Man in the nylon mask

GOING BIG: Mexican wrestler El Jaguar isn't afraid to be the centre of attention.
GOING BIG: Mexican wrestler El Jaguar isn't afraid to be the centre of attention.

Derek Flores has many guises: busker, improviser, court jester, Dad, postman and comedy scene leader. He is gearing up for the World Buskers Festival this week, when he will facilitate the funny at a nightly comedy show.

At high school, Derek Flores was already thinking about his future. So much so that when he stumbled across a wrestling bodysuit, he bought it and stored it in his unofficial costume box. He didn't know it at the time, but Mexican wrestler El Jaguar had been born.

Apparently, this is something thespians do. "You go into second-hand stores and you buy s*** that you go, oh f***, one day this will be great," Derek says.

QUIET TIME: Comedian Derek Flores is an introvert at home.
QUIET TIME: Comedian Derek Flores is an introvert at home.

Canada-born Derek has spent 25 years of his life making people laugh and now he is using a host of characters and events to revive the comedy culture in post-quake Christchurch, at a time when laughing is paramount to good living. His main on-stage persona is El Jaguar, a high-energy character in a wrestling singlet and mask, with an accent mimicking Derek's Guatemalan mother.

On the day Avenues meets comedian Derek, he is relaxing at his inner-city home, surrounded by homemade baking and jazz music. Although he has only lived in Christchurch for two years, he is quickly learning what makes local audiences tick.

El Jaguar finds Christchurch a quiet, captive audience. "I'm used to North American audiences, where they buy in ... Here, I've had many times where people are sitting like this (crosses arms) and after the show they come up and say 'that was amazing'."

Why do Cantabrians make comedians work so hard? Derek calls them "rootsy people" who have a good connection to the earth. "You have to work. There's no free ride with the earth people. They have to be up at five to work the land, you [need to] f*****g work the land with your jokes. If that's the chosen profession you have, you better work for it ... I make people laugh once, I still have to work for the next laugh."

Across the ditch, Australians give him the benefit of the doubt. He finds he can poke fun at Americans and play on taboo, while Canadians are welcoming, Europeans have intelligent senses of humour, the Scottish are "rough as guts" and Italians like physical humour.

Derek's first taste of New Zealand was in 1995 for the World Buskers Festival, which was much more modest than it is now. He remembers crowds of up to 1000 people when he was MC at performances at the Arts Centre. At that stage, the festival was just for buskers; afternoon shows took place in Cashel St and evening performances at Dux de Lux. The festival moved to Victoria Square before Hagley Park became its permanent home.  

"Among buskers, this is the biggest street performance in the southern hemisphere," Derek says.

At the 1995 and 1996 festivals, Derek performed Hot Nuts and Popcorn with Eric Amber, a street performance unsurprisingly including underwear, plastic-wrap restraints and an attempted escape. He last appeared at the festival in 2012 as El Jaguar, who was the MC at the midnight show at the Christchurch Casino.

At this year's buskers festival, Derek will MC the nightly Comedy Club show in Hagley Park. "It's great to be back - a little daunting. El Jaguar likes intimate [spaces] so you can see everyone and talk to everyone, but with such a huge crowd, he'll just have to expand the energy out a little bit more."

Recently, with the stress of an imminent comedy tour, Derek and his partner Michelle Neilson (Michi) took time out to watch comedy show Veep and were "crying with laughter". Their stress disappeared as, for a moment in time, they forgot everything else. 

"That's what we want people to have. When they come to our show, they're loaded with EQC repairs or insurances not paying out and then, for 90 minutes, they can have a beer and watch something that they can look at and go 'what the f*** is that? What is that? What am I seeing? That's the best thing for me, when people are saying 'What the f*** am I doing?'" Derek says.

He chuckles, with a signature raised eyebrow, as he imagines people sitting in traffic the next day thinking, "F***, that guy was in a onesie".

"Christchurch has been through a rough time. The more opportunities there are for levity and laughing together, the better," Michi adds.

For them, post-quake, it's about "stitching back the community" and offering an alternative entertainment to drinking and dining.

"We came from a big city that had ... an overwhelming scene," Michi says. "And we came to somewhere that hardly had a scene and you just think 'we need more of that'. Just like we need more restaurants." 

How to live like El Jaguar

I unwind by painting watercolours of the Avon River. And crying in the shower.

My secret to ageing fabulously is chocolate. And crying in the shower.

How to put together a coherent, stylish look: Think of what your parents wore, wear that, and add a pug.

My suggestion for people who are grumpy about life is to remember it could be a whole lot worse. Lowered expectations make for sound sleep.

I never leave home without an extra pair of underpants, just in case.

I've decided to move to Christchurch because it's pretty. It's peaceful. The patience and perseverance of the people. The possibilities. The pukekos. All these positives persuaded El Jaguar.