Describing herself as a "careful defensive driver", Deb Filler executes a dashing U-turn in her car across Albert St in midday traffic. Metaphorically, I am holding my hands over my eyes but she is like, whatever.

Shortly afterwards, sitting in the Stamford Plaza cafe, the Auckland-born, Toronto-based comedian says she has driven - sometimes as a chauffeur - in cities like New York, London, Paris and Rome where "it's very important to be polite" but here, she notes, something has gone terribly wrong. "New Zealanders, once they're behind the wheel, some personality disorder occurs ... they should bring in compulsory defensive driving courses every 10 years."

Filler is back in the country, not to dispense advice to drivers, but to do some drama teaching at Toi Whakaari in Wellington, and hone her new "work in progress", An Evening With Deb Filler, for a short season at the PumpHouse next week.

Earlier shows like Filler Up and Punch Me in the Stomach have introduced audiences to a vast array of characters - all played by her - and a breakneck narrative which drew heavily on her Jewish heritage which would one minute have you laughing, the next feeling a great choke in your throat. Herald reviewer Peter Calder described her as a "comic treasure", noting that Punch Me was "a dangerously funny and astringently sad memoir".

This new show introduces, among many others, new character Biddie Schitzerman, aged beyond 80 - "the greatest comedian you never heard of".

"I have developed her as someone who wrote all these famous jokes for all the famous comedians but she was never credited," says Filler. "It's also a show about not being bitter as an artist. You get into your 50s and to a point where you are not really where you thought you were going to be. You could become bitter but what the show is saying is, the honour is being alive, it's about no regrets."

Is the show's philosophy a reflection, then, of how she sees her own career? "Um, no," she says firmly. "I've so far had a good run. It's more like looking at my peers, my friends, and saying please don't slide down that deep, dark hole. Especially because so many of my friends have passed away from cancer - Jewish women tend to be quite prone to breast cancer.

"So I think it's really important to be a good, compassionate and generous person. I am very fortunate because of my legacy from my father and my mother [her father was Sol Filler, a Holocaust camp survivor who died 10 years ago; her mother Ruth still lives in Auckland]. It was always about listening and being as generous and as obliging as possible."

Sounds like the complete opposite to the audiences she got in a season in a Fort Lauderdale theatre a couple of years ago, an experience which has become seared in her memory.

"It was the best-paying gig I've ever had, seven shows a week for seven weeks," she says. "But when I got there, I discovered everyone in the audience was, let's says, extremely geriatric. They were like Jerry Seinfeld's parents but much older. They were rude, disrespectful, everyone thought they were funnier than I was, they talked during my show, they slept through my show ... it was surreal, a lonely, horrible experience."

It all makes good material, though, and Filler's observations flow into her work. Biddie Schitzerman will appear in a film next year that has been commissioned by Canadian arts network Bravo. She has been developing a play at lookingglass theatre in Chicago, founded by a collective of actors including David Friends Schwimmer, in which she'll perform next June. She also teaches occasionally at Brown University on Rhode Island.

It's a gypsy life but Filler says rather wistfully that she'd like to be back home in Auckland more often - if she could find the work. She snorts when I suggest she could add some much-needed personality to our TV schedules, saying she's not young, skinny or blonde enough. With that, she's off down Albert St again, and yes, there's another unperturbed U-turn.

She knows how to follow her own direction in life.

PERFORMANCE
What: An Evening with Deb Filler
Where and when: Pumphouse, Takapuna. 8pm, March 17-20