Familiar to fans of TV's Jono & Ben and Funny Girls, Brynley Stent was a nominee in the 2020 Billy T Awards - although due to Covid-19, the winner has yet to be announced. With her comedy star on the rise, Brynley is currently writing and starring in the comedy show Golden Boy, due to appear on screens later this year.
"When I was 8, I signed up for drama classes. At the first lesson, some of the other kids bullied me and I came out and said, 'I never want to act again'. Years later, at high school, my Year 9 drama teacher, Miss V, told me the theatre sports team needed more girls. It was that thing when you find your clan and the drama nerds were mine. I ditched all my old friends and threw myself obsessively into the drama department. To me, one of the beautiful things about improv is that it embraces failure.
"When you say you want to be an actor or a comedian, people sometimes roll their eyes or scoff, so I used to tell people I wanted to be a drama teacher because I didn't have the confidence to believe I could be a full-time performer. I just knew I loved acting. My parents, both hairdressers, were super supportive of whatever I wanted to do, almost too supportive. I was the kid at high school whose parents came to every swimming sports and every performance. I was often mortified to see them and I'd say, 'please don't come, no one else's parents are coming.' But Mum was on the PTA, so she always knew what was on.
"The first time I tried out for Toi Whakaari, [The New Zealand Drama School] I wanted it so desperately and I was so nervous. I expect that read in the audition. When I didn't get in, I was gutted. But you have to build resilience in this business. I auditioned again the next year and got in - that was one of happiest days of my life. For the three years after high school, I was quite directionless – I did a bit of university, an acting course at Hagley Theatre Company - so to get into drama school and go to a new city to do acting every day, it was like a dream.
"There are two sorts of drama students: people who don't care enough, and people who care so much it's like a religion. I was a few years older than some of the students, so I was more of a realist and wasn't fully brainwashed. I didn't hate the institution like some people do, but I hated myself a lot of the time. Acting is hard, and there are days you wonder, am I any good? My moods would change like the weather. Some days I'd cry in class, then come home and think I was a piece of s***, that I couldn't act. Then the next day I'd go in and own it.
"While at drama school I worked as a parking angel on Courtney Place. Because people had to pay for parking till 8pm on a Friday night, not just 6pm, diners had been complaining about getting tickets. So I was paid to dress as an angel, wander the street, watch people park then give my warning: 'Hey did you know paid parking goes till eight
tonight?' It was a horrible job, cold Friday nights in town and sometimes people would heckle and take photos.
"The most heckling I've ever had was at the Basement Theatre's Christmas show. I played a white trash character who wore a revealing mid-2000s outfit. She got a lot of stupid comments from rich old businessmen who'd bought a whole table for their work do. After a few drinks, they'd feel like the boss of the room and yell s*** out.
"I work part-time on reception at my local gym; it gets me through when not much else is happening. Right now I don't need it, but it's that thing of still not quite believing I can make it as a full-time artist. Although it's also a cool place to work and lovely to do a job where you just turn up, do the work, leave it at the door and they pay you. With the arts – writing and acting - you do feel guilty for watching TV or chilling out because there are always things you could be doing.
"Doing sketch comedy on TV, the kinds of skits where you run out of a store in Ponsonby Rd with your pants off, every week I'd say to myself, this is the weirdest thing I've ever done, then something weirder would come along. I once went to a strip club as my Gloriavale character, Providence Gratitude, and a male stripper gave me a full-on lap dance. I think that might've been the strangest moment.
"I was 18 when my Mum passed away, and the school counsellor tried to make me go to counselling. She said, 'come on you have to talk', but it was the last thing I wanted to do and, in true 18-year-old fashion, I refused. My comedy show this year is set in a counsellor's office and is about how I went to counselling last year for the first time in my life. I'd put it off all these years but I've seen so many friends go to therapy, I think there's less stigma and I just wanted to be healthy in every sense of the word. I reckon everyone should be given three free sessions every year because it was awesome. Although one thing the counsellor said, 'you keep making jokes'. That is such a cliche about comedians but I realised she was right.
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"In my third year of drama school, one of the tutors said to me, 'stop acting like you're going to be a drama teacher or you will be one'. Not that there's anything wrong with teaching, but it's not what I wanted to do, but it was what I said I wanted to do because I didn't allow myself to believe I could make it. Which is why to this day, I keep that part-time job on the side, because I still don't fully believe I can do it, in spite of where I am."