South African-born stand-up comic and 7 Days star Urzila Carlson on her revealing memoir, life on the road, and what to expect from her Auckland Pride Festival events.
What are you up to at the moment?
At this very moment I’m sitting in a motor lodge room in Christchurch. I’m here for two weeks hosting the stand-up show for the Buskers Festival. From here I’m heading back home for a few shows and telly things – 7 Days for one, and then I’m off to Australia on tour.
This is a big question, but what’s the plan for 2017?
To take over the world! To finally meet Oprah, Michelle Obama, Ellen, and the Queen – who I consider to be Betty White! On a serious note, I won’t mind just doing what I do, and that people keep showing up to my shows and keep having a laugh. I don’t need much, as long as everything and everyone is happy and healthy, I’m happy.
Is 7 Days back on our screens this year?
7 Days will be back and stronger than ever, if the live tour was anything to go by. A lot of people say to me: ‘It looks like you guys are having a lot of fun’, and I have to tell them ‘WE ARE!’ We’re all really good mates and like hanging out together and I think it shows.
Do you have any stand-up events planned for this year?
I sure do! Stand-up is my number one love! I’m doing an Australian tour soon – Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and an extensive New Zealand tour which will go on sale soon. I’m doing all the little towns that I’ve travelled through and love.
How do the Australian and New Zealand audiences compare at stand-up events?
The audiences aren’t that different, really. Let’s face it: New Zealand and Australia aren’t that different! It shows when the chips are down, when there’s a crisis – like the bush fires in Australia or the earthquakes in New Zealand; you see how the two countries stand up for each other, it’s not very different, it’s as little as Vegemite versus Marmite! Both like to have a laugh, a beer and a barbecue. New Zealand audiences might be a little more forgiving than Australian audiences though.
Why did you decide to move to New Zealand?
I decided in 2006 that I needed to immigrate. South Africa had become too dangerous for me to cope with and I knew I didn’t want to raise my kids there. The same week I made that decision I saw an advert asking ‘Want to immigrate?’ I thought ‘YES I DO!’ Why not New Zealand? Well, I couldn’t think of one reason why not, so I packed up and moved.
It wasn’t until you moved to New Zealand that you started your career in stand-up. What was the catalyst for that?
I worked in advertising and the guy that sat across from me used to say to me all the time that I needed to do stand-up. He pushed and pushed and when I left the agency, he booked me in to do an open mic night and booked seats for most of the agency! I did it, and… well, that was all it took! I was hooked.
That must have been a huge leap of faith?
It was more a huge leap of the drinks trolley on a Friday! I got sucked in and I didn’t want to look like a dick who didn’t want to give it a go!
You and your wife recently had a second child. How do you juggle family with life on the road?
My family travel with me when and where possible. A rule that I try to stick to is if I’m somewhere for more than three days, they have to come with me. They travel to Australia with me and at this very moment my three-year-old daughter is eating yoghurt next to me.
You recently released a memoir, Rolling with the Punches (published November 2016). Can you tell us about it?
It’s about my life, about growing up in apartheid South Africa, growing up very poor with an abusive father and super-supportive mother. I’m usually very private so it was a push for me to write the book and be honest and open about my life. I hate it when I read
a memoir and at the end I feel like I’ve learned nothing about the person, so I thought, if I’m going to do it, I need to do it properly. I had to open the door a bit and talk about my life and my experiences.
Let’s talk about the Pride Festival. At the ‘Talking Queer, Writing Queer, Seeing Queer’ event, you’ll be discussing the ways in which a gay sensibility influences what to say at times – can you give us a preview?
The only times I’ve ever toned down my ‘gay’ is when I felt that I would be in danger if I admitted to being something that is not straight and not Christian. I’ve never felt this way out of Africa. I don’t lie, I simply omit or get away quickly. I also don’t feel like I need to cater the way I speak, see or write [for a gay sensibility]. I simply speak, and because my voice is that of a gay woman people can choose to listen or get away quickly!
For The Great Auckland Pride Debate, you’re being partnered with team members MPs Jacinda Ardern (Labour) and Jan Logie (Greens). Are you three a winning combo?
History has taught us that YES, WE ARE A WINNING COMBO! You can also expect a lot of jibes and another win from Jacinda’s team!
The moot for the debate is ‘Girls Do it Better’. What kind of issues will you be discussing?
I will be talking about lactating, arguing and talking to mums! I can’t give away too much of my slam dunk on the night, but believe me, there’s a big one!
Is it important to have events like the Pride Festival?
Yes it is, it’s super-important to create a community to make sure it’s strong, so that young people who are just coming out or people who feel, and are, persecuted can turn to the community and know that they are supported and that there is a place to turn to where people will have your back.
How does the queer scene in South Africa compare to New Zealand?
It’s big and supportive and we have a lot more clubs. But that’s simply because there’s more of us – it’s a much bigger country.
You live in west Auckland. What’s your favourite thing about it?
The community feel. Not a lot of people know who I am or if they do, they simply don’t give a shit! There’s no ‘competition’ there, it’s just me and my neighbours and whose turn it is to mow the berm. ●
Catch Urzila at these Auckland Pride events
‘Talking Queer, Writing Queer, Seeing Queer’ at Same Same but Different Writers Festival
Sat 18 Feb, 4pm, AUT
The Great Auckland Pride Debate
Mon 20 Feb, 7.30pm, Galatos. Visit aucklandpridefestival.org.nz