Meet the comedians pushing boundaries in New Zealand comedy.
“What’s in a name?” some guy once wrote. He may as well have been talking about New Zealand sketch comedy trio Frickin Dangerous Bro. To hear them tell it, the group – comprised of Jamaine Ross, James Roque and Pax Assadi – settled on the moniker because… well, why not?
“I think it's a cool name,” says Roque. “It's kind of effortless. It's not too on the nose. It's like The Eagles. Like, where did they get that from? It's just a name that doesn't really mean anything.”
“It's not like Brown Sketch Trio,” adds Assadi.
“Or the Brown Brigade.”
That it is not. Yet it was obvious what first united them. “It was literally, you're brown, you're brown, I'm brown – let's hang out,” says Roque.
The three bonded at Denny’s after a comedy gig in Auckland one night about three years ago, with each sharing a love of hip-hop, basketball, wrestling and video games.
“Denny's is a vital place in a lot of brown relationships,” Assadi jokes.
The three knew they had chemistry right away and in between their own solo comedy and writing gigs –you might recognise them from Jono & Ben, Funny Girls and Brown Eye – they soon launched their own podcast, The Issues Podcast, before realising there were moments in their conversations which would work even better as sketches. Frickin Dangerous Bro was born.
“For me, I was like this is more fun than my solo show,” says Ross.
When it comes to what they do on stage, their charm is undeniable. Their sets together feel relaxed and spontaneous, and at times they almost border on improvisation. They might break character, miss a cue, or go back-and-forth with hecklers, but the looseness of it all feels natural, if not totally deliberate. It’s tough to find anything else quite like it in New Zealand comedy.
Part of that comes down to the way they approach topics like race. Comedy can be used as a way to disarm people, says Roque, referencing both Key & Peele and Chappelle’s Show as obvious benchmarks in the genre.
Much like their predecessors, Frickin Dangerous Bro aren’t just out here subverting stereotypes. They’re dropping a shoulder to them, Sonny Bill Williams style.
“I think for me, comedy, in essence, is highlighting inconsistencies in society and using humour to open those up,” says Assadi. “Don't get me wrong, as a sketch group we'll try and highlight the inconsistencies that are uncomfortable to talk about that revolve around race and things that really affect society. And then we'll also talk about goofy ass shit.
“We always try to make sure that we're bringing to light things that if you were to have a conversation with someone about it just in general, they might close off a little bit. But when you're making them laugh, people are so much more open to listening to these ideas.”
None of the three hold back when it comes to talking about race, either as Frickin Dangerous Bro or in their own solo sets. Not that they’re necessarily trying to antagonise anyone: “White people are just so easy to make fun of,” says Assadi.
But whether local critics get that or not is another thing entirely.
“It's weird because we've been reviewed before and they've been like ‘they talk about race but it's light-hearted and not as pointed’,” says Roque. “I'm like, it's pretty pointed. We've called out white people quite straight up before and not tip-toed around it.”
Fortunately, that same attitude doesn’t extend to their peers in the New Zealand comedy scene. Ross says he’s had zero problems navigating the local scene as a non-white comedian because in his experience if you're funny, you're funny and that’s enough to get you on the bill for a show.
Assadi agrees: “It's weird because yes, when you look at the New Zealand comedy scene, the majority is white people,” he says. “But the New Zealand comedy scene is in a good space. It's big enough for you to try and make a living and to get great gigs and to perform often, but it's small enough that if you are good, you're going to get noticed very quickly. You'll rise to the top very quickly because you're not swimming in an ocean of thousands of people that want to be comedians.”
“Also now, it's a lot more progressive than a lot of comics give it credit for,” adds Roque. “Because I think a lot of the time, it's like a white boys club. And maybe the older generation is a little bit, but definitely, this new pack that's coming up is so diverse. When I’m in the green room now, I look around and it’s such a great environment to be in.”
Next month, Frickin Dangerous Bro launch their latest sketch show Money In The Bank as part of the New Zealand International Comedy Festival in Auckland and Wellington. It’s been described as “the most baller show you will ever see”, but they’re not giving away too much just yet.
Roque says that their sets have the feeling of being haphazardly put together, so this year they wanted to do it big. They came across some money, says Ross, and figured that they may as well put it back into the show.
“We're heavily influenced by hip hop culture. [Last year’s show] GOAT was a huge example of bragging about how great we are and then Money In The Bank is the same. It's a quote from a T-Pain song. It's really kind of taking that on. It's really exerting that.”
Just don’t expect them to lose their trademark spontaneity anytime soon.
“The way we do Frickin Dangerous Bro is we do it in a way that we enjoy what we're doing,” says Ross. “In the moment, we're enjoying it. It makes it a hell of a lot more fun and more like three mates hanging out than a show, which I think is a thing that audiences really enjoy as well.”
“Don't get me wrong,” adds Roque. “I'm sure there's three people every night who are like 'fuck, I wish these guys just rehearsed. They're just not ready. Why did they think this would be a good thing to do?'
“But we're fine with that. Thanks for the money.”
*Frickin Dangerous Bro’s Money In The Bank is showing as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival this May. Tickets are available here.