His show is the Delusionaries and it’s unlike any other show I’ve seen this festival. It’s a 1-man-3-act performance that is equal parts brilliant and baffling. Jonny as Jonny introduces us to the show and it’s clear that Jonny hates what’s popular. He is the 2010s version of a counterculture practitioner. He knows what’s what and he wants to share that with you, sometimes by forcefully cramming it down your throat.
He makes it clear what sort of comic he isn’t in the beginning by spelling out that he does not do topical satire. That’s not his bag and he’s unapologetic for it. He’s clearly got a very good brain, sometimes it can feel like he’s belittling us and some his responses to heckling may border on the nasty but he never loses the crowd.
His show’s premise is that he will introduce three men who are themselves the delusionaries of the title. Each of them thinks he has something important to convey and none of them really have a clue. This seems to be a metaphor for Jonny’s perception of the world around him, as each character seems to represent a different, hyperbolic version of the people Jonny has little time for.
He gets some disappointed murmurings from the crowd that the three characters are all men and he agrees that there’s a problem with the paucity of women comedians in the festival. A comedian agreeing with a heckler! Nice! He manages to walk that tightrope brilliantly, showing us a sympathetic perspective to this feminist stance without becoming condescending or patronising.
He brings his first delusionary on, parenting expert Alan Legtit. Alan seems to me to be a mash-up of Tom Cruise’s character Frank T.J. Mackie from Magnolia and Nigel Latta. Jonny absolutely nails this character. He viciously tears down a number of views that slightly right-wing conservative people have, he keeps the audience laughing along with word-play as he, piece-by-piece deconstructs a number of sacred cows.
Jonny’s work here is the closest I’ve seen to a New Zealander matching Stephen Colbert. He manages to portray a character whose views are plausible, but skewers them and draws a lot of laughter from their absurdity. It was a shame when Alan went off because Jonny never quite hit the high-notes of this performance.
His second character was Richie Richardson (fortunately my fears he was going to play former West Indian cricket captain were not born out). Richie is your typical hippyish lefty actor. He’s done something illegal and is now a tad washed up (just what the illegal activity was bordered on the gratuitous for no real pay-off, though not offensively so). With this character Jonny is firing off shots at the acting/theatre scene. He lost me, and bits of the crowd at this point as a number of the jokes seemed very much in-jokes, referencing events and people that I was unfamiliar with. Some in the crowd stayed with him though, so it wasn’t a failure by any stretch.
The fact that Jonny was able to deftly switch from attacking right wing to left wing showed an acute mind for the hypocritical and illogical.
His last character is Coole Youth Pastor, who is in fact a Cool Youth Pastor. This last character was perhaps the most standard stand-up comedy character with more set-up punchline type gags than the previous two. We saw that Jonny was capable of delivering a more conventional stand-up set. Again Coole Youth Pastor wasn’t as strong as Alan, however he got some great laughs with what were actually quite predictable gags, but delivered in such a way that they still gave us a pleasant surprise.
Overall it was a great show. Jonny is a fascinating character. He skewered an awful lot of his own circle, taking shots at hack material and other comedians. It’s a bold move and one that I hope pays off. However if he wants to win awards and take the spoils that go with that, he may need to consider watering down some of his spite. I hope he doesn’t because he’s providing a unique voice in the New Zealand scene.
And finally, he’s a confident comic that imbues confidence in the audience.