She’s touched all our lives in some way, but she’s only been able to do that by being a totally-up-for-it chameleon. José Barbosa pays tribute to perhaps New Zealand’s brightest star, Suzanne Paul.
It’s an accepted mainstay of one’s working life these days that if you’re not prepared to change jobs several times during your lifetime you might as well Uber yourself straight to the knacker yard. The absolute OG of personal reinvention is infomercial doyen Suzanne Paul. You name it, the sparky Brit has done it: from currently appearing in Get It to Te Papa to trying her hand at stand up comedy and always with an outrageous amount of enthusiasm.
This is, of course, her secret weapon: a personality that radiates energy like a small sun. She’s basically the Ark of the Covenant in human form. Gaze upon her works, ye mighty, and tremble.
It’s her main profession and remains so: Suzanne could sell cage farmed hormone-pumped chicken to vegans. Part of her siren-like magic is recognising the value of the catchphrase, no matter how meaningless it is. She’s admitted that “no-one knew what the bloody hell a luminous sphere was”. That admission turned everything I thought I knew about the world upside down, I’m still dealing with the trauma today.
She’s also mastered the art of the demonstration: the main techniques appear to be jabbering away and making sure your hands keep moving. The two combined act as a soporific on the critical thinking part of the brain. Exhibit A: the Suzanne Clip.
The Suzanne Clip was, as far as I can tell, a gilded clothes peg which would magically transform your scarf into thousands of different configurations to wear for thousands of different social situations.
The only video that exists of Suzanne’s Suzanne Clip demonstration on the internet is from Spanish television which is even more hypnotic than the original English. Warning: only watch if you have locked yourself in a cage like you’re a werewolf during full moon.
And let’s not forget the lure of pure spectacle. In a remarkable infomercial, Suzanne demonstrates the suction power of the Floor Wiz vacuum cleaner by using one to lift a SUV off the ground. As the car is slowly lifted into the air like a levitating David Copperfield skimming over the Grand Canyon, Suzanne accompanies the extravaganza with her excited shouting “THAT MY FRIENDS IS EXTREME SUPER SUCTION.” Because of this televised epiphany my partner and I now live in a lean-to in the garden after filling the house with several Floor Wiz bulk orders. She gets in your head, man.
Singing Her Lungs Out
I only have three goals for my life: 1) That I get a fridge that has an ice and filtered water dispenser in the front door, 2) That Bruce Lee Sushi names a sushi roll after me (I’d prefer the ‘NZ Hero Roll’ but will settle for ‘Big Sweaty Man Roll’) and 3) That someone offers me the chance to release a professional novelty song and video.
I have limited information but I think I’m quite right in assuming that Suzanne has those first two down, because she’s bloody well nailed the third.
In 1994 Suzanne dropped a club banger called ‘Blue Monkey’ and New Zealand music was changed forever. The track is a collection of Suzanne Paul samples played over the top of a pumping quasi-funk dance bed, punctuated by a sort of RnB vocal chorus: “Everybody’s getting down/everybody’s funky/shake your booty to the ground/do the blue monkey.”
Other elements that make this song an instant classic: a Fat Albert-esque vocal sample proclaiming “thousands of luminous spheres? I gotta get me one of them.” The occasional sample of a chimp whooping it up and the unexpectedly intense music video which has a bunch of young club goers cutting loose on the dance floor lead by Suzanne Paul herself. History making stuff in my opinion.
She also appeared with Scribe in a music video on C4TV warning children about the dangers of meeting strangers on the street. Best line: “Wanna avoid this guy if you are a child/or you’ll be another case in the pedo-files.”
Small Screen Wonder
There was a period of New Zealand history when a) you couldn’t escape Suzanne on television and b) people were watching television.
She appeared on shows like City Celebrity Country Nobody, Celebrity Treasure Island, How’s Life?, Intrepid Journeys and Good Morning, smashing it every single time. But she also had her own shows, Second Honeymoon and Garage Sale.
The high point, however, was her series Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. The show was based around Suzanne invading a random member of the public’s home with a mystery dinner guest usually plucked from the New Zealand’s vast celebrity stock (think Temuera Morrison and Mike King) . It also featured Anthony Ray Parker ( Parker would eventually gain next level notoriety by appearing in a number of online ads for something called Real Stew) driving both Suzanne and the celebs around while wearing a chauffeur’s costume.
Lady of the Dance
By 2006 Suzanne had hit a rough patch. She lost her fortune after investing in an ill advised restaurant and Māori cabaret called Rewaka. It was placed into voluntary liquidation and Suzanne owed over one million dollars. Like all bankruptees, she appeared on Dancing With The Stars in 2007 paired with a tall cool drink of water called Stefano Olivieri, a ballroom dancing champion from Sydney.
The pair sailed through the season nailing just about every samba and rumba that was thrown their way, the highlight being a Mission Impossible-esque number which involved PVC costumes and a finale where they ended up looking as if they’d been interrupted while rutting in an alley by a rubbish truck.
Suzanne eventually won the series sparking a thousand magazine articles pronouncing her the comeback queen. It truly was the second age of Suzanne. And this is where we live now, so be glad of her and her many benedictions upon us.
In episode five of Get It to Te Papa, a Lightbox Original made by The Spinoff, Hayden Donnell meets the Queen of the Sell, Suzanne Paul, and from there things get weird.
Subscribe to Rec Room a weekly newsletter delivering The Spinoff’s latest videos, podcasts and other recommendations straight to your inbox.