Tele­vi­sion

Com­edy spe­cial sheds light on NZ women’s his­toric win­ning of the right to vote.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - Rus­sell Brown

Ear­lier this year, NZ On Air put up $2 mil­lion for TV projects to mark 125 years of women’s suf­frage, and Bron­wynn Bakker, pro­ducer of Three’s Funny Girls, sug­gested to her team that they get to­gether a pro­posal.

In many ways, it was a sit­ter: over three sea­sons, Funny Girls has demon­strated that it can de­liver sharp com­men­tary on gen­der pol­i­tics while hold­ing a com­mer­cial au­di­ence and – im­por­tantly for a com­edy show – be­ing funny. When the pro­posal be­came one of 11 ac­cepted by the fund­ing agency, it also got a lit­tle daunt­ing, con­fesses Bryn­ley Stent, a mem­ber of the show’s core cast and writ­ing team.

“It’s such a big thing, and some­times it’s quite a se­ri­ous thing for peo­ple,” she says. “But com­edy can be the best way to shed light on stuff that’s re­ally se­ri­ous, be­cause peo­ple ac­tu­ally lis­ten to com­edy.

“Some­times, with drama, peo­ple feel like they’re get­ting some­thing jammed down their throats, or that it’s a bit full-on. Com­edy is a more ac­ces­si­ble way for peo­ple to talk about the big­ger is­sues, mak­ing it more di­gestible.”

The team did make some changes for the one-off The Funny Girls NZ Suf­fragette Spe­cial (Three, Thurs­day, 8.30pm). Most notably, the

The Funny Girls NZ Suf­fragette Spe­cial, Thurs­day. Right, Bryn­ley Stent.

show in­cor­po­rates live stand-up com­edy for the first time.

“Be­cause it’s a one-off, we didn’t want to go along with the same thing that we’ve been do­ing for three sea­sons, which is the sketches with the be­hind-thescenes nar­ra­tive. It’s the per­fect time to get some younger – and more ex­pe­ri­enced – co­me­di­ans in who have some good ma­te­rial al­ready about be­ing a woman and fem­i­nism. Some things are also eas­ier to talk about in the stand-up for­mat than they are in a sketch.”

But there are still plenty of sketches, in­clud­ing one about ma­ter­nity leave, which has the ad­di­tional zing of news­wor­thi­ness, thanks to the Prime Min­is­ter.

Ed­in­burgh fringe fes­ti­val best-com­edy award win­ner Rose Matafeo wasn’t in the coun­try for the pro­duc­tion, but will be there in spirit. Stent says her friend’s suc­cess un­der­lines the emer­gence of a real ca­reer path for New Zealand women in com­edy. “It’s in­cred­i­ble and so in­spir­ing to look at, see­ing her do so well over there. It makes you think it’s pos­si­ble.”

But if Matafeo won’t be there, suf­fragette hero Kate Shep­pard will. “She does make an ap­pear­ance in a cou­ple of sketches,” says Stent. “Which is quite ex­cit­ing con­sid­er­ing she’s been dead for a while!”

Kate Shep­pard

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