The challenging and unpredictable medium of stand-up comedy grew increasingly popular from around 2000.
As early as 1982 Bill McGechie (later Willy de Wit), Scott Blanks and others had performed weekly live stand-up shows in an Auckland pub. In 1997 Blanks opened the Classic Comedy Club in Auckland’s Queen Street as New Zealand’s first dedicated stand-up venue. Many would-be comedians cut their teeth at ‘the Classic’, including Rhys Darby, later to find international fame with Flight of the Conchords.
Well-known New Zealand stand-up performers include Mike King, Michèle A’Court, Ewen Gilmour, Philip Patston, Pinky Agnew, Raybon Kan, the Laughing Samoans (Eteuati Ete and Tofiga Fepulea’i) and Jacob Rajan.
Since 1995 an annual International Comedy Festival in New Zealand has showcased local and international stand-up.
Kiwi comedy catchphrases
One of the highest tributes a comedy act can receive is to have one of its catchphrases adopted by the public. Here are some of the Kiwi examples:
Fred Dagg: ‘Get in behind!’ (1970s)
McPhail and Gadsby’s A week of it: ‘Jeez, Wayne!’ (late 1970s)
bro’Town: ‘Shut up palagi!’ (2000s)
Flight of the Conchords: ‘It’s business time.’ (2000s)
A Listener reviewer described New Zealand television comedy in 2009 as ‘sometimes oxymoronic but mostly just moronic’.1 However, the most successful shows, such as the animated series bro’Town and The Jaquie Brown diaries (fronted by a celebrity-obsessed television reporter), have been critically acclaimed in New Zealand and overseas as hilarious and alarmingly true to life.
Flight of the Conchords
By 2012 Flight of the Conchords (Wellingtonians Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie) were arguably New Zealand’s most successful television comedians. They began with a live show in 2000 playing a pair of terminally uncool folk singers. They took this act to Europe and made an award-winning BBC radio series in 2004.
A television series, based on the duo’s efforts to find success in New York City, began screening in the US in 2007 and won them an international cult following. They appeared on the animated television comedy The Simpsons in 2010. Their appeal relies on their small-town naiveté in a sophisticated world. When asked if they’ve ever had a threesome, one earnestly replies, ‘Well, I’ve had some twosomes and lots of onesomes.’
Humour from the outpost
Taika Waititi has said of his film Boy: ‘It’s colonial outpost humour: you’ve just got to laugh at awkward, crazy, painful stuff when you’ve been banished to the nether regions of the globe. Māori humour is quite self-deprecating … It is more true to life to see humour among really upsetting situations – laughing and crying at the same time – dealing with things by trying to see the flipside.’2
Since 2000 a string of New Zealand movies have used humour to great effect. Kombi nation (2002) draws on the Kiwi tradition of OE (overseas experience) in Europe. The tagline for Tongan ninja (2002) is, ‘Aren’t you sick of movies full of nothing but childish humour and mindless violence? Thought not.’
Stickmen (2003) is a contemporary urban comedy about unscrupulous pool players. Both this film and Sione’s wedding (2006) star Robbie Magasiva, one of a growing group of Pacific comedians. A sequel to Sione’s wedding appeared in 2012.
Taika Waititi’s first full-length feature, Eagle versus shark (2007), was co-written with Loren Horsley, who plays lead character Lily. Waititi followed this film with the semi-autobiographical Boy in 2010. Based on his own childhood experiences in a remote part of the East Coast of the North Island, the film found international acclaim.
Separation City, a comedy of modern marital ethics written by veteran humorist Tom Scott, was released in 2009, as was Untouchable girls, a feature documentary about comedic country-music-singing duo the Topp Twins.