The NZ Comedy Festival 2013 brochure suggests that we ‘join Fairly Funny for a lunch time of comedy about something serious.' The serious stuff relates to the work of Fairtrade Australia New Zealand and the comedy is provided by The Fairtrade Avengers Michele A'Court and Jeremy Elwood.
Not that Michele and Jeremy call themselves The Fairtrade Avengers and Fairtrade ANZ don't either, but my son, age ten, who is always up for a free lunch especially if Karma Kola, his favourite drink, is involved, decides early on that Elwood looks like Thor from The Avengers and I've always thought, if I scrunch my eyes up a bit and have another Pinot Gris, that A'Court looks more than a bit like Wonder Woman. The Pinot Gris ensures that I am seldom wrong about these things.
This could well, in some small way, be payback of the diminutive variety as Elwood is a self-professed ‘child hater' and my son is an activist for the rights of any person under the age of whatever he might happen to be at the time. I suspect, in truth, they'd get on famously.
A'Court and Elwood have worked with Fairtrade ANZ for a number of years and are passionate advocates for the work of the organisation, advocates who put their talent where their mouths are, as can be heard here.
I don't need convincing about Fairtrade ANZ because I am a fan too – as it seems are a bunch of us, as the Loft at the Q Theatre is almost full: no mean feat in a city with little or no recent history of lunchtime performance. The festival itself is clearly going off if the 40 minutes I spent on the phone trying to get through to the box office this morning to purchase an extra ticket before finally giving up is anything to go by. This has to be a good thing and, in person, the Q box office staff are always utterly professional ... but I digress.
The style of Fairly Funny is thoughtfully informal, almost casual in fact, and totally suited to the occasion. The set consists of a single pull-up banner picturing a white hand on a ming blue, black and lime green background emblazoned with “Buy Fairtrade and good things will happen. Fairtrade Karma.” The attractive brochure left on every seat elaborates with “when you woke up you had a choice to make it a good day or a bad day. It's simple. Do something nice for the world and the world will do something nice for you. It's called #FairtradeKarma.”
As we are unmistakably surrounded by people who have clearly been doing pleasant things for the planet all morning, I know we are in for something equally nice in return, other than the excellent lunch (sans broccoli) which precedes the show.
This karmic message is reiterated by a boyish, ming blue tee-shirt-wearing fellow named Barnaby of Fairtrade ANZ as part of his introduction and again at the end of the show when he thanks those, including the audience, who have helped out so resolutely in recent times. This is, he reminds us, Fair Trade Fortnight (4 – 19 May, 2013) and with Auckland officially becoming a Fair Trade City in 2012 it's all systems go on that front!*
Barnaby then introduces us to Michele A'Court who, I suspect, no longer needs much introduction to New Zealand audiences and A'Court immediately takes us on a journey to Papua New Guinea and opens our eyes to life in Port Moresby, the two villages that were the centrepiece of her stay and the rationale that underpins the work of Fairtrade ANZ in the region.
She reminds those of us who might have forgotten that she and Elwood are actually a couple with thirteen years on the clock and that theirs is one of those relationships with a noteworthy age disparity, in their case 15 years. I look down the row at my spouse of thirteen years, marvel at our thirty year age difference and wonder just what was in the Karma Kola thirteen years ago that made for such remarkable unions. I guess the millennium moved for them, too.
A'Court explains her passion for the motivation that drives Fairtrade ANZ and likens the lives of the farmers to those of performers who live on just a small percentage of the actual revenue generated by their work while the majority of the income goes to others. It unleashes some less than pleasant memories in me and I understand exactly what she means.
If this sounds like a poignant narrative it certainly is, but you need to also remember that it's being told by one of our consummate comedians so it's also as funny as hell and, at times, quite wonderfully black. A'Court revisits a couple of bits and bobs from her new show Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter and it's like meeting old friends such is the quality of the material and the exemplary nature of the delivery. (It finishes at Q in Auckland on 4 May then opens at Wellington's San Francisco Bathhouse on 13 May – details here.)
A'Court ends by reminding us that we too can contribute to the work of Fairtrade ANZ by making good choices about something as simple as what coffee we choose to buy. It's good advice, sagely given, before she introduces us to Elwood who, it seems, is a fine example of an excellent choice A'Court herself made all those thirteen years ago.
Elwood's comedy is deliciously perked but is a much darker brew.
He begins by telling us that A'Court's description of life in Port Moresby was a tad rose-tinted. He takes us down the path of racial tensions in PNG, likens them to ours here in New Zealand (he says we have none), gun crime (we have none of that either, he says) and gangs. He likens dear, sweet Barnaby to Caspar the English Ghost, compares Air New Zealand service to that of Air Papua New Guinea, rambles his way (cleverly) over to our military and has us hysterical by the time he gets to the recent bouts of forgetfulness experienced by some of our senior parliamentarians.
Marriage equality gets a mention along with some wonderful – and revealing – stories from the Christchurch earthquake. I'll take to my grave the image of a gentleman wearing only a robe, squatting in the badly damaged and soon to be demolished Hotel Grand Chancellor and moving from room to room imbibing the contents of mini-bar after mini-bar. It makes perfect sense – and as he speaks I remember my childhood in that wrecked city and realise that Elwood has worked some sublime and almost cathartic magic in his short set to get us to this place.
A quick trip to Port Levy and some madness about whale stranding and letters to The Christchurch Press and we're back to the reason we came: making a difference to the lives of farmers in Papua New Guinea; farmers who currently work for little or nothing and whose lives we can change simply by the purchasing choices we make.
I decide as I leave the theatre that this marriage was a winner from the moment it was conceived: two of our finest comedians, each with integrity, experience and a level of talent beyond dispute, backing Fairtrade ANZ, an organisation created and managed to simply make a difference – and neither party is backing off. I like that – especially the ‘no backing off' part. It pleases my old heart and I walk out onto a sunlit Queen Street with a renewed desire to contribute more to the good karma that the planet dines off and to continue to make purchasing choices that will benefit people I will never meet but who deserve an education and the creature comforts that my small contribution can ensure.