NZ comedians share concerns for their industry as the NZ Comedy Festival continues

May is traditionally a time of laughter.

That may be a misnomer given how cold, miserable and grey it is across the motu, but every May, Auckland and Wellington are regaled by dozens of comedians who put on shows and have spent months honing their craft and chasing the adrenaline highs of audience laughter as part of the New Zealand International Comedy Festival.

While the comics approached by Newshub all spoke of their continued enjoyment at performing and admitted "the thrill you get when a joke goes well can be pretty addictive", they're all unified on the range of issues facing their industry.

With a cost of living crisis hitting Aotearoa, job losses, higher food prices, rent increases and proposed parking charge changes, some comedians say they're concerned audiences are feeling the pinch and choosing to avoid shows.

Paddy Gower Has Issues star Eli Matthewson told Newshub it's an issue he saw already this year at Melbourne's International Comedy festival.

"People are less willing to take a punt on an unknown name - audiences are buying tickets for their tried and true comedy faves. That's great, but I think one of the most fun things you can do at a comedy festival is go and see someone you have never heard of. You might see a future star before anyone else, or you might see an absolute shocker," Matthewson said.

Fellow comedian Alan McElroy added they're trying to do what they can to help put bums on seats.

"Punters may wait until the last minute to book tickets so as an artist or producer, it's a bit stressful but if the product is good, people will buy. On the shows that I produce, I've found a balance of making the tickets affordable but I also offer a ticket with a donation for those that can afford it."

Sowmya Hiremath, whose show Seven Year Glitch begins its run in Wellington next week, says the comedians are also feeling it.

"It's getting difficult to produce or run shows with the cost of everything that has gone up and only limited audience turnout. We are still trying to keep the ticket price low so that it's not hard on people," she said.

All of the comedians Newshub spoke to voiced concerns that shows outside of the festival aren't quite hitting the mark when it comes to representation across Aotearoa.

David Correos, who has won fame on TVNZ's Taskmaster and will be familiar to many through his Burger King adverts, told Newshub: "We should be focusing on creating spaces for more Māori voices to come through in the scene." He says he's contemplating leaving New Zealand this year to give others the chance to rise up through the ranks.

It's a sentiment Matthewson echoes.

"The most pressing issue right now is the whiteness of comedy in this country, and the lack of Pacific and Māori voices at most stand-up gigs. This is about the venues and gigs that are booked being in spaces that cater to white audiences, and some work needs to be done to shift that."

But there are signs some work is being done to redress the issues the local comedy community has faced regarding its treatment of women.

In May 2023, Abby Howells told the audience at the Last Laughs ceremony she had quit the comedy scene for seven years after being sexually harassed by another comedian. She made a return to the stage in 2019 and went on to win the prestigious Billy T Award in 2023 with her show, but she's made no secret about how hard it has been.

Correos says the "variety in voices now is incredible".

"It's improved massively in the past ten years, the top comics to come out of NZ are predominantly women. The last man to win the Billy T was in 2016. Angella (Dravid), Mel (Bracewell), Kura (Forrester), Brynley (Stent) and Abby are the comics who have gone on to win it after. It's been less than a year since Abby won the Billy T award and she's already been recognised as a 5-star comic at Melbourne's comedy festival. An NZ comic getting 5 stars at the Melbourne comedy fest is nuts, 10 years ago it was almost unheard of."

However, female comedian Jess Loudon reckons there is still plenty of work to be done.

"The lack of female representation is not limited to just the comedy scene. Nor is it limited to women - there is also a lack of people of colour and our LGBTQ friends. Traditionally comedy has been very much a bastion of the straight white man and traditionally it was straight white men who were predominant in the audience. Now our audience is everyone from every walk of life so our lineups for our shows should reflect that."

Hiremath says for now, small steps such as those being taken in Wellington, are already starting to make a big difference on the local scene.

"In Wellington at an open mic night Raw Meat Monday, we have a female 'Greenroom assistant' who is there just to be a support person and make it feel welcoming for new women trying comedy."

Loudon also believes it's up to the comics themselves to be vocal about the need for change.

"Professional shows both here and overseas have a lineup of all men with one token female or one token POC or one token queer person. Producers are aware that they need to have at least some diversity in their lineups so they don't get cancelled," she says. 

"But this kind of tokenism is not a commitment to change rather it is a very condescending pat on the head. It is a really cynical and disingenuous approach. And more importantly, it's just a bit boring."

Loudon cites "Kate Creatif Kate with Femmes and Thems in Wellington (representing women and non-binary people), Bridie Thomson starting Femmes and Thems in Auckland, Jaqi Taimana who specialises in all female lineups in the Waikato; Jess Karamjeet with her Asian Comedy Takeover and the Basement Theatre with their regular No Homo comedy shows" as trailblazers.

But she believes there is much more that New Zealand could do to bring change to what has traditionally been a pale, stale and male industry.

"We need to accommodate women when they become mothers - so many female comedians can't maintain their careers during their child bearing years so they either have to give up entirely or wait until their children are older to come back to it. This means we are losing so many amazing female comedians who are mid-career and they aren't being replaced. It's a vicious cycle. That is a barrier that men don't have to deal with." 

"We should be accommodating mothers by offering enough money for professional gigs to pay for babysitting services, parking as well as the basic salary we all receive for shows. In my opinion, this needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency."

However, fellow comedian Brendon Green says many know it's an issue, and one that sadly can't be fixed overnight.

"Nobody is consciously making it harder for women to be in the comedy industry, but it's very clearly true that it is harder for women to be here, so we have to accept that it's unconscious and baked in to the system - which means working to change what is considered 'normal', because the 'normal' is not working."

Chief executive of the NZ Comedy Festival and NZ Comedy Trust Lauren Whitney told Newshub 40 percent of this year's festival consisted of women.

In a statement released in response to the article, Whitney said in terms of representation during the 2024 festival, there were entrants from 26 countries, including artists from Māori, Pasifika, LGBTQIA+, Asian and African communities.

However, Whitney said they were "working on strengthening and sustaining the voices of these communities within the festival each year".

"Our hope as we continue to programme diverse voices, is that the audiences too will broaden to support them, so more people are able to see themselves reflected on stage."

While the Comedy Trust emphasised it was "critical" performers felt safe, Whitney said they also "have a code of conduct in place so there is a clear understanding of the standard of behaviour we expect".

Whitney also added the desire to get more Pacific and Māori involved was already something that was being tackled, but would continue apace.

"The Comedy Mixtape showcase of solely people of colour, has launched in Wellington alongside Auckland.

"We understand that Māori and Pacific artists do not always find central city venues that traditionally tend to be Pākehā-led the most welcoming spaces.

"We have been working closely with Te Pou Theatre, a Māori-led theatre in Henderson, to host The Comedy Mixtape and our Billy T nomination showcase.

"We also offer Te Pou as a choice for artists to be programmed at in the Comedy Festival. The programming of the shows that the Trust produces in the Festival, is focused on showcasing a diverse line-up of artists."

The New Zealand International Comedy Festival is running in Auckland and Wellington until May 26. All of the comedians interviewed here are performing at the 2024 festival - for more details, visit