The audience could have used a bit more warming up from MC Stephanie Laing at the very beginning. Mal Fraser, the first act, had to tackle the audience cold and should be commended for his shaky perseverance. Although Fraser had a tendency to talk around punchlines, his comic style was chatty with a few sharp-edged jokes in the mix to give lift. Gracing the stage in a full dog costume however, Grant Beban solved this issue, making sure the audience was sufficiently warmed up for the rest of the show with his incredible accents and impressions. Beban’s set was engaging, energised, and enjoyable. The idea of cold Kiwi audiences was revisited by opportunist headliner, Jon Bennett, in a call out at the end of the show (more on that later).
I find pessimistic styles of comedy quite enjoyable, and there were a few contestants that leaned on their sarcasm. Cat Martin’s set about separation carried with it a nice tone of cynicism. Her comedy had bite and her set was well constructed. Lizzie Murray also worked with a wry, awkward style which complemented her set about homophobia and white supremacy well. Maire Dineen was a standout here, however. In a set about classic Kiwi digs at the Irish, Dineen retold her own experiences as the punchline of these worn out jokes, with brilliant charisma, wit, and sass.
The rest of the acts shared a common theme of awkwardness, which covered both style and content. Miranda Clement, Carrie Buckmaster, and James Harper all worked with a slightly quirky and endearing style, presented in different ways. For Carrie Buckmaster especially, this was very successful because she executed it with comfortable confidence. Sara Douglas and Matt Sole both worked with awkward content, covering topics of sex and graphic injuries. Tim Kelly was the risk taker of the night, hitting the audience with some very bold comedy. Although Kelly’s material was perhaps a little controversial, he won quite a few laughs from the audience and committed to his set with pure bravado.
The common weakness in many of the acts was that the sets felt quite scripted. The benefit of this is that the contestants were well prepared and their content was thought through, but they could have all done with a bit more flexibility in playing off the audience.
While the judges made their selections, headliner Jon Bennett took to the stage. In a hilarious retelling of his experiences with awkward audiences including children, nursing home residents, and shy Kiwis to name a few, he filled the time with ease. The audience was in fits of laughter, and his ability to seamlessly string together content was impressive—a great way to end the show and a highlight of the evening.
The contestants selected to move forward to the semifinals were Cat Martin, Maire Dineen, Miranda Clement, and Carrie Buckmaster. To book tickets for Wellington Raw Comedy Quest 2019: Heat 4 visit the Eventfinda website.