The bit on the stage is easy: setting up's hard

The stage bit is easy.

Everything else is hard.

Wellington comedian Robbie Nicol last night began a three-show stint at the Hutton Theatre after this year moving full-time into his craft.

Nicol (24) is best known for White Man Behind A Desk a satire series broadcast on YouTube.

Running in Dunedin this week, Idea Worth Spreading, is that idea turned into a one-hour performance.

The show for Arts Festival Dunedin was, Nicol joked (perhaps) "us giving up on comedy, turning our backs on comedy; we think political comedy is morally evil, morally reprehensible".

Idea Worth Spreading premiered at the New Zealand International Comedy Festival in Wellington in May.

Nicol won the best newcomer prize at the 2017 comedy festival.

Nicol's earlier years included school drama and musicals, work with Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand, and a university semester in Edinburgh where he did theatre.

Wellington comedian Robbie Nicol. PHOTO: CHRISTINE O'CONNOR
Wellington comedian Robbie Nicol. PHOTO: CHRISTINE O'CONNOR
His YouTube series started after he worked on a web series put together by friends.

"They were all just as young as me, in their early 20s, and they were making it work, getting quite a few views, and I just realised this is a possible thing."

After that he suggested to friends "a Jon Stewarty type thing" - Jon Stewart is an American satirist - and that became White Man Behind a Desk.

Nicol started off "just giving it a go", and it very quickly got thousands of views.

"We were like, OK, I guess this is working, we'll just keep doing it.

"That's our job, to take apparently boring topics and try to make them as interesting as possible so young people will watch them for seven or eight minutes.

"We're trying to get more funding for more web series so we can keep doing it, keep making funny educational content."

Developing the stage show was an opportunity to do different types of comedy.

He wanted to branch into sketch comedy and "stretch our comedy muscles, basically".

Was his new full-time career was enjoyable or stressful? "It's both actually.

"My mum dropped me off at the airport" to head to Dunedin.

I said: `Tomorrow night I'm going to get to just play silly games with the audience for an hour and it's going to be extremely fun and that's our job'."

That it was fun was a good thing, as "the rest of it's so hard".

"It's so hard to get work, it's so hard to bring it together, and it's so hard to get things across the line."

There was one benefit though: "It's a good thing the rest of the business is so hard, otherwise everyone would be doing it."

Q + A

Idea Worth Spreading

What do you favour in a satire target?

Ideally we favour someone who represents a whole system of absurdity and chaos and bad decisions. We like to pick someone who's very powerful and can be our stand-in, our foil, to represent a bigger idea that we're trying to take apart.

Who do you think is leading the way in satire internationally at the moment?

I think what's good about satire in the post-Jon Stewart era is satire is extremely popular and heaps of people are doing it in totally different ways. John Oliver leads the way in great research, Samantha Bee leads the way in terms of emotional passion, and Sacha Baron Cohen leads the way in terms of gross-out humour.

What sort of satire has inspired you?

I think it's who you'd expect satirically, Charlie Brooker, Jon Stewart, John Oliver, these are the guys we read through our monologues to make sure it matches that voice, and whenever we're totally lost we can read it in a David Mitchell voice and say "does it sound funny?"

What have been the most amusing topics you have covered this year?

I think the most fun topic for us to write about has been university funding. Once we started writing it we realised how much boiling rage we had under the surface when we look at student debt. It's a lot easier to write jokes when you've been personally affected by it, and you've got that seething rage.

You do clips on YouTube, how does your live show differ?

We've got to fill an hour, that's the biggest difference. We want it to be a great narrative arc so the audience leaves feeling totally satisfied, and that it was worth the price of admission.

Do you promise not to be mean about Dunedin, and not to swear?

We absolutely do not promise not to swear, so for sensitive ears come anyway, and just block your ears when you think a swear word is coming. We promise not to be mean about Dunedin. I can make that commitment.


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