by Laura Ferguson
He’s all of these from the offset. Entering the theatre as if he were a contestant on a game show, ready to answer the world’s most pressing questions, and, of course, getting them all wrong in hilarious fashion. Stuttering apologies to the disembodied voice of the game’s imaginary host, he quickly becomes endearing. The stumbling polite English wit falling effortlessly into our sustained laughter. The ridiculousness and intricacy of the questions such as ‘Is capitalism good or bad?’ or ‘How do you solve the Middle East crisis?’ followed by clever and imaginative punchlines set the show into an easy rhythm, immediately warming us up.
Zaltzman is a performer who vibes off a crowd and he talks to us easily, jibing with various audience members. He’s casual in showing how informed he is as he floats his way through many an international political situation. He pokes fun at Brexit, the NZ flag referendum, the clusterfuck that is America and Berlusconi. “You’re Italian?” Zaltzman asks an audience member. “You must be glad for Trump, finally there’s a country who voted worse than you!” His eyes glint at us with shared fun so it becomes impossible to be offended.
Zaltzman’s references also bounce all around history; Darwin, Edward Jenner, Louis Pasteur are all mentioned as well as those of current influence, Boris Johnson, Theresa May, Trump… however, this does lend a certain glaring aspect to the right questions Zaltzman is asking. Questions about environmentalism, social equalities, widening disparity between have and have-not, Zaltzman mentions many people in connection to these elements of our world. They all seem to have something in common: almost all are white men.
Despite Zaltzman’s three sentences on Jacinda Adern and his wife, the only woman he mentions thoroughly is Theresa May and of the 25 or so men I tallied (once I began counting), all were white. I think perhaps Zatzman is reconfiguring his own premise. The questions he poses are indeed the right ones we need to be answering, but instead of wrong answers, what Zaltzman shows us is that it is in fact wrong people. If there was more intersectional diversity in positions of power, maybe the world wouldn’t have quite so many right questions that still need answering.
Right Question, Wrong Answers made me want to immediately listen to Zaltzman even more; I didn’t want the experience to end just yet. So my walk home consisted of blowing virtual dust off The Bugle and I began listening, and then with listening comes laughing. Zaltzman made me think, without despairing, made me laugh without eking guilt into the frivolity. For a man focusing on wrong answers, when it comes to the question ‘How to make an audience laugh?’, Zaltzman is full of the right ones.
Andy Zaltzman’s Right Questions. Wrong Answers has finished its run in Wellington. Buy tickets here for more Comedy Festival shows.