Tom Sainsbury uncensored
When I sat down with Tom Sainsbury, my modus operandi was two-fold: finish the interview as quickly as possible and force him to be my best friend. A couple of drinks with friends later that night saw me inviting him for a weekend away. But I digress.
If you haven’t heard of Tom Sainsbury undoubtedly you’ve come across his videos on social media. Erring on the side of defamation masquerading as satire, he says, he’s positioned Judith ‘Judy’ Collins as a sexual deviant, Simon Bridges as a Westie king - [that's slang for West Auckland dwellers] - and most famously, there’s a string of videos that highlight Paula Bennett’s love of cranberry and camembert paninis.
"She’s a hot mess and I mean if you play a serial killer you’re always going to sympathise in some way.
“I’m always late to the party when it comes to social media. It all started 14 months ago when I started using snapchat filters to create characters to show to my friends. It got good traction and developed organically from there. Paula [Bennett] is quite easy to rattle off now, I can do one in 20 minutes, whereas they otherwise take about 50 minutes to do.”
From ‘Bunnings is opening in Grey Lynn and it's all hands on deck for employees like Murray…’ to ‘Rachel just booked some tickets on Grabaseat…’ Sainsbury has made a name for himself by capturing socio demographics.
“I’ll look at a snapchat filter, and ask what their personality might be like. I guess it comes down to my interest in observing people. From Ponsonby wellness mums, to feminist rugby dads, I think everything should be taken the piss out of.“
But there have been a few times where he’s gone too far, he says.
“Sure for my political characters, I’ve definitely worried about defamation. I thought there was some parody law that protected you but apparently there isn’t. I just hope everyone has a good sense of humour.
“I’ve been more worried about causing offence. One time I did Nikki Kaye and pretended she was a white supremacist. That sure as hell got a lot of heat. A lot of Young Nats messaged me saying, ‘I liked your videos until that one’."
Portraying Green MP Golriz Ghahraman as a violent refugee was also perhaps a wrong choice, he jokes.
“I guess also, with my Paula Bennett videos, I inadvertently gave her some promotion. My friends gave me flak for making her too likeable. I thought, 'Wow, that was really not my intention'. When we all thought National won the election there was an afternoon when I’d briefly thought I’d determined the fate of the world, then I thought, ‘Calm down, I couldn’t have that much sway'.”
Does he feel like he’s made it? Absolutely not, he says.
“I can be a total fangirl. If I see someone even mildly famous I’ve been known to go up to them and gush and request a ‘selfie’. I’m still very single and no one’s really come up to me and gushed, except for you of course.
“Oh my God there was one time after a show where I saw two women who were looking at me. I cheekily went up to them and asked whether they wanted to take a picture with me. They said, ‘No sorry, we don’t know who you are.’ The arrogance! The inflated ego! Never again.”
It wasn’t always this way. The 36-year-old hails for Hobbiton and made the big move to Auckland to complete a degree in English literature at 18. “Matamata is always in my thoughts, I grew up on a farm. My life is very much the same as it always was.”
Was that a joke?
“Yeah I guess, no, you're right, they’re entirely different. Worlds apart, actually.”
“I had to see animals - my friends - killed at an early age. It was brutal. As you can tell I’m still working through the trauma. My job was to look after the chickens and their newborn chicks. They were my babies. I would be on hyper alert all night as a 10-year-old. One time I found a literal hedgehog munching on a newborn’s skull. It was a lot.”
Is this a metaphor for his life now? “Sure,” he laughs.
“I had a massive blow a couple of weeks ago. I decided to delve into the hashtag #metoo.”
“Oh God is right. If I had been more confident perhaps I would have pulled it off. I was on edge and cautious. I was talking about some of my friends on Facebook who’ve been using the hashtag as social capital, where you’ve got men jumping on board and I guess I was just trying to home in on the fact men should let the women speak, but I just walked off the stage thinking ‘Oh Sh*&, there are people who are genuinely processing trauma, what am I doing?'”
And with the lows have come highs, with the greatest high of all being his debut on Shortland Street, he says.
“Shortland Street was an absolute dream come true. I grew up on Shorty. I was addicted. I had auditioned for them for years and hadn’t gotten a call back, and out of the blue they approached me to be the villain last year. Can you believe it?! The character would harp on about wanting to get plastic surgery. I was so excited to get prosthetics but in the end I only got a mole, but who cares! There was frumpy old me surrounded by Kiwi celebs, I was living the dream.”
Newsroom is powered by the generosity of readers like you, who support our mission to produce fearless, independent and provocative journalism.