You can tell Tim Batt is used to talking to people for a living. A Radio Hauraki Drive producer, he's worked in radio full time for five years. He's one of those people who uses your first name in conversation a lot and really listens to what you're saying - in other words, a master of rapport.
This feeds straight into his stand up style, which is relaxed and slightly cocky, and involves befriending a couple of individual audience members in a way that makes us all feel like his mate. This, combined with a touch of self-deprecation and a knowing grin, builds a rapport that allows him to get away with a seemingly unstructured set and some close to the bone jokes, in a wash of face-aching laughter.
I was looking forward to interviewing him, knowing he'd be easy to talk to, and wasn't disapointed. It's a shame his naturally witty intonation can't be conveyed here as strongly as in real life, you'll have to use your imagination...
What can we expect from your show?
What a great question. What can you expect from my show? You can expect it to be an hour that’s for sure. It will be for all of that time. You can expect it to be of a reasonable comedic standard…
Here’s the thing Alice. A lot of people are going to tell you what’s in their shows but they’re lying to you because no one has written their shows yet, but you can’t tell the festival people that. Here’s what to expect in my show:
A lot of laughs. I like everyone at my show to have a good time, so I’m very into making sure that everyone’s feeling good and doing a lot of audience warm up - which sounds like I’m running an exercise class, or something like aerobics.
Or like Robbie Williams
Yeah exactly, but I like everyone to be in a good zone, I don’t like to be too confrontational, and because another feature of my show is that sometimes I can get a bit aggressive, so I kind of need to have the audience on my side otherwise I’m just weird shouty man.
Do you pick on audience members?
I would not say pick. But I would say talk to. And sometimes make a little bit of fun with, but not necessarily of. I did a gig a couple of days ago at The Classic and there was both a bachelor party and a hens night, and they were quite chatty, which is fine I like that, but I couldn’t actually tell if this guy was wearing a vest or if it was just sweat stains, as on his shirt they were perfectly matched, so we had a conversation about that.
And I don’t think it was picking on him because he was laughing and I was laughing and the rest of the room was laughing so…
Then afterwards he might have gone home and cried!
This is true, but then he shouldn’t have been talking as loudly as he was at a comedy gig so... lessons learned at The Classic.
What’s the worst gig you’ve ever done?
Potentially one I did about three or four days ago.
Just every now and then – it was at The Classic so that’s a proper venue with a proper audience. And just every now and then it just doesn’t work for whatever reason.
And you can’t put your finger on why?
I can put my finger on what went wrong that time, and it was me. Being grossly under-prepared for a gig.
That must be the most horrible feeling ever.
It’s terrible. BUT it’s good. It’s actually good for a few reasons.
The first is that you go ‘holy crap that can never happen again’ so you really focus on fixing it.
The second reason is that it happens, and then you go ‘that’s literally the worst thing that could happen, I’m still alive, no one’s got cancer, it’s fine.' I mean we’re stand up comedians - if a doctor has a bad day at work they could kill someone. But we have a bad day at work and some people are a bit pissed off that they paid $20 for a rubbish comedy gig.
So the best gig?
You know what, I’ve got a really bad memory but what I was thinking about that today because we’re at Q Theatre, and a year ago I did a gig here called Next Big Things? Or Next Best Things? And it was hosted by Ben Hurley and…
Oh I went to it! During the comedy festival?
Bright young things? Next bright big things?
Next big bright young big things, yeah.
Oh yeah! You were very funny. You were a highlight of the night. THE highlight of the night.
You’re too kind. I had a great time at that one – the audience were just on the vibe and everything clicked. They liked what I was putting down which was great, and then I went over time, which you may or may not recall, and then I just went for it and people loved it.
I'm so glad I was there for your best gig, it’s like being there for Woodstock!
It was a special moment to be involved in, I’m glad you liked it.
First thing you ever found funny?
Mmm, well…probably Short Circuit, the Steve Guttenberg film from the mid 80s, starring a robot called Johnny Five.
Never heard of it.
