Full disclosure, I’m a long-time James Mustapic stan. I first found out about the comedian after hitting a personal rock-bottom in my life — watching Shortland Street every weeknight. My addiction was out of control and I was enabling other people around me to do the same. The first episode of Mustapic’s web series Shorty Street Scandal dropped in 2014, and I would laugh ’til I cried watching the episodes and sharing them with my friends. Since then both Mustapic and I have moved on from New Zealand’s most famous hospital, with Mustapic becoming a staple of Aotearoa’s queer comedy scene and getting his own show, TVNZ’s Abandonment Issues, where he did deep dives on issues that have been plaguing millennial of the nation for years. What happened to the Target panty-sniffer? Where is Ben Lummis? Does Liz Shaw support gay marriage?
“Like SNL’s Stefon describing the hottest new club, Into the Multi-Media-Verse has it all.”
Into the Multi-Media-Verse carries on with Mustapic’s themes of millennial nostalgia, pop culture satire and the 20-something queer experience. A repeated gag of the infamous German internet screamer video — a peaceful car ride through green meadows that is interrupted by a loud scary ghoul — gets me every time, and even gets audience members who admit they don’t get the reference. Another treasure of New Zealand’s advertising legacy is highlighted with 2010s ‘Ease Up On The Drink Kat’, in a tribute to an iconic woman who just wants to get a little on the piss, complete with a very satisfying full-circle moment near the end of the show. Don’t even get me started on the special effects budget, surely rivalling that of Avatar: Way of the Water. We see many different versions of our protagonist spread across the multiverse, from Straight James to Psychic James, who beg On Stage James to heed their warnings of a great threat to civilization. Like SNL’s Stefon describing the hottest new club, Into the Multi-Media-Verse has it all. There are epic battles and explosions. There are games. There are script readings with audience participants. There are defences against heterophobia. There are costume changes. There are a surprising amount of references to David Bain.
There are throwbacks for the long-time fans like myself; Mustapic’s legendary rivalry with local psychic Sue Nicholson is acknowledged several times, who bravely withheld directing homophobic insults at the comedian after he said she should win an Oscar for her acting on Sensing Murder. Mustapic’s mother, Janet, also provides incredible cameos from the multiverse, proving just how much she loves her IRL son during an appearance as Horny MILF Janet, who is so desperate to find hot singles in her area that her negligence has devastating effects on her alternate-reality son. The world-building throughout the show is as absurdist, charming and hysterical as Mustapic is. Exceedingly honest with his audience about his personal life, he is at times quite a vulnerable performer; he can be quick to sly self-deprecation but never wallows, and thrives when expounding on his niche interests and obsessions to a crowd.
Despite some slight technical difficulties that perhaps only Sue Nicholson could have foreseen, James Mustapic is a seasoned pro of stand-up who has his audience in the palm of his hand at all times, be they raucous queer millennials, straight Marvel-enjoyers, or middle-aged women worried about his safety during sex. His dad might not show up to his shows but I will, even in a parallel universe where I believe David Bain is innocent.
Featured photo courtesy of James Mustapic and the NZ International Comedy Festival.