Imogen Crispe - TV3'Dai Henwood's adorable, child-like humour, comical dance moves and hilarious anecdotes had the almost full house cracking up and applauding last night.'open/close
Dai Henwood's adorable, child-like humour, comical dance moves and hilarious anecdotes had the almost full house cracking up and applauding last night.
With his trademark cute and cheeky ear-to-ear grin, Henwood executed his stand-up set at the Q Theatre seamlessly, and energetically, as if he could have come up with the jokes on the spot.
There was a lot of great improvisation, with Henwood teasing people in the front row and coming up with improvised lines like "bad for the shed but good in bed" and "meavage – man cleavage".
His prepared jokes centred around the idea of being in one's mid-30s, as well as the show's title; Adapt or Dai: Humans are Awesome, Let's Celebrate.
Subjects of humour went from C-sections and risky ways of doing domestic chores, to drink-driving and nipple-tickling.
At one point he did a hilarious impression of a unicyclist trying to stay in one spot at the traffic lights, while at another he slipped into the role of a nut-gathering squirrel.
And of course, as is routine on TV3 comedy show 7 Days, Henwood's small stature was referenced, as he wondered about inventive ways to make his body bigger.
Henwood's eyes lit up in delight as he discussed some of his favourite things – such as toothbrushes, chocolate and forklifts.
His almost innocent charm seemed to appeal to many of the ladies in the audience, with lots of highly audible high-pitched laughing going on.
If you're after some good old Kiwi humour, Dai-style, with lots of New Zealand in-jokes, this is the show for you.
The 2013 NZ International Comedy festival's fancy brochure introduces us to Adapt or Dai by reminding us that “humans are awesome, let's celebrate!”
It goes on to acquaint with us with reasons why Dai Henwood thinks that we are unique hominidae, we homosapiens as we are often called: the last extant species of the genus homo. Perhaps I should apologise to‘Family First' for using the word ‘homo' to describe everyone on the planet but it's unavoidable because that's what we homosapiens are, we're homos – and I agree with Dai Henwood, we should party up large to celebrate this fact. It's true, you see, homo's have the best parties.
Henwood, according to the brochure, thinks that we humans “have been getting a bad name.” He elaborates by observing that “we ruin the environment, we're too fat and we exploit everything we can.” However, he posits “maybe we are the best animal on the planet? We have lasers but seals don't. We created and choose to wear pants. Plus we can talk and laugh.” It's a slim argument but I read on.
He assures us that he “has been researching to find out whether or not humans are top of the food chain, while attempting to be the best human he can.” There's a disclaimer too. It says some researched ‘facts' may not strictly be actual ‘facts'.I'm glad he told us this because he's ensured that his audiences are aware that the parameters of Adapt or Dai are infinite, that we can expect anything, and this knowledge is empowering.
When I first saw Henwood a decade or so ago I was underwhelmed. I liked his personality but I simply didn't think he was funny. I made the mistake of thinking he was just another precocious little theatre snot lurking in the shadow of a famous father and an even more impressive mother; a life-styler with negligible talent. “Dynasties,” I thought. Pffft to that!
I didn't bother much with him after that and those who know me won't be surprised because it's common knowledge that I incline towards being a pretentious and pedantic – possibly boring – theatre classicist. Not always, but certainly sometimes, and everyone knows what Andy Warhol said about classicists, through his mouthpiece Lou Reed:“They look at a tree, that's what they see, they see a tree.”Well, sometimes I can be like that.
Maybe I grew up, grew a sense of humour; maybe Dai Henwood propagated some craft: I don't really know. But I'm happy to say that I can now see the wood from Lou Reed's Warholian trees and can happily admit I got it very wrong.
In my own defence, stand-up comedy has never really been my thing though I liked Lenny Bruce in the early days, but I'm also very happy to say that the artists I've had the privilege of writing about this comedy season have genuine craft, real artistry, are truly funny and have quite won me over.
