Comedy Director, Geoffrey Scott Blanks, who was made an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit for his services to comedy in the last Queen’s Birthday Honours is busy selling tickets to the 2-hour “Raw” show in the club’s bustling foyer.
At 8pm the doors to the high-ceilinged performance space swing open. A friendly usher directs us to seats clustered around tables, cabaret-style. Candles flicker on each table. The red brick walls are hung with posters advertising comedy shows past and present. There are a few grey heads in the audience, but it’s a youngish crowd and the atmosphere is warm and convivial.
I'm on my own so I’m pleased to be seated at a table with four other women with whom it’s easy to strike up a conversation. It turns out they aren’t just here for laughs - they have skin in the game. The young woman on my left, has Nihilist printed on her T-shirt and Hysterical Feminist on her tote bag. She's here to suss out the comedy scene before making a leap from sit-down wannabe, to stand-up comedian.
MC for the night is Justin, an experienced comedian who sports a gap between his front teeth and hails from Christchurch. He warms us up with some polished gags about his hometown “the only place where you can look at empty fields and say I remember when this used to be all buildings”. Some of his humour strays well below the belt but no one in the audience bats an eyelid. Justin even gets an audience member to admit to posting photos of his penis on Tinder. And not just once.
With the ice well and truly broken, James, the first newbie takes to the stage in a pinstripe jacket which may well belong to his Dad. He refers to a joke list scribbled on the back of his hand, and ends his set lying flat on his back. Corrin who appears next is older and more confident. His set contains a bit more connective tissue including some sharp barbs aimed in the direction of Tauranga.
Then comes Gary, an ex radio announcer in his 40’s, whose jokes are all about being a divorced loser who can’t get a date. Andra’s humour has a similar self-deprecating theme. She’s big and bosomy in a short dress, black tights and canvas desert boots and makes fun of her size, her sex life and her guerrilla parenting.
Ed is Pakistani and gets plenty of laughs with gags about NZ and Pakistani cultural norms. He outs his Mum - who’s worried he might marry a European - as the “sweetest, most racist person I know”. And his accent? It comes, he explains, from Mt Roskill.
Just before interval, Josiah, wearing a beard, a woolly hat, track pants that end at the knee, and a pair of grey socks that have long lost their elasticity. He’s funny because his brilliantly loopy delivery and dishevelled appearance are in such contrast to the acuity of his observations.
Five absolute novices deliver precarious performances in the second half, amongst them a retired obstetrician, and a nerdy working class lad from London. There’s much confusion and reading of jokes inked on sweaty palms, but there’s also an occasional stroke of comedic brilliance.
At the end of the night, the audience applauds mightily for the courage on display, if not for the comedy. It takes guts to stand up, heart in mouth, armed with only one’s wit and attempt to make one’s fellow city-dweller laugh at the human condition.