We’d love to start right at the beginning of your comedy career. When did you realise you had a knack for making people laugh?
I used to heckle my teachers at school a lot. It started out when my friend Christine would whisper something snarky and funny only to me and then I would say it out loud and get a laugh. Then eventually I just started coming up with my own funny one-liners to clap back with. I was a pretty disruptive kid, which would be bad if I hadn’t figured out how to monetise being annoying. That’s what being a comedian is: being annoying for money.
Was there a key moment that solidified your decision to earn a living through comedy?
Bro, this is such an intense question! To be honest, I’ve always wanted to work as a comedian and TV writer – for my Year 12 Major Work I actually developed and wrote a sitcom about stand-up comedians. At this point I have been working in TV for about 8 years and there is no Plan B. I wish there was, but I literally have no other skills.
Your Twitter account has become infamous for its whip-smart, viral one-liners. Many comedians are utilising the internet and social media as methods for reaching new audiences – what does it do for you personally in regards to its purpose as a comedic outlet?
Oh, thank you! I wouldn’t describe it as ‘whip smart’, my content probably closer to ‘whip dumb’. I just like Twitter because I can write crazy stuff and sometimes people give me attention for it. It’s a terrible thing. Weirdly, it has lead to work though – one time a production company called me up and was like “Hey, we’re trying to create this young female character who is a massive dropkick loser, can you come in and give us some insights?” I was like “That’s so rude! Yes please!”
What makes a particular joke better for Twitter than the stage? Also, where does a Twitter joke getting an avalanche of re-tweets rank compared to scoring a room full of laughs?
It depends – I use twitter screenshots in my current show and there’s one in particular that does really well every time (I think there’s a visual element that helps it, though). Twitter language is different. There’s, like, esoteric ‘online’ words and sentence structures that don’t necessarily translate to the stage. Nothing beats live comedy though. With Twitter, you can be in bed, in your pyjamas, eating KFC, typing crappy one-liners into the ether and people who like your tweets are just doing their daily scroll. But for stand up, audiences take the time and effort to go and see a show, which means comedians have to put in more effort too. The effort is bigger and so is the return – and I’m not just saying this because I want people to come see me live! That said, please come see me live. Please.
You’re popping up on screens more and more frequently on shows such as Utopia, Kinne Tonight, and Tonightly with Tom Ballard. Has performing on stage helped adequately prepare you for the transition to front-of-camera roles, or is comedic acting another ballgame entirely?
I think performing on stage has made me more comfortable at live shows like Tonightly, Australia Debates and Win the Week, but nothing prepares you for being ‘on set’ with a ‘script’ and a ‘camera’ right up in your face. You gotta find your light, you gotta remember your lines, you have to act and you have to spin a lot of plates, mentally! Basically, acting is hard and I am not surprised that heaps of actors are psychopaths. Don’t tell anyone, but I am thinking of becoming a total freak so my career really takes off!
In addition to stand-up comedy and acting, you lend your comedic talent to a variety of shows as a writer. What’s the biggest benefit of being able to stretch your skills to different mediums?
Dude, I just love stories. I am that guy who will exaggerate a story to the point it is unrecognisable from its original form, or change the ending of an anecdote so it’s more entertaining. A lot of comedians do this, but that’s essentially what good screenwriting is too. A good script is always rooted in a real human feeling which an audience can relate to. And that’s a huge part of stand up too – creating an on-stage persona that an audience empathises with. God, I am really spilling all the industry secrets now. I’m probably going to get locked up for this!
You’ll be in Brisbane next month performing an encore season of your show ‘Nina Oyama is “Doing Me” Right Now’ at the Brisbane Comedy Festival. How did you approach the process of creating this show and is there any overarching element tethering it together?
So this show is a bastardised version of my Brisbane Comedy Festival 2020 season – it’s not the same show, though some parts are similar. The main thread in this show is about how I was a possum mascot on a TV show called The Set – I don’t want to spoil the ending but you do get to see funny footage of me, in my possum outfit, getting soccer balls kicked at my head by a famous Australian band. Come for the comedy, stay for the illegal footage that I stole from the ABC (sorry, ABC).
You’ve inhabited the skin of numerous characters in your career, but from what we gather this show is all about the person at the heart of it – you! Without giving too much away, what kind of insight does ‘Nina Oyama is “Doing Me” Right Now’ give audiences about yourself?
When I was writing my very first comedy hour (about getting 13 speeding fines) my friend was giving me notes on the show and he was like, “You’re a screw up – that’s like your whole thing” and I was like ,“Wow, harsh” but then I also agree. I am a massive screw up. Maybe (career wise) I’m doing a bit better than before, but ultimately I am just a big ol’ dumb bitch bumbling my way through life, constantly embarrassing myself, pretending to be a possum, getting cancelled by Sky News commentators – and surviving somehow. I think that’s what the show is about. All the stories in the show are true, by the way! I know I said that I exaggerated sometimes for effect, but that does not happen in this show. I have the video footage to prove it. It’s all very real!
Finally, Australia’s comedy scene is flush with terrific talent right now – are there any other performers on the Brisbane Comedy Festival line-up that you urge folks make the effort to see?
Aboriginal Comedy All Stars – I am fully obsessed with Steph Tisdell. Also, Jude Perl is amazing, and I personally am making time to attend the QueerStories event this year! I also really love Michelle Brasier, Dilruk Jayasinha, Tom Ballard and Nath Valvo. I have checked out the program and honestly would recommend everyone if I could!
You can catch Nina Oyama’s show – ‘Nina Oyama is “Doing Me” Right Now’ – at Brisbane Powerhouse from July 28–30. Click here to snag a ticket!