South African stand up Urzila Carlson has become a beloved part of comedy festivals across the country, no doubt in part because of her up front, no bullshit comedic style. It’s no surprise that her show this year, Unacceptable, continues in that vein, addressing those things that have become both necessarily and unnecessarily unacceptable. Tickets have been selling so fast that Carlson has already added extra shows to both her Brisbane and Melbourne dates. She kindly took some time to answer Suzan Calimli’s questions.
Your newest show Unacceptable challenges some of our current societal status quo. How did the idea come about? At which point did you think ‘there are issues here, and I’ll like to put them in my show’?
The idea for the show started when I saw a young comic write something homophobic on Facebook and I decided to get involved but I didn’t wanna get confrontational so all I wrote was ‘unacceptable’ and that solved it, he took away the post and apologised, and I thought there’s a lot of things on Facebook, in person and Donald Trump that’s just wrong and I think we just need to call things out that are unacceptable. I think as a society we need to start calling bullshit on some stuff!
Many of your shows are based on your own experiences. Are there times where you think of some great material, but can’t use it for some reason or another?
No, there’s never been a case like that if it happened to me then I’m happy to use it, occasionally I’ll ask the wife if it’s okay but mostly I just use it.
Do you ever improvise in your shows for the sake of spontaneity, or do you roll with the flow?
I always improvise, every show is a little different and it’s never Word for Word, otherwise it gets boring. I also think you have to take some of the energy of the crowd and no two crowds are the same.
Everyone has a specific style and technique when performing comedy, and most of that stems from their personality. When first starting stand up, what was the most difficult part of forming your own technique and style?
I guess it is like finding your own voice because you don’t know what your style is, it took me a couple of years to realise I can just be normal and just talk to the audience like I’m talking to a friend, but I’m just more excited about it.
Your memoir, Rolling with the Punches came out last year in November. How is writing a book different from writing stand up? What would have been your greatest hiccups?
My greatest hiccup was realising that I can’t just write down my idea and the reader will get what I mean, while when I write stand-up I can just write down the idea and know I can talk to my audience and say this is the idea and they get it because we are on the same wavelength, we are in the same room. But when you give someone a book they take it home, you don’t know what kind of vibe they’re gonna have when they read it so you have to explain absolutely everything. Not only do you have to draw the picture, you have to colour it in too.
You’re a regular on Have You Been Paying Attention? and How is it performing in front of audiences with other people, in contrast to doing solo shows?
Solo shows have the luxury that if things aren’t going great it’s just you that saw that… and the audience, but that’s also the hard part, no backup! Also it’s lonely. Whereas if you do a panel show, suddenly you have back up, you don’t need to carry the burden of cracking jokes alone! It’s fun.
I just watched Trevor Noah’s show Afraid of the Dark in which he does an act on Russian accents, although obviously that’s not his speaking voice. Your South African is quite strong and fearsome; what are its advantages and disadvantages? How do you feel about the Australian accent?
There are definite benefits to having this accent, it scares people just enough where I hardly ever get heckled. The Australian accent I think could be very easy for me to pick up, it’s easy to copy, and it also falls into the same category as the South African accent: it’s just not that sexy.
Unacceptable is on at the Melbourne Town Hall from 30 March until 23 April at 8:15pm, no Mondays. Tickets range between $25 and $35 dollars and are available online and at the comedy festival box office.
Carlson is currently in Brisbane from 23 – 26 March, in Perth on 21 & 22 May, and Sydney 16 – 19 May and again on 1 July. Check out her website for more details, tickets and accessibility information.