It’s an amazing film based on the premise that there’s a military robot which is designed to carry nuclear warheads into the battle ground, right, BUT one gets struck by lightening and becomes alive – it develops a consciousness and a soul, and he has to try and convince everyone that he’s alive because the military are going to come and find him, and all he wants to do is hang out with humans and learn about the world, it’s really sweet.
Sounds brilliant. And you just remember laughing your head off?
Yeah there’s this bit where Newton Crosby, that’s the name of the doctor who programmed Johnny Five, gets convinced and he tries to convince everyone else this robot is worth saving and not destroying, and there's a bit where he tells him a joke and they’re in the middle of the desert and Johnny Five just starts cracking up.
What inspires your comedy?
Mainly the film Short Circuit, if not exclusively the film Short Circuit, and to a lesser extent Short Circuit Two.
Would you recommend people not to see Short Circuit in case it gives away your show then?
I would actually recommend not to come to my show unless you have seen Short Circuit, because you need that context.
Other than Short Circuit, I’m really trying to get into that idea that comedy can be used to give a message and you can say something with it, so I guess Bill Hicks is the classic example of the dude that really has something to say. But I don’t consider – like he’s a comedian but sometimes he’s not doing comedy he’s just ranting and it’s entertaining, but I love the fact that comedy can make social change, and you can slip things into comedy that you can’t in any other forum and you can try and change minds.
What’s your message?
I’m still trying to find it, but mainly it’s love and that we all get along. Love in the non-romantic way but in the Brotherhood of Man kind of way.
Who’s the funniest person you know who’s not a comedian?
I’ve got so many friends who are funnier than me. They’re all hilarious, all my mates in Wellington who I went to high school with, I’ve got a friend – Tom – who’s studying music who I’ve been friends with since I was 13.
All the mates I’ve kept friends with are so funny and sharp and hilarious.
Do you ever try and encourage them to do stand up?
No because they don’t even desire to, because they’re not mental like we are. They’re fine with their lives.
Why do you need it?
Same reason as all comedians need it – because we’re sick in the head.
Only a little bit though! But that’s true. If you want to get on stage and potentially embarrass yourself in front of a huge room of strangers, there’s something wrong with you.
What was the first joke you remember writing?
Oh god it was so bad! It wasn’t a joke, it was – I think I was 17 - the first time I ever did stand up comedy and I wrote a series of love letters to Britney Spears in rhyming couplets that at the time were semi-relevant, I thought they were funny until I got on stage and did them. And it was one of those situations where I was in the middle of doing them – like ‘hey wait a minute! I’ve mucked this up! There’s nothing about this that’s funny... why am I doing it on a comedy night OR at all?’
What do you like about the other nominees’ comedy?
There’s such a broad range. They’re all doing something completely different which is going to make this year awesome.
Do you have a favourite?
That is going to break up the group if you start throwing that around! I honestly don’t think I do, it sounds really corny but I genuinely believe anyone could win it this year because it’s so strong – like Brendon Green has this amazing kind of heart that comes through in his storytelling and stuff. Stephen Witt has this incredible physicality which he’s mastered as a professional clown so he can nail that side of things.
Guy Montgomery has the most absurd and fast moving brain I’ve ever encountered I think it’s phenomenal. And Jamaine is just so infectious you can’t help but crack up when he’s on stage. Everyone’s bringing something amazing - there's a reason to see everyone.
Don’t let the intense glare on the promotional posters fool you – Tim Batt is all jest and good banter.
Billy T award nominee and winner of Best Newcomer Comedy Festival 2013, Batt has unconventionally titled his show ‘Tim Batt saves Planet Earth’. He’s quite literally compiled a series of what he calls ‘lectures’ to funnily share his views on how to change the world. He jokes that the comedy festival organisers had one condition: that his spiels and tangents included at least one anti-Semitic joke. He slipped it in, but otherwise, certainly didn’t play by the book.
