Wellington Comedy: Friday Laughs
Friday, January 21
Last year I wrote about attending Raw Meat Monday which felt like a way back in to a comedy scene I had never really experienced. My deal with reviewing comedy was mostly internationals, and some Comedy Festival or Fringe shows. Single acts. Usually big names. The local scene was but a blip back then. Now there’s comedy on in town across several venues and over many nights. Every week. An amazing development.
This, too, was my first-time attending Friday Laughs. It’s one of the regular events we can thank Wellington Comedy and the Humorous Arts Trust for – and we can go to the Wellington Comedy site at any time for updated info on all shows.
Where Raw Meat Monday is about first timers and nervous newbies hitting the boards and giving it a go, Friday Laughs is a gig for the professionals; comedians with a set they’ve built, with runs on the board. A pro MC and a ‘name’ headliner with a few local acts to stack the bill.
If last Friday’s show is anything to go by, we should all be heading out to these gigs if and when we can (Omicron might have other ideas for a while, please always follow the Government’s plan and behave as the venue expects).
Sameena Zehra is a talented actor and comedian – but I’ve yet to see her do a full set. I’ve seen her in the role of MC only. And this is something she is so very excellent at. Because she wins the audience over instantly, reassuring us that she won’t be doing crowd-work, she’s there to hype, not to scare. She knows the admin of being an MC and lets that stand as it should. Correct names. A wee anecdote about the person when she knows them, some thrill of expectation from her if it’s her first time seeing the act too – she works as a conduit, she earns the trust of the audience and the comedians. She is our actuary for the evening’s comedy. And of course she brings plenty of laughs herself. Good bits. Well-timed, strong material – but never falling over into taking the spotlight.
So, we know we’re in safe hands.
First act, Sarah Courtney, hits a bit of a bumpy start, I reckon. But recovers quite quickly. I can’t say I love her act – but I don’t hate it. And that’s a huge compliment, even if it doesn’t immediately resemble it. She had the tough task of going first on a strong bill. She landed a couple of rippers too. And seemed to grow more comfortable with every minute on the stage. I’d see her again. Something I can’t say for every comic I watch.
Zach Mandeville was the fresh-talent highlight for me on the night. I say this, in this way, because he was new to me. And his act was so well honed, so sharp, so funny, and in particular it was the type of comedy I love – a fantastical thread of storytelling that was all at once cerebral and absurd – that I would watch his Netflix special immediately. If he had one. He doesn’t. (Yet). But I noted he had a Fringe Fest show. And now I worry that the Fringe Festival might not make it this year, with Covid. But Zach is on my list of names to watch. His comedy is superb.
Lesa Macleod-Whiting impressed me at the Raw Meat Monday even I attended last year. She was easily the highlight. And her tone and material remain strong and distinctive. Though I felt she didn’t always flow as well on this night. New lines perhaps? Not quite bedded in. But still a very decent act making for a very strong first half.
After the break we had Rose Northey, who offered a nice change of pace with some poetry. Actually hilarious poetry too – great lines, great delivery, and if anything she could have had a bit more time.
Our headliner was Ray O’Leary. I know him only from Twitter – where I think he’s hilarious (and I can’t say that about that many people on Twitter). But I’ve been curious to see him in person – because I’m aware of his trajectory (7 Days, Have You Been Paying Attention) but didn’t know what his shtick was – having only seen lines written down. His deadpan act is terrific. The writing behind it is tight. And funny. And his gag about McDonalds basically running a charity (Ronald McDonald House) as a Pyramid Scheme (getting staff and customers to donate, all to feather the nest of the brand under the ruse of giving) was not only funny it begs some sort of royal commission. Genius.
What a top night out. I checked my phone only after the event. Found out Meat Loaf had died. Walked home listening to Bat Out Of Hell and thinking of all the great lines I’d just heard. I want them to remain between the walls of the Cavern Club. I want you to go and find them, or lines like it, when you attend next time.