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A yellow towel is on the line: Meet the Billy T Award nominees

Natasha Hoyland gets to know the Billy T nominees ahead of their showcase at Q Theatre tonight.

To be in the running for the biggest and most prestigious prize in New Zealand comedy, budding comedians are required to pitch their show ideas to a panel of industry judges and perform in an applicants showcase.

The competition is fierce and the showcase is full of names both familiar and completely new to the industry. Based on both their show concept and their performance at the showcase, the competitors are whittled down to five. Think Dragon’s Den meets The Bachelor.

Patch Lambert, Li’i Alaimoana, Paul Williams, Ray O’Leary and Angella Dravid have all survived that process and are now in the running for that infamous yellow towel, the Billy T Award. The award recognises, encourages, and rewards up and coming local comedic talent. Past recipients include Rose Matafeo, Guy Williams, Rhys Mathewson and last year’s David Correos.

Tonight’s Billy T Jams gives audiences an exclusive first look at the nominees, before they premiere their solo hours during the comedy festival.

I had a chat to the nominees about who they really are, where they get their inspiration from, and what their shows are about.

Patch Lambert

Patch Lambert

How would you describe yourself and your style of comedy?

I’m a slightly bogan-ish dude who’s got a pretty standard outlook on life. My style is storytelling, very honest storytelling.

How and when did you get into stand-up?

I first started in 2013. I walked into an open-mic night, Raw Meat Monday, down here in Wellington. I went along and did that, and I kept going back.

Were you nervous?

I was real nervous. It was the last open-mic of the year, so all the regular people were there and they were really drunk, so they just heckled the shit out of me. You go in there and think you’re going to be instantly funny and everybody is going to be blown away by you your first night, and you go, oh no this is hard.

Tell us a bit about your comedy festival show!

It’s called Terrordactyl because it’s about the time I was seven years old and I thought there was a pterodactyl living the spare room of our house. I thought that would be a good narrative to branch in and out of. It was originally called Character Building because it’s about the tough stuff you’ve gone through, but nobody’s going to see a show called Character Building so I changed the title. It deals with stuff like, when I was a kid I went through lots of surgeries, and that’s something I’ve always wanted to write about and make funny, and I know it affected my mum, dad, and my brother and sisters, so I wanted to write that story as well. I just became a dad myself last year, so wanted to also talk about how it’s affected my life and how it’s changed me. All wrapped up in a story about a pterodactyl.

Out of all the other nominees, who do you want to beat the most?

Grudge match is it? I can’t say Li’i – I’d like to say Li’i because he’s the only Wellingtonian now that Ray’s buggered off to Auckland, but he’s too nice, he’s such a lovely guy. I guess Ray for being nominated for his first year of doing comedy. Is there a right answer to that question?

Li’i Alaimoana

Li’i Alaimoana

How would you describe yourself and your style of comedy?

I’m a musical comedian, Pacific Islander born and raised, a lot of my comedy is influenced by comedians mainly from overseas, growing up when I was younger. I like to involve the audience as much as I can, whether that’s through music or comedy, I like getting to know them. I’m a really outgoing sort of person and would describe my comedy as observational yet personal.

How and when did you get into stand-up?

I’ve always wanted to do it. I started watching comedy from a really young age, I was seven when I saw my first comedy show on TV. It wasn’t until 2010 that I thought I’d give it a go, I did it for a couple of months but then I had to move overseas to Canada. When we got back in 2015, that’s when I decided to take it more seriously.

I entered the Raw Comedy quest, where I made the semi-finals. I was still learning, and there’s a lot I had to learn with time and craft because I was fairly new to it. It’s been under two years, pretty much, just going solid in comedy.

Tell us a bit about your comedy festival show, Minority Rapport.

So Minority Rapport is basically me growing up in Wellington city, and the show starts from there. I touch on my personal growth, going through all kinds of things, going through college, wanting to be a professional rugby player, injuring myself, going through life still with that Samoan background, with the teaching and stuff of my parents and how I grew up being able to apply it to the present day living situations that I’d come across. It’s basically a journey through humble beginnings, growing up Polynesian, growing up in New Zealand and trying to fit into the New Zealand lifestyle, all the way through to where I am today, married with seven kids.

Out of the Billy T nominees, who do you want to beat the most?

