He's an award-winning comedian, former radio personality and host of TV3's comedy panel show 7 Days, but when it comes to the career of his teenage son, Gabe, stand-up comic Paul Ego is standing back.

He's certainly proud and supportive - you can see that from the way the two banter and are at such ease with one another - but Paul reckons if Gabe, 16, is going to make it in the ruthless world of stand-up comedy, he needs to develop his own style.

Paul describes his comedy as having a storytelling backbone, but with a lot of improvisation throughout. The material is there, but when he's on stage, he tends to riff with the audience and end up going in another direction entirely. Gabe's comedy is more observational, often with a weird twist.

"If I give Gabe too much advice, he'll end up being a mini-version of me, but he needs to find his own voice," says Paul. "For me, Gabe has been comedy gold from a young age. A lot of my comedy was about him when he was a young kid; I used to do a routine about him playing soccer when he was 5 years old."


At which point, Gabe chimes in with his own recollections, saying he still finds it strange he spent most of his time looking up at the sky, pointing out aeroplanes, yet still managed to win Player of the Day at least once. He might not have been the family athlete -- that's youngest son Isaac, a promising soccer player who watches the ball not the sky -- but Gabe was a natural-born performer.

"I've always loved performing and making people laugh," says the Takapuna Grammar pupil. "I like hearing the sound of laughter; I like it when people laugh."

For a long time, he didn't know making people laugh could be a job. Indeed, Gabe hasn't learned his comedy from watching Paul's shows and taking notes; until recently, he wasn't allowed to attend because, says Paul, the themes were too adult and the language too filthy.

"When I'm at home, I'm dad and Gabe needs to listen to me but when I'm at work, well, the last thing I wanted him to do was listen to me."

When Paul visited Gabe's primary school to speak about life as a comedian, his son got his first insight into dad's work and decided, around three years ago, he'd like to pursue a similar career. He's been helped by taking part in Class Comedians, an NZ Comedy Trust initiative which offers secondary school students the chance to learn how to be comedians.

"In a nutshell, we teach funny kids how to do it proper" is the programme's catch-cry, which starts a riff between Paul and Gabe, who completed the 2015 programme, about whether you're born funny or can be taught and the overall traits needed to be a comedian.

Paul believes no matter what your style, you need to have inner confidence and a thick skin to cope with deriding from a heckler - or an entire crowd - and the times when a routine simply doesn't pan out the way you intended.

"And I hope that happens soon to Gabe," he says, not because he's unkind, "because it teaches resilience and the ability to take a step back, think why something hasn't gone according to plan and make it better."

At which point, Gabe confesses that he already "died" in front of an audience when he accepted a gig at school without having time to properly prepare, so he learned a valuable lesson. However, he points out, given he's recently earned his first black belt in karate, dealing with hecklers might not be problematic at all.

Those involved with Class Comedians include Dai Henwood, Ben Hurley, Steve Wrigley, Te Radar and Michele A'Court as well as its most successful graduates, Rhys Mathewson and Rose Matafeo. The three-month-long programme culminates in a graduate showcase and Paul confesses he felt more nervous before Gabe's performance than at any of his own gigs.

"I was thinking, 'what if the only kid whose father is a comedian isn't funny? What if he's the one who gets no laughs?' I almost didn't want to watch but I did and he was actually really good. He did a routine which talked about seagulls and I thought, 'there goes my boy: zigging when everyone else has zagged'."

What if the only kid whose father is a comedian isn't funny? What if he's the one who gets no laughs? I almost didn't want to watch but I did and he was actually really good.


"Thanks for the vote of confidence," says Gabe, rolling his eyes.

Scott Blanks, regarded by many as the godfather of New Zealand comedy through his role in setting up The Classic Comedy Club on Auckland's Queen St, recalls talking to Gabe's class.

"And I was looking around at the young comedians and my eyes came to rest on Gabe and I started to say, 'oh, I know you' but Gabe gave me such a look that I could tell he didn't want anyone to know who his dad was."

Gabe is the first child of a contemporary NZ comic to follow in his or her parent's footsteps and he's going into the profession well aware of how dicey it can be. He says he's not being thrown to the sharks; rather he's throwing himself.

Though dad and mum, Janine, have been supportive, they insisted Gabe keep his options open and take a wider range of NCEA subjects rather than just the arts ones. As well as his comedy and karate, Gabe sings in two choirs and is a regular in school drama productions.

Gabriel Ego is set to take the stage as a stand up comedian, taking after his father, Paul Ego. Photo / NZ Herald
Gabriel Ego is set to take the stage as a stand up comedian, taking after his father, Paul Ego. Photo / NZ Herald

"I like that Gabe's part of a community of like-minded kids and I think some of the issues we have with youth in New Zealand, the feelings of loneliness and isolation that we can all experience, can be helped by belonging to something," says Paul. "To have these sorts of groups and networks is important."

It might also help to give Gabe much-needed life experience which, says his father, is another necessity to successful stand-up.

"It gives you something to talk about as opposed to being someone who comes into it straight from school. You need to observe life, to find yourselves in different situations, meet other people, because that's how you build up material."

Paul, a former signwriter, was encouraged by family to give stand-up a go in his late 20s. His first performances were at low-key comedy bars in London and he slowly built his career when he returned to New Zealand.

In the meantime, Gabe will get plenty of exposure to a range of comedians and performance styles at this year's NZ International Comedy Festival. He's performing with The Comedy Goblins, made up of last year's Class Comedians, and gets a performer's pass which will allow him access to all the shows he wants.

"I can't wait! It's going to be so good."

Got a kid who likes to look on the funny side of life?


Stand-Up For Kids

Where & when:

Saturday, April 30, May 7, Sunday 8 and Saturday, May 14 at 3pm; Loft at Q Theatre.

Among the numerous shows in the 2016 NZ Comedy Festival is one especially for the young ones. Stand-Up For Kids is a family-friendly, interactive show featuring local and international performers using stand-up, physical comedy and magic to make 4-8-year-olds laugh out loud.

With a variety of performers and comedy styles, the "clean sets" give comics a challenge to explore the absurd and the extravagant, finding humour that appeals to both young and old.

Host Chris Parker is no stranger to the imaginative world of kids. His recent solo show, No More Dancing in the Good Room, delves into his own childhood through dance and comedy. He earned a Best Newcomer Award for his performance in the 2015 NZ International Comedy Festival, alongside rave reviews and sell-out houses.

Each week Parker will be joined by a top selection of festival comedians, to be announced, while Auckland's Saturday, May 14 show will be interpreted into NZ Sign Language for the deaf community by an iSign NZSL interpreter.

Need to know

Class Comedians, starring this year's line-up of high school students, Sunday May 8 at 5pm, Loft at Q Theatre. The Comedy Goblins, tonight and Tuesday, April 26-Saturday April 30 at 5.15pm, Basement Studio.