I have a huge confession to make. I am the biggest Have You Been Paying Attention superfan. But not just a superfan, a SUPER fan.
I’ve met and spoken to my fair share of celebrities, but if you really want to know the truth, I’m a sucker for homegrown Australian talent — so if Tom Gleisner or Sam Pang came up to me in a room, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be able to speak. At all.
But it’s not just these two that make that show so great. While their banter is hilarious, I’m also in awe of the hugely talented pool of comedians brought in each week — and this is exactly where I was introduced to South African-born, now New Zealand-based comedian Urzila Carlson.
When the opportunity landed in my lap to interview her for her new tour Token Africa at the 2020 Comedy Festival, I jumped at the chance to find out more about this hilarious woman who has a knack for making you laugh with and at her.
Turns out, she is exactly as you see her on TV.
When I interviewed Jack Whitehall, I was shocked to hear that he had a “stage persona” that was very different from who he was at home, but Carlson doesn’t have one of those.
“I am the same,” she said. “I didn’t know that comics did that until I spent more time backstage and thought, holy shit, they’re all so quiet and well behaved and I’m not that person at all — I’m exactly as I am onstage, just a bit louder.”
It was this infectious personality that gave her an “in” into the comedy scene at the age of 32.
While working in advertising, Carlson’s colleague signed her up to perform at an open-mic night — an open-mic night which happened to be a competition, however, neither of them knew.
“My colleague didn’t even know it was a competition,” she said of the first time she did stand-up. “And I got a phone call asking me to do it again and I won.”
Lucky for that colleague, because now Carlson is one of the most revered comedians of our generation with a very public following.
At home though, the mum-of-two isn’t a comedian. In fact, she is just “mum” (or a singer according to her six-year-old daughter). Out in public, she is fiercely protective of her children and never calls them by name or shows their photograph.
“It’s their privacy,” she said. “My daughter wants to go on Tik Tok and all those things, and she can when she is 16 but right now she’s too young and doesn’t understand what it means. This is my job, this is what I do, they don’t need to be in the public eye.”
While Carlson lives a happy life in New Zealand with wife Julie and their two children, life hasn’t always been easy, which is evident in her memoir Rolling With the Punchlines.
Being a queer woman in a male-dominated industry has its challenges.
“I just steam-roller through it,” she told me when I asked about hecklers.
“I don’t allow them to make a deal of it. If I hear someone say homophobic shit, I just push through. I pretend I don’t hear it and if they do swing back and they think ‘oh, maybe she didn’t hear it’ — because I just flat out ignore it — if they do bring it again, I say: ‘I heard you, I just thought you were a total c- -t.”
While she identifies as a lesbian, Carlson doesn’t talk about it much in her comedy.
“The only reason I don’t do a lot of gay material because to me it’s a total non-issue,” she said. “It’s the same as how I won’t accept discrimination. I don’t think my sexuality should come into it. If I have something funny to say, I’ll say it. I never address the fact that I’m a lesbian because your sexuality is who you fuck, it’s not who you are.”
In her new show, Token African, Carlson talks about who she is when it comes to, not her sexuality, but her DNA.
“I literally had no idea of my background,” she said.
“My mother was adopted and my dad never told me about where he was from, so we literally had no idea. So, I did a DNA test and I was blown away. I thought, ‘holy shit, I’m going to write a show about my DNA results.”
And thus, Token African was crafted – and by craft, I mean twenty-five pages of handwritten comedy (because that equals “one full hour”) which was first performed, without practice, in front of a live audience.
The show will no doubt be honest and hilarious. Bring it on.