14 May 2016

James Acaster

James Acaster
James Acaster
James Acaster: 'Reset'
San Francisco Bath House
Cuba St, Wellington
12 May 2016

James Acaster, arguably the most praying mantis-like English comedian at work today, is enjoying a run of comedy festival gigs around New Zealand at the moment, testing his new 2016 show out on local comedy festival audiences before taking it to home turf later this year. It’s a good opportunity to give new material a trial run with a relatively similar audience, give or take, and for New Zealand comedy fans it’s a great chance to see one of the UK’s most popular young comedians at close quarters. (To be specific, from the front row at Wellington’s San Fran venue he was five metres away. Good thing he’s not a spitter).

Without going into too many routine-spoiling details, Acaster's show is definitely a winner, showcasing his appealing brand of whimsy and self-loathing in a show that feels pretty much complete and ready. It's great to see a comedian perfecting their timing, working in callbacks for the audience, responding to tiny mistakes (such as Acaster's lengthy multi-generational tangent to explain his use of the phrase 'you look at yourself in the kitchen mirror'), and in particular, generally fiddling about with the idea of an imperfect person standing on a stage being paid to make an audience laugh. Good standup comedy is always improved by a dash of acting skill, which helps Acaster flirt with the downcast notion that comedians might actually not be enjoying their work. The idea that delivering standup comedy for a living is meant to make everything wonderful has a great deal of comedic potential - the trick, which Acaster has mastered, is to make that exploration funny, so you're both testing what can be achieved on stage while at the same time keeping the audience entertained.

Don't get me wrong, Acaster's new show isn't a Scandinavian gloomfest - he just teases the audience with Hancock-style misery amidst all the silliness, and it makes the show a great deal more appealing. There's plenty of Milton Jones absurdism, done with the same charm and flair: a discourse on the brilliance of being on witness protection programmes ("James, you really have to stop mentioning the programme in your act, you need to work with us on this one"), a brilliant and flawless scheme taking advantage of supermarket loss-leaders, the injustice of volunteering to dig wells in Kenya when the good people of England and New Zealand could walk hundreds of miles without seeing one, and a searching exploration of why the English hate themselves so comprehensively. An extended discourse on the English tradition of wandering the globe nicking treasures and then not giving them back receives an expert analysis ("But the Elgin Marbles are so much better lit here than when you had them!"). All capped off with a big musical finale, David O'Doherty style, which was suitably daft but may well have been slightly lost on the deaf audience members experiencing the act through the game sign language interpreters at the front of the stage.

A few smaller parts of the act based on local observations will I presume not feature when Acaster takes the material back to England, such as his delight, expounded on at length, of the New Zealand phrase 'boil the jug' (instead of 'put the kettle on'), which gives Acaster the opportunity to try out his ropey New Zealand accent. (Most English comedians think they've got it, but too many episodes of Home & Away queer the pitch).

See also:
Comedy: Ed Byrne, 1 May 2015
Comedy: Josie Long, 6 May 2013
Comedy: David O'Doherty, 5 May 2012
Post a Comment