Most recently I've had the pleasure of seeing Dai Henwood on TV3's fabulous Seven Days. I know it's an edited version of a longer show so it's a bit like watching the cricketing highlights of a Chris Gayle innings but it's authentically and consistently funny and, while there's occasionally still a surfeit of dick and fart jokes and risqué language, there's also a lot of seriously clever, smart and side-splittingly funny stuff, and Dai Henwood, bless his cotton socks, is at the heart of it all.
When I told my son, age ten, that I was reviewing Adapt or Dai he asked me whether this was the short, hairy guy from Seven Days and, when I replied in the affirmative, he said. “He's great, he's my favourite. Can I come?” Sadly I had to say no because the show, inexplicably, comes with an R16 rating and, like Henwood, my son is a short-arse who could barely pass for seven most of the time so was unlikely to be able to sneak past the ever-vigilant staff at Q Theatre.
(Bad parents that we are we do let him watch Seven Days – truth be told, we encourage it – because engaging with the work of top flight New Zealand performing artists is compulsory in our home and none of us are threatened in any way by the content of the show or the language. Words, after all, are simply words. For the tut-tutters reading this I must add, again in my own defence, we do have standards so do discourage the watching of less agreeable work, namely Shortland Street, New Zealand made reality shows, The X Factor New Zealand and productions that involve murderous deeds with vegetables in the kitchen. You'll be happy to note, I'm sure, that I haven't entirely lost my pretentions!)
The Q Rangatira Room is a great venue for watching anything. The gantry seating makes anything possible and the acoustics are awesome which is important for comedy. There are not hard surfaces facing in odd directions that bounce the sound around and confuse timing so Henwood starts with a massive bonus. His set consists of a screen at the back of the stage emblazoned with ‘Dai Henwood' in huge letters and backed by a spaghetti junction-type motorway image all in cool blues and greys. It's very nice, classy, in fact.
The full house erupts with the great man's arrival to an accompaniment of projected fireworks and a magnum opus of digital jiggery-pokery in front of which he busts out some of his signature moves: a few dance steps, muscleman poses, tsuki and other karate kicks until we pull ourselves together and he can be heard. Sadly for me, and those around me, a woman in the row behind never fully recovers from the initial excitement and spends the entire hour-and-a-bit shrieking hysterically at all that is and isn't said; all that is or isn't meant to be funny. I guess it takes all sorts.
It's worth noting that Dai Henwood is magnificent at physical comedy. He's in great physical shape and is able, with seeming ease, to engage his body with his quirky humour to give us the double-happy laughter experience we've come for. I'd love to describe some of it for you but that would spoil the surprise when you go to see Adapt or Dai, which you should. Anticipate away, though, because you will not be disappointed.
Having set up the ‘humans are awesome' theme, Henwood takes us through the joys of being a parent, noting that nothing goes to plan; of moving to Auckland and buying a house in Avondale Heights; lawn-mowing and living on the edge. His engagement with individuals in the front row is hilarious without being demeaning and his spontaneous audience interactions are among the best moments in this thoroughly excellent show.
For me, the improvisational, free-form nature of comedy is what I find most endearing – and exacting – and Henwood is the master of it. He's charming and amiable and his humour is clever, occasionally tart but never degrading, and always, always smartly performed.
He lurks close to his theme throughout, allowing us an anchor and providing one for himself which ensures that his show isn't just a bunch of jokes; endless segued set ups and one liners. There's no padding, no fluff, and it's articulate throughout so we hear everything and get everything and the ‘humans are awesome' theme helps this considerably.
He touches on reverse paedophilia, moves to chocolate, has a crack at packaging, unicycles, minor motor accidents, texting while driving and ghost chips. Electric toothbrushes get valuable PR and, again, his physical comedy has us in stitches before he moves on to interior design, growing up, squirrels and, perhaps the most unexpected piece in the show, meditation as a tool for educating twelve year old boys.
