Billy T 2015 // Nic Sampson

Nic was winner of Best Newcomer at last year’s festival with his show, Replaced by a Dog. As head writer at Jono & Ben, it’s safe to assume the man knows how to write something that will make you chuckle, and being one of the core members of Snort means his improv game is strong too. Our favourite memory of him was a couple of years ago when he popped up at The Basement with a mad little show called Ernest Rutherford: Everyone Can Science! Still one of the funniest things we’ve seen in this town. No pressure though, buddy.

How’s your show coming along?
Really good. Yeah. I think. 

Everyone is so confident about their show!
Yeah, we’re all over confident this year, that’s our vibe. None of this shoegazing self-deprecation. This year we’re fully arrogant. This way, whoever loses, you can’t feel sorry for them.

I wrote heaps of stuff in Vanuatu, I just went there with my family for a holiday. I wrote heaps by the pool. I don’t know if it’s funny in New Zealand, away from a pool setting, after three or four daiquiris.

How did you get into comedy?
I was always going to be an actor and eventually I stopped getting auditions for serious stuff. I figured out it was because I was not as good at that as I was as funny stuff. My first drama teacher was like, ‘You are gonna have a great career. When you’re older you can play the Disney dad.’ And that always stuck with me. So I stopped trying to be a serious actor and started doing comedy. 

You still act, don’t you? And you write as well?
I do still act, yeah, if they’ll have me. I write for Jono and Ben – I sort of fell into it  out of necessity, not having work, so I started writing my own material.

Well, it’s a pretty sweet job.
Yeah, I’m stoked, I love it. There’s so few jobs where you get to write, especially in comedy. 

Yours might be the only one.
Yeah it’s probably one of the only full-time ones at the moment, and even then there’s no stability in it really.

I saw your show last year – how has your comedy progressed since then?

Last year my show was a lot of stories about my life and now I’ve told most of my stories. It’s very hard to know how I’m changing. I’ve been writing some more surreal stuff, but that’s still going to be tested so who knows if that’s the way I’m going to go. I like trying new stuff and I really like acting stuff out – playing characters and trying to work those in to my jokes so they turn into little skits almost.

I guess improv would be quite good for that in terms of working stuff through?
Yeah, that’s a massive influence.

How do you decide if something’s funny, or not?
I go on if it makes me laugh the third time I read it. Or often I’ll think something’s funny and no one else will but I’ll keep forcing it upon them. So with some things I’m not sure if it’s funny because I’ve willed it to be like that… it comes down to taste I guess. 

It must be hard to get a whole audience to laugh.
Yeah, I’m pretty bad at that. If I get like 30% I’m stoked.

If you write for a job I guess you can’t leave it to chance – what’s your method for writing new stuff?
If I have an idea I’ll jot down everything I can think of to do with that idea. I write jokes like I write scripts, because it’s the only way I know how to do it, so I write it out like I have to learn them. Then I say it out loud and refine it. 

Basically I just write down as much stuff as I can and then try and find weirder ways to take it. Or try and find as many ways to take the idea and then try and boil it down to the  point of what I’m trying to say – if I’m trying to say anything at all. It always has more of a punch if you say something, even if it’s not very important. So I try and find that.

Who’s the funniest person you know who’s not a comedian?
My friend Ryan. He’s an actor and a Wi-Fi salesman.

Doesn’t Wi-Fi sort of sell itself?
You would think so, but he’s managed to make a career out of it and considering knows so little about computers I find that fact that he does that quite amazing. I had a story about him in my show last year. When we worked together at a company he ate so many apples that juice from the apples started burning a hole in the carpet. 

I remember that. I really liked your show last year – I love a good story. I think it’s because nothing really happens to me so I like hearing about other people’s lives…
Well I always think nothing happens to me as well. Once you start looking for stories they’re everywhere. Everywhere… [I think Nic almost broke into song at this point]

How’s your podcast going, are you still doing Cheap Tuesday? Actually, I know that you are ‘cause I just listened to the Into the Woods one.
Oh did you? Did you enjoy it?

I did, yeah. I found the singing funny for longer than I maybe should have…
We love singing. That was an insane episode actually, I loved that one with Tim and Guy. It’s going great, we’re going to be hitting 50 episodes soon. We’re talking about going to see six films in one day. 

It’s a really fun thing to do – I love going to see movies. I love eating popcorn. I love eating ice creams. Then to have it as almost work. ‘We’ve got to go to work now.’ No one’s paying us. No one’s asking us to do this. Barely anyone’s listening. But we enjoy it. 

What other comedians do you look up to?
I’m really psyched about the comedy scene here at the moment, there’s a lot of new comedians coming through who are really unique and brave and exciting. I love everyone in Snort, I find them all very inspiring, they’re all amazing in their own way. I really like being in this sort of group or industry at the moment.

My favourite comedians are like Paul F. Tompkins… I love Amy Schumer, Nick Kroll and John Mulaney. I like sketch stuff.

What do you like about the other nominees’ comedy?
It’s all so varied which is awesome. There’s no two styles going up against each other. 

I love Hamish’s control over his body and his face and his clowning ability and darkness. I love Eli’s… biceps. He’s got really creative jokes that I’m really jealous of. Tim is just a master riffer and I love his demented conspiracy theories. Matt’s really strong as well – I don’t know him as well as the other guys but he’s so confident as a comic. It’s great to be alongside all these guys.