“The Long Flight to Freedom is my story, from the beginning,” says the world’s most accidental comic. “When I wrote the show, Nelson Mandela was still alive. There are so many differences to point out.” Carlson stresses that she’s standing on a stage, not on a soapbox. “I don’t want to send messages,” she says, but at the same time she doesn’t shy away from naming political realities as she sees them.
“This show’s not about race, it’s not about apartheid but people are so ultra-politically correct.” She is often asked if she’s still going to talk about apartheid and Nelson Mandela now that he’s passed on. “I grew up in that era, during apartheid. People only know about the bad and the ugly,” she notes. “Now that Mandela is dead, it doesn’t change the show. Ninety per cent of people don’t know what he was in prison for,” she adds.
Carlson comes across as grounded and happy. What you see is what you get. Partly this is to do with the fact that she never had any ambitions to be a comic and was conned into getting on stage by workmates who booked her into an open mic comedy night. It also happened to be a Raw Talent contest and she won her segment.
“I wasn’t into comedy. I didn’t even think it was a thing. I didn’t do anything. It happened to me,” she says. Does Carlson script her shows? “No. I don’t write it down. I write key words and then add stuff in. I have an idea and bulk it up, beef it up on stage. I know what I want to say. I talk from the heart. Sometimes I voice record stuff. See if I sound like a crazy person.”
Is Carlson expected to wave the rainbow flag for the gay community? “I’ve never had that,” she answers. “I don’t know what it’s like for other girls, like Hannah Gadsby, but I don’t think anyone’s expected anything of me.” Carlson does have something to say about gay marriage; in fact she’s marrying her partner this November.
“I didn’t want a civil union,” she says. “Why pay the same amount of money for a civil union which isn’t the same legally?” Carlson is a proud NZ citizen and is openly in love with New Zealand. “I love everything about it. It’s the acceptance; if you want to try anything out here, you give it a go. People are so open.”
She’s well-loved in return. She did a show in a small town in the very white, homogenous South Island. Half the room was made up of elderly people who’d been bussed in and the rest was primary school kids. “I thought, ‘I’d better not do the gay stuff’,” Carlson remembers. “Then I thought, ‘No, I’m just going to do what I do’. It was a great night and afterwards an old lady of 84 said to me, ‘Give me a hug. We don’t care if you’re a foreigner, we don’t care if you’re gay, you love NZ and we love you’. I’ve never doubted myself since.”
BY LIZA DEZFOULI