New Zealand comedy has long been dominated by men. Now, a new generation of women are stepping up to the mic.
If you were to judge the New Zealand comedy scene by looking at the list of past winners and nominees of the prestigious Billy T Award, you might be forgiven for wondering where all of the women are.
This year is the first time that more than one woman has been nominated for the award since 2003. Five comedians are nominated every year. This year the two women up for the coveted yellow towel award that recognises comedians with potential are Alice Brine and Laura Daniel.
“Now that there’s two of us you’ll just get judged on the comedy of it and I think that will make more women get involved and not so much a token thing,” Laura says.
Laura got her start in comedy with the late-night improv group Snort, which lead to joining the writing team at Jono and Ben.
Now Laura has a starring role in the new sketch show Funny Girls, alongside Rose Matafeo and Jackie van Beek. The show will round out TV3’s Friday night comedy lineup, and act as a counterpoint to the more laddish style of 7 Days and Jono and Ben.
While Laura was developing her comedy chops in the super city, Alice was making her name in the capital’s comedy scene with a style that she describes as “painfully observant”.
She also runs the Wellington Watercooler events, and you might also recognise her name from that corrected version of Tony Veitch’s post that went viral this week.
When I was growing up, the influential comedy heroes for women in New Zealand were super limited.
Alice and Laura point to the success of female comedians overseas as inspiration for young women getting into comedy, particularly Amy Poehler and Amy Schumer.
One of the reasons why so few young women have been up for a Billy T is because until recently there hasn’t been enough female role models to aspire to.
"For example when you’re a young boy you look at who the head of the All Blacks is and want to be just like him ... With being a young woman, especially when I was growing up, the influential comedy heroes for women in New Zealand were super limited. I didn’t really look at my future like, ‘I’m going to be a stand up comedian.’ There was no female hero for a young stand-up comedian," Alice says.
Alice got into comedy after watching an early sketch by Amy Schumer, saying, "she literally looked like me".
Laura hopes that Funny Girls will pave the way for more female-led comedy to be made locally.
There is an even split of men and women in the writing room at Funny Girls, a big change from when she started at Jono and Ben earlier in the year.
“I remember when I came in when I started on Jonno and Ben and felt really intimidated because I was the only women at that stage who was in the writing room and I was a bit scared about pitching, but they all made me feel so supported and everyone was happy to have me there and it soon became a thing that it wasn’t an issue.”
No one ever calls someone a ‘male comedian’.
A common thread between Jono and Ben and Funny Girls is producer Bronwynn Bakker. Laura is not shy about expressing her appreciation for her mentor.
"She’s amazing. She’s always one that is a really strong believer in making the female voice heard. She’s the one who made it happen."
Ideally, comedy produced by women shouldn’t need to be its own genre or key selling point.
Alice wants people to stop mentioning ‘female comedians’, especially on comedy lineups. “Can we stop mentioning that there’s women… can we stop bringing it up? That is my absolute mentality when someone brings up that I am a 'female comedian'. Because no one ever calls someone a 'male comedian'.”
Comedians talk about what they know and Alice says that for men and women, that’s the same thing: sex, relationships, eating food and going to work.
“For some reason, people consider it different because a woman is talking about a personal relationship [so] it's now a “women’s issue?”, it’s like, nah, it’s from a women’s perspective, it’s not a woman’s issue. It’s a people issue, it’s a people subject.”