‘Funny As’: Reflections on New Zealand comedy from New Zealand comedians – WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View 2019

There's nothing like laughter to finish up the work week, and last week's 'Funny As' event on the history of New Zealand comedy hit the perfect mix of funny and thought-provoking at WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View last week. Just right for a Friday evening.

It was a diverse group who made up the audience, including local comedians and entertainers, fans of the Funny As, opens a new window' television series … and someone from South America who had been in New Zealand for a couple of hours and whose friends had thought they might enjoy the show. They did. Because there really was something for everyone, whether they knew lots about Kiwi comedy or not.

Comedians Madeleine Sami, opens a new window and Justine Smith, opens a new window joined Paul Horan (creator and producer of the TV documentary, co-writer of the book) and Philip Matthews (who wrote the book with Paul) for an evening of personal and professional stories. They spoke about when they first realised they were funny, and how their antics didn't necessarily impress their families. They shared how they got onto the comedy circuit, and about the changing attitude to comedy in light of the recent #MeToo movement - what topics are taboo, how the crowd reacts when they hear something they don't like, and how they are constantly changing their shows to reflect what society will let them get away with.

We heard about politicians playing with comedians, about how to walk that fine line so that everyone can enjoy the humour of a show, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with the politics that's being shown, and saw some great footage of Paul Holmes with Sir Robert Muldoon, opens a new window, one of the first politicians to be part of a joke at their expense. We discussed whether there's a difference between the comedy scene in Christchurch and in other parts of the country, and about the genealogy of comedians - that they really are the modern-day court jester, and so they sometimes need to take a risk and try something that mightn't be particularly well received. 

We also heard about the process of producing 'Funny As' - the 160 interviews with local comedians, the phone calls to friends of acquaintances who might have a photo of 'that one gig you did that time' ... and about why the Funny As, opens a new window book isn't the same as the tv series. And that although 'Funny As' might have started off as a history of comedy,  it ended up being a history of Aotearoa New Zealand. People use comedy to say what they need to say about important social issues, and those social issues change over time.

This was a really enjoyable evening, and the hour slipped by quickly. I learnt a lot, laughed heaps, and left the auditorium with a much greater appreciation of the hard work, long hours, and amount of thought that goes into the effortless performances we see from our comedians when they go onstage and appear on our TVs. I can't wait to see if 'Funny As' gets a sequel - if it does, I'll definitely be watching it!

Funny as. Friday 13 September 8pm at The Piano

From Billy T. James to Rose Matafeo, Fred Dagg to Flight of the Conchords, New Zealanders have made each other laugh in ways distinctive to these islands. The recent documentary series Funny As is a loving and hilarious tribute to the people who have made the scene what it is today. Join its producer Paul Horan and writer Philip Matthews, authors of the companion book Funny As, along with movers and shakers of the New Zealand comedy scene, including Madeleine Sami and others to be announced, to hear the stories, share the laughs, and watch outtakes that for one reason or another didn’t quite make the show.

Justine Smith and Madeleine Sami

WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View

WORD Christchurch presents Shifting Points of View — a spectacular line-up of New Zealand and international speakers to warm you up and get you thinking. Shifting Points of View runs from Sunday 18 August to Saturday 14 September 2019. Visit our page on WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View for more information, previews, reviews, and WORD reading.