The business of comedy

Jon Bridges has well and truly learnt his lesson about being prepared in broadcasting.

“We were pretty slack,” he says about his early days at the now-defunct Channel Z radio show and the DJing role he shared with his Ice TV partner Nathan Rarere.

“We started broadcasting at 6am so sometimes we would not get up till 5.30am and you could tell when we had not done much prep.

“I loved Channel Z. I learnt a lot about music and just the fun of being stupid every morning. Keeps you young.”

It certainly has. Time has served Jon Bridges well.

The lovable larrikin of Ice TV has matured into one of the main forces in New Zealand comedy while still retaining the down-to-earth nature that endeared him to fans of the cult TV3 show and Channel Z.

Today, the producer of TV3’s award-winning 7 Days is talking about the evolution of comedy. And what an evolution it has been.

He says New Zealand’s early attempts at TV comedy revolved around the sketch-show format.

“What the networks saw was that McPhail & Gadsby and Billy T James were successful in their own way, not incredibly long-lasting but they were iconic. New Zealanders remembered them and accepted them as good comedy programmes.”

But he says it wasn’t just classic New Zealand sketch shows that we were trying to replicate but those of the British and Australians too.

“We have great actors here. All the producers used to say, ‘They can do comedy, why can’t we do these shows Let’s find a comedy vehicle for Rima Te Wiata’.”

Bridges says there were some early successes, mainly with Issues in the 1990s and its follow-up More Issues, but he concedes “We tried many different sketch shows which were quite bad to watch.”

Ice TV, he says, wasn’t pitched as a comedy. “It was a kids’ programme or a youth programme. But in a way it was a comedy show – most of what we did was comedy. If you wanted to succeed (at comedy) you had to disguise it.

“Another example of this is A Game Of Two Halves. It was a long-running and successful show that basically was really a comedy.

“It was funny and those guys did a good job of bringing comedy into a sports show format.”

Bridges says New Zealand now has some notable TV comedies – including Sunny Skies and Auckland Daze. And he attributes much of this current success to the opening of Auckland’s Classic comedy bar in the 90s.

“Having that home of New Zealand comedy has meant that there is a base of comedians who have regular work and we get professional comedians with a viable job. And that sparked other centres in New Zealand like Christchurch and Wellington, with Dai Henwood and other comedians.”

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When comparing our comedy with the rest of the world, Jon says it is important to remember that we only see the best of what global TV has to offer.

“We see the one per cent of the ones that succeed. It is very rare for a comedy show to succeed.

“We don’t have the money to try 100 shows and see if they succeed. We have the money to try one show and see if it succeeds and try another one.

“It has been very, very hard. It takes a lot of guts to try a comedy show because you have to be prepared that is not going to work.”

Bridges is grateful for the support the industry has received from TV3.

“The last 10 years we have had a really good environment at TV3 with a commitment to building New Zealand comedy.

“It is really hard for a network to champion local production because it is expensive. As good as you are, you will always get successes and failures in TV. So it is really important to have good network support and they have been really cool in doing that.

“And, of course, NZ On Air is always there and trying to put money into these things. They are the money engine.”

Bridges admits he misses being in front of the camera, but does get the chance to dosome MC-ing and still writes for 7 Days.

“I think it helps to be the producer who knows what you are asking of the guys. And that has always been the producer that I am – one who understands the performers’ side, rather than someone who understands budgets and numbers.”

7 Days: TV3 Friday

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