Science or the arts? Impersonator Tom Sainsbury chose Snapchat

A subtle magnificence hangs in the aura of comedian Tom Sainsbury - he’s funny and knows it.

His cleverness and wit has paved the way for the impersonator to have a crack at becoming the best at his craft in the world after rising to fame for his hilarious takes on some of New Zealand's leaders. 

"I want to spend five minutes with any person and then be able to mimic them," he told Newshub. 

"Some people are easier than others."

To date, he has a catalogue of clips popular across the country, poking fun at our politicians by mocking their known quirks and policies.

“I've done some really questionable subject matter and people have always embraced it,” he says.  “I always sigh with relief that I've got away with it again.”

He established pop culture relevance after his Snapchat channel took off, his renditions of Paula Bennett and Simon Bridges striking a cord with many.

Despite being late to join the Snapchat trend, he quickly saw the value in being able to transpose a face on top of his via the app.

Initially he did it for friends and family until his agent saw and suggested making a fan page for them which didn’t take long to stir attention.

"I did all of them, but Paula was the one that rose to the surface because everyone loved her,” he says.

He finds our political leaders “absolutely fascinating” and would love to know them personally - though he’s sceptical they would let him get too close.

"They all act like they think it's funny, I've only met Julie Anne Genter and I met Gerry Brownlee, he didn't know who I was - or so he says - and I've met Paula as well but she's in for the game and Jacinda as well."

Tom Sainsbury wearing a wig and Paula Bennett's face.
Tom Sainsbury as Paula Bennett. Photo credit: Supplied

Sainsbury wasn't so much surprised at the response, but says he didn't expect it to happen, explaining: "I'm just kind of blaze about the whole thing I guess."

The phenomenon has brought joy to thousands of his followers, some who he receives messages daily from saying when they've had a bad day, one of his videos has injected some humour into their lives. 

"I think that's the most beautiful, best thing about it." 

He assumed there would be trolls criticising or judging him for the parodies instead he says, it’s “very rare” that someone will share negativity on his page or in a message. If anyone does they can expect to be banned from his page. 

Beyond his endeavours bringing joy to others from a phone or computer screen, Sainsbury is a celebrated stage director and playwright.

His passion for the arts was developed with some help from his family who played a significant role in forming the foundations of recognising a good laugh while animated TV shows guided his comedic interest toward comedic geniuses like Dawn French and John Cleese.  

The Vicar of Dibley star was "hugely influential" and watching her perform parodies taught him the basics of comedy.

Playwrights like Shakespeare and Rodger Hall acted as inspiration to the basis of his passion, "obviously", says Sainsbury.

While pursuing theatre at school he began writing plays for his friends who were actors. 

"I didn't know if acting was my thing because everyone took it so seriously and I didn't so I started writing plays for people and I think that's a really good skill base to grow and develop." 

After making the move up to Auckland from his Matamata home, Sainsbury was faced with choosing between science and the arts. 

Despite his mother insisting that he would be the best next candidate for David Attenborough, Sainsbury however felt he didn't quite have the "voice or the gravtias". 

Instead, he followed what he loves doing and finds when he gets paid for it too, "that's great". 

Taking up theatre in New Zealand means he has many times had to create opportunities for himself.

Tom Sainsbury without the wig and makeup.
Tom Sainsbury out of costume. Photo credit: Newshub.

Eventually he was able to substantiate a place of his own through penning plays and using his creative forte to direct and act.  

In the coming weeks Sainsbury will bring three plays to life for Auckland Pride Festival, one he wrote and two others put together by friends for him to direct.

"They're three very, very different plays so I guess variety is what I really like."

His original work, Status, was formed with help from the NZ AIDS foundation to explore themes that affect the gay community and men who have sex with men.

Sainsbury had an interest in writing a piece of work which looks at living with HIV in today’s society in New Zealand.

"It gave me an opportunity to meet these interesting people, who both work in the world of it and people who actually have HIV."

The Billy T comedy award nominee acknowledges using his platform to communicate with others gives him a chance to bring to the surface important issues, but says for a play to be successful the characters need to relate to the audience.

"I'm more for if the story and the characters are good, that's more important than doing an issue-based play. It's great if you can kind of touch on an issue, but I think the things that last and have more residence is when audiences can connect with people and the characters. 

"It's that kind of satirical observations of humanity is my passion. The good thing about being a story teller, or working in theatre or film, is you're really examining the human experience. It sounds so ridiculous and profound, but it really is."

Tom Sainsbury’s work will be performed at Q Theatre as part of Auckland Pride Festival, with There She Is running from January 30th – February 2nd, before Tom’s Karaoke Boiz musical comedy extravaganza takes over from Thursday 7th – Saturday 16th. Status will play at Q Theatre from 7-16th of February from 8:30 - 9:30pm.