Oct 22, 2023

Review of Wilson Dixon

Jesse Griffin is on our toilet door due to his appearance in a favourite flick Nude Tuesday. He’s a talented guy - a long drink of water with a signature mustache - who pops up frequently in the Kiwi comedy oeuvre. He’s the funny redhead who’s not Rhys Darby. 


At Toitoi for the festival, he’s doing his Wilson-Dixon-from-Cripple-Creek-Colarado bit. The set is very much like most country music: predictable, repetitious and endless. It works well for the crowd that’s in though mainly for its clever 9pm scheduling. Most have pre-loaded and there are plenty of guffaws, rofls and heehaws in the audience to spur the show along.


Much of the material, hardened festival fans will have seen before but the “comedy” categorisation of this late-night offering has brought in many who seem new to festivals in general - proving the diversity objective is working. Behind me a slurry yokel asks his girlfriend what an ‘art festival’ is and will they be bringing the ‘art’ right onto the stage.


The tropes of redneckery are rife from inbreeding to gun-toting. It is funny but it feels like punching down and worse it feels past its use-by date. There’s such a bonanza of comedic material available in the States that it’s a shame Griffin hasn’t extended himself a little further than flat-earthers and storming the White House. He does tiptoe towards saying something poignant and surprising, that golden balance of humour and pathos, about mental health, politics, the state of the planet, but then he backs off into the comfortable corner of tried-and-true. The only surprising bit is the number of times he stumbles over his own material. He’s been rolling it out for so long now you’d think he’d know it by heart.


The show lacks a spinal column of story. It drifts over tales of Uncles Cletus and Leftie and brother Jethro fresh out of jail. But it would benefit from a more substantial and linear backbone for the songs and jokes to hang off. It’s a shame too that we don’t learn more about Wilson Dixon himself, that Griffin doesn’t explore Dixon’s own story and identity, and his reactions to what’s going on around him. Exploring that wise-fool character would give some depth that could strengthen the piece overall. It could also do with some improved musical mastery. The formulaic four chord jangles of hoedown staples run a little thin by the end and I’m relieved when he doesn’t offer an encore (and the audience doesn’t request one).


What Griffin does gives us is a relaxed and accessible show, an easy laugh, and a mellifluous timbre reflective of the great Garrison Keillor. He turns the Opera House into the Grand Ole Opry. Plus, who doesn’t love the opportunity to laugh at Americans?

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