This piece was published before the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
There’s no such thing as a typical pathway into stand-up comedy.
From typesetter apprentice in South Africa to multi award-winning comedian, Urzila Carlson was last year’s Highest Selling Comedian at Melbourne’s International Comedy Festival.
That’s no small feat.
A year later and she’s now back with a new show; 'Token African'.
Urzila’s transition from office environment to comedy industry began when a co-worker kept insisting that she pursue a career in stand-up comedy.
“I moved to New Zealand in 2006 and I started working at an ad agency and one of the guys that worked with me, who’s a copywriter, he sat across from me and he used to go 'we have such a good laugh at work, you have to do stand-up comedy' and I'd go 'no thanks'.
“It literally had never even crossed my mind; I’d never even been to a stand-up comedy show at that point. I’d only been in the country for a couple of years and still trying to sort of fit in.”
However, it seems that her co-worker knew a thing or two about spotting natural talent and in 2008 Urzila won New Zealand Best Newcomer.
“I thought once I’d won it, that’s it you know, I’ve sort of done comedy now – I’ve peaked, but people keep booking me for gigs. I had to give up my job because comedy was just full-time, and it was awesome.”
When asked about her onstage persona as a stand-up performer, it’s clear that it all comes quite naturally to her.
“All my friends and my wife say the same, they say it’s me, it’s just a heightened and excited me, but it’s still me; I’m exactly the same on or off. But I think because I love to talk as well, it’s one of my favourite things and I’m from a big family, like my mum’s one of eleven, my dad’s one of eight. . . There’s a lot of cousins, there’s a lot of noise, so I think I’m the same, and I love to crack jokes.”
Stand-up requires some bravery though – to get up on stage in front of large crowds, to ‘perform’ – it’s an adrenaline-producing experience, however Urzila’s always in control.
“I need to be clear; I mean I’ll have a drink afterwards, let’s not play around, but I get so scared that I stand beside the stage thinking ‘why am I doing this? I could go back to advertising and, you know, just have a normal life and not this crazy sh.t that I’m doing at the moment’.
“I’m still surprised when I walk out and there’s people in the room, I still look at them and I go ‘why are you here?’. . . I’m surprised that they’d know who I am or that they would spend their hard-earned cash to come and see me. I’m blown away every time.”
And if you haven’t yet checked out Urzila’s stand-up work, it’s all extremely relatable and relevant subject matter.
“Universally everyone’s worried about coronavirus, everyone’s worried about politics. I’m hardly a political comedian but as human beings we’ve got kids, we work – I’m worried about the same sh.t you know, and there’s stuff that makes me angry about that or there’s stuff that makes me laugh,” Urzila explains.
“The ideas for the shows come to me while I’m, let’s say, at Melbourne, because you’re in a creative environment with everyone else. You’re just buzzing and you’re doing all these shows, and then it just sort of comes to you. There’s so many people I interact with because I always go and say hi to my audience and then you get a general vibe, the stuff that everyone’s going through at the moment.”
Urzila Carlson was scheduled to play comedy festivals which have since been cancelled due to COVID-19.