In all honesty, I want to beat myself. I want to beat the Li’i that got me there in the first place, I want to go out and do way better than he did. The reason why I say that is, I’ve been in touch with everyone and I’ve seen mostly everyone, I haven’t seen Angella or Paul but I’ve heard great things. If I lose, I’m not really fussed because everyone’s amazing.

I want to beat myself, the Li’i that got me there in the first place. I want to do way better than I did at the applicant’s showcase.

Paul Williams

Paul Williams

How and when did you get into stand up?

My mum had Jerry Seinfeld’s I’m Telling You For The Last Time on tape in her Toyota Previa. She only had 2 other tapes so we all basically knew the full 72 minutes off by heart. My brother then got really into stand up when he left for Uni. He came back to Nelson in the holidays and introduced me to Flight of the Conchords, David O’Doherty, Demetri Martin etc.

What was your first gig like?

My first gig was a Raw Monday at Fringe Bar when I was at Uni in Wellington. It went surprisingly well. I was on such a high afterwards I walked down to Burger King and got a celebratory Hershey’s Chocolate Pie and ate it on a bench on Courtenay Place.

Tell us a bit about your comedy festival show Summertime Love.

It’s the best show in the festival. I understand that comedy is subjective and I haven’t seen any of the other shows but I’ve just got a real good feeling about it.

How did you decide on the show’s title?

It’s a lyric from the 1987 mild hit ‘Boys (Summertime Love)’ by Italian singer Sabrina, from her debut album Sabrina.

Who do you want to beat the most?

Maybe Patch? I accidentally kicked his drink over at the application showcase so I feel like we have beef now.

Ray O’Leary

Ray O’Leary

When did you get into stand-up comedy?

I always wanted to do it, I remember being thirteen and really wanting to do it, and I can even remember some vague idea of the jokes I wanted to, but the first gig I did was in August 2015. I remember a guy before I started said, “You’re probably going to bomb.” And then right afterwards he said, “You’re probably the best new person I’ve ever seen.” Which was very nice, but I’d already expected I was going to bomb. I expected to be terrible for a long long time, but luckily that hasn’t happened, I don’t think!

How did you feel before your first gig? Were you nervous?

I’m nervous before every gig! It’s a terrifying feeling – I think humans are really sort of… stake my reputation and stuff, going in front of a whole room of strangers and making them laugh, could be a huge blow to your reputation. It’s very abnormal what comedians do.

It’s not normal to stand up in front of a whole bunch of people you’ve never met before and make them laugh – but it’s very high risk/high reward when you make it happen, that feeling is very good. It’s great to be standing them for people to finish laughing so you can start talking.

What is your comedy festival show about?

A Pessimist’s Guide to Optimism is a show that I’m forced to do by being a Billy T nominee. It’s going to be an hour of my ramblings, about the world, various things that I’m obsessed about, it’s going to be a very very philosophical, I think, and maybe target some big issues in the world like criminal justice and stuff, but also some minor things like the time my mum made it sound like she talked to a dog. I think my philosophy degree, I spent like five years of my life studying that, and I think it did a real number of me, so it’ll be me unleashing all the weird opinions I’ve gotten because I’ve spent all that time thinking.

Who do you want to beat the most?

Who do I want to beat the most? Can I say none because I think they’re all better than me?

Angella Dravid

Angella Dravid

How would you describe yourself to people who may not know who you are?

I probably wouldn’t describe myself to people who didn’t know me; unless I was dating or applying for a job. I’ve often heard people describe me as “the silent moments in The Office”.

How and when did you get into stand up?

My previous boss told me I made people uncomfortable in client meetings.  I purely did stand up as a way to get better at my day job.  I am still teetering on the edge of getting fired from my day job.  Steve, if you’re reading this, don’t.

Tell us a bit about your comedy festival show Down the Rabbit Hole.

It’ll be about my life in the UK, starting with how I ran away from Australia 14 years ago to meet a mysterious man from a chat room.  If you like comedy confronting, surprising, dark, and intriguing, I think you’ll enjoy it.

How did you decide on the show’s title? 

I was describing it to someone who said “you kinda look like Alice in Wonderland and your show’s like going down the rabbit hole”

What was your first gig like? 

I read poems from a book and avoided the audience the whole time.  People laughed.  I tried it out at a client meeting the next day and bombed.

Who do you want to beat the most? 

In order from most to least:  Paul.  Paul’s a goddamn national treasure.

A limited number of tickets are still available for Billy T Jams tonight at Q Theatre, 8pm.


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