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In Wel­ling­ton we are very good at ven­er­at­ing the comedi­ans we’ve raised and gif­ted to the world. We are quick to remind people that without Wel­ling­ton the world wouldn’t have Dai Hen­wood, Taika Wai­titi or Flight of the Conchords. They are inscribed on our cul­tur­al memory.

It’s inter­est­ing then, since we dwell so much on our city’s com­edy past, that the com­edy present and com­edy future seem to be slip­ping by unnoticed. Just because some­thing is under­ex­posed does not make it under­developed. This city is home to some of the best, most dar­ing, inter­est­ing and hil­ari­ous people in the coun­try. And you prob­ably haven’t heard of most of them.

What bet­ter time to change that than dur­ing the New Zea­l­and Inter­na­tion­al Com­edy Fest­iv­al — which is on at mul­tiple ven­ues until 18 May — where some of Wellington’s best and bright­est humour­ists will be present­ing their wares? To help intro­duce you to the loc­al com­edy scene, I sat down for a chat with four of Wellington’s fun­ni­est people, to find out who they are and what they do to make people laugh.

Jarrod1 copyJar­rod Baker took quite a com­plex path to com­edy. When he was a child he wanted to be “Indi­ana Jones. But it turned out that adven­tur­ing archae­olo­gist was… Well, there’s not a lot of job open­ings.” He chan­nelled his dis­ap­point­ment into dreams of act­ing. While study­ing theatre at Vic­tor­ia Uni­ver­sity of Wel­ling­ton he did a few open mic nights but his true path to com­edy arrived through music. “A flat­mate and I star­ted a band,” Baker explains. “We were both comedi­ans and it just turned out that the songs that we wrote were funny. We star­ted off open­ing for actu­al bands. It was odd.” Before long the band, called Mrs. Pea­cock, was a hit on the com­edy scene.

It was, I have to say, dra­mat­ic­ally more suc­cess­ful than my solo stand-up stuff at that time. There’s some­thing about music­al com­edy that’s easy. There’s a reas­on that non­musical comedi­ans talk some­what dis­par­agingly about it. ‘Oh you’ve got a gui­tar! Prop com­ic!’ But I think the music­al­ity of it gives it an impact that it doesn’t quite have otherwise.”

In 2007, Mrs. Pea­cock won the Billy T Award — the most pres­ti­gi­ous award for up­and­coming comedi­ans in New Zea­l­and, but money issues — namely need­ing to earn some (“Put­ting on a com­edy fest show is some­times the oppos­ite of paid work,” Baker explains) — has put the band on an exten­ded hiatus. So Baker has returned to solo stand­up and says that “Now I’ve been doing it, on and off, for about 18 years, I’m start­ing to have idea of what I like and what I don’t like. I remem­ber watch­ing things like M*A*S*H repeatedly. It was funny but in an over­all grim con­text. They really said some­thing. That’s a real influ­ence on where I’d like to get to. Com­edy can be com­ment­ary. It’s not just mak­ing people laugh. This can be a trans­form­at­ive medi­um like any oth­er art.

Oh man,” he con­cludes, “I sound like a massive wanker.”

Baker’s show in this year’s fest­iv­al is called We Are All Doomed: Songs for the End of the World, and is an exam­in­a­tion, in song form, of the vari­ous the­or­ies from reli­gious, sci­entif­ic and cul­tur­al tra­di­tions as to how the world may end. “And then some odd shit that I’ve just kinda made up.”

Eamonn2 copyAspir­a­tions to rock­stardom have driv­en more people to com­edy than just Jar­rod Baker. When Eamonn (an ana­gram for ‘No Name’, he poin­ted out, delighted) Marra was 21, he’d mock-inter­view him­self as he was walk­ing home about “the huge band I was in”.

Grow­ing up in Christ­ch­urch, Marra was a heavy par­ti­cipant in the loc­al music scene there: “My whole social life revolved around music. I was really into this idea of an artist­ic com­munity, which is the most import­ant thing to me, bey­ond any par­tic­u­lar genre of arts, it’s this com­munity that builds.”

And it’s a kind of com­munity that Marra seems to have found here in Wel­ling­ton: “In Christ­ch­urch, if you wanna do some­thing, you have to do it on your own. It’s really hard but you push it and it hap­pens. And then ten people come and it’s great but it wears you down fast.

In Wel­ling­ton, you wanna do some­thing and you real­ise there’s either already a com­munity of people doing it and you can join in with them and help out, or there are like 20 or 30 oth­er people who also want this thing to hap­pen and you work togeth­er. In Auck­land, when you want some­thing to hap­pen you set up a pro­mo­tions company.”

Marra’s stand-up com­edy star­ted as read­ings at poetry jams two years ago, and it shows. There’s an hon­esty and open­ness to his work that can be quite con­front­a­tion­al. Espe­cially when he focuses on sub­jects as intim­ate as his own men­tal ill­ness: “A way I’ve got­ten through depres­sion and anxi­ety is com­plete and open hon­esty about it. The show [Man on the Verge of a Nervous Break­down, at the com­edy fest] is kind of about look­ing at this jour­ney I’ve taken. I was a really lonely, depressed guy.”

Marra’s roots in oth­er per­form­ance modes mean that his shows eschew the nor­mally con­front­a­tion­al rela­tion­ship between audi­ence and stand­up. “I really want a warm, dir­ect con­nec­tion to the audi­ence. I nev­er want to set up the ‘Eamonn Marra: Comedi­an’ Face­book page. Because I fig­ure if you like my com­edy you should just like me as a per­son and either ‘friend’ me or fol­low me on my per­son­al page. If you like my com­edy I prob­ably like you, because, y’know, you like cool things.”

