Q’s Rangatira theatre buzzed with anticipation as the crowd settled in to witness one Tom Sainsbury, of Paula Bennett impersonation fame, take the stage in his new show Gone Bananas, where he promised to swagger into our hearts and leave it all out there on the stage. Unfortunately, however, this performance was all peel and no pulp, with nary a banana reference in sight, nor a Snapchat filter to save the day.
I should preface this review by saying that I’m not too familiar with Tom’s work outside of his Paula Bennett impersonations and his tenure on Wellington Paranormal. His star has certainly been on the rise over the last few years, and I perhaps went into this show expecting a well-crafted concept given the years of experience and the celebrity status of the comedian at hand. His online virality has clearly amassed a dedicated following, particularly amongst older women, and I was surrounded by a sea of mums adoring the camp loveable comedian who just gets them. In saying that, I acknowledge that I was not the target audience, and Tom said as much near the start of the set.
The concept of the show was too loose to run on. Had Tom really delved into the situations in his life where he actually went bananas and lost control, this review would have a different tone altogether, but the comedy all felt rather tame and unchallenging. He could have referred to his own fruitiness, and played up the campiness of being a one-time drama teacher à la Mr G. He could have devolved into a fit of rage or nonsensical whimsy to illustrate the connection to the title of the show. He could have eaten a whole bunch of bananas in quick succession until we begged him to stop. Unfortunately for us, he opted instead to try to emulate the American comedians he has been witnessing in recent times, by doing a little bit of crowd work, sharing a couple of bits, and then lining up for his meet and greet.
“Being a performer is hard work, and it’s difficult to riff off an audience with the personality of a dry lunch.”
Tom is an awkwardly charming person, and by simply being himself he coaxed a few chuckles out of the audience. But charm alone can only take you so far. The jokes felt disjointed, and I couldn’t help but feel like he was underprepared. He referenced his dear friend Kura Forrester who comforted him after bombing his first performance of the season by telling him “Don’t peak in Wellington, babes.” The show in Auckland, however, was still woefully undercooked. I’m hoping that with every performance of the show, it only gets tighter and more polished. Being a performer is hard work, and it’s difficult to riff off an audience with the personality of a dry lunch. I know that with more time to hone this set, Tom will come to perfect these new American skills that sent him so far out of his comfort zone, and perhaps bring a fresh synthesised comedy aesthetic to Aotearoa.
Tom invited us to take a photo with him at the Best Foods mayonnaise throne after the show, and the mums of Auckland all readied themselves to meet the son they wish they had. At the end of the day, Tom can rest on his celebrity and online success as a mark of the true potential of his comedic chops. He’s got the mums in the bag, and they’re a lucrative audience.
As we stood up to leave, one older lady turned to me and said “That was the best show I’ve seen in ages.” So what the fuck do I know?
Featured image via Tom Sainsbury and the NZ International Comedy Fest.