Guy Montgomery’s new show fuses two of New Zealand’s great passions, comedy and spelling (File photo).
Riotous. R, i, o, t, o, u, s. Riotous.
Bringing all of his surrealist deadpan flair, Guy Montgomery accesses a previously untapped reservoir of humour in his new show through that most American of rituals, the spelling bee.
The gameshow-style format involves a revolving lineup of panellists, which on Wednesday night at Auckland’s Basement Theatre featured Tim Batt, Pax Assadi, Eli Matthewson and Ruby Esther, recounting their experiences of spelling, providing revealing insights into their personal and comedic backgrounds.
The show begins with a relatively easy first round of questions.
In round two, guests are asked to spell homophones – words that sound identical – as they appear in a sentence: for example: “When it comes to root vegetables, you can’t beat a beet.”
“Can you see that ewe over there?”
And: “I hate when I go to show someone the big pit I’ve been digging and they say, ‘Is that it?’ and I have to say yes. That is the whole hole.”
The opportunities for wordplay abound. And it turns out, the pressure of having to spell out unfamiliar words under lights before a live audience isn’t all that straightforward.
The contestants battle their way through admirably, but wheels start falling off when it comes to round four: the dinosaur round.
Montgomery takes particular delight in inviting the panel to attempt to spell the obscure herbivore Tsagantegia, or the Ligabuesaurus, a sauropod that grew up to 24 metres long.
Montgomery writes a different set of questions every night, and said he enjoyed finding “obscure channels of language and interesting pockets of words to present”.
He began writing the show during the first lockdown, and after a refining the length and format he streamed a show on Youtube.
Speaking after the show, Montgomery said: “Everyone has a relationship to spelling so I thought that is quite a handy universal access point for contestants and audience alike.”
“The vision was always to do live shows… and I have been really happy with how they have been received. Ideally I’d like to grow it into an even bigger live show that can be part of the Comedy Festival and ideally a TV show.”
“Comedy in Covid has been fairly brutal but we are lucky as an industry to be incredibly light on our feet… and as a country we would be close to one of the only fully operating comedy scenes in the world right now.
“After the first lockdown audiences and comedians were both so keen to get back to it and the energy was incredible. After Auckland’s second lockdown people have been a little more cautious… but it feels like we’re all finding our feet together again.”
The hourlong Spelling Bee show breezes by, the glint never far from Montgomery’s eye.
It makes for a riotous brand of live comedy that will leave you reaching for your dictionary.
Guy Montgomery’s Guy Mont-Spelling Bee runs each night until October 25 at Auckland’s Basement Studio. Montgomery is presenting a new stand-up show at the same venue from October 27 to 30 at 6:30PM.