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Turn that frown upside down

By Jarrod 28 Apr 2016

Each year, the Wellington leg of the NZ International Comedy Festival kicks off with First Laughs – our own untelevised version of the Comedy Gala, taking place at the venerable old Opera House. It’s a great taster for what lies ahead – even if the sheer scale of the show can make it seem like a marathon at times.

The 2016 edition was particularly good – despite boasting 16 performers (17, including host Rhys Darby), the evening fairly flew by, even though the show was almost 3 hours long.

First up was local (well, Auckland) comedian Jamie Bowen, taking us from particle physics to a less high-brow topic via an international travelogue – definitely a show to look out for if you like your comedy to range from the cerebral to the smutty. He was followed by laconic Welshman Lloyd Langford, whose quick wit belies his glacial delivery.

Up next was perennial favourite Urzila Carlson, with some advice on how you can best help out any lesbian couples of your acquaintance – then local up-and comer Nik Bruce-Smith had his turn in the spotlight, expounding on his youthful love of the humble shandy.

Canadian Ron Josol had the crowd roaring, before Guy Montgomery (of The Worst Idea of All Time fame) took us through an extended and hilarious deconstruction of a hack joke topic. Rounding out the first half were Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, with some harsh words to say about Whakatane, and Wilson Dixon, with what may have been the direct opposite of a love song.

The UK’s Angela Barnes started the second half with a top-notch Oscar Pistorius gag, then Daniel John Smith – in his First Laughs debut – spent his set ensuring that everyone in the audience would definitely remember his name. Next, Ben Hurley put complaints about Te Reo on the TV in perspective, before Ireland’s Lords of Strut brought the house down with their unique brand of comedy contortionism.

It fell to Jimmy McGhie to follow the dynamic duo – and while he couldn’t compete with them in energy, he won the audience over with his quiet wit and his guide on how to tell if someone was genuinely posh. Then it was time to welcome Rose Matafeo back to Wellington after a long absence (too long!) to find she’s as razor-sharp as ever.

Penultimate act of the night – and managing to be a highlight in a very talented field – was deadpan “French” wit Marcel Lucont, whose poetic ode to lovemaking in the twilight years reached truly epic heights. Finally, the UK’s James Acaster was an exceptional closer, with a paean to a truly New Zealand turn of phrase that no doubt endeared him even further to New Zealand audiences. 

All in all, 2016’s First Laughs was a pretty great night of comedy – and an excellent omen for the Festival ahead of us.

Top picks

Apart from all the shows of all the acts mentioned above, here are a few more acts well worth getting along to: 

Week One

Week Two

Week Three

Also, make sure you check out this year’s Billy T Nominees. They’re looking to be a particularly fine crop - especially Wellington's representative, Alice Brine.

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