It's hard to top that but some rapid-fire chat about fleshlights, a fat feral Ron Weasley and ping pong manages the seemingly impossible and my body is telling me that I've laughed almost enough when suddenly it's over.
I leave the theatre quickly as the alternative is unthinkable: having a chat with the hyena behind me. On the way out I meet an ex-student who has been a comedy fest groupie and she shares with me that Henwood has been the best yet. I ask if she's seen Michele A'Court's show and she hasn't so I advise her to rectify that error. It's all about gender loyalty, I remind her. I don't think she agrees.
When I get to the car my son wants me to tell him all Henwood's jokes and I can't remember any of them. This is a good sign as processing quality work takes time. “Did he swear much?” he asks and I reply, “No, he didn't.” I add, “He didn't have to, he's really funny anyway.”
A colleague from work was at the same show and, next morning, we compared notes. Our experience has been similar and we'd both had an enormously good time. Again we try to recall the funniest bits and this time some come back. That's heartening because sharing is important.
I sit at my desk to write this review and reflect on what had been a subtle and devious intrusion into my psyche and I am somewhat surprised at just how welcome this intervention had been. I recall the words of another diminutive man, Australian arts manager John Paxinos, who reminded me once that all you need to be a good teacher is rat cunning. I know he's right. I think comedians are the same. They sidle into our consciousness and ensnare our thinking and, while we're hooting and chortling away, they wheedle us into revisiting our values and our beliefs and all without coercion. Dai Henwood is a master of this art and we should cherish him for it because he achieves it without doing a single skerrick of damage.
I reflect on the name of this wonderful work, Adapt or Dai. Yes, it's a witty play on Dai Henwood's name but it's more than that and I wonder whether the world is adapting as it must to the needs of the 21st century. I ask myself: am I adapting in positive ways to my environment, am I improving with age, am I being the best human I can be?
It's a bloody hard question especially as I'm due in front of 200 students in ten minutes and have become acutely aware that research tells us that 70% of teaching large classes needs to be entertainment and that if I fail to make them laugh twice every five minutes I'll lose them, and that concept is untenable. I think, momentarily, back to my first impression of Dai Henwood, a decade or more ago, and admit to myself that, in one way at least, I've adapted. I've gone from being dismissive to being a huge fan. Better than that even, I value him as part of my life because, for the seven days following Seven Days I look forward to welcoming him back into my lounge and giving him and his mates the run of the place – and access to my most treasured taonga, my son.
That's progress. That's a big step in the right direction. Thanks, Dai. I agree with the blurb in the brochure. You're being the best you can be and your best is great by me. So thanks. Thanks a bunch - and we'll see you in seven days on Seven Days!
Dai Henwood serves up a good dose of Kiwi humour, hilarious tales and random anecdotes in his comedy festival show Adapt or Dai.
The little man from TV comedy '7 Days' made a dramatic entrance at the Q Theatre's Rangatira room and wasted no time in singling out a young guy in the front row and giving him props for his buff body (while comparing him to an America’s Cup yacht grinder and doing the actions to match).
The show is loosely based on the theme that "humans are awesome" – and I say loosely because it was about 20 minutes before Henwood's spiel actually took him in that direction.
The audience roared at his personal tales about everything from the birth of his child, to incidents of road rage, pubescent humiliation and an experience with a long-awaited sex toy.
Plenty of off-the-cuff musings aided by audience interaction gave the impression of a fresh show not overly-rehearsed – and at times he even surprised himself.
His stories went off in tangents multiple times over, collecting plenty of giggles along the way, but he’d always manage to finish what he started.
Henwood's impersonation of a squirrel is priceless, as is his ability to produce remarkably-accurate sound effects. It’s harmless, inoffensive humour at its best – utterly random and thoroughly entertaining.
You know it's a great stand-up performance when you find yourself giggling the next day as the quips keep coming back to you.