By Michele Hewitson
Deb Filler calls herself a "comic Ki-brew."
A sort of verbal business card, it introduces her as a Kiwi Jew who tells stories for a living. Not that the expatriate comedienne and actor needs much of an introduction.
Her one-woman show, Punch Me in the Stomach - all about her idiosyncratic family - was first performed here in 1992.
Since then she's taken a show which begins with a "whirlwind tour of Eastern European death camps" with her concentration camp survivor father, from New Zealand to New York - and from stage to screen.
But while we're in the business of neologism, she could as well be described as a mag-ller: a magpie who travels the world picking up characters and scraps of dialogue and storing them away for future use.
Because Deb Filler, it has to be said, asks a lot of questions of whoever's available.
Back in her home town briefly with a new show, An Evening with Deb Filler, she's as much the interviewer as the interviewee.
She wants to know what school the photographer went to, what he's been doing today. We're supposed to be talking about the story behind the story of the "little Kiwi girl" who was in the Mt Roskill Folk Singers, went to New York and became famous.
"What really happened when I got to New York was I saw a sign that said: `Free breast exam. Ask for Vinny.'"
That may or may not be a true story. Could be a joke. What does it matter? As long as it sparkles, in it goes into Filler's copious cupboard of anecdotes.
Her father, Sol, whose story she told so memorably in Punch Me, features again in An Evening with Deb Filler. "He's the best character I know."
But what, she'd like to know, about her interviewer's family?
It is this unabashed curiosity which would, you can imagine, have had the Filler family's Mt Roskill neighbours twitching a tad nervously behind the net curtains.
The new show is, in part, the story of how the girl who "was really geared to be a performer - I took that torch and ran with it" ended up living in New York for 14 years.
She worked in "Sammy's Famous Rumanian Steakhouse, a Ukranian restaurant with punk waitresses" and delivered futons for a living.
"There was a certain New Zealand ingenuity ... having that little Kiwi girl inside me saying, `Never mind, try again,' got me through."
The Kiwi kid's been of use in another important way. People like New Zealanders, says Filler.
"Kiwi sells: we're maybe a little bit prickly on the outside but we're lovely and gorgeous and sweet on the inside."
That's the joy of a conversation with Filler. She wants your family, but she's more than happy to take the smaller morsel on offer and make an entertaining meal out of it.
An Evening with Deb Filler?
As she might say, "you should be so lucky."
At the end of an hour and a bit she says she feels like she's known me a lifetime.
I knew exactly what she meant.
* An Evening with Deb Filler is at the Centennial Theatre, Auckland, next week from Monday to Thursday.
By Michele Hewitson