Anya Tate-Manning, 36, is an award-winning actor, director and writer. Her first solo show
My Best Dead Friend, makes its Auckland debut in July. Her partner, James Nokise, 34, is an award-winning Welsh-Samoan comedian, whose show Rukahu also opens in Auckland next month. ANYA/ When I first met James, I actually found him really annoying. I was working in the bar at the Classic Comedy Club in Auckland, and he had returned from London. He was gigging. I thought, “Who is this guy?” He was really charming and had a wild energy about him. Then I realised that I actually fancied him.
When we got together, I used to be really nervous watching him performing a solo show as the sense of failure in comedy is so immediate. But I realised that comedians aren’t afraid of failure. They can fail one minute and be back the next.
In the early days, he’d spend a lot of time testing material on me; we would have what seemed to be a natural conversation about politics, and then he’d slip in a gag. He’s more direct about it now. He did one show about our relationship back in 2010 and I guess that’s the risk when you’re with a comedian.
We’ve been together eight years and the terrible thing is I never laugh at anything now when he tests material on me. I’ve got a really high threshold for what is funny now. But then I’ll see him performing the same joke on stage and it’s hilarious.
When James comes back from a big schedule, he has this deep exhaustion that can last several weeks. He’s the opposite to the guy you see on stage. But I’m also a performer so I understand it.
He’s really into video gaming, and that’s a way for him to unwind. I’m not a gamer so I don’t get it. After a big festival like Edinburgh, where he’s maybe done 100 performances in 25 days, he’s exhausted.
But I’ve learned that it’s not personal. He just needs time. And the thing about James is that while he’s gaming, he’s also thinking. He’s always creating his next show or his next joke in his head.
In 2011, we started this political satire together, Public Service Announcements. He writes it and I direct and produce. We fight a lot when we’re working together. It’s not easy. But I think it’s me. He’s patient, and I get stressed and angry.
When we created our puppet show, Pulp Fiction, in Edinburgh, we were looking for a male actor and James agreed to take the role. The funny thing is he was the best actor.
I’ve seen his show, Rukahu, and he does things on stage that I couldn’t do. It’s a scathing mix of comedy and theatre. I’m going to be doing my show around the same time. It’s the scariest thing for me being solo on stage, but James does it all the time. Being with him has helped me deal with that. JAMES/ Anya is genuinely one of the funniest people I know. Even though she’s not a comedian.
When I met her, I thought she was intelligent and pretty, and that’s what drew me to her.
Anya got the [Wellington Theatre Awards] best supporting actress award for her role as Ngaire [in Hudson and Halls Live]. You have to understand that’s a pretty big deal, to get that award for a comedy role. It all comes so naturally to her – she’s like Taika [Waititi].
There’s definitely been some jarring. We’re terrible working together.
When we did Public Service Announcements, we had to get friends in to direct and produce. We needed to instigate buffers between the two of us. There are rules where I’m the writer, and she is directing, and we agree that there has to be a cut-off point.
That’s why I don’t act in it, because that’s less of me undercutting her by accident.
We just have to learn how to de-stress. She watches TV and I sit there and watch video games.
Communication becomes fundamental – it’s like, “Hey I’m in this space”.
We are good sounding boards for each other, but we don’t show each other our work. If we do, we ask if the other person wants feedback.
I remember one opening night she came back and started giving me notes and told me, “Here’s how to fix the show”. She was putting on her writer/director hat.
But Anya has taught me how to share a stage. I’m a stand-up comedian, but thanks to her I’m now a puppeteer in a play, and I’m an actor and a poet. My mahi [work] wouldn’t be the same without her in my life, and that [includes] my show, Rukahu.
Her show My Best Dead Friend is based on the death of her best friend, Ali, who was killed in a car crash.
Ali was one of Anya’s friends who had to sign our relationship off. When Anya and I met, I had to fly down to Dunedin and do a comedy gig just to persuade her friends that we should date.
After Ali died, Anya couldn’t work for a couple of years. But the whole show is a beautiful celebration of the tight bonds of friendship.
My Best Dead Friend, runs July 12-22, Q Theatre, Auckland. Rukahu runs July 4-8, The Basement Theatre, Auckland.
“I remember one opening night she came back and started giving me notes and told me, ‘Here’s how to fix the show’. ”