Image: FIRST / Tina Tiller
Image: FIRST / Tina Tiller

Pop CultureApril 27, 2022

Urzila Carlson’s first joke

Image: FIRST / Tina Tiller
Image: FIRST / Tina Tiller

The comedian tells FIRST about cracking up her teachers and accidentally getting into stand-up.

First time you realised you were funny

“​​This one almost goes hand-in-hand with ‘when did you know you were a lesbian?’ I look back and I’m like, I just always knew. No, I was about seven or eight and my parents had gotten divorced and South Africa’s super conservative so [at school] every teacher would ask me about it. So I went home and I said to my mum, ‘My teacher wants to know why you and dad got divorced’. And she goes, ‘Tell them it’s because I really wanted to be a widow but your dad wouldn’t drink the poison.’ I didn’t question it, I just repeated it word for word the next day and all the teachers were cracking up. I didn’t know why it was funny, but I knew I liked the exchange. I say something, you laugh – this is good. And that was my school life from then on, just trying to crack people up.”

First gig

“I was working in advertising, I was a designer and photo retoucher. My friend Leon sat across from me and we would crack each other up all day and he would go ‘You have to go do stand-up comedy, you’re so funny.’ But I’d never been to stand-up comedy, I’d never been to a show. When I left to go over to a different agency, he was in charge of the leaving gift, and he bought me this little coffee maker, two cups, and a fake contract to go do an open mic night at The Classic in Auckland. I had to sign it so I would go and do it. He’d already booked seats for 70 people [from the office]. I hadn’t been in the country for very long and I didn’t want to be a dick. I was like, ‘Oh no, I’m going to be a good sport’, so I went and did the spot. 

I was so nervous. I can still remember everything. When I got to the mic, I realised I’d never taken a mic off a mic stand, I’d never held a microphone. I held onto the mic stand so hard I was scared I was going to bend it. And then when I looked at [the crowd], I couldn’t remember anything I wrote down that I’d practised in the mirror and I just panicked. But because it was St Patrick’s Day, thank goodness, a lot of people were dressed in green, and I went into full conversation with someone in the front. I said, ‘You look great. I can’t wear green, I look like Shrek.’ And then people started to laugh and while they were laughing, I could remember what I wrote down. To this day it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done.

“The next day I got a call from the owner of the club to say I’m through to the next round. I didn’t know what he was talking about. When Leon booked it in, it was the start of the Comedy Festival and so, yeah, I‘d just made it through to the next round of the Raw Comedy Quest. I said, ‘Oh no, I’m not interested, give it to someone who’s interested in comedy. I was just there for a work do, because… ‘ He said, ‘You’re very funny, everyone was laughing.’ I said, ‘Mate, I knew 70 people in that audience. It was sort of packed in my favour, that’s why everyone was laughing.’ And he said, ‘I was in the audience. I laughed. I don’t know you.’ And I thought, ‘Hmm.’

“I don’t believe in missing opportunities. Like if something presents itself, I think you should go for it because I don’t believe in living with regret. So I went back. I didn’t even tell Leon I went back. And then yeah, it just kind of escalated from there, because after the second one I was hooked.”

Interview edited for length and clarity.

Keep going!