ON satire with James Nokise – writer of NZ’s premier political comedy

James Nokise. Making some noise ON the satire scene. PHOTO: Supplied.

James Nokise. Making some noise ON the satire scene. PHOTO: Supplied.

This week, the latest installment of New Zealand’s premier political satire Public Service Announcements (PSA) takes flight at Bats theatre. It’s an infamous work that is known to sell out due to its outrageous dialogue, plot-twists and hilarious caricatures.  ANNABEL WILSON catches up with the show’s writer, James Nokise to get the lowdown on this long-standing lambasting of the nation’s politicians… and the importance of satire in today’s society.

How many seasons of PSA have there been?

I think this is the 12th season… which is a bit staggering, because I believe that means we’ve now done more PSAs than I’ve done solo comedy hours. The narcissist in me finds that very strange.

PSA has been around for seven years, has a history of sold-out seasons, and in many ways is New Zealand’s only political satire. What is the secret to its success?

Ridiculousness, sprinkled with a few facts here and there, and topped with some very devilish characterisations. Chief among those is Allan Henry’s Winston Peters. He’s the sane man in the insane Beehive. I think audiences can also tell there’s a lot of love in the show, for our subjects but also for the Public Servants that have to deal with the MPs.

Oh yes, I’ve heard about the notorious whisky-swilling Winston. People seem to like him…

People have actually said they’ve voted for Winston based off our shows; and Allan, Thom,  and me feel very guilty about that.

Describe your role/s in the creation of the show.

Creator, Writer and, this time, Producer – turns out not doing a solo show means more responsibility.

Can you drop some hints about characters and plotlines we can expect to see in PSA – Civil War?

Well there’s going to be casualties, but I won’t say who makes it to the end. If you can imagine what would happen if MPs found themselves locked in the Beehive, facing imminent death – well, that’s our starting point, and we try and kick it up from there.

What is your favourite line of the script?

Honestly I don’t think it’s printable. We have MPs suggesting party antics can get quite loose.

Of PSA, Theatreview has asked “Why isn’t this on television?” Do you think this would make a good onscreen series?

I think whether it’s us – and bear in mind a 15+ cast, plus writers,  is an expensive TV show – or someone else, New Zealand needs decent political satire on air. Not just a sketch, or a mention on panels, or a humorous interview, but an out and out, half hour minimum, lampooning of the country’s political leaders.

We’re told there isn’t an audience for it, but people don’t seem to mind watching New Zealand political comedy if it’s from a U.S or Australian show.

From the ancient Greek dramatist Aristophanes (who satirized Athenian leaders and their conduct in the Peloponnesian War) there’s a rich history of political satire expressed through caricature. What is the value of satire in contemporary society?

I think satire can be cathartic and informative, while also being entertaining and engaging, and it allows a society to mock its elites without feeling an oppressive weight. It can also facilitate the beginnings of conversation on serious subjects people struggle to approach.

Is PSA more of a Horatian or Juvenalian satire and why?

I think we go for Horation and occasionally accidentally hit Juvenalian – with some parody thrown in.

The strange thing is the show has got good at predicting which stories endure, and which don’t, and also which politicians will matter. Honestly we keep thinking of the most ridiculous circumstances and then New Zealand proves us right.

What is the goal of good satire?

I think good satire punches up, always. Hopefully an audience leaves not just entertained, but also less intimidated by powerful figures.

Who are your favourite modern day satirists?

John Clarke (of Fredd Dagg fame) and Bryan Dawe do simple, superb commentary in Oz, and Samantha Bee (YouTube her) is on fire in the U.S right now. John Oliver has really done something with his half hour of blending investigative journalism with stand-up and satire.

Currently in NZ, I think Toby’s Morris and Manhire are doing awesome work.

How has digital technology influenced satire?

I think it’s made it more accessible to younger audiences, and that’s really important because they’ve been identified as often feeing disenfranchised and apathetic towards the political process. Technology also allows for satire to be delivered in great new formats, and I do think NZ is embracing that a lot more in the past two years.

Who should come and see PSA?

It’s called Public Service Announcements because it was originally intended for people in the public service, but really it’s for anyone who wants to laugh at  the insanity of Kiwi politicians.

  • Annabel Wilson 

Catch PSA at Bats, May 10 – 14. This show will sell out so book your tickets now!

For ON-the-ball previews, promotion, advertising, interviews, reviews and photography for your cool happenings and concepts, contact annabel@onmag.co.nz.

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