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Saturday 08 April 2017

Review: The Ak Pride Festival Great Debate

Posted in: Performance
By Jay Bennie - 21st February 2017

MC Stephen Oates apparently summed up the Auckland Pride Festival's Great Debate to Jan Logie, at that point a prospective panelist, saying it's mostly about swearing and sex.


He was quite right but even he could not have known how much subject of sex would provide some of the stream of highlights of last night's always funny and often hilarious debate, the most consistently entertaining in some years.

Mostly this was due to the excellent mix of members of the debating teams but also in good part to the surprising but inspired choice of socialite Gilda Fitzpatrick as adjudicator.

The moot was “Girls do it better.” Team Jacinda (Ardern, MP), putting the affirmative, included Jan Logie MP and comedian Urzilla Carlson. Team Richard (Hills, Auckland councilor), putting the negative, included Grant Robertson MP and comedian Eli Matthewson.

The robustly sexual trash talk tone was set from the get go when Fitzpatrick, “not to be messed with as she was brought up in a country riddled with AK47s," as Oates had warned the panelists, upset a glass of water on her chair while settling in. Luckily a Gucci shop carry bag was available to place between the spillage and her short, short, very short skirt. When one of the women's team complained loudly that MP Grant Robertson had used the slight commotion as an opportunity to stare inappropriately and he riposted “as a gay man there's nothing down there I'd want to stare at” Fitzpatrick ultra-tartly interjected “Honey you weren't looking down there, you were looking up there!”

At that moment any remaining hopes held by the naive in the audience that there would be a parliamentary tone to the evening went sailing out the window.

First to speak, Ardern addressed, as is tradition, the ignoble character of each of the men's team. Robertson, she said, was the thinking man's pikelet and she characterised Hills, only recently elected to the Auckland Council, and Robertson, a seasoned and senior Member of Parliament, as “the beginning and after images of a political career. She reminded the audience, and judges Buckwheat, Nikki Kaye and Zakk d'Larte, of Robertson's passion for rugby, adding that she was reassured that the presence of South-African-born Carlson on the women's team meant they were safe from any mysterious bouts of pre-debate 'food-poisoning (ref: All Blacks vs Sth Africa, World Rugby Cup final, 1995). She made a string of allegations based on the supposed activities of the male panelists on 'dating' app Grindr, with the men taking the merciless attacks on their proclivities, shortcomings and obsessions with 'dic-pics' good-naturedly and with quite a few possibly tell-tale blushes.

Highlighting her own team's strengths she compared Logie favourably to Helen Clark who she said was an internationally acknowledged example of “Girls doing it better.”

In his opening address Hills noted that judge Kaye (MP) was tired of being on the losing team of the Great Debates for two years in a row so had moved to the judges panel, whereas Adern was tired of losing to Kaye in two central Auckland elections so had fled to Mt Albert (to contest a by-election this weekend). And to hoots of derision and laughter from the well-tanked up audience he put it that Donald Trump proved the case against the moot because “he was elected on merit.”

Logie pointed out that the “it” in the moot had not really been defined. Perhaps taking Oates pre-Debate advice to her more literally than he had intended, she decided “it” was “sex” and she put herself forward, in sometimes hilariously disturbing detail, as an example of how “Girls do it better.” “I have extensive experience of having sex with women and moving in next morning,” she boasted. She claimed, without a shred of supporting evidence evidence or referencing (a point of procedure overlooked by a possibly now slightly partisan madame adjudicator) that international research proved that 86.3% of girls do “it” better and derided men's abilities in the sack. As a woman “who has dabbled in earlier times with penises” she brought the house down with her description of the night in a carpark when she lost her virginity, including how it ended up with her telling her ardent partner “Would you please get off now, I'm bored.” And she introduced at least half of the mostly glbti audience to the term “Circus Button” when referencing women's genital anatomy.

Robertson, perhaps more used to the gravitas of Parliament, started off light on humour and heavy on information with carefully honed debating technique. “Get on with the funny stuff!” demanded Fitzpatrick in her thickly Iranian accent. It was the first of a series of increasing tart and wickedly saucy instructions she would rain down on the panelists. Flustered by her imperious tone Robertson tried to argue with her but was told he was wasting his allotted time and warned to be careful or madame adjudicator would take time off his next speaking opportunity. His passive-aggressive wind-up comment, that he had plenty to say and and would not be limited by anyone, made that threat an inevitability. It was not to be Team Richard's only self-goal of the evening.

