Armed with street smarts and an independent streak, comedian Justine Smith says her experiences as a woman in comedy hasn’t necessarily been the same as other women.
“I had some horrific stuff said to me, but I was able to compartmentalise that and focus on my career,” she told Jordyn Rudd from TVNZ’s A Current Affair.
“I started when I was 26, I was already quite a tough little cookie. I'd been living on my own in Auckland from Christchurch. I kind of knew what was up.”
Her refusal to be intimidated by a green room fill of men didn’t stop horrific comments from male comedians and MC’s.
Smith says she’s recently looked back and realised how commonplace the ugly remarks from men were in her early years on the stage.
“I'd have a really good set, and they'd go on after me and their ego would make them say, and this happened multiple times, ‘ladies and gentlemen, Justine Smith. I’ve had sex with her, she wasn't that good.’
So, they’d undermine me like that.”
Now calling herself a ‘comedy auntie’. she says it’s her job to keep any eye on the scene.
“My important role is to just be a bit more switched on and supportive of these young wāhine coming into my space, into the comedy clubs I work in and make sure that they‘re alright, because some of these chicks are like 17, 18 and they're vulnerable.
Her advice to young women getting onto the stage is to speak up when they encounter abuse.
“Don't be marginalised, don't go home feeling like crap. Own your space and get in there.
That culture is changing and the people who run the gigs and own the clubs are consciously aware that this needs to happen and really supportive of it.”
While exasperated at being split up from other female comedians in the past, she says she found the advantage in being the only woman on the lineup when half the audience are women.
“I'll be the fifth comic on, the first woman. And sometimes you can see women sit up and go, ‘Oh yay a woman’.”
Justine Smith hosts the Best Foods Comedy Gala in Auckland on May 30 as part of The NZ International Comedy Festival.
Watch the full interview with Justine Smith tonight on A Current Affair at 9pm on TV2.
Episodes are also available at OnDemand.