Sam Brooks checks out Comedy Festival shows from Funny Girls star and Snort regular Brynley Stent, and from Australian clowning superstar Tessa Waters. Plus – we bestow our second Spinoff Badge of Honour.
Tessa Waters: Over Promises
Tessa Waters is a genius.
It’s as simple as that. I’ve never seen a New Zealand audience, notoriously difficult with audience interaction and getting involved, be as roused up by a comedian as I did last night. I’ve never seen an entire audience make chainsaw noises and do so gleefully. I’ve never seen a comedian get as much joy out of making an audience laugh as Tessa Waters.
And I’ve absolutely never seen an audience get on board, riotously so, with a comedian clowning as quickly as I did last night.
How does she do it? Part of it is her presence, from the moment Tessa comes out in her Dannii Minogue at Mardi Gras-esque costume and starts doing warm-up exercises onstage, the audience is completely head over heels in love with her. They might not know what to make of her yet, but they like this woman. They want to watch her for an hour.
And then she makes clear that her goal is to make us laugh. She starts off small, with individual audience members, and then she goes bigger, she picks groups, she picks sides, and before long the entire crowd is laughing. She’s also constantly checking in on us, making sure we’re good, gauging our responses and adjusting accordingly.
The show actually left me kind of speechless, if I’m honest. I fell in love with Tessa Waters. I fell in love with her as a performer, because she’s by far the funniest, most open and warm clown I’ve ever seen, but also as a maker. This show is the best example of crowd work and crowd control that I’ve ever seen; her immediate love for the audience is infectious, and her rapport with individual crowd members is so genuine and so warm that we can’t help but get onboard with her.
Physically, she’s without parallel. Her face can do anything, her body can do anything, and she’s willing to do anything with both to make us laugh (I’ve never seen someone make an audience crack up with just her elbow). And it truly is for us. There’s no ego here. There’s no sense of us being forced to watch someone for an hour do jokes to satisfy their own needs. This is someone who is here for us, and wants to make us laugh as much as possible.
Tessa Waters is a genius. I fell in love with her last night, and so did the sixty people around me. This is, without a doubt, comedy at its finest, purest and most excellent.
The Spinoff Comedy Badge of Honour is awarded to shows that we believe to be truly excellent and exemplary in the Comedy Festival. These will be awarded throughout the festival.
You can book tickets to Tessa Waters: Over Promises here.
Brynley Stent: Escape from Gloriavale
The first time I saw Brynley Stent perform was in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in an abandoned space in Wellington. She had a fairly small role, but you could tell there was something special there: it was in this deep-seated need to please, and whether it was in performance or character, it was endlessly appealing. You kept looking back to her, you kept looking for what she would bring out of a line or bring out of a moment of physical comedy.
Three years later, and Stent has proven her stripes many times over, not only as a regular in Snort but as a cast member of Camping and the Christmas show at The Basement. She knows how to get laughs, and knows what to push vocally or physically to get them. It’s this skill that serves her first hour Escape from Gloriavale especially well.
It’s not a stand-up show at all, it’s more a bizarre kind of solo piece, as Stent plays Gloriavale escapee Providence Gratitude in her increasingly absurd tale of escaping the titular commune and discovering what life is like in Auckland. The story is ridiculous, and holds together because of its commitment to absurdity, particularly a recurring bit with Amanda Billing, and the little dark asides that Stent throws into the tale.
But the entire thing rests on Stent’s commitment to Providence Gratitude as a character. What could easily be parody or satire, and it’s presented as both, is made into a fully-bodied human by Stent going as deep into the character, and the character’s need to perform, need to be like, and need to be understood, as she possibly can.
Stent goes deep for her laughs, and this character and this story pays her back tenfold. The audience love her for it, and go along with her on this crazy ride. That’s special, and that’s worth watching, and it makes me excited to see what character and what story Stent comes up with next.
You can book tickets to Brynley Stent: Escape from Gloriavale here.