The grand finals of the Wellington heats of the Raw Comedy Quest saw eight budding stand-up comedians compete for two places in the national finals in Auckland. This is no longer the sympathetic and supportive audience of The Fringe Bar; this is the San Francisco Bathhouse, and the audience, while all there for a good time, are far less forgiving. Nevertheless, through charm, storytelling, clever liners, bad puns, or sheer force of personality, the eight competitors all made an impressive impact.
Ben Stokes won over every Mum in the room within seconds, and won over everyone else as soon as he acknowledged his “British punch-ibility.” The plight of the posh teen at a R&V was genuinely entertaining, and felt uncontrived. It made me proud to be in his generation.
Holly Gooch explored the concept of ‘shame’, and the way children use it as a putdown. Her gentle style, while genuinely charming, doesn’t quite suit a crowd with a couple of beers in them.
Rick Threlfo mused on the ironies of ‘The Complete Idiots Guide To…’ books and commented on life in an open plan office, and did it all with an Australian accent. He is a torchbearer of the straight talking logic one can expect from someone in a tweed jacket.
The sort of guy you’d like to have a beer with, Adam Wright admits his anxieties about doctor’s visits and embarrassing bodies.
Josh Franklin, the champion of snakeskin trousers, explains his drunken insights into quantum mechanics and tells us how to negotiate being beaten up in Whangarei. He walks an interesting line between pity and humour; something he could certainly explore more. He also gets the best line of the night: “I’m not actually a comedian, I’m a student. I’m up here cause I couldn’t afford the door charge.”
Roni Saul is a clear pro in the making. Bursting onto the stage with Scottish bravado, she makes us forget there are seven other people doing stand-up tonight. A joyous, self-described “giant Asian toddler,” she explores being slightly large at a gym. One to watch.
Kent Lambert has developed an intriguing character: a softly spoken Zach Galifianakis-style gentle giant musing on an 11-year-old discovering masturbation. His cautious and placid manner needs a little confidence to put his audience at ease.
Hadlet Donaldson had the difficult task of rounding off the evening. Mind blanks and heckles didn’t help, but a story about a grown man at a Katy Perry concert pushes him into realms of creepy the audience wasn’t ready for.
MC Jamie Bowen holds the evening together with practiced ease, and works hard keeping the mood supportive. As beginner comedians, the audience can start to see where individuals thrive, and the performers are learning what is and isn’t funny. A common tendency across too many performers (including the evenings MC), is to confuse comedy with vulgarity. Rape, racism, sexism, homophobia, and swearing are easy but lazy laughs, and tonight’s performers are too intelligent to be relying on shock tactics. However, as Jamie Bowen acknowledges, there is no one who performed tonight we wouldn’t happily see more of (after a little practice). Tonight’s clear winners were Ben Stokes and Roni Saul, both of whom clearly earned their place in the finals in Auckland.