Last year, Michele's daughter Holly got a job and went flatting for the first time. She was almost 20.
With no kid in the house for the first time since 1993, and with a bit of time on her hands, A'Court began reflecting on those things that she forgot to tell her daughter as she was growing up. The result is her first solo show in seven years – and we get to hear it first.
Michele A'Court is a household name in New Zealand and has been for well over the twenty years of Holly's young life. Young adults will remember her as the brilliant young host who fronted What Now in the earlyish days sharing the limelight with those other stars of the small screen - and almost every other medium you can think of – Frank Flash (Alisdair Kincaid) and JS Danny Watson. Her solo career saw her named Female Comedian of the Decade by the New Zealand Comedy Guild and she's been in our faces in one way or another for quite a bit longer than that.
This was my first show in the Q Theatre Vault, a rather outstanding, downstairs venue reminiscent of small, basement performance spaces the world over. The walls are covered with posters that give the place a lived in feeling – until you realise that they're posters for Ben Hurley and Steve Wrigley, Steve Hughes, Dai Henwood, Urzila Carlson, Stand Up for Kids and The Boy With Tape On His Face and all are from this year's festival. It doesn't matter because, by the time we get to the five minute call and the venue is full, the heat in the place has become so oppressive that I feel we're in for bikram comedy. Please don't be daunted by this as there are great fans - on the walls as well as in the audience - and eventually they kick in and the show isn't especially affected.
A'Court is hot, but I can assure you the heat of which I speak is not her fault.
I should, at this point, own up to the fact that I worked intermittently with Michele during the What Now days providing occasional sketches and songs for the show. I was a fan then, have remained so ever since and nothing in Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter gave me cause to change this stance because this show is simply fabulous.
Being talented is one thing but it's not much use unless there's craft, experience and intelligence to back it up. Add supreme performer integrity and you have, well, you have Michele A'Court.
The show begins with a beautifully judged slide show – where would we be without Powerpoint – of Holly from day one to year twenty. It could be kitsch but it's not. It's tasteful, proud and work-a-day, like holiday snaps shown in anyone's lounge and the whole thing is backed by the sounds of the late Mahinārangi Tocker singing ‘When I Grow Up'.
It's a delightful pastiche of emerging maturity and introduces those of us who don't know Holly to the subject matter of this hour long show, the silent voice, and it's pretty obvious early on that she's there, in the house. I wonder, momentarily, what that must be like for her – and for her mother - decide it must be really special, then forget about it.
This, I decide, is another show with life as its theme. A'Court begins by reminding us that parents need to know everything or they lose their authority. She's already exerted hers and we listen obediently as she gives birth to the show reminding us that the creative process is like having a baby, both give you a sore vagina.
There are great gags, some intuitive, some spontaneous, most carefully contrived - and scripted – and everything is delivered as though this supreme artist has been making it all up. It's hard to tell which is which, such is her craft, and I feel, in retrospect, that I've been having an intimate personal chat over a nice green tea.
She talks about marriage equality and being a lesbian and I feel on safe ground with this. Then it's how to defrost bread without electricity and I'm all at sea again – hysterical with laughter but at sea none the less as I don't cook and both bread and electricity are profound mysteries to me, clandestine information that I know I will never understand.
A'Court is a genius at creating the seesaw that bounces us from laugh to laugh and is so in tune with her audience that it's as though she knows each of us personally and is reaching out to touch us.
Then it's on to ginger, a personalized response to middle age and a poignant moment around her Gran's compact – I become increasingly aware that the audience is largely women and that the show isn't all laughs – but then it's on to body image and what all boys do with their penises and all without any semblance of a pause. The house erupts with eloquent laughter. I do too, but from a slightly different perspective.
Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore visit, then it's on to the audio visuals – a video about sexual safety and contraception fronted by a younger but no less beautiful A'Court and made in 1990. Unlike Holly who apparently hated it, I love her hair.
Then it's feminism. Now, I've been invited by Auckland Council to be on a panel discussing what feminism means to me and to share this occasion with some amazing women including the brilliant Marama Davidson whom I adore, so I am pretty keen to hear A'Court's take on this critical topic both historically and from a contemporary perspective. So I should be, as it is incredible and deeply personal.
Cleverly placed to give our ribs a rest, the feminism set is a beautiful balance of laughter and information. I learn heaps, laugh a bunch and, somewhat surprised, shed a tear or two.
Just when it seems time to wrap it all up we are treated to Lauren Porteous, singing live, Guy Clark's ‘The Cape' and suddenly we're back, deep in the dream that this show truly is.
She's the ultimate theatrical trickster, is A'Court, and she has an armoury of comedic tools at her disposal that is second to none. She uses them all and seemingly at will, and they transport her messages - and her experiences - deep into our collective psyche and I get that there is no single notion of womanhood, a third wave fact for which I will be eternally grateful.
There's more – quite a bit – but I won't spoil any of the wee treasures that populate the last few minutes of this theatrical gem by listing them here. Suffice to say, you should experience Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter for yourself and if you don't make the effort you're quite simply daft.
