Performance comedy on a massive scale

RICHARD SWAINSON
Last updated 08:13 21/08/2012

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Richard Swainson

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There has been widespread criticism of the New Zealand police for its handling of the Kim Dotcom affair. I think this is grossly unfair.

Ever Philistines when it comes to public funding of the arts, the press and taxpayers alike have demonstrated too little appreciation of the skills and planning that have gone into such a multilayered farce. Performance comedy on this scale is seldom attempted.

I suspect some of the knockers have been put off by the American connection. Can an extended fiasco like this be thought truly indigenous when grounded in the codes and conventions of another country's comedic traditions?

Isn't the project inherently compromised in the casting process, by having a rotund German play the lead? Where are our own funny fat men? In a country that gave the world Prince Tui Teka, Billy T James and David Lange you could surely find an obese comic somewhere.

Such thinking misunderstands the very nature of the exercise. Rhys Darby and Brett McKenzie are all very well but lack the bodily gravitas and bank balance of our cheery Teutonic friend. If you are going to pay tribute to the Keystone Kops you need a performer who at least looks like Fatty Arbuckle.

From his edgy criminal past to his proclivity to use his stomach as an offensive weapon to his poor taste in political company and hilarious musical output, Kim Dotcom is an Arbuckle for the 21st century.

Even given such a perfect leading man there would be no dell'arte in the Commedia without our under-appreciated local talent. I have particularly admired the performances of sworn officers in court. Staunch and resolutely monosyllabic in their efforts to defend the indefensible, the testimony has combined a kind of clutching-at-straws desperation with a Buster Keaton-like subtlety of delivery.

Consider the comic genius that is Detective Inspector Grant Wormald. When that man brags about how the raid on the Dotcom mansion constituted a "thorough and professional execution of a search warrant" there cannot be a dry eye in the house. Charisma of this magnitude isn't acquired through training or even on-the-job experience, flying around in helicopters humming Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries and pretending you're in Apocalypse Now. That kind of acting skill is innate.

It's not just about delivering the one liners either. Plot wise the Dotcom saga just keeps giving and giving, with gags-within-gags and jokes-within-jokes. Viewers will have their favourite moments. Here are some of mine: First off, the big picture. The way the FBI shouted "jump" at our gullible bobbies was too quickly matched by the deafening response, "how high?" The sneaking suspicion that use of the Special Tactics Group had much more to do with bored boys looking to try out their toys than any actual threat from Dotcom. The failure of the police to secure a legally binding warrant or even follow their own procedures with regard to the STG involvement.

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Next, the risk assessment of Dotcom. The fact that he was thought dangerous on the basis of a couple of campy photos, a speeding conviction and the complaints of a disgruntled former employee called Bushyhead who claims to have been "body-butted" out the door. The fact that he was thought dangerous because he was a wealthy man and could therefore buy anything he wanted. The fact that he was thought dangerous despite having a serving police officer on his staff who said otherwise. The fact that he was thought dangerous despite welcoming a community constable for lunch the day before the raid.

Next, the so-called "doomsday device". Not since George W Bush and Tony Blair got together to invent some lies about Saddam Hussein and wage an oil war has a greater fiction been heard than the suggestion Dotcom was capable of somehow wiping out all international evidence of internet piracy with the push of a button. Our police had as much success finding this device as US forces did locating the weapons of mass destruction.

Finally, the raid itself. Punching a defenceless fat man and treading on his fingers when you are a gun-wielding thug with the law on your side is about as funny as denying his pregnant wife medical attention when the stress you've caused sends her into labour.

- Waikato

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