Whanganui comedian Kajun Campbell Brooking started out in stand-up 10 months ago as a dare - now he's been named "Best Newcomer" at the 2020 Comedy Hub Awards.
As well as winning the newcomer award in Palmerston North last week, he was also nominated for "Best Joke" and "Best Male Comedian".
Brooking said his phone "blew up straight away" as soon as the nominations were announced, with messages flooding in from other comedians he had met during his fledgling career.
"I never thought I'd be up for an award at the end of my first year, let alone three," Brooking said.
"Best newcomer? Yeah, I guess that made sense, but when 'Best Male Comedian' came through I just thought 'What the hell is going on here?'. I was up against seasoned vets who tour, so to be in there with them, I kind of thought it was rigged.
"I told myself 'just chill Kaj, whatever happens, happens'. I walked in and the place was packed and my competitive jiu jitsu mindset kicked in straight away. I wanted to leave with something, an arm, a leg, an award, anything."
Since his unlikely Lucky Bar debut in March, Brooking said he had gone on to perform another 14 shows throughout the year, despite the impact of Covid-19. He also performed at his first corporate gig for Downers Whanganui.
"I've got all these people around me who have taken me under their wing and helped me out, which has been massive. A lot of people refer to my comedy as being 'smart and punchy', so that's what I'm going to keep trying to go with.
"I was in Pak'nSave the other day and a guy came up and said he'd seen me in the paper and challenged me to a joke-battle right there in the aisle.
"It was kind of like '8 Mile', but with groceries and comedy instead of rap. Little things like that are pretty crazy, but pretty awesome too."
Brooking has been ticking off goals at a rapid rate of knots this year, one of which was to perform at the Royal Wanganui Opera House, which he did as support for Li'i Alaimoana. He also opened for Raybon Kan.
"I told a few of my actor mates that I was performing at the Opera House and they were like 'What the hell? I've been in the acting game for years and I've never done the Opera House'. I feel really lucky to have had the chance to do something like that.
"In this first year it was more of a hobby I wanted to pick up, but it's progressed into a side-hustle straight away. I was getting paid some money to do it, and pretty good money too.
"Having other people coming up to me and saying 'dude, you can do this' has given me the belief to really step up next year and take it a little bit more seriously."
A comedian taking it more seriously involves writing more material, performing longer sets and more shows.
"At least now when I'm promoting a show on Facebook I don't have to say 'come to this show and watch award-winning comedians ... and me'. I couldn't put myself in that bracket, but I guess I can now.
"A big goal for 2021 is to take my comedy to the big cities a bit more. I'll be hitting Auckland and Wellington, and there are dudes in Wellington that can hook me up with shows on every night of the week.
"I'll take a week off work and just line up a run of shows, boom, boom, boom."
Brooking said his "ultimate goal" was to win the Billy T Award, named after his favourite comedian Billy T James.
"He changed the way I looked at everything when I was growing up, especially being Māori.
"In order to do that I have to set goals and hone my craft for a few years. I need to keep going and work towards having my own show, and 20-30 minutes of solid material that I can take on the road and tour."