James Nokise on addiction and why eating fried chicken in the shower is a good idea.
A couple of years ago you were a rising star on the comedy scene and now you've won the Fred Award at the NZ International Comedy Festival. How does that shift feel?
When I was really young in comedy I read an article by Dave Chappelle in Time magazine and he said, "Before you check anyone else, you have to check yourself." It was a rule for writing comedy and I think that it's true outside of writing. We have such an egotistical job - our job requires us to summon up ego and walk on stage and tell people we're funny. It becomes really important to learn to leave that ego on stage.
You work overseas a lot, where ego is more acceptable.
The Kiwi modesty is annoying to other people, you discover when you leave New Zealand, because it's often viewed as a false modesty. It is very hard for them to understand that it's not a false modesty, it's a bullied modesty. A friend of mine, Rosanna Raymond of the Pacific Sisters, taught me a very important lesson. She said, "Go overseas and learn how to be arrogant. Learn how to put your hand up and go, 'Hey, I matter, I'm good, you need to give me this opportunity because I am as good as I say I am.' Learn how to do that, bring it back to New Zealand and keep it." And hide it.
In the RNZ podcast Eating Fried Chicken in the Shower, you talk about mental health with famous folks while literally eating fried chicken in a shower stall. How did you know that would work?
We just trusted the conversation. What I have tried to do in stand-up for years is build an intimacy, no matter the size of the venue, so people feel like they are just having a conversation with me. The chicken, the robe, the shower - they're so ridiculous and the whole thing is so ridiculous that we can have people like Marilyn Waring just be loose because we are not serious people, clearly. We're playing buffoons to put everyone at ease. As soon as they're talking, we know if we've got a show. The first episode, when Hayley Holt started talking and told me how friends s*** in her desk, we knew we had a show.
Addiction has been a big thing for me the last couple of years but I chose gluttony because I don't think a lot of people realise I really love cake.
We all think it's fried chicken, James …
Exactly. And I do love chicken. I have found several very good fried chicken joints where I stay in London - Brixton, the Newtown of London - I have literally found the suburb that most represents where I grew up - but I am a big sugar fiend, especially since I stopped smoking and drinking and all the wonderful vices that there are in the world. But with our Māori and Pacific statistics, I have to be conscious moving into my late-30s about what that means. It's a little part of growing up. You just have to come to terms with your intake. I try to make it as much of an adventure as I can. Sometimes I feel like a little bit of German cake, sometimes a little bit of French cake, always a little bit of Dutch cake. It's wonderful to be able to pick and choose. As soon as you start cutting things out of your life, you become much choosier about what you let into it which sounds really philosophical, but I'm still talking about cake. I want quality cakes in my life; I want quality coffee in my life. It doesn't all have to be expensive; some of the best stuff I've found in a big city has been some of the cheaper stuff. You need to go and find the small aunty who has a bakery around the corner and she's got the best cakes and that's as true in South Auckland and it is in South London.
You're incredibly busy, writing, performing, travelling. Where does the sloth come in?
I have to claim my theological background here because sloth traditionally can be interpreted as cowardice and cowardice is something I am familiar with. I'm scared of so many things that I just have to deal with to push through and get work made. I am scared of not being able to pay my bills. I am scared of not being able to help my family. I am scared of taking on my cultures, all three of them - the British, the Pacific and the New Zealand, which sits in between. I am scared of being at the head of anything, of being seen as a leader. I am scared of speaking out, and I speak out all the time. But I am more scared of what happens if I don't.
James Nokise features in the series Funny As: The Story of New Zealand Comedy, premiering on TVNZ1 on July 21.