Comedy festival offers homegrown talent a chance to shine


James Nokise should be back in London but made the decision to stay in New Zealand to be close to his family, with the added bonus of being able to take part in the Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala.

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James Nokise should be back in London but made the decision to stay in New Zealand to be close to his family, with the added bonus of being able to take part in the Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala.

A few laughs could be just what the doctor ordered, for audiences and performers alike.

After the cancellation of the International Comedy Festival, the Best Foods Comedy Gala has rebranded, with a distinctly festive air, as the Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala.

The gala, usually held in April/May, will instead round out the year with a homegrown lineup of big names in comedy, with a Christmas twist, at The Civic in Auckland on November 7, and The Opera House in Wellington on November 9.

The original comedy gala was set to host performers such as iconic Australian Felicity Ward, familiar face from The Chase Paul Sinha, and award-winning Brit Josie Long.

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It was cancelled on March 18 amid coronavirus restrictions and with the borders still closed, some local acts are stepping up to the plate instead.

James Nokise should have been overseas right now, based in Britain.

He was the winner of the prestigious Fred award for Best Show in the 2019 NZ International Comedy Festival, and will again deliver his celebrated comedic storytelling, fresh from another season hosting the critically acclaimed Radio NZ podcast Eating Fried Chicken in the Shower.

James Nokise is the winner of the prestigious Fred award for Best Show in the 2019 NZ International Comedy Festival, and will again deliver his celebrated comedic storytelling, fresh from another season hosting the critically acclaimed Radio NZ podcast Eating Fried Chicken in the Shower.

SUPPLIED

James Nokise is the winner of the prestigious Fred award for Best Show in the 2019 NZ International Comedy Festival, and will again deliver his celebrated comedic storytelling, fresh from another season hosting the critically acclaimed Radio NZ podcast Eating Fried Chicken in the Shower.

Nokise had the option to return to London, where he had been based for the past two years, but it did not feel professionally feasible.

Making a living as a fulltime standup required a thriving, reliable live scene – something London did not have.

His decision to stay in New Zealand to be close to family had the added bonus of placing him in one of the most active entertainment scenes in the world currently.

With much of the world experiencing downturns and restrictions due to coronavirus, events like the comedy gala are a bright spot in the events calendar.

The British scene was a “juggernaut”, with comedians all over the world heading there to break into the industry, and hone their craft.

With that option now less appealing, the New Zealand comedy scene was picking up the slack, as comedians stayed put instead of rushing off overseas.

Local comedian Pax Assadi, a regular on stage and screen and one-third of sketch group Frickin Dangerous Bro, was meant to be taking a year off but has jumped back into the ring to MC the gala.

Supplied

Local comedian Pax Assadi, a regular on stage and screen and one-third of sketch group Frickin Dangerous Bro, was meant to be taking a year off but has jumped back into the ring to MC the gala.

It had not always been that way. Nokise remembered the comedy scene in his early days “like the wild west”.

“Pardon the pun but being a comedian in New Zealand used to be a joke.”

It was only with the rise of creatives like Taika Waititi and comedians Flight of the Conchords that people began taking New Zealand comedians seriously overseas.

Nokise said gigs post-lockdown had shown “a kind of mania”, as audiences and performers revelled in the joy of being out of the house.

Festival producer Kirsty Hardwicke said cancelling the event earlier this year had been “devastating” but the “vast majority” of ticket holders had held on to them for the postponement date instead of getting refunds.

One of the “lovely things” about the festival this time around was the gap left by international acts being filled by homegrown ones.

In previous years, acts had to have featured in the International Comedy Festival to appear in the gala but this year it was open to anyone.

The lineup so far includes; Pax Assadi, The Topp Twins, Ben Hurley, Justine Smith, Hayley Sproull, Two Hearts, Melanie Bracewell, James Nokise, The Fan Brigade, Melanie Bracewell, James Roque, Donna Brookbanks, and Paul Douglas.

More acts were due to join the bill in the coming weeks, and tickets were already flying out the door, with Hardwicke “really heartened” at how they were selling.

  • Tickets are on sale now from comedyfestival.co.nz.



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