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Behind the LOLs: Natasha Hoyland on tackling stage fright with food fights

During the New Zealand International Comedy Festival, ‘Behind the LOLs’ will reveal the inner workings of some of our finest comedy talent. 

A comedian’s writing process is something that is rarely discussed, and especially not in detail. Most people might not even have a clue about how stand up is written. Some may even get it confused with improv and think that it’s all made up on the spot. For some comedians that can be the case – but it’s never been the case for me.

When I first started out, I knew absolutely nothing about stand up comedy, let alone the writing process. I was a weird and anxious 15 year-old whose only interests at the time were Paula Abdul and Temple Run. If you had asked me who my favourite comedian was, I probably would’ve said Ellen Degeneres or something.

I was whisked away into the Class Comedians programme in 2013. During the first writing session, facilitated by Nick Rado, I wrote an angry rant about how many benches there were in New Lynn. It was just an observation I had had that day on the way to the class. We were upstairs in The Classic Studio and the mic was set up, which gave each of us teens a chance to each get up and try it out, without the judging eyes of an audience. I stood up there, I talked about benches for God knows how long – and yet I had fun.

I caught the comedy bug that day.

From the beginning, my comedy has always been very observational. Everything I talk about on stage I’ve either experienced or witnessed. During Class Comedians, Nick Rado would take us out to the streets and place us in various locations to do observational exercises. I can vaguely remember a whole bunch of weird material coming out of those sessions: pigeons having a business meeting, seeing celebrity lookalikes, what went through an empty bottle’s mind when it wasn’t placed in the correct bin. None of it was good, but it would all help me to hone my craft.

My entire life I had also been a very anxious and nervous person, and my first ever gig was a huge disaster. I had never performed in front of an audience before, and yet there I was, walking out onto the stage at Rangatira at Q in front of a crowd of 300 or so. I remember saying my first joke and then completely blanking, not saying anything for what felt like an hour. Stage fright, I guess. It must’ve been about a minute of silence before a lady in the front row just started slow clapping, which was awful, but it did snap me out of my deer-in-the-headlights like trance.

I carried on with my jokes, and the rest of my set went quite well. Despite that, I felt awful. I felt sick. I wanted to give up then and there. I almost vowed to never do stand up ever again. After the show, I moped around a bit and one of my favourite comedians Markus Birdman, who happened to be there, came up to me and said that he enjoyed my material. I so badly wanted to quit, but I thought that if one of my favourite comedians had liked my material, that I at least must have some potential.

Later that night, I went to see Rose Matafeo’s show The Rose Matafeo Variety Hour, and I think that was one of the first moments I knew that I wanted to give stand up another shot. She was absolutely hilarious and I was smiling constantly throughout the show. She looked like she was having so much fun up there, just doing whatever she wanted to do. The following day, she won the Billy T award. I found everything about that amazing.

After I told Nick Rado that I didn’t want to do stand up anymore, he told me that I couldn’t quit until I had done at least 100 gigs, because otherwise I wouldn’t know if I was actually good at it or not. At the time I thought that was deep and intense, so I nodded in agreement, and a few months later did my first RAW gig at The Classic. Guy Williams was the MC, and it felt like it had all come full circle since he was the one that had introduced me to the world of stand up comedy in the first place. It’s to date, still the best gig that I’ve ever done.

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I love writing, and I’m writing small bits of comedy almost constantly. My Twitter drafts are a minefield. I’ll write absurd things in my reminders whilst mildly asleep that I can no longer understand when I read over them the next day. My Facebook chats and messaging apps are filled with me frantically asking various friends questions such as “IS THIS GOOD? Is this Oscar Pistorius joke too brutal to be funny?”

I’ve never had an issue with writing and am capable of producing large mounds of absolute madness within minutes. It’s the remembering part that’s always been an issue for me. I write my comedy like a script, I learn it like an actor would learn lines. Of course that’s not how all comedians do it, but it’s just the method I found that works best for me.

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My solo comedy festival show Food For Thought was no challenge to write. I’m so excited to share all of these new ideas in a show where I basically have free reign to do whatever I want. Years of observations and experiences are included in this show, some that I’ve never shared before. I still wake up in the middle of the night to rearrange or rewrite things, because comedy is one of those things that is constantly changing and evolving. Not a single one of my sets has been performed the exact same way twice.

I’ve discovered a few workarounds and little tricks to keep stage fright from happening, or at least negatively impacting my performance. A comedian in The Classic greenroom once told me to stop going over my material right before I went on stage because it would only wind me up. “It’s already all in your head, of course you know the material, you wrote it!”

A solo comedy festival show is daunting. Of course it’s daunting. But I’m ready to give it my best shot, because Food For Thought will be the weirdest and most excited that I’ve ever been in public.

There will be dancing and a food fight. What could go wrong?


Buy tickets to Natasha’s show Food for Thought here

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