Hayley2 copyWhile Marra and Baker may both be aspir­ing musi­cians of a sort, Hay­ley Sproull wears her musi­cian stripes with pride.

I think I was a musi­cian first,” she explains. “It’s not a secret aspir­a­tion; it’s simply fact. I didn’t prac­tise an hour a day for nine years for nothing.”

Those nine years of prac­tice have kept Toi Whakaari­trained Sproull — “In my mind, I am an act­ress. A funny act­ress. And I do take that very ser­i­ously” — in good stead. For her gradu­ation solo per­form­ance piece at Toi, she cre­ated the char­ac­ter that would go on to star in her hit music­al com­edy solo show Miss Fletch­er Sings the Blues — which just won the #Fringe­Fave Award at the Wel­ling­ton Fringe Festival.

While her work no doubt skews towards the com­ic, Sproull has trouble call­ing her­self a comedi­an. “On offi­cial doc­u­ments I put down ‘enter­tain­er’, which could mean any­thing between act­ress and pole dan­cer. I think that’s pretty accurate.”

Like Baker, a lot of her com­edy is per­formed as songs, but while Jar­rod likes hid­den mean­ing in his com­edy, Sproull is a lot more brash. “Songs allow you to say things in a very black and white, crass man­ner and the simplest things become quite absurd when sung.”

As a theatre maker pro­du­cing overtly com­ic work, espe­cially in less tra­di­tion­ally the­at­ric­al situ­ations, Sproull has often found her work caught between two worlds. “I get the impres­sion that theatre makers find my work very comed­ic,” she says, “and comedi­ans find it very the­at­ric­al.” The res­ult of this over­lap is noth­ing but a boon for audi­ences, as it makes Sproull’s work unique, dynam­ic and unmissable.

For this year’s com­edy fest­iv­al Sproull is reunit­ing with her com­edy part­ner (and Vine sen­sa­tion) Chris Park­er after their smash hit, sell­out show Out­siders’ Guide at last year’s fest­iv­al, to make a work called Tighty Whiteys. “It’s about being a friend, and everything that entails” is how Sproull describes it. “It’s the shared awk­ward, anxious and intim­ate moments people encounter in a friend­ship that we are bring­ing to the stage. Come laugh at us, come laugh at yourself.”

Jonny1 copyJonny Potts stands apart from the oth­er three comedi­ans because he didn’t fol­low a long route to know­ing he wanted to do com­edy. He didn’t have to stumble into it. Com­edy was always the plan “from when I was 15 or so. It seemed like the best thing to do with your life.

But I lost my nerve when I left school. Com­edy just didn’t seem viable. I remem­ber going to see improv in Wel­ling­ton and stand-up at The Clas­sic and think­ing, ‘Well, you all seem to have this in hand.’”

But that was only a delay. While he was in Eng­land in 2011, he immersed him­self in the altern­at­ive com­edy scene over there and returned inspired. “I flew back to New Zea­l­and on a Wed­nes­day, wrote and co­directed a 48HOURS film com­pet­i­tion entry [Tea Jerker, a nation­al final­ist in the com­pet­i­tion] that week­end, and did my first ever stand-up set on the Monday.” And he hasn’t really slowed down since earn­ing three Best Com­edy Award nom­in­a­tions at the Wel­ling­ton Fringe Fest­iv­al in as many years.

Potts’ com­edy is cool (in both senses of the word) and cereb­ral, while nev­er being smug or dis­tant. Some­times audi­ences have a little trouble tun­ing in. “Audi­ences under­stand­ably want instant grat­i­fic­a­tion,“ he says, “so their cri­ti­cism is gen­er­ally of the ‘You suck’ vari­ety. I tend to ignore that and just keep sucking.”

Twist­ing audi­ence expect­a­tions, Potts stands proudly as an ‘altern­at­ive comedi­an’ “It’s a term I con­sciously embrace, even though that goes against the cur­rent wis­dom. I must point out that what I do is not really any­thing new. A lot of New Zea­l­and com­edy is what you would call ‘altern­at­ive’. The UK mod­el of the circuit­honed pro doing pan­el shows is a very recent devel­op­ment here.”

Potts’ show in this year’s com­edy fest is The Delu­sion­ar­ies. In it he’ll play three dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters: par­ent­ing expert Alan Legtit, lapsed soap opera star Rich­ie Richard­son, and Cool Youth Pastor.

I’m try­ing to make it the best char­ac­ter com­edy in the fest­iv­al,” he says. “Each char­ac­ter defines him­self through a dif­fer­ent delu­sion, and is bolstered by a docile audi­ence, which allows him to indulge that delu­sion. In this show, my smart audi­ence and I laugh at those people.”

Everyone’s stuff is dif­fer­ent,” says Potts. “What’s heart­en­ing about Wel­ling­ton right now is that people are being hon­est about pro­du­cing the stuff they find funny.”

This is a city where the main­stream and the altern­at­ive can sit side by side. And the com­edy fest­iv­al is on! Now it’s your turn to find who you think the four fun­ni­est people in the city* are. Get out there.

(*That oth­er people prob­ably haven’t heard of.)


Jar­rod Baker’s We Are All Doomed: Songs for the End of the World is at the Cav­ern Club from 13 to 17 May.

Eamonn Marra’s Man on the Verge of a Nervous Break­down is at Pup­pies from 5 to 8 May.

Hay­ley Sproull and Chris Parker’s Tighty Whiteys is at BATS from 6 to 10 May.

Jonny Potts’ The Delu­sion­ar­ies is at Pup­pies from 7 to 10 May.


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