Up for the Billy T, James Mustapic is a confident and clever performer.
There is something very endearing about James Mustapic. Thin, with a little elfin face and cheeky voice, he can appear at first naive, almost childlike. Don’t let that deceive you.
The Blair Witch Projector is only his second stand up show for the NZ Comedy Festival, and already Mustapic has a control over his joke delivery that several more experienced comedians I’ve seen this Festival still lack. The way he deftly upends a stereotype to land a punchline leaves the audience in no doubt he knows exactly what he’s doing when he plays dumb for laughs.
And there were lots of laughs at his opening night in Auckland on Tuesday. Running jokes threaded throughout the show built and built, and there’s a subtle darkness to Mustapic’s humour, which seems fitting for someone in their early 20s and probably moderately to very online; online being as it is now a place full of young people constantly joking they want to die. Jokes about memes and pop-culture references from the early 2000s are clever - some comedians rely on a laugh simply because the audience will get a reference, but Mustapic makes his nods ever so slightly absurd, like finding just the right weird New Zealand Idol photo to zoom up close on, or taking the worst of Myspace era text-talk (RAWR, XD) and having a murderous spirit use it to threaten him.
About that spirit - the show works around the concept of a haunted projector, and to be honest it makes little sense, but for the most part that doesn’t matter - it’s just fun to watch Mustapic perform.
The show does start to lose momentum in the second half however, and could probably have been a good 15 minutes shorter without losing any key moments. In particular, a set of jokes at the expense of the Spinoff and it’s slightly ill-fated TV show just seem mean-spirited - especially given the Spinoff hosted Mustapic’s video series Repressed Memories which helped boost his profile immensely, and that Duncan Greive clearly thinks highly of him and said so in a recent piece for Metro. It’s one thing to rip into Sensing Murder, which basically scams grieving families, or a show as institutional as Shortland St, but it seems like punching down to cherry pick parts of a largely inoffensive show full of first-time performers just to make them sound dumb. Sure, roasting your pals is usually good for a laugh and who amongst us hasn’t missed the mark between funny and mean at some point - but it made me feel a little uncomfortable, and the audience seemed slightly less on board for these jokes as well. Here’s hoping it’s just a blip, because Mustapic’s humour works best when you can tell there’s genuine affection behind his jokes - even if he just loves how ridiculous everything is.
James Mustapic is performing at Q Theatre's Vault until May 25.