Meet 6 comedians of the 2021 NZ International Comedy Fest

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1 January 1970

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The NZ International Comedy Fest has returned! This year’s event will be hosted on May 4 -23 – visit comedyfestival.co.nz for information and tickets.

We asked some crack-up comedians about their inspirations and most memorable gigs:

Amanda Kennedy

Bumbshell, May 11-15 (Auckland)

All my most memorable performances have been with my best friend, since we’re a duo, so even weird situations are still fun for us.

In the very first gig we did with Urzila Carlson, MC Alan McElroy accidentally broke the only mic stand in half right before he brought us on (I needed a mic stand since I play an instrument). So we came on stage to find an embarrassed audience member on his knees being a human mic stand. Halfway through, the batteries in that mic died, so we shared the other mic. But then that one died too, so we just had to yell through to the end. Everything that could go wrong went wrong in front of our idol Urzila, but it was fun and funny.

We did a memorable show in Huntly where there was a fight and the cops turned up and arrested a man during our set. All the shows we’ve done at the Sydney Comedy Store are memorable – God, we love that place. Or any of the “big room” gigs here in NZ – the Comedy Galas and Gala Tour at the beautiful old Civic-style venues throughout the country. The vibe is always fire; the audiences are there for a good time and they always get one. Those shows are a real pleasure to perform.

As a solo act, comedy is way more terrifying, so my personal most memorable show would be the first night comedy was allowed back at Level 2 after lockdown: I did my second ever solo comedy set to a room of nine people who were all spaced 2m away from each other and too anxious to laugh. Everybody else absolutely ate s*** on stage that night too, so at least none of us felt alone. That was memorable.

Janaye Henry

Literally Obsessed, May 4-8 (Wellington)

Janaye brings laughs as big as her hat.

I’ve always been afraid to do gigs in my hometown, Tauranga. There’s just something quite terrifying about actively inviting the people you went to high school with to laugh at, with, or near you as an adult.

However, I got to MC a pop-up gig in a closed down Glassons in Tauranga and it was such a hoot! A true honour to be able to sit in the green room, aka the changing rooms, that I assure you were a pubescent nightmare in my youth. The gig line-up was Eli Matthewson, Tim Blatt, Michele A’Court and me – one of the friendliest green rooms I’ve ever been part of, in one of the most bizarre settings.

I also always adore a gig where my parents and sister can come and watch. They’ve been known to hand me a Singstar mic at the Christmas dinner table and insist I do a “little joke”, so it’s lovely to be able to do it with a real mic on a real stage.

Bubbah (Sieni Leo’o Olo)

HEAD, May 4-8 (Auckland)

I’m not sure what inspires me, because I change my mind too much! But I do love doing what I want; I reckon I’m just a big kid and theatre is my playground. The audience are like playmates… which is why I always try to get South Auckland in, because it’s like having your favourite cousins at the playground – it’s way more fun.

I wish I had one of those deep answers, but nah, no big inspiration. No heart on the line stuff – no heart at all, ha ha! I just love laughing. I love fun, I love honesty, I love being a d***. I love being myself. In all honesty, I don’t even know if stand-up comedy is something I’ll do forever – I’ll just go with the flow.

Michele A’Court

Michele A’Court’s Feminist Rage Night, May 11
Hosting the Electric Kiwi Last Laughs showcase, May 23

I was pregnant when I started doing stand- up, and that little foetus is now 28 with a couple of kids of her own. Over those three decades, there have been extraordinary gigs: performing in East Timor to armed military (be funny, they’ve got guns), in Papua New Guinea to coffee farmers, gigs in big cities like San Francisco and Edinburgh, and small islands like Great Barrier and Stuart Island/Rakiura. I’ve met some of my heroes – Robin Williams, Billy Connolly, Bill Bailey, Tim Minchin – all of whom were even more wonderful in person than I’d hoped they would be.

The real inspiration, though, is the other women who choose this for a job. I’ve never “fallen out of love” with stand-up comedy, but because of them it brings me even more joy now. Younger women don’t just arrive on the circuit (they’ve always done that), but now they stay and find ways to make it work for them. That’s what inspires me. It’s still not a perfect environment – the hours aren’t family friendly, travelling solo and at night has particular challenges – but we’ve got backup.

We consciously create spaces where we feel like we belong. I’m no longer the only woman in the green room.

Brynley Stent

Soft Carnage, May 18-22
Nominated for the 2021 Billy T Award
Part of the Electric Kiwi Last Laughs showcase, May 23

My biggest inspiration in the industry is none other than my dear friend Rose Matafeo. I first met Rose back in 2015 in the tiny green room backstage at Auckland’s Basement Theatre, before we were to perform a Snort Improv show together. I’d seen her on things like U Live and always thought she was hilarious, so I was really nervous to meet her. Turns out she was just as shy and nervous to meet me – so we shared an awkward greeting and then sat in silence for a bit. I genuinely thought she was too cool for me.

I’ve got to know Rose since then and have discovered that she is one of the most down-to-earth, humble, hard-working people in comedy. It’s been so incredible to watch her go from a household name in NZ to winning Best Show at the Edinburgh Fringe, performing on Taskmaster UK and filming her own HBO special – all before she turns 30! She is, without a doubt, one of the funniest people I know.

I admire her diligence, vulnerability on stage and the fact that her comedy is always authentically Rose.

She also makes a mean spaghetti carbonara.

Lana Walters

Problem Areas, May 11-15 (Wellington), May 18-22 (Auckland)
Nominated for the 2021 Billy T Award
Part of the Electric Kiwi Last Laughs showcase, May 23

We often talk about “Dr Comedy”, which is when you’re sick as a dog but as soon as you go on stage you feel like a million bucks. I had this recently; I was in the first trimester of my pregnancy – not yet telling people – and having a rough time of it. All-day nausea and frequent vomitation made the idea of facing an audience rather daunting. But, lo and beyond, the fabulous Rhys Nicholson (my absolute favourite) was in town, and when he asked me to perform with him, I just couldn’t say no. So I piled a bunch of make-up on my washed-out face and trusted Dr Comedy would see me through. It did – that is, until the moment I walked off stage and immediately hurled in the closest rubbish bin!

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