• Sun, 2, Dec, 2018 - 5:00:AM

Donna Brookbanks and the goblet of funny

Donna Brookbanks in You do You Babes/ Andi Crown

Donna Brookbanks is a comedian, actor, improviser and writer based in Auckland. Just recently she was one of five very funny people to be nominated for a very funny award, the Billy T which is one of the, if not thee, most prestigious awards a Kiwi comedian can get (previous recipients include recent Edinburgh winner Rose Matafeo and the Humourbeasts (Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi)).

So as is my custom, I sat her down over a few glasses goblets of mid-range wine and asked her the hard-hitting questions on being funny, being a funny woman and being a funny important person.

Congrats on the nomination – what does this mean for you?

It took a lot for me to go for it again (Donna was a nominee previously). It’s a hard thing to lose and try for it again as it’s a weird situation. It’s hard because you’re setting yourself up for double rejection.  However the nomination grows your audience so much that it seems stupid not to try. And it’s fucking cool to be a double nominee.

What do you have to do now?

Make a whole new one-hour show with new material! I’m also doing a show for the fringe in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin and even the Melbourne comedy festival. It’ll be my prep. I’ll be doing an older show there but will bring in new stuff.

I did Melbourne before (with fellow comedian Alice Sneddon) and it was really tough. We were in a really big venue and we had to literally hustle random people on the street to come. It was a bit disheartening when you’d look out during the show and not one of them showed up.

Who do you think is your audience?

I’ve always got groups of women that come out together to have fun and get on the wines so I’ll say things that relate to women and they’re all yelling ‘Yes!’. I also get couples who want to have a good time.

Why comedy?

I actually wanted to be a serious actor. I wanted to be like Dame Judi Dench but I couldn’t cry on stage. When I was at drama school, they gave me all the funny parts and I was not happy but then realised that funny was fun. I ended up in comedy through Snort (the Auckland improvisational troupe that Donna started with fellow comedians Eli Mathewson and Eddy Dever).  So many stand-up comedians were in Snort so it I ended up trying it.

I personally hate it when people ask, “what do you do?” As a multi-talented creative, what do you say?  

I say comedian. I love being asked it. I ask this question on the web series The Watercooler: What do you write on your customs form at the airport? I write comedian and writer – not actress sadly. Then when I go through customs or even sometimes when I’m in an Uber they ask, “You’re a comedian? Then tell me a joke?” I want to reply, “Fuck you. You tell me a joke”.

This has been a common question, but sometimes repetition is needed to emphasise it. Why are there less women comedians than men in your opinion?

I think it’s getting better. It’s always been a man’s world. It’s hard also because comedy’s only really taking off in NZ recently anyway so it’s doubly hard for a woman comedian.

What do you say to people morons who actually believe that women can’t be funny?

I laugh at them. There’s so many hilarious women that it just boggles my mind that people can’t find at least one women comedian for them. Comedy is subjective but maybe now that there’s more of a female audience as well, they’ll want to see more relatable comedy.

Your latest show You Do You Babes was about the eternal doom of singledom, a millennial Bridget Jones, if you may. What was the inspiration behind it?

It was real to me. What else would I talk about? I’ve always been taught, say with acting and writing, you can only do what you know. So with comedy, what do I think is funny? Which is also what I learned from other comedians. I write about things that women potentially don’t want to say to each other so when I say it, they’ll yell “I do that!”. It’s all about seeing something and going “Oh, it’s not just me”.

A lot of my friends have asked what will I talk about now that I have a boyfriend. So next year’s show will be on imposter syndrome. Like waiting to be found out that I’m a shit girlfriend. Or waiting for the Billy T judges to think “Oh no we thought you were someone else.  She fluked her way here!”

Imposter syndrome, where you think you’re a big fraud, is very common with women. Why do you think this is? How can we get over it?

It’s a confidence thing and feeling like you don’t belong where you are. I’ll be the first to say: get over it and own it. For example my brother was always amazing and it was so hard to live up to the expectations. Even though my folks were always very supportive, you always try to live up to something you don’t need to. It may sound naff but you need to be your “awesome, authentic self”.

Where do you get your inspiration from? Who is funny to you?

My dad is hilarious. He cracks me up to no end. He is the master of dad jokes. I get inspiration from people I see around me. I remember sitting in a cafe in somewhere like Rotorua and these two ladies next to me were having a really intense conversation. Her voice combined with what she was talking about was so unusual. She talked about scones for like 20 minutes. It was amazing. It gave me an idea for a woman who runs her own book club in her living room.

In the tradition of the parlour game popularised by writer Marcel Proust, I decide to put some extremely pretentious questions to her.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

I have a joke about an old man sitting at a food court eating alone. I can find the sadness in anything.

What is happiness?

I’m not sure yet. I’m pretty sure it’s family for me – I’m lucky enough to say that. Being with people you love. The little things, having a wine with my mates (cheers).

Which award or accolade would you love to receive in a fantasy world?

10 years ago I would’ve said an Oscar. Now, maybe a Damehood for being awesome in my community.

Who would you rather date: another comedian, a poet or a property investor?

A poet. 1000 percent.

Brookbanks will be on Three’s 7 Days Live next Friday and she will be performing her new show at next year’s Comedy Festival in May 2019.


  • Donna Brookbanks /
  • Comedy /
  • Billy T Awards /
  • Interview /
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