New Zealand comedian Urzila Carlson is a regular face on Australian television. From her comedy specials, to her hilarious appearances on Have You Been Paying Attention, she is in high demand.
From her hotel-room lockdown, Carlson chatted to Glam about her ever-evolving career.
Interestingly, Carlson never had a burning ambition to be a comedian.
“I always say comedy happened to me, I didn’t happen to it. I had a friend in advertising, Leon, who got me into it. He booked me in to do my first open-mic gig at The Classic which is a comedy club in NZ. And I didn’t want to be a bad sport, so I said alright I’ll do it. I literally didn’t even know comedy was a thing! I’d never even been to a stand-up comedy gig until I did my one.”
From this seemingly inauspicious start, Carlson’s career took off literally overnight.
“When I did the first one, we didn’t know it was the start of the comedy festival. There were about 70 of my colleagues there and we just had a great night. Then the next day I got a call to say that I was into the next round and I’m like ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’. The guy at the club said everyone was laughing. I said ‘Mate, I knew 70 people in that audience, that’s why they were laughing’. He said I should come back and do it again, not bring anyone, and see how it goes. Because I don’t believe in living with regret, if an opportunity presents itself I will take it. So I thought yeah why not, I’ve got nothing to lose, no one knows me really in this country. After three gigs I won NZ’s best newcomer. A year after I did my first open mic I had to give up advertising because comedy was just completely taking over my life.”
Carlson’s new special Overqualified Loser is currently showing on Netflix. It was filmed over two performances, on one night, in Melbourne.
“I wrote the show because both my brother and sister have teenagers at home now. Whenever you go visit everyone calls everyone a loser the whole time. So I thought I’m going to write a show about the term loser and try to take it back.”
The offer from Netflix came as a bit of a surprise.
“After every show I always go out and chat to the audience. So at the end of my show all these girls were there that had been waiting for more than an hour to have a photo with me. I heard they were American so I asked if they were on holidays and they said “No actually we’re from Netflix’. I said, ‘You’re from Netflix and you’ve been waiting more than an hour? Heads up…next time you cut the line!’ Then I got a call to say they want that show, word for word, as it is. I didn’t change anything other than cask wine becoming box wine [for the American market].”
Carlson’s next big project is appearing as a panellist on The Masked Singer, replacing Lindsay Lohan who is unable to appear due to travel restrictions.
“It was very last minute. I got a phone call saying ‘Hey we got a visa approved for you to come over and be a panellist on Masked Singer and the flight leaves tomorrow morning.’ I had to just throw things in a bag. I even threw in my golf shoes: very optimistic!”
Despite travel restrictions and the generally uncertain times, Carlson has also planned a tour of Australia for later in the year.
“So far we’re optimistic [about the tour]. You have to book venues and tickets, so you have to give yourself a few months. Who knows? Tomorrow they could go ‘You know those black jelly beans? That is the cure to COVID 19’ and we’ll go ‘Oh my gosh I’ve got a whole pantry full of those’. I’m sitting here in lockdown and this two week quarantine is the surest I’ve been of anything since March!”
Working across both Australia and New Zealand, Carlson is well placed to compare the comedy scenes in both countries.
“Australia’s [comedy scene] is much bigger and less competitive. NZ is such a small country and there’s a lot of comedians. It almost feels like you’re running this weird race that you didn’t know you entered. But overall it’s very family like: it’s a very embracing industry. Already today I’ve had a call from Nazim Hussain, I just spoke to Joel Creasey, and Jackie O just sent me a message. Joel Creasey sent me one of his coffee mugs, because for some weird reason in the hotel I’m in quarantine we’re not allowed a mug. So Joel sent me a mug: but it’s of him topless!”
With tours, Netflix specials, TV appearances and a successful book, we wondered if this powerhouse of energy had any special ambitions left to fulfill.
“I always said if I could do the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal then I’ll know I’ve made it. I’ve done that twice. And then it was if I get a Netflix special, but now I’ve got two. So my ambition since I was about 11 years old was to meet Oprah Winfrey. My five year plan will be I’ll be on Ellen then Oprah will see me on Ellen, then she’s going to interview me and find out that I’ve got a book , then she’s going to read the book and put it on her book club and then boom! I’m best friends with Oprah. I haven’t given it a lot of thought but that’s kinda how I reckon it will happen!”
With the sort of talent Ms Carlson has in abundance, we reckon it will happen just like that too!
Overqualified Loser is currently screening on Netflix.
The Masked Singer starts on August 10th on Network 10.
Have You Been Paying Attention screens Monday nights on Network 10.
Urzila Carlson appears live at Thebarton Theatre on November 21st. Click here for bookings.
Click here to access Urzila Carlson’s website.