Way back, when there were still newspapers, I did a lot of arts-reviewing. What better way, I figured, to make friends, right? You go to shows, say they’re absolutely shit and that the people that just died on stage needn’t bother ever getting up again and you’re paid an enormous amount of money and everyone loves you; thinks you’re hilarious and wants to buy your winning influence. Easy.
But it’s never quite the same as how it looks in the brochure.
I didn’t even ever review that much comedy. Because the newspaper never gave the local scene a chance. And I certainly didn’t – because it was very hard to do that when you were given 400 words three to four times a year to speak about a household-name international comic (Ben Elton, Eddie Izzard, Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, that was about the lineup – strong white-dude count) and a cloying local act was given 5-10 minutes to jerk the curtain. The best that could happen for them was no mention at all – because, frankly, everything was going against them. Were they really going to be funnier than the person people had paid to see?
My main gig was reviewing musical acts – and by default I became the comedy reviewer. But I loved the challenge of reviewing live comedy gigs. You don’t want to be a punchline-spoiler. You do want to try to provide a context (or at least namedrop that you’re super aware of Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle and George Carlin – strong dude-count still, but not all white) and you love the challenge of making 300-400 words a worthwhile read.
(You will always hold fondly the time you got to write about Rhys Darby and some people couldn’t tell if you liked it or not).
Word got around about some of my comedy reviews and I was banned by many of the local comics – including several that I had never actually intended to ever see. It was almost a case of them protesting a little too much; reports of my name with a Ghostbusters sign through it at the box-office when I never even knew that person was a) in town for a show or b) that they even existed.
I’m not a comedy specialist. But I’ve been a reviewer for so long that of course I like to think that I am. I’ve done my time, and possibly yours, watching nearly every comedy special I could get my eyeballs near – and long before there was ever a Netflix in town.
But one thing I had never done – until just recently – was attend a Raw Meat Monday.
This is one of the things put on by the Humorous Arts Trust in Wellington.
I sat down the back, my usual reviewer-thing if I can – I’ll go where the ticket tells me when it’s allocated but if it’s GA I’m gonna try hide, and that’s only because I might be writing something and it might look like I’m not entirely paying attention. (Back in the day with deadlines, there was also the likelihood of having to leave early, which doesn’t always look or feel great). Anyway, Monday is, as you might have guessed, the correct day to host an event called Raw Meat Monday and the way it works is a ‘name’ MC introduces the card of lesser-known comics. In some cases there will be people taking to the stage to tell jokes for their very first time – though the night I attended didn’t have any comedy-virgins. Everyone that had a go on that night had had at least one go before; some of them were more experienced than others.
I can’t tell you that everyone was wonderful. But I can tell you that everyone was there for a reason – everyone was there with something pretty funny to say. Some of them were better at selling the funny. Some of them had good ideas that were under-written or under-developed. Some of them just absolutely hit it out of the fucking park. Superb. There were at least two comics that I would pay to go and see – and right away. And there were a couple more that were nipping near those heels. There was only one comedian that I thought came pretty close to failing. But I’m not naming names here. As you can see already.
And that failure, as I’m calling it, might have been an off-night, or it might have been a tentative early move towards something better – or it might just have been someone that’s never going to be my sort of comedian.
What I realised, watching this event, and it’s something I’ve probably known for a while, is that my bond with comedy, what I look for and listen out to, is the writing. And that doesn’t just mean a super clever pun or a witty line, ‘writing’ when it comes to comedy can be built up from improvisation, can include the things not said – the timing overall, the pauses for effect – writing, in comedy, is something that happens on stage, you can see and feel and hear jokes being improved upon in the very moment. Writing is such a crucial component of comedy.
The writing I saw – and heard – during Raw Meat Monday was pretty impressive. Sometimes it was super-great.
I recommend it as a way in – or a way back in. And I’m talking here to potential audience members. It is of course a way in – or a way back in – for people that have given comedy a very quick go or have always wanted to. And to sign up you email the trust by typing in contact @ humorous dot co dot nz (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org).
To turn up to watch a Raw Meat Mondy you follow the links up above – or check in on The Fringe Bar (a wonderful venue that is a home for cabaret and comedy and poetry and music and all sorts of events in Wellington) or you finally give in to that workmate or colleague that has been pestering you to come and see them.
It’s been years since I’ve seen local comedy. So long in fact that there was barely a scene back then. Now it thrives. But it’s good to check in on the raw meat. One day you’ll see it fully cooked and you’ll remember you were there to notice that very first sizzle. The time that raw meat got – and/or gave – its very first grilling.
That’s an appalling way to finish this – particularly after highlighting how important the ‘writing’ is to me as a viewer, as audience member. So let’s just conclude with a recap of what happened after that Monday’s two-hour show (10 comedians with a break at the halfway point, snappy six-minute sets by all). I walked around the corner, to head home. A great night of entertainment. And I bumped into an old friend sitting street-side at one of the neighbouring bars. He and his partner were having a drink and asked me what I was up to.
“I’ve just been to Raw Meat Monday” I said. And I explained briefly what it was. “It was excellent”, I said. And they both reckoned they were keen to head along as soon as the next one.