NZ Life & Leisure - - Contents - WORDS : N ICOL E BARR AT T

This mother- of- three signed up to the comedic stage later in life – and she’s lov­ing it

SACHA JONES’ NEIGH­BOURS know when she’s test­ing a new rou­tine – her tab­bies scram­ble out the door and bolt down the street. Her vi­brat­ing am­pli­fier in­evitably sends Tiny and Trixie run­ning at ev­ery liv­ing-room re­hearsal. Luck­ily the stand-up co­me­dian doesn’t take her pets’ re­ac­tions to heart and the crowds at one of her Auck­land-based gigs make for more at­ten­tive au­di­ences.

Spot­lights don’t faze the 52-year-old, but that’s not be­cause she’s spent decades per­fect­ing her comic rou­tines. The mother-ofthree signed up to a new­com­ers’ com­edy night just two years ago. Amid teenage comic hope­fuls sweat­ing back­stage, Sacha sat read­ing a Charles Dick­ens’ novel. “Peo­ple said, ‘Aren’t

you ner­vous?’ and I told them, ‘I’m old!’”

Fol­low­ing that first gig at The Clas­sic com­edy club, she per­formed on its stage once a month. She says her age is an ad­van­tage in stand-up. “Life ex­pe­ri­ences make you funny, and I’ve had plenty of those as a mid­dle-aged, mar­ried woman.” Not many com­edy new­bies could joke about menopause or moth­er­hood.

It was Sacha’s knack for sto­ry­telling that led her to the laugh­ter game. In 2016 she pub­lished a mem­oir, The Grass Was Al­ways Browner (with Finch Pub­lish­ing in Syd­ney), and no­ticed peo­ple chuck­ling dur­ing her speech at the book’s launch. When peo­ple com­mented on her hu­mour, it prompted her to think about stand-up.

Cre­at­ing six-minute sets for open-mic com­edy nights was no chal­lenge; tales from her subur­ban Aus­tralia child­hood pro­vided enough ma­te­rial to fill an hour. Her es­capades in­clude jump­ing the fence of a croc­o­dile en­clo­sure and pinch­ing a Christ­mas turkey to wolf down.

Th­ese days she writes in her home study on Auck­land’s North Shore, which gets messier each year. “I seem to write bet­ter sub­merged in chaos.” The bulk of her hour-long show ( The Egg and Sperm Race), per­formed as part of the Fringe Fes­ti­val, was writ­ten in a few days. “In­spi­ra­tion comes from my of­ten-crazy life, both from when I was young and my cur­rent life too.”

When Sacha isn’t re­hears­ing sets in the liv­ing room, and send­ing the cats scat­ter­ing, she uses the beach as her prac­tice pitch. “Peo­ple on the beach think I’m quite mad, as I speak the set loud(ish) to hear it. But I’m al­most old enough to pull off the dod­dery-old woman-who-talks-to-her­self rou­tine. Al­most.” This mother of three was on stage long be­fore stand-up. Sacha spent her youth train­ing to be a pro­fes­sional bal­le­rina, de­spite her Rus­sian teacher’s dec­la­ra­tion she was the wrong shape. Her grit has been shaped by ex­pe­ri­ences such as danc­ing the role of Giselle at 17 with the Syd­ney City Bal­let – a gru­el­ing 23 times in one sea­son.

An Achilles ten­don in­jury ended her bal­let ca­reer and, af­ter set­tling in New Zealand with her hus­band, she en­roled in po­lit­i­cal stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Auck­land. She spent the next decade rais­ing three chil­dren and com­plet­ing a PhD with a the­sis fo­cus­ing on abused women. There were birth­day party prepa­ra­tions spent whip­ping up cup­cakes while con­tem­plat­ing po­lit­i­cal-the­ory es­says.

Sacha has drawn her ca­reer path along the route of fe­male em­pow­er­ment. “Every­thing was male-cen­tred grow­ing up – it was al­ways rugby and cricket on TV – so I think I sensed back then that some­thing was a bit out of kil­ter. Bal­let was the first thing I came across that was fe­male-cen­tred, so it felt im­por­tant.”

Sacha says women are chang­ing New Zealand’s com­edy in­dus­try. “Stand-up used to be blokey with crude jokes, but now it’s clev­erer, be­cause there are more women in it so there’s less room for sex­ism.”

In bal­let she took a cur­tain call, her mem­oir earned re­viewer cri­tiques but com­edy rou­tines are fol­lowed with in­stan­ta­neous feed­back. There is no pre­dict­ing how an au­di­ence will re­act. “It’s slightly nerve-wrack­ing, but that im­me­di­ate feed­back is so great. It’s di­rect and hon­est, and that’s how I like it.”

‘ With com­edy rou­tines there’s no pre­dict­ing how an au­di­ence will re­act’

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