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