The all star line-up features Jimmy McGhie and Angela Barnes from the UK and Ron Josol from Canada and boast a strong cohesion in style and content. Again, all performers are at least 35 and make frequent references to their age and the downfalls of younger generations. These jokes hit home with the audience but as one of the youngest people present I can’t help but feel that they are lazy shots. Perhaps not unexpected but compounded by the cliché themes of gender, race and class that pepper all the sets.
Each comedian is clearly well-versed in their craft and skilled at engaging the small and sedate audience. Jimmy McGhie is our first act and I particularly enjoy his wit and storytelling approach. He sets the scene in his home town of London with deft impersonations of cultures and classes different to his own, displaying a classy and highly engaging style. He loses me when he begins his “grandpa” rants about youth and describes in detail the effects of a hangover at age 35. Whilst his gift with storytelling does not lapse I grow tired of the content and mono-emotion and long for something more substantial. However most of the audience ramp up at this point, so clearly the power of recognition is well-known by McGhie. His set finishes with a joke about sticking to time. Although this finale got laughs, it was clear that he was playing a Tuesday night show and his heart wasn’t fully in it.
After a long interval, Wilson returns like an old friend. He manages to weave lovely links between honest discussions of the media to his sex-life and back again; the audience follows like wonder-filled children. Once we are successfully re-heated, Wilson welcomes on Angela Barnes. She has a lovely natural manner; both self-deprecating and wild enough to shock the audience into hysterics. Again, it is obvious we are of a different generation. Some of her gender-based jokes don’t sit well with me, but the crowd (particularly the women) seem to enjoy her candid and playful set. Unfortunately the mic volume is jarringly loud throughout and isn’t recognised or altered in time which detracts a little from the set.
The final performer, Ron Josol has a harsher tone to the rest. His content veers more towards problematic from my perspective and this time for some other audience members too. Although Josol’s set is on par with the others for professional delivery and clever jokes he makes a flustered error in judgement. This line is crossed when his response to a very vocal and intoxicated audience member is “..can someone put her in my car and I’ll be there soon.” The other three comedians read the audience well resulting in very few missed laughs. However, Josol’s set garners several silences and he declares himself “thrown” by the vocal audience member. The most enjoyable part of his set is his character work when telling stories about his parents. These are heartfelt and genuinely funny moments which acknowledge race without demeaning as some of his earlier jokes do. I personally love a performer to be challenging and because Josol is an Asian performer in front of a largely white audience he has the prerogative to question stereotypes. Unfortunately his comments more often feel apologetic rather than powerful.
Despite the fact that Comedy All Stars is clearly aimed at a different demographic, I enjoy a lot of laughs and appreciate the pleasingly simple structure. The target audience were very vocal and engaged particularly with Barnes, the audience favourite. Wilson was the standout performer for me because of his fear-less improvisation and audience interaction, his genuine interest and loving style.
Comedy All Stars is on at Hannah Playhouse at 8.30pm until Saturday May 14th. Book at the NZ International Comedy Festival: https://www.iticket.co.nz/events/2016/may/comedy-all-stars