White Man Behind a Desk has scaled heights faster than most comedians get to. For the last wee while he’s been honing his Colbert/Stewart pastiche and delivering lefty sermons with humour from behind his desk and building quite the following. Last year his festival show was a huge hit and he won best newcomer for Wellington.
I’ve seen some of the YouTube videos but I didn’t catch his show last year so I was very much looking forward to this year’s show. Sadly I was left disappointed.
The show has a cold open with Robbie Nicol (the white man behind the desk) recording another of his videos from behind his desk. There’s no audience engagement at this point, he’s flat out just recording. Consequently he’s staring down the barrel of the camera and not engaging with the audience in a meaningful way. His piece is low on humour and high on that speech you hear from your cousin who’s doing Pols 102 and just read Das Kapital or Atlas Shrugged for the first time and thinks they have a new idea that nobody has ever considered before.
This video is around the housing crisis, specifically what can be done for renters. The solutions offered have long been discussed, he’s not holding up an uncomfortable mirror to anything, he’s just telling us stuff that anyone who reads political news will know. The jokes are fairly stock with nothing new or different. It was a weak opening because it all but ignored the audience and so any kind of emotional connection that we usually build with a comic was never there.
But then the show does change once the recording is over and it does improve, though it doesn’t scale any great heights
Robbie attempts to subvert the idea of a comedy show by not doing a comedy show and he definitely succeeds at one of those premises.
As a performer, Robbie excelled far more once the camera was off. He’s clearly a talented showman and he uses his physicality to great effect at points but he’s badly let down by a script that is just light on … everything.
Every now and again we see a flash of some kind of brilliance which only serves to magnify how weak the rest of the show is. This is physically manifested by Robbie’s cohort on stage, who does not have anywhere near the magnetism or performing chops that Robbie does.
I’ve said time and time again that a comedy show should either present a new idea, or an old idea differently. Robbie’s (and his team, for this is a written/directed show) attempts at a comedy-show subversion fall short of both of these. It felt like everything he was trying to do had been before and better by someone else.
That’s not to say the audience didn’t laugh. There were parts that we all enjoyed immensely, however these were few and far between and even the boisterous fans who started out laughing at every second line found themselves with no home to laugh in at about the 30 minute mark, a lull that settled over the theatre and only briefly let up at the very end.
I admire Robbie and the team for what they tried to achieve. They just didn’t achieve it. It pays to remember that in a comedy fest you should be funny. Doesn’t matter though. Show’s all sold out.
Wellington, BATS, May 15-19, 8.30pm
Full Price $20
Group 6+ $14