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Urzila Carlson looking with startled eyes at the camera

Interview with Urzila Carlson

New Zealand-based comedian Urzila Carlson made a global splash with her 2020 Netflix special, Overqualified Loser. As anyone who has seen it will know she is a whip-smart, opinionated stand-up with charisma to spare.

Written by Bruce Dessau


Carlson, originally from South Africa, is one of the biggest names in Antipodean comedy, having won the People’s Choice Award for the most ticket sales at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2019 and 2022. She is a TV regular and has been a judge on The Masked Singer and RuPaul’s Drag Race. Now the UK is getting a taste of the Carlson magic with her first dates here since 2017.

Below she talks about her new show It’s Personal and reveals how she broke into comedy, and broke a bone filming a famous TV game show!

Your latest show is called ‘It’s Personal’. Can you tell us about it?

It’s about how some things we overshare and other things we don’t share and get offended by. I never share anything personal on social media or reveal my kids’ names. And then, especially during lockdown, it got to the point where people would just flop everything out online. Imagine how uncomfortable Christmas Day is going to be. But then if you ask them anything they go ‘excuse me, that’s personal.’ It’s like, nothing in your life is personal any more. You have literally shown everything on TikTok.

Will you have to adjust any of your material for the UK?

I don’t think so, but I try to start off talking about where I am. Every place you go has something interesting happening. I once performed in Newcastle in New South Wales. As I drove in, there was a fist fight near a sign that said ‘Welcome to Newcastle’. And both of the men fighting had a box of doughnuts so there were just glazed doughnuts everywhere.

How do the UK and New Zealand comedy scenes compare?

UK comedians’ brains work on a different level, the pool is so much larger, it is so much more competitive. It’s like you’re in a pool with 50 sharks, we’re in a pool with seven. I did a TV show with Sue Perkins and she was just riffing. I looked at the teleprompter and there was nothing on it. She was phenomenal.

You did the New Zealand version of Taskmaster, was that fun?

It was insane. I learned so much about myself. I did the tasks alone, then the first time you see everything is when you are together in the studio. The first task they showed I thought I’d done fine but then I saw I was the worst one. The great thing about it is whether you do the task well or badly, it’s still funny.

Did you win?

I came last but I made history. I was the first contestant to break a bone. I broke my my clavicle in three places. The task was to come up with a dumb idea. And then for extra points, execute that dumb idea. I built a ramp in the driveway, rode a bike down it and fell off. It was pretty gruesome and they couldn’t even broadcast it in case children copied me.

Urzila Carlson smiling

Urzila Carlson. Credit Urzila Carlson, Facebook.

How did you come to change career from graphic designer to comedian?

At work I sat across from an English guy called Leon. I’d never been to a comedy show in my life, but he was obsessed with stand-up. When I was going to a new job, he arranged my leaving gift: an espresso maker and a contract to perform at an open mic club. He said he’d booked seats for everyone at work. I wrote four minutes of stand-up for a five minute slot – allowing a minute for laughs! That’s confidence. I don’t even do that today.

I’m guessing it was a success as you are now a star?

I got a call the next day to say I’m through to the next round and I said I’m not interested. The boss said, “everyone was laughing.” And I said, “yeah, but I knew them all, it was stacked in my favour.” And he said, “I was laughing and I don’t know you. Come back, don’t bring anyone and see how it goes.” I went back and after that second gig I was hooked. Then with the recession in 2008, I got made redundant and started doing comedy full-time.

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