I’m here on the ground at Wellington’s Fringe Bar to catch a show at the tail end of the 2024 New Zealand International Comedy Festival – The Transgender Agender. This lineup of fabulous trans and/or non-binary comedians made much merriment on the last Saturday of this year’s NZICF, much to the joy of their sold-out audience.

The standard disclaimer applies – I’m friends with at least half this show’s lineup. Such is life when you work in the Wellington arts industry; but my remarks don’t come from those preexisting relationships, but from my experience as a comedy-goer. I’m also uniquely placed to review this show, being one of the local reviewers who isn’t cis.

Our MC for the night is Judy Virago, who’s resplendent in a long shimmering gown. Announcing the agenda for the day, as well as our raffle, Virago’s poignant political jokes get a big laugh out of the crowd who are deep in the wars of dealing with a government who doesn’t like us all that much. Pulling us through the rest of the show, Judy is deeply charming, and a perfect pick for MC.

Producer of the show, Jules Daniel, is quick-witted and very endearing; not just saying that because I’ve known him for ten years – they’re very popular on TikTok for a reason. A wonderful first guest on the lineup, they set the tone excellently for things to come; with clever comedy and things that are just a little bit filthy in the end.

Sir Traylene is our next performer. Dancing to a version of Right Said Fred’s ‘I’m Too Sexy’, their performance is fun but understated, and potentially goes on a smidge too long. While this performance is not personally for me, Sir Traylene clearly has drag skill, and I hope to see their work honed at future drag shows!

With some standup, we have George Fenn following forth. George has always been a must watch of mine in the Pōneke arts scene, and is in fine form here, riffing on the experience of being bi-gender. George’s standup is almost poetic, rhythmic in a way, but is stifled a little by not quite fitting the time limit for this gig, and having to speed through punchlines at the end of the set.

A hilarious piece of satirical drag, Olympia Kallipygos is up next, with a set clearly inspired by recent political events (the non-issue “bathroom debate” that continues to plague us all), set in part to Fred Schneider’s ‘Monster in My Pants’. Their dance, performed against a toilet-based backdrop, features a giant soft toy snake and a glowing codpiece, and is a thinker I’ve kept coming back to since I left Fringe Bar that night.

Cassie Taurima is our next stand-up, and her set is down to earth and very charming. I’ve never actually seen Cassie do stand-up, despite also knowing her for a long while, and she doesn’t disappoint with a well-balance, clever and confident set somewhat about dealing with medical practitioners as a trans person.

Liv Ward’s set is possibly the most memorable of the night. They surprise and delight with a song about a certain local peanut butter brand (you’ll know the one I mean) that gets the audience singing along. Dry and hilarious, I vow to find more of their work after the show is over.

Wesley Hollis, who is performing in this show after some time away from Wellington, draws us in with some anecdotes about working at a certain local pool. His dad jokes leave the audience both laughing and groaning in their seats, but he’s also so, so delightful to watch – much like everyone on the lineup.

Robin Yablind, a drag name you’ve probably heard of even if you’re not in the Pōneke scene, delights us with our third drag performance for the evening. His performance is tight and well-choreographed, featuring a fangtastic feature of one of Pōneke’s patron saints (a vampire). With audio clips from well-known vampire media, their dance is hilarious, and enticing; enthralling us all by the end.

Leo Lennox is our final standup of the night and has a confident set touching on TERFS, being a “secret third thing” (re: gender) and hanging with “da boys”. So funny, and so delightful, I’ve never seen Leo’s work before, but I immediately want to again.

Our final dance performance is by Lily Catastrophe, who wows with a gorgeous feather-fan performance to Sara Bareilles’ ‘I’m Afraid’ (which if you haven’t heard, you should look up right now, it’s incredible). A vulnerable, strong and sensual performance, with excellent physical control; Lily’s dance is one of contradictions, and utterly holds the audience in her grasp.

Ceremonies are concluded with a short interlude of Dan the Comedy Man (Jules Daniel), who is our cis and straight diversity hire of the day. Perhaps an offbeat ending to a show like this, Dan’s hustled off stage pretty quickly when his comedy turns particularly faecal, and Judy arrives back, all glitz and glamour, to wrap up the night.

As much as we shouldn’t have to be piecemeal examining shows like this, The Transgender Agender isn’t just a comedy show with some of Wellington’s most charming performers, but at times feels more like an act of protest.

Mere kilometres across the city, there’s politicians wanting to strip us of more of our rights. A couple of weekends back there were transphobic voices gathering within Tākina (less than 300m away) to discuss and spew their vitriol. In this room, we’re happy, and laughing, and giving a big fuck you to those who want to make our lives worse.

That, amongst all the fabulous performances, makes this show one to remember.