The nominees for the 2022 Billy T Award have been announced - and, for the first time, four female solo acts make up the five nominees.
Comedians Abby Howells, Gabby Anderson, Janaye Henry and Maria Williams join Jack Ansett in a significant move for one of the top awards in New Zealand comedy, which has long been dominated by men.
The five were selected from a longlist of 17 who all performed at a showcase this weekend - which took place over Zoom for the first time, as a result of Auckland's lockdown restrictions.
Lauren Whitney, general manager of the NZ Comedy Trust, said: "The level of applicants this year was extremely high, and it's exciting to see such a range of fresh perspectives in comedy voices and styles.
"Comedy should continue to make people laugh through challenging, surprising and holding a mirror up to the world around us. It gives us an outlet to find connection and have a great time."
Howells won the Director's Award at the 2021 Comedy Festival for her show HarleQueen, while Williams won Best Newcomer for Anxiety... The Musical?! Anderson won the National Raw Comedy Quest in 2018, while Ansett was a finalist in 2015 and has gone on to write for 7 Days and appear on The Project and Seven Sharp. Henry, meanwhile, won Best Newcomer at the 2017 Wellington Comedy Awards and has written for Have You Been Paying Attention alongside Ansett.
The five nominees will next perform at the Billy T Jams in February at Auckland's Q Theatre, before staging their shows during the International Comedy Festival in May.
Launched in 1997, the Billy T Award - named after iconic New Zealand comedian Billy T James - celebrates the best emerging performer at each year's International Comedy Festival.
The inaugural winners were Cal Wilson and Ewen Gilmour, and other winners have gone on to become household names – including Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Rose Matafeo and Dai Henwood. Winners receive a yellow towel in honour of James as part of their prize.
The awards have been dominated by women the past four years - with Angella Dravid, Melanie Bracewell, Kura Forrester and reigning champ Brynley Stent winning back-to-back. However, only eight women have won the prize, with a 10-year gap occurring between Justine Smith's win in 2003 and Rose Matafeo's in 2013.
Asked for her advice to this year's crop of comedians, Stent, who has enjoyed stints on Shortland Street and Celebrity Treasure Island alongside her win this year, offered these tips:
• You are still a good comedian even if you don't win (and everybody loves an underdog story).
• Now you are a nominee, you still need to have fun making your show. Nobody wants to watch a stressed, crying ball of nerves on stage…unless that is your brand, in which case, lean in.
• Don't compare yourself to your fellow nominees, you've quite literally been chosen because of your unique take on comedy.
• Don't put dangerous, messy or breakable props in your show unless you want blood everywhere.
• It's ok to cry before, during and after your show.
• You can always buy your own yellow towel from Briscoes.
Tickets are on sale for the Billy T Jams on February 25. The International Comedy Festival returns on April 29.
To hear from the 2021 Billy T nominees, check out the NZ Herald podcast, Billy T' Billy