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The Third Annual Hero Debate

Wed 15 Feb 2006 In: Events

Dean Martin's Celebrity Roasts were never this cutting I'm sure, I thought, sitting in the front row for the Third Annual Great Auckland Central Hero Debate. Some of the barbs were so sharp I worried I might end up with blood on my shirt. The wine was flowing free, although not for your sober reviewer, which made for some very interesting and potentially libellous conversations with all sorts of people post-debate. It's just as well I have a trustworthy face – either that or people were indeed mightily tanked. But, I digress. The evening began with some delightfully amusing cabaret entertainment from The Morrisons, a family trio whom (we are told) hail from Huntly. I'm not sure if I entirely believe that, unless they've been Queer Eye-d by Carson Kressley since escaping the place. Their repertoire was certainly eclectic, from Europe's The Final Countdown to Pink Floyd's Mother, all churned out in a loungey, operatic, and undeniably camp style. The two-fingered drum solo on a hand-held drum machine was a particular highlight. Following that, MC Judith Tizard quite literally put herself on a pedestal this year in the expanded debate venue, the Hopetoun Alpha, sitting on a raised dais above the speakers with a fresh bottle of Kim Crawford's Pansy sitting next to her on a table. How annoyed she was at the wine's name, she told the audience, and that she'd asked Kim Crawford to bring out a 'Judith' wine before the next election. The team make-up this year saw Chris Carter again heading the affirmative side, debating the moot: "The straight line is godless and immoral". His partners in crime were NZAF chair Jeremy Lambert, and media commentator/blogger extraordinaire Russell Brown. MP Lianne Dalziel returned to head the negative side, which galloped to victory last year with the same team members: MP Maryan Street and self-described "media whore" and film reviewer Steven Gray. As per usual, the speakers were barely on topic, the laughs were plenty and the humour was bawdy. "I just love hearing MPs say words like ‘pussy'," Gray guffawed after Lianne Dalziel embarked on a show-stopping story about Hillary Clinton's possible presidential election strategy for 2008. This debating arena is a place where people who had any shred of dignity before have it torn off and gobbled up like afternoon savouries. In his opening address, Chris Carter proceeded to embarrass fellow gay speakers Maryan Street and Jeremy Lambert (who was on his own team!) by telling all about their sordid heterosexual pasts. Never before had it been revealed that Ms Street once dated John Tamihere – the only tasty tidbit, Carter mused, which Tamihere had left out of his infamous tell-all Wishart interview. Lambert managed to offend at both ends of the Kinsey scale by providing some of the most homophobic and heterophobic humour of the evening. He referred to straights as "breeders", a term that opponent Steven Gray would later disparagingly refer to as "so 1960s"; and talked about how he'd initially summed up the debate as a men's team (affirmative) versus a women's team (negative) despite the presence of Gray on the other side, but how he'd changed his mind when he realised Maryan Street was on board. Russell Brown argued that the straight line was indeed godless and immoral, because it was boring. "Keep New Zealand bent," he urged the audience, warning that if Ponsonby loses its gayness then former Auckland deputy mayor, the deeply homophobic David Hay, might end up lunching at Prego restaurant with his mates. His observations about the differences between Remuera and Ponsonby were challenged later by Buckwheat, who in her judge's notes said she'd been living in Remuera for the last seven years. She recounted how when the elderly white neighbours first saw her out doing the garden their first reaction was not to welcome her into the neighbourhood, but to ask her if she had a business card for her services. Brown was later awarded speaker of the night by Dame Cath, and deservedly so. He managed to straddle both sharp wit and poignancy, ending his speech with a heartfelt message about wanting his kids, who are both mildly autistic, to grow up in a world that respects diversity. On the negative side, Lianne Dalziel eventually came under heavy fire for stealing all her jokes off the internet, which she may well have done...but she delivers them so well! She's not afraid to embarrass loved ones in the process either – apparently her husband wouldn't accompany her this year after an anecdote she told last year. Maryan Street went all academic and semi-serious on us because, she told us, our faces needed a rest from laughing. That didn't last long, however, as she quickly dragged out a story involving Dame Cath Tizard and a highland fling performed in public without the aid of a sports bra. By the time Steven Gray got up to speak, not even the vat of wine he'd clearly consumed was enough to cloud his gun sights. He'd been furiously making acerbic notes throughout the debate, and now it was time to shape those notes into poisoned darts and throw them haphazardly and hilariously across at the opposition. Russell Brown's anecdote about taking his niece to the Teddy Bear's Picnic was completely destroyed. "News flash," said Gray, "you ARE a bear!" Before the judges deliberated, it was time for the audience to vote with their applause for the best team. It seemed clear, as with last year, that the negative team were going to win – the loud footstomping and the shaking of the building's foundations was a major clue there. Dame Catherine Tizard, drag diva Buckwheat and Ross "Franklin Rd Christmas Lights" Thorby were on board to judge again this year, but before going through her notes Dame Cath encouraged the audience to do some extra judging of their own, making her judging colleagues show off their legs. Buckwheat, you're stunning as always, but I have to give Ross the gold medal this year. I've always been a sucker for men in kilts. Dame Cath proceeded to rattle through her notes on each of the speakers, in a very schoolteacherly manner, pulling rank on her MC daughter and telling her to shut up whenever she tried to interject (mucho applause and laughter). But she saved the best for last, recounting how she enjoyed it when Lianne Dalziel and Judith used to flat together, because she'd come round to stay herself and borrow Lianne's toothpaste. "That wasn't toothpaste, it was KY Jelly!" yelled out a man in the crowd. Dame Cath didn't miss a beat. "No dear," she replied drily, "I always bring my own." And that's probably the best thumbnail sketch of the evening right there. This is perhaps the only country in the world where you can go to a public event and hear a former female Governor-General in her seventies make deadpan jokes about sexual lubricant. How lucky we are. Chris Banks - 15th February 2006    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Wednesday, 15th February 2006 - 12:00pm

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