Breaker Upperers Talk to Vanity Fair
Even if good friends and creative partners Madeleine Sami, 38, and Jackie van Beek, 43, don’t immediately look familiar to Americans, their new comedy, The Breaker Upperers, will sound immediately recognisable. That’s not because US audiences have grown accustomed to the lilts of a New Zealand accent, but because we can now recognise the rhythm of a particular strain of dry, deprecating Kiwi humour, writes Vanity Fair journalist Joanna Robinson.
It runs through their film, which hits Netflix on 15 February and follows two cynical women who set up an agency to help break couples up. What could possibly go wrong?
Before HBO picked up the idiosyncratic duo of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie for a Flight of the Conchords TV show in 2007, Americans largely thought of New Zealand as the home of Xena: Warrior Princess, Jane Campion, Peter Jackson, and his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Barring Xena, it’s not exactly funny stuff. In fact, Conchords co-star Rhys Darby told Vanity Fair that when their show debuted, most viewers thought their accents were put on.
But just over a decade later, the New Zealand comedy scene has permeated some of the highest halls of power in Hollywood – with frequent Conchords collaborator and director Taika Waititi leading the charge through achievements like the Oscar-nominated short Two Cars, One Night and, in 2017, the Marvel hit comedy Thor: Ragnarok. Stand-up comedian Hannah Gadsby also made a huge splash in 2018 with her searing special Nanette.
Van Beek says our humour feels familiar across multiple performers and projects because of its size and degrees of separation.
“We’re all friends because it’s such a small country. We’re all buddies,” van Beek says.
“We’ve all been influenced by similar things, you know,” Sami says. “Growing up in New Zealand, my generation, we just had certain specific British and American comedies that came filtered over to us. Sometimes really strange combos, too. As a kid I used to stay up late to watch In Living Color, which came on after the British comedy Absolutely Fabulous. But it was my thrill to get to a Friday night and stay up late and watch these two things. Plus, the New Zealand character is a really dry one – the immigrants to New Zealand were Scottish and British and Irish.”
Original article by Joanna Robinson, Vanity Fair, February 1, 2019.