Tim Batt, comedian, Comedy Festival

Q&A | Comedian Tim Batt wants you to VOTE BATT!

Tim Batt is an award-winning comedian, TV writer and host of the international hit podcast The Worst Idea of All Time. From Wellington, New Zealand he’s twice been nominated for the country’s Billy T Award, co-hosted on Radio Hauraki with the incomparable Steve Simpson, and landed a real winner of a ticket reviewing toilets for TVNZ’s, sadly short-lived, U Live. The latter catalysed a comedic connection between Batt and U Live host Guy Montgomery, and the two have teamed up on various other projects since – including the ribshaker of a laugh that is TWIOAT.

Tim kicks into three weeks of his brand new solo show VOTE BATT! on April 26, as part of the New Zealand International Comedy Festival. Sarah found out more about the man behind the message.

How was Melbourne? You premiered your new show, VOTE BATT!
Yes. Bang on. It was so much fun, I loved Melbourne. The show itself was cool. Every comic does this – the really good ones don’t, but people at my level do this. When I first touched down I locked myself in an Airbnb room and basically wrote about the remaining 60% of it, over the course of three days. While leaving the house just briefly to go and get food. Which is very hard when you’re in the middle of a really good comedy festival, and you peer online and everyone’s going to cool shows, or doing cool shows and stuff.

It’s a sign you take the craft seriously, I think.
That’s one way to look at it. The other way to look at it is that I definitely should have written a show before four days before it opened.

Means it’s raw, fresh.
It’s real. It’s exposed, it’s not overcooked, it’s not overthought, it’s not overanalysed. That’s the problem with too much comedy these days.

And you can respond to your environment – get a feel for the context in which you’ll be delivering the material.
In all seriousness, I think there’s a lot to be said for that. It should be taken more seriously than it is – than just wheeling out some funny gags you made up at some point. Wrote down in a notebook. I’m very into responding to what’s happening, the crowd, the environment you’re in. And people like it when you do that.

The show has a bit of a political focus, right?
Yeah. I’m actually running for office. I just haven’t decided what office yet. The show’s basically a series of rallies, where I’m trying to convince people that I’d be a real good pick. I firmly believe I would be.

What are some of your arguments?
Well, I’ve got some policy platforms. One of them is – to save time, I’ve sort of rolled my justice platform and my education platform into one policy. Which is that we should just start sending teenagers to prison basically, preemptively.

Straight there.
Yeah. And en masse. Everyone bangs on about the violent prisoner population, and it sort of waters down that ratio if you just send real innocent teenagers in there. Also, the teenagers can learn from the prisoners, some real life skills. And the prisoners can learn some valuable stuff about modern society, from the teenagers coming in, you know? Instagram, and consent – all kinds of stuff.

I can spot a few holes, but I guess it’s the first run.
Yeah, I mean the beautiful thing is it’s not a dialogue, it’s just me putting forth ideas. Which I think is the best way to conduct things. Just spit it out there, people will chew it over, silently.

Without offering feedback.
Yeah, they can certainly do that after the fact.

How did it go down?
It was good, I think people really enjoyed it. I do do a bit of back and forth with the crowd, there’s a bit of crowd involvement in the show. I’ve got a personal thing where I’m trying to get people less afraid of that, because a lot of people are scared of going to live comedy, they’re afraid of getting picked on. It always really bugs me when I see comedians be mean to audience members. Because it’s like, dude – they fucking came out. They paid for the ticket. Not only will they not come back, but they’ll tell all their mates to not go as well. We need to have more people coming, not less, so what are you doing? So I try to be nice to people.

Maybe still give them a tease from time to time.
Oh of course, you gotta tease. But you can tease with love. It’s the difference between a school bully, and your big brother. It’s all about context.

You were recently in America.
I was. Yeah, I was doing podcasty stuff.

Can we talk a bit about the podcast?
Course we can, we can talk about anything.

Well, you concluded the second season of The Worst Idea of All Time. Could you explain a bit about the premise of the podcast, and how it came about?
Sure. The format, I guess you’d call it, is myself and Guy Montgomery watch and review a movie every week. But the twist is, the movie never changes. So we just watch one movie for a whole year, week after week. We did a whole year of watching Grown Ups 2. Then we did a whole year of watching Sex and the City 2, and we are about to embark on watching a Zac Efron movie which came out last year, called We Are Your Friends, 52 times.

Yeah. Sort of awesome. Awesome with distance – not awesome while you’re in it. But kind of awesome in retrospect, in the rearview mirror.

