“High trust moment!” she rejoices, “This will make for great learning!”
As someone with no formal teaching education, I’ve never heard the phrase “high trust” in an educational environment before. Yet through context, I understand it instantly. Reacting to this joke, I’m subconsciously processing what it means to form a relationship with a student and to want for their learning. I adore this about Bad(ish) Teacher. Ironically, moments like these, along with a swath of references to teachers' college, end up being highly educational.
After spending time on the specifics of teaching, Anderson pulls the show more and more towards her personal experiences, and home life. What is effective about this transition is how teaching bleeds over into her personal experiences. Following an extended digression about her dating life, we’re drawn back into the reality of her occupation when she describes a stack of un-marked Of Mice and Men essays on her nightstand, serving as contraception. This keeps these diversions from ever feeling irrelevant or like they’re pulling away from the heart of the show. Equally they serve to remind us that the personal is undeniably political.
Bad(ish) Teacher is a wryly, yet unapologetically, political show. This initially surprises me, but on reflection seems obvious. How can you make art about teaching in Aotearoa and not have it be political? There’s a teachers strike happening this week! While there’s some excellent political humour on non-teaching related issues peppered throughout the show, the core message is pointed and straightforward. Listen to teachers. They know what the issues are better than any outsider, and they know how to fix them. Due to the effectiveness in which Anderson ge’s us to empathise with her, this message, even when stated directly near the end of the show, never feels preachy. It feels like the culmination of a million tiny observations, a conclusion for us to walk away with having understood the smallest extent of what it means to be a teacher.
Moving into specifics of performance, Bad(ish) Teacher is polished and well crafted. Anderson is a strong and clearly experienced performer, who knows her strengths and plays to them. Callbacks are generously sprinkled throughout the hour, but rarely feel forced or unwarranted. Equally, she’s the master of elevated expressions of disgust and confusion. Her looks of “can you believe this?” are absolutely killer.
The weakness of the set for me, is when the seams show. For the most part, Anderson’s gags slide under the stand-up-comedy veneer of believability. I have no doubt that many aren’t actually grounded in authentic experience, which doesn’t matter. It’s only an issue when these situations feel a little too contrived, and I get jolted out of my immersion. A notable example of this is a section about a student’s book report on Schindler's List, which really pushes my suspension of disbelief.
Oddly, I have the opposite problem with some stories Anderson tells about her parents. While they’re so outlandish that they must be real, I find myself unsure of my relationship to the events as an audience member. I don’t find them hugely funny, as I’m mostly concerned by them, yet I feel like I’m being invited to laugh at the situations. The scenarios are certainly engaging but I found myself unable to figure out what Anderson wanted me to make of them.
These gripes are slight in the face of the show as a whole. Bad(ish) Teacher is a remarkably consistent set, and one that achieves somewhat lofty emotional aims, without ever feeling like it’s trying too hard. It’s some of the best standup I’ve ever seen in Te-whanganui-a-tara, and I recommend you get out and see it.