Interview with Josh Thomson

10 May 2023

Comedian, actor and television personality Josh Thomson is probably best known for winning Taskmaster and Celebrity Bake Off, and his regular appearances on 7 Days, Have You Been Paying Attention and The Project . This month he's bringing his unique brand of stand-up to the New Zealand International Comedy Festival with his first hour-long show, Horrible Man.

Josh sat down with me - ARTicle's editor, Kate - ahead of launching the season to tell us about the show, some career highlights and just how horrible he really is.

Your show in the Comedy Festival is called Horrible Man. Just how horrible are you?

It’s quite a strange thing. I think my comedy persona is quite gross and I think over the years I keep forgetting about it and then people will say things to me in the supermarket that I've said on TV or on stage and out of context, it's horrific. And I think, oh my God, please, we're near the apples. This is not apples talk. This is not produce talk. There’s a reason that was on TV late at night.

Was that the inspiration for doing the show? To get that persona out into the world?

I don't really know. What I find really funny is when I try to be nice, but it doesn’t come out the way it sounds in my head. But despite my best intentions, sometimes I come across as really horrible. Which I find quite funny. I find awkward moments really funny. And so in my real life, I get taken the wrong way. Often I'll say something and it'll get mistaken for something quite horrible, and instead of correcting it and making the situation more comfortable, I would rather watch the situation burn down because I find it quite funny inside my head. No one else is enjoying it but I do.

So what can people expect from your show? Is it going to be uncomfortable?

I think so. I think you'll probably watch me tread a line of good taste and probably treat it quite badly, but I think it's quite fun watching me fail. Pretty funny. So even if the show's a train wreck, inside my head will be a little me and they're laughing really hard at me so. I don't know. A good time.

Do you think there's any topic that a comedian just shouldn't touch?

Yeah, like comparatively I don't do any hot topics, really. There's a lot of comedy out there now, which is basically a dude making fun of someone. You should be able to make fun of someone, but it's a one-sided argument because there's only one person on stage and I don't really find that funny. My stuff’s more about me and trying to be OK with everybody but kind of getting it wrong. And I find that really funny, like the more I try to be OK – PC - the worse I get and why not make fun of that? When I watch other people do it, I really find it funny and I think I kind of play with that a bit.

How did you get into doing stand-up in the first place?

I got into it at university because you could get free beer. I did a set a and I got free beer and it was great. So I did it again, and I did a set one night and some girls wanted to talk to me afterwards, so I was like, OK, well, this is me for the rest of my life. It's a way to talk to girls and get free beer. That was pretty much where I started.

What inspires your best bits when you're on stage? Do you feed off the audience and improvise?

I don’t improvise a lot, but if the crowd's having a really good time, I feel a bit safer and I will go out on a limb. Favorite bits? The ones that you come up with on the spot because they are the most risky. Because if you get it wrong, it bombs. It's a high risk-reward sort of ratio, like you go out on a limb and if it goes well, it's fantastic. But generally I only do that when I’m feeling a bit safer and if the crowd is already enjoying it.

Which comedians really make you laugh?

I've always loved Jerry Seinfeld. He’s an amazing joke writer. And he does a lot of clean humour without any cursing, and that's really tricky to do. I don't do it but I think it's really smart. I love Larry David too. And Billy Connolly. He is an incredible storyteller.

What was your best night ever on stage?

There was a night on the Seven Days tour last year and I'll talk about this a bit in the show - this is quite gross - but I had some haemorrhoids, and I had an operation just before the tour started and I didn't know if I could go on tour. I had one day of rest and then I went on a plane from Auckland to Invercargill. It's a very long plane ride for someone who's just had an operation on their bum, so it was very uncomfortable. I got to the show and I was feeling awful. I was pale. I was kind of fainty the whole time, but I wasn't the only one doing the show, so I had a lot of help and support. So I did the first show. It was fine.

Then we went to Dunedin and I thought the operation had come undone. I thought the stitches had come out and I was really panicking. It was the weekend. I couldn't contact the doctor. Just before the show, I went to an emergency doctor and he said, “your stitches have come undone. You need to go into surgery. You can go into surgery in about four hours,” and this is just before the show started. I was like, well, I guess I could do the show, so I went. And I went on stage and I was making jokes about haemorrhoids and my bum whilst thinking I was probably going to die.

And it was a great night. The crowd were loving it. I was making jokes, but in my head I was thinking, “I’m dying”. But it was just like a really meta sort of moment; I'm making jokes about my bum and I think I'm about to die. This might be the last time I ever do a show on stage, and I thought I should just really enjoy it. And so I did. I kind of left my body and watched myself and had a really fun show although I was really not feeling well.

And then? I went to the emergency surgeon straight after the show. And they said your stitches haven’t come undone. This is how it's meant to be. It just looks bad. You're actually fine, but you probably shouldn't have been on a plane. You probably should be resting more. So I took a couple of days off the tour to heal basically.

But I think that's probably the best night I've ever done. It was just really wonderful. I was like, well, if this is going to be it, if I'm going to be out of commission for a long time or whatever, then I'll enjoy it and I did. Really fun night. It was really great.

You've had a really varied career across television, film and stand-up. What's your favourite?

There's no real difference. It's all kind of the same thing. Each has its own incredible moments and I think that story about being on stage is probably one of the most memorable ones I've had. TV and film are basically the same, but there's a lot of other people involved. And so you’re the sum of everyone's parts. Yes, you can do a good performance but you know it's got to be shot well, it's got to be recorded well. Someone else has probably written it. You're part of a big machine that's specifically designed to make you look really good. And you do have to bring it on the day, on the air, at that moment. So that's really interesting and exciting. But when you're on stage, it's only you. So if it's bad, it's your fault. But if it's great, it's all you. So it's that high risk-reward thing. They're both wonderful in their own separate ways.

And finally, is there anything else that you'd like to tell us? About your show and the Comedy Festival. Or anything else.

It's my first ever comedy show. I kind of did stand-up as a joke and just sort of kept doing it somehow. I trained as a serious actor. I've done stand-up as a sort of fun thing to do but I've never really taken it seriously, so I've never put together an hour long show before. This is my first hour long show despite doing stand up for about 20 years so I'm very nervous. I'm very excited about it and I’m beginning to understand what all of my friends have gone through. Putting a show together, hoping it's OK and then doing it. I'm really looking forward to it.

Josh Thomson performs his show Horrible Man 10 - 13 May at Q Theatre, Auckland and 23 - 27 May at Te Auaha, Wellington as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival with Best Foods Mayo. You can purchase tickets here. You can also catch him as moderator of The Great Comedy Debate on 19 May at SkyCity Theatre.