Warming to Logie's definition of "it” Robertson wistfully noted that at his age if his partner, Alf, called down to him to come upstairs and have sex his reply was sadly "Steady on, it's one or the other these days.” He described Logie as the only lesbian from Invercargill who's not on a shearing gang and dismissed lesbian relationships as “community events” with “break-ups, potluck lunches and community discussion groups.”

Carlson said there was really no reason to go into detail to prove that girls do it better, that just having one of her team standing up to proclaim “Mike Hosking” and sitting down would make their case. Sadly she didn't really make it clear what definition of “it” she was using. And with a sly glance to the judges and playing to a lefty-heavy audience, she said a vote for the men's team was akin to a vote for “Putin, English and Trump.”

Matthewson questioned the moot itself. “This is a Pride Festival event,” he said, “so why are we debating using gender binaries!” He reflected on the butch manliness of the men's team, typified by Robertson meeting his partner of some decades while they were playing a game of rugby. His slightly wistful recollection that he met his own partner of five months on a late-night Jetstar flight self-sabotaged that line of reasoning more than somewhat.

In response, Ardern accused Robertson of having earlier confused lesbian relationships with business as usual in the Labour party. She told the audience and judges to dismiss any and all of the debating points the men made and that none of the examples of high achieving women who had been put forward during the debate were actually required. “This is all the evidence you need!” she proclaimed, blatantly and knowingly holding up one of her own by-election placards for a moment or two before turning it around to the 'correct side' which featured the image of Helen Clark surrounded by kitsch-but-failed National party initiatives such as the lazer-eyed farting kiwi flag proposal.

In last year's Great Debate Ardern had scored points and admiration by doing an on-stage quick-change act to transform herself visually intoan opposing panelist, ACT's David Seymour. Last night she stunned everyone by pulling her hair forward down into a lanky, unstylish, form and impersonating in facial naunces and spot-on voice an almost savage impersonation of Helen Clark, complete with the infamously chilling Clark 'death stare.'

Poor Richard Hills was flummoxed and almost incoherent in response. Perhaps playing for sympathy from the judges he moaned that he had been enjoying the debate so much he had failed to make notes of what to say for his response. After a few half-thought through sentences he threw up his hands and slinked back to his chair. “Good!” shouted a unsympathetic madame adjudicator.

This is, of course, only a sampling of the repartee that had the capacity audience splitting their sides with laughter from beginning to end. Much of the humour was fleeting, implied and would not come across effectively here in print. Some material, taken out of context, would surely expose to libel litigation, and some would inevitably disturb sensitive souls should they stumble onto it here. And some your reviewer forgot to write down due to laughing too much, a grave professional lapse.

Reporting back on the judges' deliberations, head judge Buckwheat, also an inspired choice, managed to very wittily mix graciousness, comedic smarts and industrial-strength condescension cunningly disguised as charm, in roughly equal parts. And once the roars of laughter quietened down a little she proclaimed the womens', affirmative, team the clear winners.

Oates, returning to the stage for the final formalities including presenting the newly-introduced Great Debate Gold Cup with the $9.99 price sticker still attached, pleaded to Logie to "please, please understand that there are some aspects of life," such as her version of 'it,' "that you think about and know about but you don't actually talk about!” He reminded the audience that proceeds from the evening were going to Positive Women, “an often overlooked HIV positive women's advocacy and support organisation” and declared the proceedings closed.

Audience members, debaters and the Galatos crew gradually straggled out into the back streets of Karangahape Road to walk to their scooters, Priuses or bus stops. Disturbingly true to her Real Housewives of Auckland reality TV persona madame adjudicator followed by her support team of, we suspect, stylist, PA and PR people and armourer, stepped into her elegantly gun-metal grey late-model Rolls Royce and purred off, chauffeur-driven, into the sultry night.

Jay Bennie - 21st February 2017

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