Ahh those one-liners coupled with that oh-so-familiar writer's envy. It all comes back to me as I settle in for what turns out to be a 75-80 minute opening night performance of Bronaissance by James Nokise. Wearing a Porirua 04 shirt under a white blazer he enters the stage to rapturous applause.
I'm always in awe of, well, Americans and how they're ‘on' and I place comedians in this category too. Nokise's casual, relaxed (but not to the point-of-being comatose), non sweaty (he doesn't sweat, wtf?), fast-paced delivery makes this an enjoyable experience. But then I am expecting that, having pretty much signed up as a fangirl of Public Service Announcements (PSA).
Bronaissance weaves in personal stories while showing a series of images revealing Nokise's love for Art History. There were technical glitches that once they're sorted will make this fly. Even so, it's all forgivable. Nokise is intelligent, educated and politically astute and of course, that's reflected in the show but not in a wanky, superior way. There is something heartfelt about this performance that, as he mixes in family anecdotes, is so honest you feel a little for him.
There's an interesting or perhaps telling response when he asks, “What is the most racist thing ever said to you?” Every single Polynesian in the audience is silent. I know this because I am sitting with three of them. Someone offers up “par-laing-ee.” Thankfully for us, Nokise translates while we (ok, me) are still figuring out what “par-laing-ee” is. and when I do, I'm a little confused as to how palagi is racist, when it's a word describing a whiteperson or non-samoan? I mean, I was called a palagi by a Samoan kid once, as a matter of fact, not as a slur.
Nokise is already there riffing that: said punter SHOULD be offended. At the mis-pronunciation. It's clever, inclusive and potentially diffuses tension which – let's-face-it with the Kiwi ‘politeness' around racism – is actually refreshing and here's what I think is one of his strengths. He's a grown-up. A person of Welsh and Samoan whakapapa who's worked it out. Who doesn't use ‘identity issues' for cheap laughs? He's deeper than that and it comes through in the material which he re-references throughout the set.
That's not to mean I don't think he can bring the thunder, because when you got the level of smarts he has – you so can. It's that he doesn't. He chooses not to. He keeps some in the bag and in fact I overheard an audience member say something similar after the show, concluding, “That shit is sexy.” I'll say.
Everything gets a workout from Fat Freddys Drop and those loooooooong as trumpet notes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Burger King, Burger Fuel, Al Nesbitt, Game of Thrones, New Zealand history – I particularly like the way he describes the Treaty of Waitangi to school kids and his definition of hikoi: priceless (I'll try not to pinch that James ;) – te reo Māori, Polynesians too, the recent royal visit and of course, because it's Nokise, politics.
Read more here:
The Bronaissance, a sequel to James Nokise’s So-So Gangsta, is an election year special, raising awareness and battling voter apathy.
Your bros are your people, those who’re nearest and dearest. But they’re also The People. An election signifies two events; the coming together of diverse and disparate individuals; and unification of citizenry, engaged by a common action. The expression of political agency, then, is like a national renaissance (rebirth).
Nokise presents a chain of anecdotes linked through the theme of representation. Figurative art of the Renaissance segues into a social concept, where representation exposes a struggle for power—self-representation (e.g. Nokise’s fandom of The Crow led him to create an alternative persona, The Pigeon) vs. misrepresentation (the persistence of racial bigotry in New Zealand and abroad). This riff is finally expressed in the political arena. Voting is an expression of self-representation, yet one that has a profound impact on how others are represented also.
It’s near impossible not to connect with Nokise’s amiability and wit. His control never falters, the delivery is rapid fire and the outcome always pays off. Visual art by Sheyne Tuffery and Jeremy Leatinu’u is projected onto screens on stage. Shown alongside one another (including The Poet as Unionist, a poem by Karlo Mila provided in the program, music by Adam Page, and a punky ensemble by Suzanne Tamaki), I recall a choir that paradoxically consists of multiple voices.
The message undeniably leans to the left, but there’s material here to charm and challenge voters of every persuasion.
Samoan-Welsh comic James Nokise is the first Kiwi comedian I’ve seen at the festival and I’ve no qualms about saying that his show has been the most clever, confident and well put together comedy set I’ve seen so far this year.
From the minute he got on stage Nokise charmed, endeared and entertained the crowd. And what made it even more fabulous was the fact that he packed a plethora of Kiwi references into the 60-minute performance, making it not only entertaining but densely populated with observational facts about life in Aotearoa.
His smartly provocative political and sociological commentary displays his breadth of reading and appreciation for art. From his narrative you learn that he has come a long way from his days as a rejected gang member because he was “too camp” and has blossomed into a highly intelligent, witty and hilarious observer of NZ life and loathes.
Racism is his ‘Key’ theme and before you start yawning don’t – just don’t. The subsequent monologue demonstrates a great deal of common sense and tolerance. Flanked by three panels on stage with AV effects projected, his monologue included Renaissance art as well as multiple NZ political figures. This coupled with pitching the Parihaka Peace Festival against Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, certainly caught my attention as a member of the audience.
It was refreshing to go to a comedy show where there was not only a wide range of topics touched upon but also having them link together, creating a memorably smart story arc. As audience members it was heartening to know that we were going to be leaving not only ‘comedically’ satisfied but tingling all over from Nokise’s sparkling, intense delivery.
Shame the size of the crowd was not commensurate with the talent displayed on stage. Nokise definitely deserves more adulation and accolades for the intelligent and uniquely Kiwiana show that he presented tonight.
I for one laughed myself silly and I guarantee that you will to, if you take the trouble to come see this fabulous show.