Political comedy the winning ticket
If she's not leading the writing charge for TV3’s Jono and Ben and Funny Girls, 29-year-old Aucklander Alice Snedden is tackling big issues through comedy, writes Sasha Borissenko
Alice Snedden isn’t like other comedians, first, she’s a woman, second, she's a lawyer.
But comedy was an afterthought, she says. “I spent two years in Otago, but after a summer in Melbourne I decided I wasn’t going to go back to that shithole”. She transferred her law and politics degree to Victoria, and “hated it” so stayed in Auckland.
“Politics always seemed like a natural fit. People have always told me I would make a good lawyer as I was very argumentative, opinionated and competitive. At the time I thought it was a compliment. Now I’m not so sure.”
She started working at the Basement Theatre at night to save money to go overseas and a couple of comedy kids asked whether she should give improvisation a go. “I really liked it - but I think they needed a girl, to be honest.”
She liked comedy so much she set off to New York to study at the renowned Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre for a year.
“I absolutely loved it. It was a genuine turning point in my life. It gave me the structure and confidence to pursue comedy professionally. I mean I guess I’ve always been funny, but never thought that would translate into an actual job.
“You would be doing show after show, which was a really good training exercise. I remember one bad show where I had worked on a joke all week about a car crash, but unfortunately the guy before me talked about a friend who died the same way. I had no other material so I went with it, only to receive deafening silence.”
Did she apologise?
"I basically called him a white supremacist so the situation was always going to be uncomfortable.”
“I turned on the audience and told them to F*&^ themselves. I knew I screwed up. You wait two hours for a two-minute slot. I had to walk off through the audience and I cried the whole way home. It was a truly mortifying experience.”
She’s had bad periods in her life where her mental health hasn’t been great, she says. She had to get back surgery, which plunged her into darkness in her early twenties but otherwise she’s very open about talking it, she says.
But mental health among comedians is generally bad, she says.
“It’s bad man, it’s real bad. Everyone’s depressed. I don’t think it’s good for your brain with all the highs you feel going on stage. It must muck with your serotonin levels. There’s also no job security, it’s competitive, you’re up for scrutiny and you’re so vulnerable. Comedy also breeds narcissism. You’re constantly being introspective about yourself.”
Other than a few bouts with mental illness, Snedden has otherwise led a pretty privileged life, she says.
Snedden, the youngest of five children, says her feminist mother - of Irish Catholic descent - is the reason she's always had a love of politics.
Her latest show, Alice Snedden: Self Titled Volume II was "really a take on mocking myself while talking about politics. I mean there are often male comics who talk about politics. I don’t know if that’s the case for women”.
Snedden discussed the ridiculous nature of using the term “witch-hunt”, for example.
“The joke is about the #metoo movement where some critics - including Donald Trump - have said it’s ‘just a bunch of crazy feminazis who’re on a witch hunt’. Witch hunts involved the genuine persecution of women. It’s absurd!
“There’s the idea that hunting down these sexual predators is a bad thing. The maternal construct suggests boys will be boys and men are simply being naughty or misbehaving. I’ve got no time to coddle these people, that they should feel safe and not attacked, rather than the victim feeling safe.
"It’s troubling to think that with feminism and the fight for equality, the onus is on women to make perpetrators feel okay about the consequences they’re facing.”
Where to from here? Breaking down big issues for the masses via her new web series, Bad News. And it’s apparently quite juicy, she says.
“We tackle abortion, legalising marijuana, the gender pay gap, and why we should be learning Te Reo. I felt really nervous before interviewing Don Brash for that last one, as I knew it was going to be controversial and possibly antagonistic.”
But why? “Well I basically called him a white supremacist so the situation was always going to be uncomfortable.”
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