Elevating comedy as a celebrated
and integral part of the New Zealand arts sector.

We create opportunities to develop,
promote and grow a sustainable and diverse
comedy industry in New Zealand.

A dynamic and resilient comedy industry
in New Zealand.

In 1993, the first Auckland Comedy Festival took place over two days at the Watershed Theatre near the Auckland viaduct. It was a home created by actors and comedians to experiment with their craft and share their work with inquisitive audiences, it inspired many of the awesome venues that we work with today. Sadly, The Watershed Theatre was demolished in 1999 to make way for the America’s Cup viaduct upgrade. But it’s wairua lives on throughout Queen Street and in our Festival. Under the streets these places are all connected by the Waihorotiu, the stream running from the Mercury Theatre on Karangahape Road (one of the original Auckland comedy venues), through Myers Park, under the Lower Greys Ave carpark on which The Classic Comedy Club, Basement Theatre, Q Theatre and the Aotea arts precinct sit, down Queen Street right past where the Watershed Theatre once stood and out into the Waitematā harbour near ATC’s Waterfront Theatre.

The Festival was started by a bunch of comedians and mates who looked at the comedy scenes overseas and thought “we could do that”. Margi Mellsop, a producer working at the Watershed at the time roped in her mate Paul Horan, who was gigging as a comedian, and together they put on the Festival. In its first few years some of Aotearoa’s ground-breaking comedians took the stage, including The Topp Twins, the Corbett Brothers (Jeremy & Nigel), Cal Wilson, Facial DBX (made up of Jon Bridges, Paul Horan, David Downs, Paul Yates, Dave Horn and Alan Brough), Te Radar, Sugar & Spice, and Ewen Gilmour.

In 1995, the Auckland Comedy Trust was formed as the charitable body running the show behind the scenes with the kaupapa of ensuring the continuation of the annual Comedy Festival, to provide a framework and focus for the industry, and to further legitimise comedy as an artform in New Zealand. Margi would remain as the Director of the Trust until 2000, setting a deep foundation for comedy as an industry to be taken seriously in Aotearoa .

Back in the 90s, comedy was not widely recognised as viable career path either on stage or behind the scenes. Now, over two and a half decades later, the comedy industry is thriving with many of our artists working across a variety of artforms and mediums, from live performance to movies to radio, both in Aotearoa and around the world. In 2018, Lynda and Jools Topp were named Dame Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit. In 2019, Scott Blanks, owner and co-founder of Auckland’s iconic comedy club, The Classic, was awarded the ONZM for services to comedy – which we reckon if the Queen is giving you awards, that’s a pretty good vote of confidence recognising comedy as an artform!

None of this would have happened without our original trustees, our whakapapa, an incredible bunch, a number of them lived together on Kingsland Ave. Alongside Margi Mellsop, Paul Horan, were Malcolm Black (ONZM, lead singer of Netherworld Dancing Toys and co-manager of major NZ artists like Neil Finn and Crowded House), Ian Magan (a founding host of pirate radio station Radio Hauraki, and toured Billy T James and Fred Dagg in the 80s), Caterina De Nave (ONZM, the original producer of Shortland Street and developer of Outrageous Fortune), Andrew Shaw (a top television executive and a recent ‘TV Legend’ inductee at the NZ Television Awards), Clare Corridan, Pamela Fauvel (QSM), Christine Fernyhough (CNZM), and Caroline Hutchinson.

In 1996, the Festival went national and the Auckland Comedy Trust became The New Zealand Comedy Trust. The Festival went through a couple of names including the International LAUGH! Festival, before settling on, the New Zealand International Comedy Festival, which continues to celebrate local voices from across Aotearoa alongside international guests.

There have been other hugely impactful Board members over the years, including Carole Pedder, Mick Sinclair, Te Radar, Megan Clark, Nigel Corbett and Oliver Sealy, who dedicated countless hours for over a decade, and guided the Trust successfully through many challenging times, handing it carefully over to our wonderful current Board members, Kylie Sealy, Gemma Gracewood, Steve King, Tim Batt, Rasmika Maharaj, Adrienne Bonell, Ed Caruthers, James Calverley and Richard Green.

Over the years, the Comedy Festival has been a draw for some of the world’s finest comedians, visiting us and our Australian whānau on the Festival circuit. Right from the early days, the stages and bars of the Festival became schools of comedy. Kiwi comics met innovators of the genre such as Bill Bailey, Simon Pegg, Hannah Gadsby, Josie Long, Daniel Kitson, Dr Brown, James Acaster, Marcel Lucont,  talking craft and using the opportunity to grow, hone their craft and develop their careers, all the while cultivating a uniquely Kiwi take.

The Festival has also been a place to experiment with new ways of doing comedy. Flight of the Conchords, Rhys Darby, The Laughing Samoans, Tape Face, Rose Matafeo and Urzila Carlson started crafting their shows for the Festival before developing into the internationally recognised artists they are today. More recently, Trust-run development initiatives such as the Creative Comedy Grants, Dialogue, the Billy T Award and the Fred Award have enabled comics to explore their art form and push the boundaries. Artists from innumerable different creative backgrounds take part in the Festival, presenting everything such as traditional stand-up, theatre shows, cabaret, clowning and more. Their shows are often first staged at the NZ International Comedy Festival before touring the world, especially to places like the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The NZ International Comedy Festival is now an annual highlight of Aotearoa’s arts calendar – seeing upwards of 90,000 people attending shows. We regularly have over 120 show seasons, with over 750 performances across Auckland and Wellington over four weeks.

We expose audiences to a diverse range of high-quality live comedy, develop new comedy audiences, reflect New Zealander’s multi-culturalism and celebrate what makes us laugh as a nation. At all levels of programming and within our team, the New Zealand Comedy Trust champions the values of accessibility and representation, contributing to a culture of inclusion and celebration. We know there’s work to do, but we’re constantly pursuing an inclusive industry where all Kiwis see themselves reflected on stage and on screen.

Currently, the Trust’s strategy is focused on ways to deliver more support to enable the comedy  industry to thrive beyond the annual Festival, finding ways to increasingly socially connect with audiences, even if we need to be physically distanced, and create an environment where comedy is a safe place to be brave.

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