Opening with a two minute video that summarises the turmoil our world, is in today in Batt’s true mocking style. The tempo of the video sets the pace for the show, and Tim provides erratic banter with topics covering everything from politics to irrational fears. A key term to take away is Tim’s suggestion of a system of government called ‘governmania’- a fight-to-the-death styled election where the best (ish) man wins.
By no means is this a TED talk- it’s a fresh kind of comedy that nabs the intellectualness I feel a lot of today’s comedians miss. Batt doesn’t fall back on toilet humour for a cheap laugh, but has planned everything to the T.
Audience interaction is fairly subtle, so great for those who fear being singled out . The great thing is, Tim makes it his mission to conquer all the audience’s other fears. He solved everything from the fear of outer space to the fear of waking up naked on a unicorn, with very Batt-logic, a goofy grin, and a fist pump.
Batt’s cheeky grin saves him from a number of near misses with his un-PC sense of humour, and his sarcastic tone shows he means no harm. Offending pretty much everyone in the audience, he does so in a way that embraces awkwardness. I like a comedian that acknowledges they’ve taken it too far but just tries again; Batt does so by offending certain Cheshire-cat looking politicians, first time parents, and even challenges anyone who uses fly spray.
You’ll come out with a very new perspective on life, questioning serious matters like why Schick Quattro needs four blades.
Following on from themes addressed in his solo show last year, Tim Batt’s Unified Theory, Billy T Award nominated comedian Tim Batt once again joins forces with his audience in a bid to make the world a better place. From his proposals on a new form of government to the focus of public service announcements, Batt reflects on how and why we’ve come to believe what we do, which allows him to address the crux of what he believes is a universal problem; fear.
In addition to his logical and scientific arguments, Batt takes it upon himself to address audience-specific fears, from waking up next to Brian Tamaki to praying mantis(es), offering direct, if not obvious, solutions to any and all problems. That’s not to say that Batt is supercilious or nonchalant, or plummets into a diatribe, simply that he is open and willing to take things head on and engage his audience. This reflective pace is, however, excellently balanced with the odd incredulous outburst and cynicism of a young white male torn between his Generation Y birthright and fundamentally philosophical views.
Throughout it all, Batt is aware that saving the planet is not a solo job, and encourages the audience to climb on board with his proposals. He’s also aware that an individual proclaiming such a fate is need of the mandatory origins story, and, with this, cleverly ties the motivation and objective of his show together. Tim Batt Saves Planet Earth is perfect for audiences who want laughs, intellectual stimulation, and maybe even to rid themselves of a fear or two.
Admittedly, there are moments throughout the show where influences from around the world seep through. He asserts that Colonel Sanders was a slave owner because “he can feel it in his guts”, which immediately brings to mind Stephen Colbert's unparalleled performance at the White House Correspondent's Dinner. He raises his voice to a high-pitch when he lies and whispers into the microphone when he's sentimental – vocal techniques that are most common with comedians that are camp and British. But despite these influences, Tim Batt always pulls his jokes back into a distinctly Kiwi comic rhythm.
It is the same cadence that you hear in John Clarke's Fred Dagg or in the work of Paul Ego, and it allows people like Tim Batt to point to issues in our democracy without ever seeming too political. It is a voice that is simultaneously definitive and humble, and that finds wisdom by avoiding the over-complicated.
Batt gets Ryan from the front row to read out admissions of fear from the audience at the start of the show, which allows him to build a rapport with the audience. He tells us we need to build this rapport if we're going to achieve our goal of saving the world – a clever move at a stand-up gig. Similarly, when the audience seems to disapprove of a joke about an infertile woman, he takes this discovery of the audience's moral compass as a successful discovery that we've all made together as a team.
Perhaps the cleverest move Tim makes is taking his closing joke from last year's Unified Theory show and putting it right near the start of this performance. This is what Louis C.K. did every year when he decided he could fight to become a great comic rather than a good one. It forces the comedian to come with an entire hour of material that is better than, or on par with, the best thing they came up with the previous year. If Tim Batt keeps it up, I am certain he will have a long and successful comedy career.