That’s how the best experiences are.
That’s true actually.

Why did you decide to do it in the first place?
We were working together – Guy used to host a TV show and I was coming on and doing a regular segment on the show, where I would review toilets. We developed quite a good dynamic there, where Guy would just really hate me. Really dump on me, if you’ll excuse the pun. But then the channel got cancelled because Guy did such a terrible job that they didn’t only cancel his show, they cancelled the whole bloody network. Went belly up. So we wanted to work together on something else. We came up with this idea totally on a whim, one afternoon when he came into my radio show. The next day we recorded it, and then we just kept going.

I’m assuming, when the idea arose – a lot of laughs. What has the reality been like?
You know, Grown Ups 2 was actually – and maybe this is just with distance – but largely fine. It was kind of a funny goof, and it got pretty intense. After you get past about 30 watches of something it starts to really grate on you. But Sex and the City 2 was quite a different, and altogether darker voyage. The movie was a tonne longer, so much longer. And there was something uniquely depressing about it. It was kind of the fact that they had burned a franchise that was real good. The franchise was doing a good thing – it was talking about sex, which was all taboo, and it had these strong women leading a show, finally. Then the second movie is just the complete opposite of the spirit of the series. Seemingly – I haven’t watched all of Sex and the City, but you get the vibe. And it was so fucking long Sarah. There’s nothing that happens in the movie, it’s 2 hours and 40 minutes. And we were going back to it every single week.

It’s a surprisingly entertaining listen – thank you for going through that pain.
Well, you know. Whatevs.

Do you have quite a lot of people thank you for what you’ve given them through comedy, particularly the podcast?
Yeah, the podcast definitely. We do, we get some very lovely messages and emails come through from people, who are going through a particularly rough patch in their life for whatever reason, and they often flick us a message and say thank you very much. We’ve got a little Paypal thing on our website where you can donate, and often people flick us a few dollars, and send a lovely message about what they were going through and how we helped them out. It’s really lovely getting those, real nice.

What was it like to perform live in New York City? And also to go to New York City?
Oh man, New York was awesome. That’s the first time I’ve been on the East Coast, and it was so cool. We had a few worky things that we had to do on the West Coast, then our girlfriends came over to New York and we lived up large. That final livette, that was a lot of fun. We actually did a stand-up show as well. We did a Q&A, and the final podcast’s episode. Then we had a break and came back and did half an hour of stand-up each.

Did people know it was going to be that long?
Yeah, they did. We warned them. We charged $35 a ticket, which is quite steep, so we wanted to really make sure it was worth their money. But then, as Guy and I kept reminding ourselves, we had come all the way from New Zealand, so it felt warranted. It was really good fun, they loved it – it was an awesome night.

Any other good stories from your trip?
In LA we did this event where – Guy and I, as a fundraiser before the first time we went to America, we wrote the script of Grown Ups 2 by memory. Based on what we thought it was after watching it about 45, 48 times. Then we got all of our mates – actors, comedians, Chelsea Jade, who’s a singer, to perform the script in the Grey Lynn community hall. Everyone picked a few characters and we did a table read of it. And it was absolutely fucking mental, because we had written it way too long – we’d fit in all of the characters’ lines, but then inserted our commentary as the stage directions as well. So we ended up with this packed out community centre, with no air conditioning, for three hours. Just throwing these dumb Adam Sandler lines at this audience that was held captive in there. It stopped being funny and it started being a real nightmare.

Anyway, the script that we wrote for that event, we got to do it again in LA, on this most recent trip. We edited it right down, we pared it right back so it was only an hour and a half long. But this incredible cast performed it for us. Melanie Lynskey did it, Busy Phillips from Freaks and Geeks, Hal Lubin. There was this insane cast of actors and comedians who put it on. Guy and I were reading stage directions, so there were about 10 of these fantastic, genuine Hollywood celebrities performing this dumb script that we’d written, and we just read stage directions on the floor next to them, because the stage was all taken up. We had a lot of moments of, how’s this happening? How did it come to this? That was really cool. We got very drunk afterwards.

Back to you and your solo stuff. You’re going to be performing VOTE BATT! as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival, which starts later this week, correct?
Yeah. I was just getting a couple of rallies under my belt in Melbourne; New Zealand will be the big one. Trying to rally the base. Get the support, get the delegates. Get the votes.

