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If women aren’t funny, how come they took out all the awards at Last Laughs?

For years New Zealand comedy has – with some notable exceptions – had a reputation as something of a boys’ club. Last night its three key awards were all won by women for the first time. Natasha Hoyland, a young comedian herself, describes how that moment felt.

When they announced Rose Matafeo as the winner of the 2017 Fred award, I was so emotional, I burst into tears.

It’s 2017, a year in the comedy industry that is fizzing and bubbling with exceptional comedic talent, a large number of whom are hardworking, badass women that are absolutely killing it. And it has been noticed. Last night they took out all the major comedy awards, something that’s never happened before in the history of New Zealand stand-up. It’s a really special moment.

For the past three years, women have taken out the RAW Comedy Quest, a competition for new and emerging talent. We had Melanie Bracewell and Savanna Calton tie in 2015, Lucy Roche in 2016, and now 18 year old Ruby Esther this year, who I can already see making huge comedy waves over the next few years. When I first started comedy as a 15 year old in the Class Comedians programme, it was really daunting to move up to the next level. During RAW nights at The Classic or the RAW Comedy Quest I was constantly surrounded by dudes telling mediocre dick jokes and repeating variations on the timeless observation ‘women aren’t funny’. It’s so refreshing now to see a whole group of women step up and watch them work so hard and do so well, proving people wrong in the process. It’s my favourite thing about the industry at the moment.

Last year’s winner Lucy Roche had sold out seasons during the festival, Savanna Calton paired up with Sera Devcich to do a show, and Melanie Bracewell took out Best Newcomer 2017 at the pre-show awards, an award for which four other women were also nominated. This is truly a revolutionary year of comedy.

When they announced Angella Dravid as the 2017 Billy T award winner, she picked Jesse Griffin up off the ground and swung him around in circles. Her show was about her marriage and divorce to a man who was 30 years older than her, and she pointed out that last night (during Last Laughs) happened to also be her wedding anniversary. She’s such an interesting and endearing performer and was definitely the right pick – there’s no one else like her on the scene at the moment.

It seems like women could completely take over the Billy T award next year. It needs to happen. Ten out of the 32 applicants this year were women, likely the most there has ever been – and yet somehow we still only got one in the Billy T nominee line up. It’s not because they aren’t funny. It’s not because they weren’t going to be crowd favourites either; Alice Snedden, Louise Beuvink and Brynley Stent basically sold out their seasons before they opened. It bears repeating: people want to see them so much they buy their tickets beforehand. That’s not normal – nobody buys tickets to comedy shows beforehand!

2017 Fred Award winner Rose Matafeo (left), 2017 Billy T Award winner Angella Dravid (right). Photo: Chris Parker.

Hamish Parkinson made a great point in his piece about the Billy T Jams, the showcase that gives us a first look at the year’s Billy T nominees. He said 2016’s nominees did a great job of displaying the country’s diverse and expanding comedy styles. This is the purpose of the Billy T – to support and encourage outstanding comedic talent. Outstanding is a real keyword here. The 2016 nominees were Alice Brine, Laura Daniel, David Correos, James Malcolm, and Matt Stellingwerf. A broad range of comics in style, age, gender, ethnicity and sexuality.

A lot of the nominees this year seemed to have a very similar performance style, and most seemed like they hadn’t yet had enough time to refine and really hone their craft. This isn’t to say they lack potential – I’m looking forward to seeing future performances from Paul Williams, Li’i Alaimoana, Ray O’Leary and Patch Lambert. It’s just that by comparison to previous years they weren’t as well-formed.

Rose Matafeo, who was nominated alongside Eli Matthewson, Guy Montgomery, and Fuq Boiz (Hamish Parkinson and Ryan Richards), went on to take out the Fred Award for best show of the festival. It was a very emotional moment for me. I’ve seen Rose do solo shows five years in a row now and have witnessed her significant progression over the years. Her show this year, Sassy Best Friend was her best hour yet and easily the best I saw all festival.

Rose has really paved the way for a large influx of young women in comedy, and it was truly inspiring as a young female comic to see her rewarded. Rose and Angella winning these awards is so important, and shows us that the scene as it currently stands is encouraging and supportive of such a diverse range of voices. Straight white guys talking about their dicks and about how much they hate their wives no longer reign supreme. It’s overdue, and really exciting.

Feature photo: Rhys Mathewson

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