Stephen Merchant once found stand-up comedy agonising. Then he found fame and fortune as a writer. Sixteen years on, when he hardly needs to, he finds himself back on stage.
The answer to making it a more enjoyable experience appears to be detailed preparation. Merchant toured his one-man show Hello Ladies, loosely themed around his romantic misfortunes and fruitless search for a wife, extensively before he reached New Zealand. The result is a tightly-plotted show, complete with props ranging from a laser pointer to a comedy T-shirt.
Merchant - the co-writer of TV comedies The Office, Extras and An Idiot Abroad - is adept at dealing with hecklers, who were few among a sympathetic audience at Auckland Town Hall last night, but when he deviated into longer exchanges with the crowd he was less sure-footed and lost his place.
It was forgivable as his main monologue, canvassing the worst wedding reception ever and the difficulties of secretly watching VHS porn in your parents' front room, was expertly judged.
He also ticked the local box with a five-minute opening observation based on his 24 hours here before taking the stage, and then explained he was there because he didn't have to share the earnings with "you know who".
Ricky Gervais wasn't mentioned again, and admirably, Merchant didn't over-rely on the crutch of Office goodwill thereafter, instead taking a cheerfully old-fashioned physical approach which made good use of his 6ft7 frame.
The encore was a triumph - Merchant hauled two audience members up for a frenzied re-enactment of a school play he wrote as an earnest teenager. The sight of a deeply dismayed tubby bearded bloke in a Metallica T-shirt realising he had to play a suicidal gay teen was delightfully funny.
In support, Ben Hurley provided a solid, polished half-hour of chiefly familiar material.
WHERE: Auckland Town Hall
WHEN: December 19
- © Fairfax NZ News