For Comedian Melanie Bracewell, The Jokes (And Jacinda Ardern Impressions) Keep Coming

By Julie Hill
Comedian Melanie Bracewell. Photo / Alex Burton

The comedian, who’s in New Zealand this month to perform her new show, Attack of the Melanie Bracewell, discusses punchlines, immensely large cauliflowers, and whether she could be a Silver Fern.

It’s not every day that comedy makes the news but when I speak to Melanie Bracewell in April, an

The first is that the US comedian Arj Barker has turfed a woman and her baby out of his show at Melbourne International Comedy Festival, where Bracewell has also been performing, because the baby was making too much noise. The miffed woman went on a press tour in which, very ironically, her baby had to be turfed out of interviews for making too much noise.

Would Barker get cancelled? Or the baby? How many infants attend comedy shows in Melbourne anyway? Since moving there, Bracewell’s done stand-up for one newborn (down the back, not crying) and a kid watching Paw Patrol on his iPad, headphones on. She takes no issue with them — unless they’re up the front ruining punchlines. “Then they kind of have to treat the baby like a heckler, like, ‘Hey man, you’ve had enough.’”

Amid these uncertain times, Bracewell has been quietly achieving transtasman domination. After acing her appearances on the Australian version of the panel show Have You Been Paying Attention? she scored a gig in 2021 co-hosting The Cheap Seats, which delivers humorous commentary on the news of the day. Both shows are produced by Working Dog, the brains behind The Castle and The Dish.

She says people are surprised to hear that she and her co-host Tim McDonald actually make the show themselves. “The show has about 100 clips, and Tim and I watch everything. We’re watching 7 News Toowoomba, we’re watching breakfast TV at three times the speed, which no one should ever do.” Last year, they won a Logie (Australian TV) Award for Most Outstanding Entertainment Programme and are currently working on a fourth season.

But perhaps Bracewell’s most beloved role over the ditch is still her Jacinda Ardern. The era was lockdown, the app TikTok and Bracewell had paired a cheap brunette wig with the prime ministerial red lip and concerned expression. But she didn’t change her speaking style one bit. Australians still asked her to “do the voice”. “People would say, ‘Do it now!’ and I was like, ‘I am! I’m always doing it.’”

Bracewell’s fifth full-length comedy special, Forget Me Not, popped up on YouTube last month. Playing to a packed Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne last year, she flits effortlessly from bit to bit, executing clever callbacks and keeping the jokes coming thick and fast. There’s a ditty on people who review eggs, some sick sibling burns and the strange but true tale of her boyfriend’s short-term memory loss.

The set is dedicated to her cherished, recently departed grandfather Les, an accidental yet crucial player in her early career. Les became internet famous after Bracewell snapped a slightly blurry pic of him holding an immensely large cauliflower (please Google “Cauliflower Grandad”). It was 2013 and Bracewell was in her final year of school, and already a teen Tumblr sensation with a cool 200,000 followers. She took the photo on her flip phone. “He’d called me in advance and told me he was going to bring it over, and when he did it was like wow, that is actually quite big.”

Look closely at the adorable scene and you’ll see a bunch of trophies in the background. They’re Bracewell’s — she’d recently won a clutch of sports awards at school. She went on to play netball at club level. “Some people say, wow, to go from being a professional netballer to comedy. But I’ve never played professional netball. I just talk about netball a lot so I think people presume I was a Silver Fern or something.”

Could she have been a contender? “Only in the sense that I’m tall. That gets you over the first hurdle with netball.” Possibly it helps with comedy too: she notes that her Australian management, Jubilee Street, have recently acquired a whole host of towering Kiwi comics like Guy Williams, Paul Williams and Guy Montgomery. “Maybe it’s why we’re good at observational comedy — we can just see more.”

Bracewell is home this month to perform her new show, Attack of the Melanie Bracewell, at the NZ International Comedy Festival. She describes it as a tale of petty revenge: less a series of sketches and more a whodunnit, as she tries to crack the possibly unhygienic mystery of who stole her AirPods.

In a review, TimeOut praised Bracewell as “an expert in her craft who’s in a silly, goofy mood” and who “builds layer upon layer of smart quips, woven between silly stories rich with wordplay”. UK comedy guide Chortle wrote, “Her storytelling skills are phenomenal.” Punters have been fully invested. “You almost end up with a sitcom kind of audience. They’re going, ‘Ooh … and then what?’”

Melanie Bracewell is in Auckland for the Comedy Festival. Photo / Alex Burton
Melanie Bracewell is in Auckland for the Comedy Festival. Photo / Alex Burton

Meanwhile, in other comedy-related news, fans of the Netflix hit Baby Reindeer have turned absolutely feral. The series is the altered-but-mainly-true tale of a comedian named Donny, based on series creator Richard Gadd. Donny is being stalked and, despite Gadd begging viewers not to do so, viewers have been stalking his real stalker. Bracewell sees it as inevitable. “The internet, they’re just going to do it. They’re morbidly curious.”

In the show, Donny brings his box of props to the Edinburgh Fringe to perform in a dingy pub near a TV that’s still on. Some nights he’s a raging success but most of the time he’s a flop. It’s an intense watch for Bracewell, who’s going to Edinburgh for the first time this August. She’ll be staying in a flat with eight other comedians, performing every night for a month. Thankfully, Donny’s grim experiences shall not deter her.

“It’s going to be punishing but I’m excited. You can’t 50 per cent do the Fringe. I feel like I’ve got to immerse myself in the full experience: go over, make no money, have a tough time some nights and the time of your life other nights, and just strap in for the ride.”

Attack of the Melanie Bracewell runs from May 22-24 at Q Theatre. Find tickets here.

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