Image: Justine Smith / Kate Little
This month we are celebrating feminist comedy with our ‘April Fools’ series, featuring kickass Kiwi comedians. Next up is Billy T Award winner, Seven Days panelist, Short Poppies writer and funny woman who has been performing around New Zealand for "blimmin' ages"... Justine Smith!
At a party, are you the person dancing on the table tops or the one sitting in the corner wishing you were at home watching Netflix?
I’m somewhere in between the table dancing and sitting in the corner! I have been known in the past to climb onto a table, and let me just say my best friend Sarah has some photos of me in Guadalajara after visiting the Tequila factory that I frankly wish did not exist.
These days I will go to a party and have a good time for sure, but I am also known as a silent lurker off-er, where I will slink off with no goodbyes. I think it gives me an air of mystery but probably not many people notice I’m gone.
In your opinion, what makes a great comedian?
The love of it. In my opinion, it’s really important for the person or people you are watching to be enjoying themselves. It doesn't have to be big laughs and jazz hands every few seconds, more watching someone do their thing with relish.
Doing your thing with relish sounds like something no one should ever Google.
A great comedian is someone who has the ability to listen, watch, and feel their audience and do what it takes to make the people in front of them laugh. That’s our job.
What’s your favourite joke? Could you tell it for us?
Look, I love you, but I hate this question as I can NEVER think of one!
I remember the first joke I ever told was, “What do you call a guy at a bar buying everyone drinks? A FUN GUY TO BE WITH!”
...Get it? Fungi ?? …Hello? …Tap tap ...Is this thing on??
I thought I was totally hilarious and I also like that even at age about ten I was into booze related gags.
What does ‘feminist comedy’ look like to you?
To me, it looks like women owning their time on stage, speaking their own true stories and making everyone in the room laugh.
Women in the audience are so happy to have their voice heard, I constantly have women approach me after a show to say thank you and that I'm just like their mate, or daughter, or mum, or sister. Women together are powerfull and also outrageously hilarious, honest and dirty.
What would you say to a comedian who had just made a rape joke?
It depends on so much. I believe if it’s handled the right way and the comedian is coming from a place of condemnation then it’s not a topic we should avoid 100 per cent. It’s an issue and one that we sadly have to deal with. I think if it’s insightful and clever and can make an audience think about it, then the topic is ok.
Let me be clear though, if its some young rookie guy who thinks its ok to be inappropriate to a woman in the audience, or has made someone feel uncomfortable or has triggered a bad emotion for someone, then that ‘gag’ should never see the light of day again. It is our job to make people feel good, not bad. If I'm MC on that night at the very least I would report it back immediately to the club owner or whoever had booked that guy.
There would be repercussions. I would want to kick his ass.
Is it ever OK to make a sexist or racist joke?
Yes it is. This is comedy. It’s all about coming from a place of ownership and self-deprecation. By laughing about these issues we can start to break down stereotypes and nothing unites room like laughter. I guess I would be considered a bit sexist as I am often calling men out for being douchebags so there’s a line there somewhere! If you're causing real offence then there is a problem.
What would you say to people who say women aren’t funny?
How about go f*ck yourself? Can you print that?
(Editor’s note: Yes, Justine. We can.)
It still is, unfortunately, a knee jerk for people to think that! The worst is from people who say ‘’I don't usually like female comedians but you are really good’’. AUGHHHHH that is NOT a compliment and these days I explain that, and ask them to name the female comedians they've seen and not liked. They can NEVER name anyone. Honestly I’d have to say this comment is about 50/50 men and women who say it, and I’m always so much more disappointed when it’s from a woman.
What advice would you give to young people who want pursue a career in comedy?
GO FOR IT. If it’s something you've ever thought about, give it ago! It is the most fun thing you can do. The things that make it terrifying are the things that make it so rewarding.
If you've ever done something that really scares you, think of the time when it was just over, and you survived and you were proud of yourself: That’s comedy. It’s a rush and a buzz. And you can have a beer at work.
Justine Smith is performing as part of the New Zealand International Comedy Festival. Details about her show An Hour Roughly can be found here.