There are, happily, a couple of classic ‘What Now' shots of Frank, Michele and JS Danny in the final sequence that are like misoyaki sauce to the memory and I'm really spiced up by the whole experience. If Michele A'Court told me to eat my broccoli I'd probably comply which would be no mean feat as it's not my favourite veg. Confused? Don't be. See the show and you'll catch my drift.
She's a very wise woman is Michele A'Court, and well worth listening to. She nails the laughs at an incredible rate but Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter is about much more than the laughs, it's about life and living and in particular living as a woman in the 21st century. It's an absolute classic and I feel privileged to have been present at its birth. You should attend as well. As often as you can because its damn good medicine – and we can never get enough of that.
Michele A’Court has long been one of New Zealand’s premier comedians, she’s won oodles of awards and has pretty much clocked comedy. So it is a real pleasure to see her back doing a solo show for the first time in seven years (not the first time I’m made to feel a bit old in tonight’s show).
Her show is “Stuff I forgot to tell my daughter” and it’s based around all the wisdom that she, as a mother, forgot to impart on her daughter as she grew up and moved out of home.
The show opens in a way that is fairly unique to festival shows, there’s no high energy raucous comedian storming the stage, instead we’re treated to a lovely slideshow of her daughter growing up. It’s a sweet natured beginning that makes a nice change.
But then Michele enters the arena and the energy just flows from her. Michele is a pro. She’s always been a pro, and as an audience member you feel comfortable knowing that whatever comes is going to be a good time. She has a rough opening gag about Rihanna and spousal abuse that got a bit of a groan and laugh from the crowd – that sort of material isn’t to my taste but it worked, so the comedian has fulfilled her obligation to make us laugh.
Her material about the trials of parenthood is good solid fodder, slightly more difficult to relate to if you’re in my position of not having children, and potentially fills me with a sense of foreboding as I consider the prospect but it’s a nice take on a subject matter that doesn’t get a lot of air time.
She then moves on to the history component of the show. Her daughter was born in 1993. She takes us through the current events from 1993 because being a new mum she missed them. I find topical jokes hard to pull off because they date so quickly. Michele just marches through that barrier and then some, getting good laughs from unexpected places for news stories that were 20 years ago! To be able to deftly pull that off is a sign of a quality act.
Then we get to the crux of the show. Feminism. Michele did not explain to her daughter feminism as she assumed that being a third generation feminist, she’d learn it herself. And this is the heart and soul of the show. She warms us into it (so to speak) with a couple of lesbian jokes to remind the audience that she’s not here to preach man-hating feminism, and that she’s still our friend (though with that persona, I think she remains everyone’s best friend). In fact her gag about Queen Victoria is outstanding and breaks the record for oldest current event I’ve seen joked about on stage since Jesus got nailed one night and woke up three days later.
The story of feminism told through Michele’s eyes is fascinating. Not every part of the show will have you laughing but dammit it will have you hooked. The comedy is clearly coming from a personal place, it’s a show that Michele wants to do and wants to tell. There’s no filler material, just things that she wants to get off her chest.
There are parts of the show that could do with a few more gags as it gets close to a lecture, however it never crosses that border and – as she points out – it’s not always funny, but it certainly is fascinating.
She delivers the most beautiful and stinging riposte to the gender pay wage gap I’ve ever heard and the show builds to a beautiful crescendo.
Unfortunately I had to leave early, just as she brought a singer on stage to perform. But from what I’ve heard, following that singer, Michele brings it home in a “joyous romp”*
This is not just a show for women, and if the idea of hearing about feminism turns you off and makes you yawn and say “man hater” then this is a great chance for you to go along, learn some stuff and laugh a lot along the way. So don’t be a dick. Seriously, she’s one of the best.
Apparently it's been seven years since Michele A'Court's last solo show. Lucky for us, she is a regular on radio and TV, and I am always pleased to hear her on Jim Mora's Afternoons or to see her break up the wall-to-wall boyfest of Seven Days.
The last time I saw her live was at the 2009 Comedy Christmas Gala, where she described the Opera House as like being inside a giant uterus. To this day I cannot go in there without laughing about it – it is so true! I know I am not alone in welcoming her back to the stage for a solo show in this year's Festival.
This is a great show and the high stage of the San Fransisco Bathhouse is a great venue for a diminutive performer with an AV accompaniment too. Acknowledging New Zealand Sign Language Week, sign interpreters are translating for a group from the deaf community, and there is fun interplay involved in some of the more interesting words and phrases involved in signing an R18 show.
I love how Michele's comedy comes from both the head and the heart (after tonight I feel we can be on first name terms). As she takes us through the years of motherhood, and even further back, with some great stories of growing up, and some hilarious footage of a young Michele with bad hair, we get to laugh, and think, and laugh some more.
The audience obviously appreciates their humour served well-seasoned with intelligence, and this is truly in good taste. And with absolutely no aftertaste of earnestness either. We could lick the bowl afterwards and asked for seconds.
If I were to describe Michele A'Court herself in terms of food, I would say she is like a freshly roasted and ground fair trade coffee, hitting all the flavour notes from bright tangs to rich depths; traced back to source and exactly what it says on the packet: a product you can trust and enjoy.