Treats for days by Madelaine Empson
Rob Brydon once called Nick Rado a “wonderful, very funny comedian.”
“He must be stopped!”
The Porirua-born writer and radio host has been in the stand-up game for close to 20 years – seven of which were spent as the head writer of TV Three’s 7 Days – and has dominated the NZ Comedy Guild Awards in the process, taking out Best Male Comedian, Best Show, and Best MC not once, not thrice, but six times. Internationally, his accomplishments are no less impressive. He’s performed at the Sydney Opera House, opened for some massive names (more on that later), and taken a garage to a global stage with his new comedy special Live from Jeff’s Garage, which is lighting Hollywood up as we speak.
What was life like before comedy?
So, I used to be a swim instructor. I taught underprivileged and potentially gang-affiliated youth how to snorkel. It was a Porirua City Council initiative to put kids off of joining gangs. I would catch the bus to Titahi Bay Beach, take all the snorkelling gear on the bus... Now when I talk about it out loud, I realise how ridiculous it is [laughs]. I did that for about three or four years and then my friend and I decided that we wanted to start our own business, our own swim school. We put a business plan together and submitted a proposal to the local council to take over Tawa Primary School Pool. We wanted to call it the Titanic Swim School. They said that wasn’t appropriate. Since then, I’ve been out of the swimming game.
When did you get your first taste of the comedy bug?
Going to Paremata School and Tawa College, those who knew me kind of considered me a mute. I was painfully shy as a kid. And then a few things happened. I made my first joke in English class at Tawa College. James, who was just the funniest guy in school, made a joke and everyone laughed and laughed. I said something off the back of it, which was actually really funny. But because I didn’t speak, ever, everyone just looked at me like – ‘What? I didn’t even realise this guy spoke.’ And then James made another comment and then I made another comment and then the whole class just erupted. It was this awesome feeling. From there, I remember James inviting me to where the cool kids hung out at interval. It’s this weird thing where comedy started to open doors. It has always brought me really great things.
You kicked off your professional comedy career in England. Can you tell me about your first stand-up gig?
A friend of mine, James [not the one from Tawa College!], we decided it was going to be our year and signed up for this new act night on the 1st of June 2005. We had to write six minutes of new material and it was a little bit out there. Doing stand-up comedy for the first time, I can’t even describe it. It’s like you constantly want to go to the toilet. But I remember it going really well. I think I did the show on a Wednesday, and on the Thursday morning, the owner of the comedy club rang me and said, ‘Hey, do you want to come down and do a show tonight?’ I said, ‘No thanks!’ and then kind of hung up on them? Because I never wanted to do it as a job, I just wanted the story to tell, to say I’d done it.
Where to from there?
That new act night that I did, I didn’t know this at the time, but my friend had signed us up for this competition called So You Think You’re Funny, which is an institution in England. The guy who won my heat was Tom Allen, who is this really great comic, he’s all over the BBC and doing amazing things. He ended up winning the whole competition. Sarah Millican and Kevin Bridges were in my year, it was just ridiculous. I just didn’t know, I had no idea what this world was. I ended up getting to the semi-finals, doing well, and off the back of that, promoters and producers saw me and were just like, ‘Hey, do this show, do that show.’ And now, hey, how many years later? Almost 19 years later, I’m still going strong.
If you could go back and say anything to your past self, to that guy who hung up on the owner of the comedy club, what would you say to him?
Firstly, ‘Definitely go do it.’ And then, ‘Fully commit.’ Because for the first two years of my comedy career, I only did about 15 or 16 gigs, which isn’t a lot. Then I did Edinburgh in 2007, went up to Scotland and did 28 gigs in like, 28 days. From there, I saw other people get good, I saw myself getting good as well, and I saw what other people were committing to the crowd. I decided to just jump in and go. I’d also say, ‘It’s not going to be a short game. 10, 15, 20 years from now, you’ll see the results.’ Belief and commitment are the two words I would use.
After finding your voice through emceeing and gigging on the UK comedy circuit, how would you describe your comedy style now?
I think my style is a kind of observational storytelling. I’m also a clean comic. I don’t swear or use sexual references – not for any religious reasons. My goal has always been to be a great comic; for people to go, ‘He was really funny – oh, he was clean as well. I didn’t expect that. At least I’m not gonna get awkward sitting with my nana or my 12-year-old.’ Like an added bonus.
You’re about to open for Russell Howard again though… He’s kind of the opposite of clean! How did that come about?
With Russell, it was a weird one. I was only supposed to open for him once, just one night in and around COVID. I’d lived in Bristol for about six or seven years and he’s from Bristol, so we had that connection and we got on and really enjoyed each other’s comedy. Then he was like, ‘What are you doing for the next two weeks?’ ‘I guess I’m on tour with you!’ When we rejoin again, I think in about a week when he’s back in New Zealand, it’ll be like catching up with an old mate.
What have been some of the other highlights of your career so far?
Meeting my wife, that’s a big highlight! She saw me on stage and approached me and now we’re married with two beautiful children and a dog as well. That’s fantastic.
I’ve been very, very lucky to open for and to work with a lot of really big comedians. Opening for Russell has been really great. Rob Brydon was a huge thing. Nate Bargatze, who’s an American comic. That was a big one. He’s laugh-out-loud funny for me.
The two big things would be doing a comedy special in America, in Utah. It was a Dry Bar Comedy special and I got flown over there and it was only my second ever gig in America. Off the back of that I was given the Comedy Dynamics [who are known for working with the likes of Kevin Hart, Ali Wong, and Jim Gaffigan] album, which I filmed, which is my first album. And then I’m just on my second album, which is Live from Jeff’s Garage, which I got to film in a garage in New Zealand. Now, it’s being broadcast all over America, Sirius XM. It’s getting lots and lots of views – the analytics are coming from America, Canada, the UK, Australia – and a lot of people are following me from that. It’s surreal, it’s weird, but it’s also great that I can do it from New Zealand.
Where can Kiwis watch the special?
I’ve decided to make it free for everybody. Maybe it’s a cost-of-living thing. It’s on YouTube, if you just search Live from Jeff’s Garage. And if you type in ‘Nick Rado Comedian’ on all the socials, you’ll find me. I’ve got some cool things coming up – a short film coming in a few weeks that’s just been picked up by the Houston Comedy Film Festival and the Crystal Palace International Film Festival – and lots of great things happening overseas.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen or heard today?
We’re going down to my mother-in-law’s place next week, and I asked my daughter why she liked going to Nana’s house. She just said, ‘Treats for days.’