TV star aims to win top comedy prize

You know Suzanne Paul as a TV personality, author, shopping channel demonstrator, entrepreneur, pop singer and reality show contestant. But wait, there's more ... Now the plucky Pom is reinventing herself as a stand-up comic.

Paul has reached the semifinal heats of the legendary Raw Comedy Quest and she tells The Diary she's very serious about her new career in comedy.

"Oh, I'm in it to win it. I'm adding a whole new string to my bow. It's quite frankly the bravest and the stupidest thing I've ever done. It's so terrifying going on stage. I've done three gigs so far, and it's more scary than Dancing with the Stars.

"I'm hoping it will get easier. I have this fear that I won't remember my set, or the audience won't laugh, or there'll be hecklers. And then there's, you know, the age thing. I think maybe the young people won't get my sense of humour. But everyone has been so supportive so far," Paul said.


The man behind the competition, Scott Blanks, proprietor of the Classic Comedy Club, says the 57-year-old has a real chance of winning top prize.

"I was confident she would deliver in the first heat because audiences don't scare her ... She's very real and very funny," he told The Diary.

The pint-sized Brit with the distinctive twang will compete in the second semifinal heat on May 4, and could go through to the grand final the following week, where $2000 in prize money is at stake and the opportunity for entry into the professional comedian sanctum.

Famed funny woman Michele A'Court encouraged Paul to enter the ring.

The pair have been friends since 1996 when A'Court approached Paul for financial support to fund her first Comedy Festival show.

"Suzanne said, 'Yes, of course I'll do it'. She didn't even know me. But I would have had no funding and no show had she not stepped in. So, basically she helped start my career. I owe her."

A'Court tells The Diary Paul's ability to reinvent herself and tackle the intimidating comedy scene is impressive. "She is risking her reputation, not establishing one."

Blanks admits he's not used to getting a recognisable name on the bill of the amateur competition. "I got an email from Suzanne with an application to enter and I thought, 'Is this THE Suzanne Paul?' Normally A someone signs up to the competition, not THE someone."

He says Paul has natural comic timing and a self-deprecating wit.

Not much is off limits. Her set covers lesbianism, menopause, fashion, financial woes, growing old and a lack of social invitations. "My back goes out more than I do," she deadpans in her routine. The audio of her set is now on YouTube.

It seems the woman who brought us Natural Glow is now shining in comedy.

Paul's comeback on to the public stage from a much-publicised bankruptcy and depression is a motivating story - and good comedy fodder.

She says she wanted to reinvent herself. "I felt I got stuck in a bit of a rut. It was New Year's Eve and I was making a resolution, and I thought, 'Stand-up comic. I'll give that a go'. And I got straight on to it the next day," she told The Diary.

But don't think this is just for laughs. Paul has a strategy behind the chuckles. "I would absolutely love my own comedy drama television series."

Seven Sharp star slammed

TVNZ viewers have attacked Seven Sharp's Heather du Plessis-Allan for her on-air reaction to a story about a Palmerston North couple who'd had 22 gnomes stolen from their garden, some belonging to a tetraplegic woman.

Du Plessis-Allan, who was filling in for Toni Street on Wednesday alongside Mike Hosking, broke into a fit of giggles at the emotional story, which concluded with a teary plea from Laurie and Brenda Kirkwood for the return of their beloved gnomes.

Even Hosking - not exactly known for his warmth and empathy - tried to remonstrate with her.

"Heather!" he admonished, in a bid to get her to get it together. She did, eventually, but not satisfactorily enough for some viewers, who took their outrage to Seven Sharp's Facebook page.

Kathleen Clarke wrote: "Not a good look TVNZ, sniggering and laughing at the couple in the gnome story. Very cheap journalism at the expense of others."

"Heather, I think it was rude and unprofessional that you laughed at the couple who are clearly emotional about their gnomes," Abi Latham advised.

"Save it for off-air. Kind of looks like school bully behaviour."

Du Plessis-Allan tweeted an apology. She wouldn't talk to The Diary about the incident but a TVNZ rep said: "Heather was genuinely sorry and not laughing at the Kirkwoods, but about her own frog sculpture. She meant no harm and it's a good lesson in keeping your composure live on-air."

Benji keeps nib deal

Private health insurance company nib is sticking by flip-flop footy star Benji Marshall and has reiterated its commitment since his shock news on Monday.

"We chose Benji to represent nib in New Zealand because of his qualities as a successful sportsman and Kiwi," chief executive Robert Hennin told The Diary. "We continue to be strong supporters of Benji and we are looking forward to our ongoing association."

How long? As long as possible, he hopes. Hennin won't reveal how much the ambassadorship deal is worth, but says the company "is pleased with our brand awareness results since Benji came on board".

Asked if Marshall's departure from rugby would taint the deal, Hennin says the long-term brand qualities he brings outweighs any short-term setback. "We are an insurance company. We're there when things get tough."

When TV captions go wrong

He wore the All Black jersey in 60 tests and when he played in his last, against South Africa in Auckland in 2001, he held the record for the most test tries scored - 44. And yet Jeff Wilson drew the unceremonious distinction of being labelled an "ex All Black legend" when interviewed on a recent golf television show. Ouch.