My biggest frustration with Sax Appeal is the choice of subject matter. Comedy very rarely ages well and that’s okay. There’s strength in walking the knife's edge of relevance, accepting that in a couple of years you’ll need something new to say. Tough Tiger Fist bring us a (heavily ironic) song on wanting to have sex with Donald Trump, and a ballad on wanting to have sex with Ashley Bloomfield. Both of these subjects are years old, and have been talked (or laughed) to death at this point. Equally, a song about wanting to have sex with Chewbacca feels fairly stale. I genuinely wonder if two or three years ago these songs would’ve played better, but they completely bounced off me hearing them in 2023.
You may have noticed a running theme connecting these songs, in that they’re mostly about sex. One of the genius tricks of Flight of the Conchords has always been their peculiar innocence. No matter how sleazy their subject matter gets, it always is rooted in a childlike disposition. It keeps their music from ever feeling creepy, or too much. To Tough Tiger Fist’s credit, I think they’ve mostly managed to replicate this vibe. The joke perpetually feels like it’s on them, another Conchords trick. I really do wish they varied their subject matter more however, as the overwhelming amount of sexual humour wears me down pretty quick.
This isn’t to say that all of Sax Appeal is one note, Tough Tiger Fist push themselves in a variety of different directions. A Bo-Burnham-esque song about Cats versus Dogs shakes up the rhythm of the show, although the extreme anger of it definitely doesn’t work for me. The banter between songs feels comfortably awkward, with Cleland and Parker clearly being very used to being on stage, and each other.
The highlight of the show for me is a song about the housing crisis. When asked about when they’ll own property, Tough Tiger Fist simply repeats, “When my Mum dies.” While the housing crisis isn’t new, it feels much more relevant than Trump. The song deliberately shows the limits of the performers' ranges, which adds to the comedy. Unlike Conchords, Tough Tiger Fist aren’t secretly exemplary musicians. Their instrumentation is straightforward, and their vocals are rough around the edges. As mentioned with “When my Mum dies”, this can add to the comedy, and the childlike energy of the performers. In longer songs it’s more of a struggle, and I find myself wishing they’d repeat choruses one less time.
Other than the housing crisis number, and a song about male-pattern-baldness (that I’m definitely the target audience for sadly) the rest of the show is a miss for me. I get the distinct impression however that this isn’t due to a lack of comedic chops, or Cleland and Parker’s ability as creatives, but more due to the subject matter they choose to write about. A song about Fonterra and the milking of sows is particularly rough, along with some patter about Parker manscaping.
Still, Tough Tiger Fist definitely feel semi-professional (as they describe themselves). I found myself somewhat inspired by a candid conversation they have with the audience at the end, about how much this matters to them, and how a lot of the proceeds of this show are going to a Music Therapy related charity. It takes a lot of effort to make something seem effortless and these two clearly have their heart in this. If you’re wanting to see something Conchords-esque and you’re less of a grump than I am, you can definitely do a lot worse than Tough Tiger Fist. With some new material, they could even become NZ’s fifth best comedy folk duo.