Twelve questions with Jamie Bowen

By Jennifer Dann

Comedian Jamie Bowen is a regular on TV's 7 Days, Comedy Gala and After Hours. He's won Best Live Show at the NZ Comedy Guild Awards for the past two years and presents the conclusion of his trilogy at this year's Comedy Festival.
Jamie Bowen says he looks after his beard much better than he did his hair. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Jamie Bowen says he looks after his beard much better than he did his hair. Photo / Brett Phibbs

1. Why do you have that beard?

I always joke the beard is an outward expression of an existential crisis. I'm from a proud tradition of men that have gone wonky in the head and grown a beard as a well-groomed cry for help. But it's really because I'm bald now and without the beard I look like a sick 12-year-old boy. It fattens out my face in the right way. I really enjoy my beard. I look after it so much better than I ever did my hair. I oil it daily. I have a hand cut wooden comb that goes through without catching. I use moustache wax if I'm going out. My partner likes it to a certain length. Every now and then she'll say, "How do we feel about the length of the beard?" A day or two later I think, "Hmm, I don't feel good about the length." She's very good at planting the seed.

2. Have you ever offended anyone with a joke?

I had a lady come up to me in tears after a joke I did about a cross-dressing cab driver. She said, "My friend's just gone through transition and the way you talked about it was really offensive." I never purposely went into anything with malice.

It was just ignorance on my part. These days I prefer a bit more compassion in my comedy. More and more it's okay for straight, white men to talk about their feelings. It's nice to see comedy that's got some heart to it, where you actually connect with a human as opposed to just having a barrage of one-liners hurled at you.

3. The first show in your trilogy, called 'Heart Goes Boom' was about your father's death, and the second show 'Head Goes Bang' was about your subsequent existential crisis. Why such dark themes?

Comedy helps me laugh at the absurdity of life. There were so many things we laughed at during Dad's last hours. Five weeks after he got diagnosed with cancer I was on a flight home from London to say goodbye. When I walked in, Dad's body was shutting down. The oncologist was hilarious. Smart dude, terrible social skills. I don't blame him - telling people their loved one is about to kick the bucket must suck. But every time he said, "We're looking at an end-of-life situation", it was just so comical. The last coherent thing Dad said was when the oncologist asked if he wanted to prolong his life for another week with antibiotics. Dad said, "F*** that. Beam me up Scotty." It was too funny.

4. Do you support right to die legislation?

Passionately. Dad always said, "If I ever start to lose my mind, take me out the back and put a bullet through my head." I believe that if he'd had the option to call it before he got to the level he did, he would've taken the option to die on his own terms.

5. How did your dad's death affect you?

I exploded. I've never felt so many emotions at the same time. I went back to the UK and my relationship ended. I was sleeping on mates' couches and I got pretty low. I found myself sitting on a kitchen floor with a knife in my hand wondering 'What's the point of the whole thing?" I'd never bottomed out that far before so I borrowed some money off Mum and went home. But it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

6. Why?

I didn't want to feel like I was feeling but I also had the very stark realisation that the bad times will happen again. The trick is how do you walk through the fire? So I needed the skill sets to be able to deal with that. I went to counselling. I tried anti-depressants. I did a lot of cathartic drinking. From a technical perspective that wasn't healthy, but from a philosophical point of view it was great to have fun and reconnect with my friends and with Auckland again. There was a definite gear shift in Auckland at the time; the food culture, the art scene, the comedy scene. I realised I wanted to be here.

7. What's your relationship with alcohol like now?

I'm not an alcoholic but I'm definitely a lush. Drinking can really get the better of me. There's a point when my hippocampus switches off, the moral compass goes out the window and I make terrible decisions. Then there's the beating yourself up, the lambasting, the self-flagellation.

8. What's your top tip for coping with life?

Spend as much time as possible just staring at the back of your own face. I've spent a lot of the last three years reading about things that interest me; Christopher Hitchins, Richard Dawkins. Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea and Albert Camus' Myth of Sisyphus were useful. If you genuinely think that life is pointless, things can get pretty bleak pretty quick, but if you're able to laugh about the absurdity that you're even able to realise that, things get fun. Being a sentient human being is an intrinsically hilarious thing.

9. Are you religious?

No, but I've become fascinated with Islam. It's really important to understand the conflicts within the Judeo-Christian-Islam strain of religion which are presenting a real threat to civilisation. I think the humanities have never been more important than now. When you look at the exponential growth of humans and technology, the philosophical and ethical implications need to be taken on board.

10. Do you fear for our future?

I've walked the line between going, "What's happening is catastrophic" and "What's happening is amazing." I've tipped into the amazing camp. When you think about what life is doing on this planet in a broader sense, starting from a single cell organism to these sentient beings who are inventing the next evolution of ourselves through computing, it's amazing. We've just got a few issues to sort out along the way.

11.How did you meet your partner?

Through Tinder. She's what I call a civilian. Tinder had only just come out in New Zealand at that point so the landscape was very different to the quagmire of human awfulness it has become. A high proportion of dudes are just dicks. They have no decorum whatsoever and simply don't know how to interact with women.

12.Do you want to be a father and will you parent differently to how you were raised?

I can't wait to have kids. We've just started talking about it. The main difference is I'll be able to be around heaps because of the job I do. I'm really excited about watching a tiny human come online. The development of a consciousness fascinates me. If I can pass anything on it's that the pursuit of wisdom is fun.

Jamie Bowen It Goes On ... -- April 23 and 26 to April 30, 8.30pm, Basement Theatre. comedyfestival.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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