The Secret Policeman’s Ball NZ 2015 | NZ International Comedy Festival 2015

Amnesty International traditionally always gets a strong turnout for its Secret Policeman’s Ball and this year was no different. Led by the incorrigible Vaughan King the night promised to deliver laughs with a stellar line-up of talent including Terry WilliamsTarun MohanbhaiTom Binns as Ivan BrackenburyJamie BowenTim BattAndrew Clay and Nick Gibb – and for the most part deliver it did.

With an all boys club it would be tempting to assume that the night would ride high on jokes about sex, sex with women, sex with men, genitalia and maybe some more sex but it was actually better than that. Not much better, don’t get too excited, but marginally so.

In fact the one person guilty of indulging in highly graphic phallic descriptions (all in the name of ensuring the image lived long enough to be on snapchat) was MC King himself who soon found out that the crowd warmed up with his personal confessions – from rendezvous with strange couples in hotels to providing detailed knowledge about teabagging. Glorious.  Especially as the jokes about Mandarin becoming the most populous language and petite Asian women didn’t seem to go down too well.

But not all the lads resorted to the tried and tested. Terry Williams made some interesting (if not highly revelationary) comments about Lance Armstrong and his uncanny appearance to the fallen hero. Addressing the largely Shore based crowd (the assumptions must come from some statistical resource?) he is not unlike a jovial Hughesy on The 7pm Project from across the ditch in Australia and has a charm of his own.

Tarun Mohanbhai, who followed, made it easy to remember his name by explaining its anglicised pronunciation rhymed with Aaron – and the pitfalls of explaining ear rhyme to those who suffer from dyslexia. Initially relying on stereotypical ‘Indian’ jokes because an unwritten law of comedy seems to be ‘if you have a culture you must mock it’, Mohanbai’s opening remarks seemed average at best – however, as soon as he started to move outside the box and the delights of Tinder for Indians he was on fire with some smart and savvy commentary. He did take a tad too long because Tom Binns rushed on stage without the privilege of having King introduce him but it was just as well; because as Ivan Brackenbury, the radio host spinning tunes for the local hospital inmates, this man was the star of the night.

If you haven’t seen Binns before, go see his show – mixing comedy and music is certainly becoming a hallmark on the circuit but somehow the chubby awkward music host that hails from the UK manages to match the highest level of political incorrectness with some of the best musical choices.  Highly visual and imaginative pairings (including more than one song by Rod Stewart) he offers a distinctive glimpse into the world of dialysis, gender realignment and rectal dysfunction – to name few. A highlight of the evening and offering the smartest set of the night Binns closed the opening half to unrestrained applause.

Following the first three acts (who were, on the whole, remarkably good) would have been hard for most comedians but the next four certainly gave it their best. Jamie Bowen with his androgynous name and deeply uninhibited excavation into the highs and lows of one’s testes got plenty of laughs and so did Andrew Clay. The latter with his cheery, if admittedly monocultural, view of New Zealand waxed eloquent on the generic stereotypes of Kiwis as the relatively unruffled birds of a collective feather and his comments, while not necessarily incisive, were suitably sharp. Occasionally.

Not so for Tim Batt and Nick Gibb, unfortunately both of whom seemed to flounder excessively in lukewarmish delivery and content. Gibb focused on sharing his ‘new material’ by going back in time and the staid jokes got old very quickly. Batt on the other hand promised to end the night on a high with some racy material but seemed to have got the notion mixed up with racist. Making comments on religion (especially with little knowledge or exposure) came across rather tasteless and arrogant. Further he added a massive dollop of ignorance to his pile of unremarkable comments as he seemed to forget that Christianity is not a separate religion for Catholics or Seventh-Day Adventists.

Some days Wikipedia just isn’t your friend. Neither is bigotry.

Overall, a good night though it seemed that the comedians were prepped for an exclusively white audience (don’t comics think people from South Auckland have the wheels to get into town on a Sunday night?) and the number of comments that were catered to a homogenous middle class group of people (no not everybody was from Takapuna) was startlingly disappointing . Next year let’s hope Amnesty reflects its commitment to its vision by showcasing more comedians who have unadulterated talent rather than those who simply cater to satisfying the egos of a few who believe money alone can make a difference.

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