Sunday, 19 May 2013


Heads up, this is in two parts, the first a massive whinge, the second a delightful frolic through happiness and joy. If you want to skip the whinge and go straight to the good times, by all means, it makes sense.


I try not to whinge as much as I can these days, recognising that one of our national pastimes is not one of our greater character traits. I do however stand up on my hind legs when I feel injustice is being served.

This year I performed in the New Zealand International Comedy Festival, it was a lark. I had a good time. I also lost a lot of money.

In talking to seasoned comedians who know the festival circuit well I was told this was our showcase and losing money shouldn't be an issue as it would lead to other comedy work. This is quite correct and the true value of the festival for performers. So what irks me? The fact I didn't need to lose money on this festival.

I lost a fair sum, but not as much as some others. While some people made money with lower ticket prices and fewer door sales.

"Wait a mo, that's bad maths Jez, how can one possibly make more money than you by charging less and having fewer people through the door?" The answer is simple, I was in a 'festival venue'.

Being in a 'festival venue' held no value whatsoever when compared to a non-festival venue. They all held equal billing, shared equal space in the festival booklet and were all things equal on the festival website.

The difference was that performing in a 'festival venue' meant the addition of a large venue hire charge and having to put your ticket sales through Ticketek.

Now I am not going to mince words here, I think the venue hire was a joke, potentially the best one in the festival and the festival was pretty funny. Such a large fee for such a small venue would make me grizzle, but when the performer next door isn't paying a cent because his is a 'non-festival venue' resplendent with equal billing, I'm inclined to shake a stick.

It's a pretty nasty wound I am now sporting in my right buttock where my wallet used to be, but luckily there is plenty of Ticketek salt to rub into it. Ticketek, the gangly ninja school drop out, is still quite capable of whacking off great swathes of cash from each ticket with its money cleaver. If it's not bad enough to frighten off punters with extortionate booking fees, it's quite another to take a large chunk of every sale, be rude to my customers and charge me for every person on my door list.

It actually cost me money to give tickets away, not in the losses incurred with the giveaway, but in actually paying for the ticket I was giving away!

I will never use Ticketek again, ever. Even if I get monumentally famous because I trip and fall and expose myself in front of a camera and that somehow turns into notoriety which spawns a career, I will not use them.

There are far better options out there providing far better services for a lot less hassle and cost.

Now I'm not done and do feel like a heel for bringing this up, but I wasn't happy with the festival organisers. I have no doubt they worked hard, I have no doubt they had a lot on their plate, but despite cheery group emails exclaiming to be there for us, they were not.

As a single example I was told to contact the festival promotions person with anything I was working on or needed help with, so I did, by txt, by calling and by finding them in person. They never got back to me once.

Perhaps I'm too small to bother with, a bumbling baby elephant, hardly able to walk or feed itself simply knocking over vases and generally being an annoyance in the office. But the thing about babies is that they grow up and the thing about elephants is that they have long memories.

I could have made more money and had bigger crowds by ignoring the festival altogether and that can't be a good position for the organisers to be in.

So why write about it here and not email them directly? Because I know I'm not the only one in this position and I don't think an email would change a thing. Other comedians are too worried about their careers to speak out, it looks like sour grapes, but I will burn this bridge if it means positive change for my fellow performers.

You do think " it me?", "..what did I do wrong?" and spend lonely rocking thumb sucking time in your comedy cocoon (parents house). I'd rather make my feelings public so those people know they're not alone and remind everyone that the whole festival machine needs to be well oiled at all levels to run properly.

Sadly I have come to question the purpose of the festival, it felt far too much like my losses didn't matter and the only goal of the organisers was to make the festival look good. Why else would I be told to give tickets away when my pre-sales were low rather than looking at another rationale?

This we can argue till our faces turn blue and fall off I am sure, but it doesn't feel like a festival when the balance between the comedy community and the commercial imperative takes a fundamental shift.

Purely from a Wellington perspective I would double the number of office staff, lower the number of 'official venue managers' and 'official festival venues' while culling Ticketek from all the smaller performances. Two staff for handling the smaller acts requirements and promotion while working in conjunction with two staff handling the larger ones.

It's not rocket science as rocket science is the science of rockets, which this is not.

You just do not want performers telling each other that if you play with the festival you're going to get burnt.