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James Mustapic’s life in TV. Image: Tina Tiller
James Mustapic’s life in TV. Image: Tina Tiller

Pop CultureMarch 30, 2024

‘She was transfixed’: James Mustapic on introducing his mum to local celebrities

James Mustapic’s life in TV. Image: Tina Tiller
James Mustapic’s life in TV. Image: Tina Tiller

The comedian and Celebrity Treasure Island champion takes us through his life in television, including trying to find his mum a man, the lasting impact of the 3B cream ad and his love for a certain Sticky TV presenter. 

James Mustapic’s closest collaborator is his mum Janet, who has been his comedy sidekick ever since he was just a kid in Dunedin with a YouTube channel. “I didn’t have many friends, but I had a big passion for making online content,” he says. “All I had was mum and the cat, so I was grabbing her all the time to be in my videos.” Decades on, Janet remains a mainstay in Mustapic’s standup shows, and is now the star of TVNZ’s James Must-a-pic His Mum a Man

The series follows happily single Janet as she endures endless dates (organised by James) in the hopes of finding herself a new man and James a new father figure. Her suitors come from a thrilling range of backgrounds – anyone from a humble retired projectionist, to an actor with a predeliction for public handstands, to singer Wayne Anderson. “I had always wanted to do a show with Mum, says James, “Janet is very funny, and usually not on purpose.” 

In perhaps the most moving testament to a mother’s love, Janet agreed to do the show even though “she was very much hoping that it would’t go ahead,” laughs James. But go ahead it did and the result is the funniest local show in ages, working as both a hilarious dating show and an homage to TV greats such as Judge Judy and The Bachelor. “The initial idea was that each episode would parody a different reality show, so we were definitely inspired by some of them.” 

James’ favourite part about making the show was introducing his mother to celebrities. “Like mother, like son – she was transfixed,” says James. “The real excitement for her wasn’t finding a lover, it was meeting Art Green.” Given his own vast knowledge of New Zealand television, and triumphant role on Celebrity Treasure Island, James happily took us through his own life in television, including the lasting impact of the 3B cream ad, and his love for a certain Sticky TV presenter. 

James and Janet (Photo: Supplied)

My earliest television memory is… I reckon Thomas the Tank Engine. Janet said that I always used to do a British accent after I would watch it, but I don’t remember doing that. 

The TV show I would rush home from school to watch was… Sticky TV. That was the best. Sorry Matt Gibb, I did watch Studio 2 as well, but we all know there is only one man for me and his name is Drew Ne’emia. Sticky TV had a lot of good segments, like Freaky Feats and the cooking competitions, it was almost like its own little reality show. But mostly I just loved Drew. 

The TV moment that haunts me is… On Celebrity Treasure Island when I had to get rid of three members of my team and move them to the other team, and take three of their team members. I think that was the most upset I had been, because we were so happy and doing so great, and then it all crumbled. It was horrible and a really sad day for old Musty. 

James Mustapic on Celebrity Treasure Island

My earliest TV crush was… I used to watch Hi-5 when I was a kid, and my mum always said that I was very into one of the blonde girls. But that’s Janet for you, she’s always trying to put me through conversion therapy. I was more into Jup Jup, to be honest. 

The New Zealand television ad I can’t stop thinking about is… The 3B cream “suffer and cry” ad is really scarring. The music is really haunting, the animation is horrifying, and then there’s this scary man with a really deep voice. 

My television guilty pleasure is… I really liked The Masked Singer New Zealand. Objectively a terrible show, one of the worst – sorry Warner Bros, please have me on if you ever do another season – but somehow so exciting. The only interesting part of the show is the last 30 seconds when they do the reveal, so you just have to keep watching to get there. 

My favourite TV moment of all time is… When the Ferndale Strangler got revealed on Shortland Street, that felt like exactly what I had been waiting for my whole life. No friends in Dunedin, watching TV everyday, everyone was speculating about who it was. I remember it so vividly. I always forget that about Johnny Barker [director of James Must-a-pic His Mum a Man, who played Joey the Strangler]. He’s a really lovely guy, but Janet kept calling him Joey. 

My favourite TV character of all time is… I really like Joan Callamezzo from Parks and Recreation. She is a fierce, probably alcoholic TV presenter who is obsessed with herself. It’s everything I am and everything I strive to be. I just love her. 

The most stylish person on television is… We did have Colin Mathura-Jeffree for an episode of the show, and he is very, very stylish. 

The funniest TV show of all time is… It’s a really boring answer, but I really like The Office US. I don’t have any interesting insights, but it was the first show that I really lol’ed at a lot. 

My most used streaming platform is… I know this is a corporate shill answer about TVNZ+ is an amazing streaming service with lots of wonderful shows such as James Must-a-pic His Mum a Man, Abandonment Issues, and Celebrity Treasure Island

My favourite TV project I’ve ever been involved in is… Abandonment Issues, just because it was a nightmare to make it. It was right in the middle of Omicron and no one was free. Certain psychic mediums were not vaccinated so we couldn’t film with them, and it was just so fucking hard to make. So, for what it was, I’m really proud of it. I couldn’t believe I got to make my own show based on a little webseries that I did years ago, and it felt like a big step up. 

A TV show I wish I had been involved in is… Celebrity Treasure Island Fans vs Faves. I wish that I had become a celebrity fast enough to have done a previous season to then be asked back to Fans vs Faves. I just want to do it again, I’m desperate to go back. That or Survivor Australia. Mark my words, I’m going to be on that show one day. 

My most watched television show of all time is… It has to be Shortland Street because I used to watch so many episodes when I made Shorty Street Scandal. I’d watch every episode usually twice and then I’d edit all the bits together and see some clips just so many times. I don’t know what the fuck I was doing.  

My most controversial TV opinion is… To all the Gen Z’s out there saying that Friends is shit: it’s actually not that bad. 

A show that I’ll never watch no matter how many people say I should is… Country Calendar. Never seen it, never will. I’ve also never seen The Amazing Race – I don’t really like travelling so the idea of watching someone else do it is too stressful for me. 

The very last thing I watched on TV was… The Jaquie Brown Diaries, because it only had 12 hours left on TVNZ+. That was a show that really influenced me growing up, because it was all about trashy Kiwi celebrity culture. And it still holds up. 

Click here to watch James Must-a-pic His Mum a Man on TVNZ+

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