Billy T. James was arguably one of the greatest New Zealand comedians of all time and, not surprisingly, has a comedy award named after him. Every year during the Comedy Festival the winners from the previous five years come together for 'Best of the Billys' - a night that gives audience members a taste of what to expect in the comedians' individual shows but also promotes the award itself.
First up was Rhys Mathewson who blasted out of the gates through the sheer force of his personality. His humour tended more towards the dangers of breaking your penis, and how his sex partners are attracted by his comedy. He warned the audience that ipso facto they were at risk. Mathewson's skit did, however, end slightly weirdly with an impressive but out of place tap routine about taking “big shits”. You can see him with Nick Gibb at The Basement from Wed 6 to Sat 9 May, at 10pm.
Mathewson's partner in crime for said show would perhaps stand to benefit most from the pairing. It's possible that Nick Gibb (the 2011 Billy T. James winner) has taken in the audience's silence during his set as a cue to change his material. Don't get me wrong, some parts of it were great, but a solid three-quarters in the middle was taken up with a weird time-travel joke that seemed to stretch on and on.
Which is why I found Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, who recently appeared in the movie “What We Do In The Shadows”, so impressive. Cori, who won the Billy T. James award in 2006, replaced Guy Williams (2012) who was unavailable. He presented jokes from his show “White Background Confused Face”, which is on at The Basement from Wed 13 May to Sat 16 May. You should definitely make room for it in your diary. Cori was one of the stand-outs of the night, giving the audience an interesting look into what it's like for a comedian to hold a part-time job, and topping it off with some race relations humour.
Next up was Guy Montgomery (2014 winner). He has clearly upped his game in the last year, and with his “absurd free-flow style” where you never know what he will say next; he is a wonder to watch. His jokes ranged from life managing a fantasy NFL team, to why not to chew fish bait. He's on until Sun 10 May at the Montecristo Room.
Last was a crowd favourite, and writer for the Jono and Ben Show, Rose Matafeo (2013 winner). Her solo shows in the Comedy Festival have already had their run, but if you can catch her at any other time she is a great performer with a set that whips back and forth across topics and is funnier, if possible, than she is on TV.
I have to commend Ben Hurley who did a truly phenomenal job of hosting and anchoring some of the less experienced comedians before and after their sets.