Te Radar: My story, as told to Elisabeth Easther

Te Radar is the moderator of The Great Comedy Debate, a live battle of wits between two teams of Aotearoa’s sharpest comedians arguing ‘Technology Will Save Us’. A one-night-only event on May 18, part of the NZ Intl. Comedy Festival with Best Foods Mayo, April 30 – May 24.

I had a very rural upbringing and although Ōhinewai was right by State Highway 1, it never occurred to me, with that great thoroughfare running right past my school, to think of that road’s significance. That it provided a passage both north and south. I never imagined leaving that part of the world, even though I was wedged in between SH1 and the main trunk line. I had no desire to head north to the bright lights of Auckland or south to the even brighter lights of Hamilton. I’ve never thought about that till now.

Once or twice I did think how you could drop down on to the train, on to one of the carriages, from the railway overbridge but beyond that, I never thought about where I would end up. Perhaps my sights were set further afield? We didn’t read books about Auckland at primary school. I was more inclined to read westerns, and so I imagined American landscapes which were so far away, they were incomprehensible.

I recently came across some writing I’d done at primary school, that said: “When I grow up I’m going to be farmer” because it felt like a cool thing to do. There were vehicles and tractors, livestock, fresh air and the elements. Although mum and dad had to go out and do farming from five in the morning to six o’clock at night, and sometimes it involved struggling through fields of ragwort, there was still a sense of freedom that you could do whatever you wanted.

We were brought up to be capable. If you wanted to do something, you just went and did it. Another great thing about being a rural kid was your exposure to so many different things, not just the lessons you learnt at school. I can do stuff like drive trucks, diggers dozers and motorbikes. I’m comfortable round cattle and animals, landscape and weather, all these things come in handy.

Like stockmanship. I use what I learnt about rounding up stock to this very day. At corporate events, to get a group of people moving, it’s all about with attitude and where you place yourself. You position yourself in their eye line, you don’t get behind, or you can and shoo them, but if you walk around and get in their eye line they’ll move where you want them to go. I use the same technique to muster a mob of heifers, to a get crowd of people into a room to start a corporate function. Then I’ll tell them where the toilets are and point to the buffet, and explain that the staff will bring them up table by table.

One enduring memory is of standing in the carpark the day my parents dropped me off at boarding school. As I watched them drive away I thought, that’s it, I’m not going to see them again for a month. I can’t go home. It was also a palaver to ring, because it was a toll call, so Mum told me to call collect. “You ring collect and I’ll say no, then we’ll call you back.” Because accepting a collect call was an extra $2. When I’d call, the operator would put the call through and ask, “will you accept the charges”. And even though I knew mum was going to say no, every time I heard it, I felt some sadness. In terms of a defining experience, that moment when they drove away, I’ve never forgotten it.

My uncle got me a job in the Sky TV factory. All these decoders had come in and for some reason, I still don’t understand what it was, we had to take the cover off, remove some kind of circuit breaker thing, cut something, solder something over the top, then set it back in the box. I did this hundreds of times a day for a couple of weeks. There would’ve been hundreds of decoders around the country with my blood in them, because I was clumsy and I often bled onto the transponder board. Clearly I got the job through nepotism and I was grateful, but I also found it absolutely mind-numbing.

I have definitely thought about giving up comedy, but not for the financial ramifications, more out of a crisis of confidence, from an artistic point of view. I have been through periods when I’ve been convinced I’m not funny. And when you’re in that state of mind, you won’t be funny and it’ll be a bleak and lonely 10 to 15 minutes of flagellation on stage. Some people never have any self-doubts, but for those of us who do, you just have to keep going.

I don’t really have a Plan B. Farming? When Covid came and my work dropped by 99.5 per cent in two days, my family farm needed a share milker and I thought I’d apply. But my family said don’t. They realised milking cows was not my forte. TV was always my goal. Long ago, I blagged my way to a couple of war zones, with my friend Aaron, to make docos. Although in East Timor, we couldn’t find the war. When we went to Israel, we didn’t find the war there either, but that’s how you do it. If want to pursue this profession, you have to make your own work.

I was up in Rwanda on a coffee plantation and beans were taken straight off the bush. They were roasted in a fire then beaten in a mortar and pestle, before boiling water was poured over them in an orange plastic jug. I remember the plasticky taste of that black coffee, and how the little girl took me aside, because she wanted to show me their cow. “Here is our cow, look at our cow.” They had one cow, and I think we had 700 at that point. That’s relativism. Why was I not born there?

When you turn up to do your own gig, you can do anything you want but when you turn up to host a corporate event, none of those people paid to see you. It took me a while to get my head around that but, once you understand that, the performance ethos is the same. I want to have fun celebrating other people, while being entertaining and conscious of the boundaries. Someone summed it up at a conference the other day. They said, “you took the mickey, but you didn’t take the piss”. No one has ever said that to me before, but I liked it

As a corporate MC, I do a lot of awards nights. I’m in a bubble of excellence a couple of times a week, with people who have achieved incredible things in their work or personal lives, and it’s my job to set the tone, to ensure it’s fun, even if I’m dealing with heavy material. Although I am a crier, and I do get emotionally involved at awards, because it’s such an incredible privilege to be parachuted into those sorts of events.

There are still projects I want to do. I used to spend a lot of time in the car, just me and gear, trying to find some obscure provincial hall. When I arrive, they’ll ask where my crew is and I explain it’s just me and my sound equipment. Then I’ll ask, who the neighbouring farmer is and can we ask them to turn off their electric fence, because I can hear it through the amp. And can we please turn off the pie warmer because it is on the same fuse as the PA. I never dreamed of playing at The Civic or St James. It’s those little halls in little towns, the war memorial halls, I love to do shows there.

One topic a Boomer is never afraid to broach, it’s uninvited criticism of a haircut they don’t like. I’ve had loads of hairstyles through the years, from dreadlocks to punky to no hair. Very short bleached blonde, I’ve done mohawks and all kinds of colours and sticky-up hair. Right now I have a mullet and I cannot tell you how many events I go to when the people on stage should be talking about something really important, like a massive trade deal, but no, it’s my hair. John Key once chased me around the stage with a pair of comedy scissors that were meant for cutting a ribbon, but instead he wanted to cut my hair.

I’ve always considered hair to be both a fashion statement and a way to say I refuse to conform to your standards of hairdresserry. High schools and places of employment I’m looking at you. To me, hair is a party, an outward manifestation of my desire to do things my way.

For full details and tickets, head to http://comedyfestival.co.nz/

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