Michelle A’Court and Jeremy Elwood Arts on Tour 2019, 20 February, Waipawa Municipal Theatre By Anna Soutar
Just as they say dogs look like their owners, in a curious way Mr and Mrs A’Court-Elwood, husband and wife ‘Comedians of the Decade’ (2010), sound alike. They have the same rhythm to their stories, a similar beat when they drop the gag in at the end. They even have twin hair and face gestures, as if they are saying, “Did I really say that? Oh, no!”
They both declare roundly they identify with and love this country. And indeed they present strong Kiwi stereotypes: He in a shirt two sizes too small, scruffy hair, scuffed shoes. She in colourful pants, clean ladylike blouse, spotless (read ‘sensible’) shoes, hair shining, delivery and language an echo of her husband.
In the week that Napier’s Peter Wells passed, it is fitting to remember his sense of humour: “making fun out of existence at a time of fundamental absurdity”. The context for him was the closeted homosexual in the NZ of the nineties. For Jeremy Elwood it is funny-bone humour writ large, of national differences, political issues, various shibboleths to make fun of, like Russell Crowe, the Bible, Chinese, Americans, The Lord of the Rings. His most successful moments were with his mimicry and spontaneous audience improv.
Once again the Waipawa Municipal has brought us a good chunk of Kiwiana culture to relish. A large, very responsive crowd with all the young ones at the back. For the oldies in front of her, Michelle was the nana. She told stories of her mother and her own grandkids. She shared her angles on being a woman, mentioning eyebrows and ear hair, a relationship you would have had to have been there to understand, but believe me it was a doozy; on the limited genepool of Levin where she spent some of her childhood; her mother in her eighties trying out swearing. Michelle a’Court is interested in those circumstances when people confound the expectations of their lives – wherein lies her respect for the Prime Minister, for example. She delights in circumstances where the political becomes personal.
Her last set involved demonstrating ways to keep your husband interested – men want many women, women only one. Very funny but bitter sweet with her husband about to arrive back on stage having had – he told us – his self-indulgent smoke from the packet with the gruesome picture on it.
They like NZ. Especially the South Island – they kept telling us. And several of their sponsors were Mainlanders, none Hawke’s Bay, so they hadn’t bothered to scout round for some local topical colour. Our district has been under Art Deco siege for days, weeks, for instance … and what about the cow trying to jump out of the pen at the Stortford Lodge cattle sale? Or the heat and the water pressure at the Council pumps? These were all stories in the Stuff-managed press for them to harvest, with Jeremy a self-confessed news-aholic. Instead we were told an old story about the theft of the Pania statue, but it was redundant to tell us who she was, and Michelle gave a long mihi in te reo but with not another Māori word during the evening.
Was this in her book Stuff I forgot to tell my daughter?
The hidden secret in telling a funny story is the rhythm and timing – Michelle was pretty good at the under-her-breath throwaway gags – and I found as I was driving away under a spectacular performance by the enormous moon decorated with roadside sparkly traffic cones the entire way from Waipawa to Hastings that my thoughts were coming to me in the same rhythm and timing I had been listening to all evening. Was that cow trying to tell me something?