And you’re performing as part of the Montecristo Comedy Club.
Yeah. The Montecristo is a pop up comedy venue, which myself, Jesse Griffin, Guy Montgomery and Brendon Green are running – we put it together. We did it for the first time last year, and it was a great success. A lot of hard work but a lot of fun. We won an award for it. As we all know, that’s what comedians are all chasing. Just an award, some blue ribbons. Or a little medal to pin on yourself. We’re going to do it again this year.

Try and get another medal.
Try and get another one. I don’t even know what award we could win, but hopefully they make up one called the Montecristo Award for Excellence in Venue Running, and we’ll get that. It’s such a lot of work though Sarah, I’ll tell you that for free. I’ve been working on it all day. Emails, ooee. Lots going on.

Admin! The worst bit of comedy. The least comedy bit of comedy there is.

Doesn’t get talked about much. Admin and comedy. 
Most people avoid it like the plague. Guy Montgomery – very good at avoiding admin. Great at it. Where is he right now? Melbourne.

Probably not holed up in an Airbnb, working on his next show.
Ah, no. Although, he possibly should be – because he’s doing a best-of show at the moment in Melbourne. And, funnily enough, the dude got nominated for Best Newcomer at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Which is huge news. I’m very, very proud of him. Rose Matafeo got nominated as well – Kiwis are really representing this year.

Kiwis are funny.
We are good. We are a funny people, we genuinely are. People love us overseas. Kiwis are just the best.

You’re performing elsewhere during the Festival too?
I’m going to Wellington for the first week this time. I thought, doing a political show, you gotta go to the capital, you gotta go to the Beehive. Get all the public sector workers onboard, all the unions and stuff. Plus, doing three weeks at one venue’s quite full on. It’s almost like watching a movie 52 weeks in a row – it’s just got this grind to it. Wears you down.

You must have quite a high tolerance for repetition at this point.
I’ve got a really bad memory. I think that helps. I’ve also got a really terrible memory, which probably helps with that.

Classic memory gag. An oldie but a goodie.

I thought perhaps you thought that I hadn’t heard you, because I didn’t really respond. But that was good.
Glad you enjoyed it.

Just to start to tie things up a bit, I wanted to ask you about Bernie Sanders – you seem to quite like him.
Love him, can’t get enough of him. Feeling the Bern, 24/7.

All the time. How do you feel about where things are at for him right now?
Why don’t I start with a prediction. New York is the next primary, that’s coming up. He’s going to get pretty throttled. If I had to put my money on a number, I would say he’ll get about 38%. There are a lot of reasons for that. The main one is that it’s a closed primary – which means you can only vote for the Democratic candidate if you’re a registered candidate, and you can’t have changed since late October last year. Which sucks, ‘cause Bernie’s whole thing is that he’s getting all the independents out there. He’s getting people back into the process, who stopped giving a shit ages ago. So that’s going to be a blight for all of us here at the Bernie Sanders campaign. And Sarah we’re just going to keep our heads up, and press on. The math is not good, but you gotta keep trying.

Well, stranger things have happened. 
Well he’s talking about this new tactic of convincing superdelegates to switch to him, from Hillary. Which is ballsy, considering that he’s kind of spent his whole time talking about how superdelegates are a terrible thing, and they should get rid of it, out of the system. And now he’s trying to figure out a way to utilise it to get him into the White House.

Trying to court the power. 
Well hey, I’m all for it. Use the ladder, and then burn the ladder. Burn it down. Pour gasoline on it. Get yourself up to the highest point and then just find a way to disintegrate the ladder, so no one else can reach you.

Good to know your strategy Tim.
Yeah. That’s what I intend to do – I intend to follow Bernie Sanders’ lead and use the political machinery that exists at current to get myself into an unassailable position, and then just throw multiple spanners into the works, so that no one can replicate what I’ve done. And before you know it, I’m John Key. I’m in charge for far too long, and everyone’s sick of me, but no one quite knows how to get rid of me.

If you were Prime Minister I think that would be a great thing Tim.
I appreciate you saying that Sarah. I agree. I wholeheartedly agree. I think I’ve got a lot to offer New Zealand, and I think that people definitely need to start getting used to the idea of me being in charge of a lot of things.

The 2016 New Zealand International Comedy Festival runs April 22-May 15. Find tickets for Tim Batt’s Vote Batt! via www.comedyfestival.co.nz. Or, cut out the riffraff and head straight to www.timbatt.co.nz.

Sarah Illingworth is a freelance journalist and Editor at Impolitikal. She has an MSc in Poverty & Development from the University of Manchester. Read more by Sarah.