Tuesday, 31 October 2006
Country Notes: New Zealand
Alex Horne - 31st October 2006
The UK is the best place in the world for stand up comedy. Not, unfortunately, because of our superior sense of humour, but because the size of our country, fertility of our land, universality of our language and greed of our ancestors means that a lot of people now live very close together on a tiny little island. It's is a comedian's paradise.
In Canada or Australia comics have to fly for a day to get to the next city. Here a two hour drive from London to Bristol is considered a schlep. Each town is a stone's throw from the next (tested most Friday nights) and few are without their very own comedy club. In this golden age of stand up an experienced comic can gig virtually every night of the year in a different town before starting another lap in front of brand new or forgetful crowds the following January. This doesn't necessarily aid creativity but it does mean you don't need to get on TV to make a living making people laugh.
And because of all this work, international acts have flocked to the circuit, increasing the quality and giving audiences much more varied bills. Now, punters can see people from all five continents talking about how nobody in London talks on the tube.
If I've counted correctly, I know comedians from sixteen different countries around the world who are currently living in the capital. That's one in twelve of the world's nations sending a comic here to represent their national sense of humour in front of people who, in more than half the cases, speak an entirely different language. So either humour can travel or the Brits will laugh at anything.
The first 'foreign' comic alphabetically (we are always grouped by our first names – it's a fairly informal job) is a funny and kind man called Al Pitcher who I happened to be driving back from a gig in Norwich (that genuinely is a far-flung town) to his home near London Bridge on October 31st. He's from New Zealand and over the course of a relaxed journey home I explained the project and asked him to be my London Kiwi. He said yes.
We went on to discuss a subject very close to Al's heart – identity. As a New Zealander living over here he's had the chance to look at himself and his background from a very different perspective. He's an outsider here. It's all fascinating stuff. I got very excited.
"So, do you support England when they play football?" I asked incisively. "Well, yeah, I've always supported England cos, you know, I moved to New Zealand from Huddersfield when I was about seven so I was English there, even though now I'm a kiwi here…"By now I had stopped listening. I can't do three things at once (drive, pay attention and realize that something was amiss.
"…I remember when Graham Taylor took an England team to New Zealand in 1991 and Gary Lineker scored an injury-time goal in the first match so England won one-nil. Pearce and Hirst scored in the other game, or was it John Salako – no, I'm not sure – anyway, the second game was two-nil but I think I was supporting England…"
I had to stop him.
"So you actually went to New Zealand from England when you were seven. You do have a New Zealand passport don't you?"Of course he would. Wouldn't he?
"No, that's the funny thing, I've always had a British passport. I thought I should mention it at some point…"
And that was it. Al Pitcher is a Brit. He's also in the unique position of being a devout Kiwi Huddersfield fan (there's a Huddersfield supporters club in Australia with about nine members) – but he's not strictly from New Zealand.
The search continues.
COUNTRIES CURRENTLY REPRESENTED ON THE LONDON COMEDY CIRCUIT: