New Zealand comedy is pretty damn unique. Generally a particular mix of self-depreciating and awkward, it stands quite separate from the American-brand humour we tend to see in international media. Given that, it was a bold choice from me to bring along two American dudes to the 2018 Billy T Jams show, held at Q Theatre. Would they like the jokes? Would they even get the jokes? It was a risk. Luckily for me, the nominees for this year’s Billy T Award were up to the challenge.

A taster ahead of the 2018 NZ International Comedy Festival, Billy T Jams sees the year’s nominees come together for a short but sweet comedy showcase. This year was hosted by former award recipient Rhys Mathewson, who offered reliable entertainment even when it wasn’t clear if he was being laughed with or at (there was a weird joke about George Clooney pooping in there that was adored by my American pals but fell pretty flat with the locals).

First up was Melanie Bracewell, who started the show strong and actually proved to be my favourite. The perfect combination of awkwardness and impeccable timing, Bracewell hooked me from the start with her not-so-casual shakas.

Following Bracewell was Alice Snedden. Undoubtedly funny, Snedden’s opening period gag didn’t quite land with the audience, and she attempted to remedy this by literally restarting her segment. Snedden was at her best when delivering her political family-based jokes, but never seemed to fully recover from her difficult start.

Former Billy T nominees Laura Daniel and Joseph Moore came next, as music-duo Two Hearts. These two offered a welcome boost of energy, delivering one-liners and gags through pop ballads and raps. I normally don’t rate this sort of flashy humour, but Two Hearts had me rethinking this opinion.

The second half of the show saw three more comedians step up, and while still entertaining, didn’t grab me as much as the first. Donna Brookbanks came first and relied pretty strongly on physical comedy.

Following her was James Malcolm, who straightaway warned the audience to not be intimidated by his masculinity. Malcolm was another personal favourite, as he somehow managed to work through his sexual content so casually and confidently that I think even my grandma would be pretty chill about it.

Last up was Angela Dravid, 2017’s Billy T Award winner. Dravid has a uniquely deadpan humour that is quite disconcerting. I found her rehearsed set didn’t get me as much as the ones before, however her impromptu response to a white male heckler was outstanding.

All of the Billy T Award nominees have their own shows on offer before Last Laughs on May 20th, which will see one winner announced. My picks would have to be Melanie Bracewell or James Malcolm, but my American pals were way more into Two Hearts. I’d urge everyone to get amongst this year’s festival, but if you can only make it to one show then Last Laughs is undoubtedly your best bang for buck.

The 2018 New Zealand International Comedy Festival runs all over NZ from April 26th until May 20th. Check out all the available shows here.


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