Urzila Rolls with the Punchlines

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Urzila Carlson may be known as the funny woman on TV, but she is also an avid LGBT+ activist with strong opinions.

In her new book, Rolling with the Punchlines, Carlson calls herself a lesbyterian. A quick Google search (such a reliable source of information) yields scarce results: if anything, it just seems like a misspelling of lesbian or someone’s attempt at trying to cute-ify the word. Carlson claims the origin of the word as her own: she was having drinks with some friends at a bar, one of whom is gay, and she kept getting annoyed whenever he tried to jokingly refer to her as a ‘lesbian’ or ‘dyke’, so she told him to refer to her as a ‘lesbyterian’. As she says, “it’s like a religion”.

Her experiences back as a teenager in South Africa were few, so few that you could count them on one hand – using two fingers, to be precise. She puts it down to the strictness of the nuns who ran her boarding school as she was an avid rule-follower back in the day. There was a pash once at a movie night, and another when swimming late at night after “eyeballing each other” beforehand. Neither experience was talked about again.

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Coming from a deeply religious country has also provided some backlash for Carlson here in New Zealand. When she was first starting out as a comedian, she would post in the South Africans in Auckland page to advertise her shows. What followed would be an avalanche of negative comments due to her being gay.

Although her compatriots were not very supportive, a surprise came in the form of rural New Zealanders. To begin with, she had two sets of material: one for the cities, and one for the provinces. This all changed when an 82-year-old woman, Mavis, came up to her and told her that “[rural New Zealanders] don’t give a shit. You should give us more credit”.

“I did a show a couple of years ago and I talked about acceptance and how ridiculous it is when people turn their backs on their gay relatives,” says Carlson. Although she had no issue with her own family – as she describes in her book, her coming out to her mum consisted of her mum telling Carlson to call her at 7am the next day – this is not the case for everyone. She once had an audience member come up to her after a show and tell the story of how they had stopped talking to their cousin 20 years ago when the cousin came out.

The ritual of ‘coming out’ should not be a big thing according to Carlson. She thinks it’s important to take ownership of who you are as a human being, but your sexuality should be a non-event. As well as this, she has “never understood where they go ‘lesbians don’t get along with drag queens’.

“We fight so hard to me recognised, for acceptance, to be equal with everyone else […] why [should non-LGBT+ people] accept you when you can’t accept yourselves.”

Urzila Carlson’s new book, Rolling with the Punchlines, is in stores now. She will also host the Flick Electric Co. Comedy Gala on 27 April at the ASB Theatre in Auckland, 28 April at the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch, and 29 April at the Opera House in Wellington.

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