James Roque – Boy Mestizo

James Roque looking over his shoulder, holding a traditional Filipino shirt
Image via comedyfestival.com

There’s still time to get a ticket, folks. Leave the house. See him before we pretend he’s from Australia.

In Boy Mestizo, James Roque employs skilled storytelling, deft banter and disarming charm to answer the ultimate third-culture question: if you’ve been told to go back to where you came from, what happens when you finally do?

The 50-minute show is packed with jokes and crests beautiful, awkward waves of laugh-at, laugh-with, and laugh-within. Having seen Roque before, these alternating waves of laughter are no surprise coming from this seasoned performer from across the ditch. The surprise comes with the thoughtful provocations and heart-breaking identification with the baggage we all need to unpack when it comes to race.

It’s a bleak night when we catch Roque at Tasma Terrace, one of the finest examples of a nineteenth century three storey terrace house in Australia, which nails #creepycolonial style all the way. When season three of West World relocates to Australia, they have their venue set. Melbourne has turned on the freezing rain and the bin-fire that is the MAFS finale is playing on the box. It’s a wonder anyone left the house at all.

But leave they did, and together with a friendly crowd, we joined Roque for an intimate trek back to the Philippines after twenty years away. We start in New Zealand, finding empathy for Māori Santa through life as a one-time Asian Harry Potter, before his doom-sayer mother waves him goodbye with the recommendation that he at least try to “blend in”. While that doesn’t always prove easy to do, wedged between the bleak grandmothers and the colourism, Roque still makes and breaks tension in the very best way, mixing straight “set up/punch line” stand up with music, corporate sponsorship and a whistle-stop lesson in Philippines history.

We last saw Roque in a fresh two-hander with Pax Assadi for Hard in the Paint in 2016, a fast-paced, stereotype-crusher of a show embracing topics from hip hop to cross-cultural attraction. While this solo show mines some similar territory, there’s a depth and craft to Roque’s explorations – extensions on the themes of race, family, belonging – that reward a second-look at this accomplished Kiwi-Filipino comedian. Female characters abound, and there’s a grounded sense of love in their characterisation, even as Roque is hamming for maximum effect. We left still laughing and pondering how to decolonise our minds – not bad for a Monday night.

There’s frank asides of sex and attraction, a peppering of indecency, and just a touch of gross-out in the humour, but Roque’s delivery is easy, sometimes loose, and dammit the guy is likeable.

There’s still time to get a ticket, folks. Leave the house. See him before we pretend he’s from Australia.

We don’t normally “do” stars, but screw it – this rocked.

Five stars.

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Author: Eleanor Jackson

Eleanor Jackson is a Filipino Australian poet, performer, arts producer and community radio broadcaster. Eleanor Jackson is a former Editor in Chief and Poetry Editor of Peril and currently Chair of the Board.

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