These Comics Juggling Stand-Up & Telly Gigs Will Make You Feel Deeply Unproductive

25 March 2019 | 12:06 pm | Joe Dolan

For the likes of Becky Lucas, Nina Oyama and Melanie Bracewell, the juggling act of writing for television and stand-up is tiring, stressful and extremely rewarding. By Joe Dolan.

Oyama (L), Lucas (middle) & Bracewell (R)

Oyama (L), Lucas (middle) & Bracewell (R)

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Comedians aren’t exactly the first to come to mind when picturing the 24/7, hardworking types. But comics are lighting the candle up from all ends, tackling stand-up, TV writing, acting and a plethora of other disciplines. So how, and more importantly, why, do they do it?

For someone like stand-up Becky Lucas, the anonymity that comes with writing for the likes of The Other Guy has been a welcome relief from some of the more negative aspects of stand-up.

“You don’t have to have a take on anything, you know? No one is seeing this character and thinking, ‘What do they think of the war in Syria?’ It’s a bit more ambiguous.

“There’s no respect for comics when they’re just making people laugh, but they say one thing that’s kind of dumb and people want you to take full responsibility for it. We should be holding politicians and CEOs and people like that to that standard, not comics. I like writing on a show and not having something immediately pinned to me. The jokes become these abstract ideas, just pure pieces of entertainment, as opposed to some sort of opinion or agenda.”

"We should be holding politicians and CEOs and people like that to that standard, not comics." 

For Utopia’s Nina Oyama, the opposite rings true: “I’m a very confessional person. If you meet me in person I’m like, ‘Hi, this is my whole life story!’ So I think it’s genuinely who I am to be more confessional. I really love doing characters and writing for other people, but I’m at my most comfortable when I’m saying stuff that other people would usually find uncomfortable to reveal about themselves.

“Apparently that’s very weird, but I didn’t realise it was weird until people started telling [me] I was really honest in my stand-up, and that’s just who I am. I don’t know any other way to be. I don’t like being able to blame things on a character, and I think there’s a genuineness to speaking from the heart. That sounds naff but it’s true.”

New Zealand comic Melanie Bracewell, however, has a personal affinity for, well, everything: “Because I do radio back home as well, I basically do a bit of it all, really. I kind of just thought that if I try radio and writing and stand-up and TV, that I’m going to work out what I like the most and concentrate all my efforts on that. The problem is that I love all of them, and now I don’t want to eliminate any possibility so I end up saying yes to every opportunity I get. But I’m a young lass, so I may as well do it now before I’m withered and incapable.”

With such a heavy workload, it may come as a surprise to some that Lucas isn’t immediately inclined to longer office hours: “When I first started stand-up there was so much downtime. You spend a lot of time during the day just writing and then at night you go out and try ideas and there’s a lot of freedom there. As things start to ‘happen’, you start having work days again and being locked into plans. There’s something I think that attracts a lot of people to stand-up and for me it was definitely this idea of an arrested development or a prolonged youth or whatever. It gets scary when I get busy.”

Bracewell, who has written for The Project NZ and Wellington Paranormal, enjoys the different aspects of the biz, saying, “The comedy scene at the moment – at least in New Zealand – is quite communal. You’ll have other comics with you at a café so you do something and you have to report back to someone like a project or something. Then there’s writing for TV where you just sit a room eating free food and waiting for someone to say something funny enough to go on the whiteboard”.

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Oyama, too, knows just how dissimilar comedy can be between stage and screen: “Television production and stand-up comedy are totally different – it’s like two different outfits. You can compartmentalise them so for me it’s an easy switch to make. Although, it was harder on Utopia because I was the one character. There was a point where I thought, ‘Oh I can’t wear my make-up like that character or dress like her, because something will click and I will become Courtney the receptionist in my day-to-day life.’ I guess that’s not such a bad thing, she has really cool clothes. She’s also real dumb, though.”

"It’s like a firework: you just enjoy it in the moment and then it’s gone."

While the balancing act is one of constant change and evolution, the accomplishments that come with the craft are endless: “I never thought I would be onscreen talent,” Oyama says. “But as I started doing it more and more and seeing parallels between myself and some of these characters, I was like, ‘Oh, I am this person! Oh no!’ I like doing characters, too, because it gives you a license to hide behind something, and I think characters can offer a better form of satire.”

As a current affairs writer, Bracewell notes, “I think my TV writing is more relevant and, I guess, disposable than my own personal stand-up. I kind of like that. It’s like a firework: you just enjoy it in the moment and then it’s gone.”

Lucas adds, “There’s a freedom to it as well as a sense of reward because you write for someone and they actually respond to it really well.

“You get to have this idea and see people respond to it and you aren’t attached to it – but sometimes that can be hard seeing ideas of yours being credited to other people. But at the end of the day, the fact that the idea got made and executed is more important to me than getting attention.”