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'This pandemic has squeezed the private right out of us': Urzila Carlson ponders oversharing

Carly is a weekend writer for the Bay of Plenty Times

The thing about lockdown is people are so bored in their bubble that they're logging on to social media and "flopping all their personal stuff out," New Zealand comedian Urzila Carlson says.

And not just the good stuff, but the "terrible meals and the terrible days with their family".

"It's like this pandemic has kind of squeezed the private right out of us," she says.

Carlson will tackle the topic of oversharing on social media in her new show It's Personal, touring nine New Zealand cities from October 2 including Tauranga on October 14.

Part of the show's blurb is: "Welcome to the days of minding your own business and don't comment on others' business. Not their gender, sexuality, body, hair, education or career.

"Also, welcome to the days of total oversharing on social media, but still, mind your own business."

The idea came to Carlson during lockdowns and managed isolation in New Zealand, and Australia, where she's been touring since 2020, with her previous show Token African. Despite others posting intimate life updates online, she's never been tempted to "ever".

"To me, social media is where you can connect, you can chat, but the personal stuff is what you talk to your family and your closest, personal friends about.

"Now, during the lockdown, I think people have gotten so sick of their people that they've started flopping out even more."

 Carlson isn't afraid to tell off rude commenters. Photo / Supplied
Carlson isn't afraid to tell off rude commenters. Photo / Supplied

Her own followers want to know everything and get offended if they can't.

"People will go: 'what's your kids' names?' And I don't tell them, and then they go 'alright mate, I'm just asking'. I'm like 'yeah, but it's a weird question. These are people you're never going to meet, probably'.

"I keep my private life private."

When she returned to New Zealand from Sydney in August, followers requested she take photos of her meals in MIQ, and then post them on social media so they could see them.

"And I said: 'I can't do that because I'm a Gen X, so my phone won't let me do f***kwit things. I don't feel comfortable taking photos of my food. How am I going to satisfy 147,000 people who follow me on Instagram? I'm telling you 'it's not bad'. I don't know if you don't eat onions'."

This quest to know everything - and comment on everything - is rife.

I asked her for her age.

"I find it fascinating that they put it in the paper," she says. Then, she humours me: "Can you put in there that I wear a Double D cup size? I'm 45, with Double Ds."

Inquisitiveness she shrugs off, but some people she tells off, including a follower who told her she's no longer going to follow her because she "bows down to the ridiculous demands of the Government" for staying in lockdown.

Another commented on a travel article she was tagged in about her move to Te Atatu. "Oh good, now I can move out of the suburb because she just ruined it".

"And I just wrote under her post: 'Bye, let me know if you need any packing boxes'."

Or she'll tell them: "Off ya trot" or "it's not an airport, you don't need to announce yourself, just go'."

When it comes to her work, however, comedy is "ego-driven", and some comments are harder to ignore.

"We're up there because we enjoy the immediate response. We enjoy the laughter, we enjoy the attention. So of course, when that attention is negative, no one enjoys that."

Lockdown has actually made it easier for her to find an audience, and she's been posting daily "lock-umentary" comedy videos on her Facebook and Instagram pages.

"In the history of comedy, if you look back after every big war, depression, global financial crisis, comedy has always taken off right after that, because people are drawn to laughter, drawn to lightness. They need that to lift their spirits.

"We're all going through the same s**t.

"We're all watching the same press conference, we're all listening to Ashley. We all have a shared experience already, so the hard lifting has been done for me. I just need to point out the ridiculousness."

This quest to know everything - and comment on everything - is rife, says Carlson. Photo / Supplied
This quest to know everything - and comment on everything - is rife, says Carlson. Photo / Supplied

Carlson moved to New Zealand from South Africa in 2006 and became a full-time comedian in 2011 after she was made redundant from her job in advertising during the global recession.

"It was a terrible time for advertising but a brilliant time for comedy. I'd fly between Australia and New Zealand and work and work, and before I knew it I'd made a name for myself in Australia and a name for myself in New Zealand. I was doing telly in both."

She's currently starring in her own hour-long comedy special Overqualified Loser on Netflix; featured on Have You Been Paying Attention? in New Zealand and Australia; Taskmaster NZ; is a regular panellist on 7 Days, and repeat comedy award winner.

Every year she writes a new show with a hidden message, which is usually about being cool to one another, or not so hard on yourself.

She plans it by making voice notes and then listening back with a pen and a notepad.

"I write three 20-minute shows or four 15-minute shows, then I segway them all together."

Around 20 per cent of her content is impromptu, meaning no two shows are the same.

"I'm reading the audience as I'm going. I'm editing in my head and adding stuff."

There's no test audience, so when she steps onto the stage her adrenaline is pumping "100 miles an hour".

"I just trust that what I've written is going to be received well. You kind of learn to back yourself. If I find it funny, I hope other people will find it funny."

Kiwis are polite. "There's not a lot of heckling," she says. But you're still only as successful as your last gig. "So I never take the time to go 'f*** I'm nailing this s**t'.

"I've just got to go 'where to next? What's the next thing to achieve?'

"I never feel like I'm done. Once you have time to sit down and go 'ah, look at me go', you're probably ready to retire'.

"I love it."

To get tickets for It's Personal, go to livenation.co.nz
The shows will only go ahead in level one and be rescheduled if needed.
While in Tauranga, she plans to visit Patrick's Pies Gold Star Bakery in Bethlehem for a beefsteak pie; take a "sneaky drive" past the rental property she owns at The Lakes, and sit at the beach and dream about retiring in Tauranga, and playing golf. "That's my Florida."