Laugh­ing all the way:

New Zealand co­me­dian Jus­tine Smith writes for 7 Days and also ap­pears on the show. She tells Sarah Nealon about her start in comedy and how the in­dus­try is chang­ing for the bet­ter.

The TV Guide - - CONTENTS -

The chang­ing face of the New Zealand comedy scene.

She per­formed her first stand-up comedy rou­tine 20 years ago but it’s only in the past couple of years that Jus­tine Smith has been able to earn a liv­ing mak­ing peo­ple laugh.

Smith, who writes for and ap­pears on 7 Days, was work­ing as a wait­ress in an Auck­land cafe when her boss dared her to take part in an open mic night.

“She booked me in three times and on the third night I fi­nally did it,” says Smith.

“I had never ever been so ter­ri­fied. It was hosted by Radar (now Te Radar). Brend­han Love­grove was there. I think Mike King was there. Andrew Clay. Maybe Michele A’Court. And Ewen Gil­mour, I think.

“They were re­ally prob­a­bly the only ones do­ing it. I just did it and it sounds cheesy, but it was life chang­ing. It went re­ally well and just felt amaz­ing.”

Since that nerve-rack­ing gig, Smith has per­formed on stage here and in Aus­tralia but had to sup­ple­ment her comedy work with hospi­tal­ity jobs.

“I was a wait­ress and a co­me­dian for years – like well into my 30s,” she says.

“But the scene has changed so rapidly. There are so many more gigs and op­por­tu­ni­ties to write for TV. Not just 7 Days. There is

Jono And Ben, Funny Girls and heaps of stuff on­line. There was noth­ing like that back then. So it was hard. You got $100 a week if you were lucky. Re­ally lucky.

“But I’m mak­ing a great liv­ing and it’s awe­some. All I do now is comedy and

comedy-re­lated stuff and with that goes the cor­po­rate (gigs) and per­haps a voiceover and all those kind of things that help sup­port the thing that I love, which is be­ing on stage live.”

Smith, who won the cov­eted Billy T Award 10 years ago and will be on the judg­ing panel for next year’s awards, was aware from a young age that she liked to en­ter­tain peo­ple.

“I al­ways thought I was pretty funny,” she says. “I was in trouble at school for gig­gling and mak­ing peo­ple laugh. I was al­ways a show-off. My mother will agree with that 100 per cent.”

Smith, who was raised in Christchurch, says her comedy is in­spired by a va­ri­ety of things.

“I’ve al­ways felt re­ally lucky with my men­tal health and out­look on life be­cause I find lots of stuff funny,” she says.

“I look at a per­son walk­ing down the street and just laugh in my car. I find things re­ally amus­ing, but not in a to­tally mean way.”

De­spite her love of comedy she nearly gave up on it for good.

“I got a bit sick of it in my 30s and tried to re­tire but had to come back be­cause I re­alised I wasn’t good at any­thing else,” she says.

“I’m glad I did. I’m a bit of a one-trick pony.”

In New Zealand, comedy is a male-dom­i­nated in­dus­try but Smith is hope­ful that will change sooner rather than later.

“You are looked at and judged dif­fer­ently as a woman,” says Smith.

For any woman con­sid­er­ing stand-up comedy, she says, “If you’re think­ing about do­ing it, it means you do want to do it. For God’s sake give it a go be­cause what makes it so tough makes it so re­ward­ing.

“It’s just you up there and it’s a real naked kind of art form. There are no bells and whis­tles. You are on your own.

“But at the same time if you get a great re­ac­tion it just comes straight back in your face and im­me­di­ately af­ter­wards.

“It’s so frick­ing re­ward­ing. To make peo­ple laugh from their gut, it’s a real uni­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Laugh­ing unites us all.”

Smith cites Bri­tish ac­tor, fun­ny­man and mu­si­cian Bill Bai­ley (Black Books) as one of her favourite co­me­di­ans.

“Bill Bai­ley can unite an au­di­ence with joy­ful plea­sure,” she says.

“I just love him. I’ve seen Bill Bai­ley live ev­ery time he comes to Auck­land and he’s a re­ally lovely per­son, which mat­ters to me.”

Speak­ing of love, Smith mar­ried for the first time two years ago and de­scribes her hus­band as, “The great­est man in the whole uni­verse.

“I had to chase him for a bit be­cause he was liv­ing in Welling­ton. It’s like a fairy story,” she says. “It’s adorable. We got en­gaged at Dis­ney­land.”

Re­fresh­ingly, as the in­ter­view draws to a close, Smith is only too happy to state her age.

“I’m proud of my age,” she says. “I’ll be 50 next year and I can­not wait. I’m get­ting older and it’s fine. I’m hav­ing a great time. I’m the hap­pi­est I’ve ever been.”

“It’s just you up there and it’s a real naked kind of art form.” – Jus­tine Smith

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