wiles gave a convincing, and quite frightening, demonstration of how we’re all going to die, as antibiotics fail to overcome bacteria. The end is nigh. You heard it here secondhand.

At the end of the first half, local band Nation gave us some tunes. They seemed to be channelling the Eighties in a Go West, Love And Money style…all they needed was a sax to complete the picture.

The second half included a very interesting discussion of bubbles from Helen Czerki, including how penguins use them to avoid leopard seals and get out of the water. Nanotechnologist Michelle Dickinson gave a live demonstration of the effect of cold on various materials, and how this led to the space shuttle Challenger exploding 73 seconds after launching, in 1986. Using liquid nitrogen to cool down metals, and showing scant regard for elf-and-safety along the way, she showed how the metal reacted at low temperatures.

The final musical interlude of the evening was Jon Toogood, singer from Shihad, (world famous in New Zealand since ages ago) who gave us an acoustic set to finish with. Robin Ince then wrapped up the show and we all staggered out into the night.