By Ayla Miller
For award nominated comedian Josh Davies, his biggest strength can also be his biggest weakness.
He discusses the advantages and disadvantages that come with being a nearly fully blind comedian mostly working in dimly lit bars, his bleak, anecdotal style of comedy and a unidentifiable ceramic ornament he is inexplicably fascinated by.
A: Can you remember the first time you saw stand up comedy, who was it and what did you think?
J: I got really into comedy when I was 15 or 16 so I watched a lot of stuff on YouTube and pirated copies of comedian’s DVD’s which I’m sure they are very happy about.
The first person I saw live was Rhys Darby when I was studying in Dunedin in 2014, during my one and only year of university studying geology. That’s when I thought ‘I want this.’
How did you get your first gig? Where was it and what did you talk about?
I entered the RAW Comedy Quest in Wellington and got through to the finals. I signed myself up and had to go through with it. I have my first gig recorded somewhere but I won’t listen to it. If I find it I’ll delete it. From what I remember, my first two gigs went really well.
I think there were very bad versions of a couple of jokes that I continued doing for a while. Basically there were some jokes about being blind. I understood comedy enough to know that you write about what you know. If you’ve got something unique then you can joke about that.
There were probably some shitty Levin jokes because that’s where I grew up. So some small town jokes and some blind jokes and I haven’t really changed much.
How would you describe your style of comedy?
It is quite dark. That’s what people tell me. I try to make it clever and it’s anecdotal. Yeah dark and anecdotal.
What makes you laugh?
All sorts really. Everything except puns. Puns are the worst. I quite like really dark, bleak stuff. I often find myself laughing at things that aren’t meant to be laughed at like in a horror scene or something but no one else in the cinema is laughing. Just dumb stuff and in jokes that aren’t particularly funny for other people.
What was the best gig you’ve done so far and what’s the worst?
I did one last year at Sky City during the comedy festival and that was great. It was a 500 seater and I didn’t get through all the material I had prepared which is a good sign.
There were two bad gigs during my first comedy festival. I was opening for Cori Gonzalez-Macuer. The first night went well but the next night it went absolutely terribly. Then I had to do a line up show. The first three shows had gone really well but on that night it went badly. There were 10 people in, two of them were my parents and it was my birthday.
How do you get back from a terrible gig?
You just feel bad until you stop feeling bad. You have a good gig I guess is the best way to get over it.
How do you create a set? Do you sit down and write jokes or do they come to you through conversation/everyday life?
Most of the best jokes I come up with on the spot but they’ll be like two lines and that’s not six minutes of material.
Sometimes I’ll sit down and write down anything I think is funny or I go through notes I’ve taken down and turn it into a set.
I understand the theories of comedy but sometimes something will match those theories and you’ll go on stage and no one will like it. Sometimes I try stuff out on my flatmates. Just by hanging out with funny people you pick things up. It definitely helps living with comedians. Even if it just makes living in a flat a bit more fun.
Is there a particular time you’ve shut down a heckler that you’re especially proud of? In life or on stage?
No, not really. I’m not a confrontational person in everyday life. I won’t pick fights. I’ll just stew on it or come up with comebacks in my head. I haven’t been heckled much on stage. I guess I have a very off putting stage presence anyway.
The sort of person who likes to heckle doesn’t want to acknowledge me as a person. It’s usually wannabe tough guys who heckle or very drunk women and I think I’m enough of a non-threat on stage that they don’t feel the need to be the funny guy.
What is your background before comedy?
I grew up on a farm in Levin so I did farm stuff and hung out with friends. It’s a fairly small town so there’s not a lot to do. It’s been a slow incline into comedy since then and then a strong plateau for the last year.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about stand up?
People always say to speak slower on stage. I think that is particularly useful for most people. Your nerves speed up how you talk. If you watch that, it makes you clearer and it means you have to say less.
Is there any subject you don’t believe should be joked about and why?
It depends on the intent of the person saying it and why they’re telling it and how funny it is. You should never be telling a joke to hurt someone’s feelings because then it’s not a joke it’s an insult. There’s plenty of stuff I wouldn’t make jokes about because people have to have a huge amount of trust in you first to know you wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings. I think as long as you’re not attacking people you’re broadly fine.
Is that trust quite an important part of doing stand up? Gaining the audience’s trust?
I think so because everyone laughs when they hang out with their friends. The difference is that comedians are better at making jokes but at the same time you probably laugh more with your friends because you have so much history with them and so many in jokes.
As a comedian you have to build up a relationship with everyone in the room and you might only have 10 minutes to do it in. You have to build trust so that these people know you’re joking. It makes it easier to tell certain types of jokes because a throwaway line becomes a joke if the audience is like ‘that’s exactly the sort of thing YOU would say’ even though you’ve only been on stage for five minutes.
Who are your comedy idols/role models? You mentioned Rhys Darby was the first comedian you saw live. Would he be one of your biggest ones?
Yeah I guess so. He’s a New Zealand comedian who has made it world wide which is what anyone wants – to be known around the world for being insanely funny. In that respect definitely.
My favourite comedian is Jon Richardson from the United Kingdom. He used to do Eight out of Ten Cats. I can relate to him. He has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and is awkward and uncomfortable around people. Then there’s Lloyd Langford. He’s always lovely when he’s over here. He’s ridiculously funny as well and one of the loveliest people in comedy.
I also like Dan Harmon. I guess he’s not so much a comedian but more a comedy writer. I really like Community and Rick and Morty. I think he’s an interesting person and I really like his writing style. I want to get good at writing as well.
Oh my next question was what’s your favourite comedy tv show/film?
Community. Hands down all the way.
What’s your biggest strength in comedy and what’s your weakness?
My biggest strength is my blindness because it’s very unique and it means I can tell disability jokes whereas most people can’t. It gives me a lot of liability and it’s something interesting.
My biggest weakness is also my blindness because bars are not well lit.
Is a lot of your material based around being blind?
Yeah probably about 50:50. It does make it easier because you know no one else on the lineup will be doing that material. It’s easier to make jokes that are different because you’re tackling a tough subject. I’ve been blind my entire life so I’ve got plenty of stuff to talk about. Also I’m writing a show entirely about being blind.
Do you think not being able to see your audience make audience interaction different at all?
After some gigs people will say, “Yeah the audience were quiet but the front row were smiling so I think they were enjoying it.” But I’ll come off and I won’t know if they were smiling or not or that they were quietly enjoying it. I’ll think they were sitting in the dark in silence whilst I talked nonsense for too long.
When you’re not doing stand up what else do you do? Are you working on any other projects?
I produce a couple of stand up shows. Now I get to pay my friends money and put on a good gig so that’s the motivation for it really. The more proper gigs there are around, the more people can earn a living from doing comedy. The rest of the time I play video games and listen to audio books. That’s pretty much how I waste most of my time
What do you hope people take away from your gigs?
That I’m funny. That’s all. I don’t have any nuance to what I’m saying. Just jokes. I want to make people laugh.
What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve spent money on?
I’m broke most of the time, so junk food is probably the answer. I did buy a whole bunch of googly eyes so I could write a bit about them, They were only $10 so it’s not a massive loss.
Oh I know what it is. It’s this weird little statue thing that I bought from an op shop as a joke. I don’t know if it’s a cat or a dog. No one in my flat knows what it is. They all think it’s dumb but I’m fascinated by it. It’s on my shelf right next to my computer – pride of place. I’m far more impressed by it than I should be. I’ll send you a picture of it. I want the world to know about this.