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Funny with a Side of Social Change

Rising comedy star Jadwiga Green on how she's juggling laughs with the pressure of being seen as a LGBTQ+ spokesperson.

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“The biggest factor that prevented me from entering comedy for years is having consistently seen people like me (LGBTQ+ people) always used as the butt of the joke.”

Jadwiga Green lifts the lid on the upsetting reality - but she’s been making up for lost time.

Over the last four years, Green has taken Aotearoa’s comedy circuit by storm with numerous accolades already up the sleeves of her cardigan, such as winner of Best Visiting Comedian, (Dunedin Comedy Awards 2020), winner of Goodest Comedian, People’s Choice, and Goodest achievement (Goodies Christchurch Comedy Awards 2020), winner of Breakthrough South Island Comedian (New Zealand Comedy Guild Awards 2020), Overall winner, Raw Quest Comedy Competition 2020, Nominated, Best Emerging Artist, New Zealand Fringe Festival 2019 and winner of the Best Newcomer (Wellington Comedy Award 2018). Fair to say, her unique perspective is making its mark.

“I want to create something for people who seldom have their own content.”

Vehicle for social change

Green says that her shows are “first and foremost for LGBTQ+ people and our allies. There are legions of shows for straight people, that’s fine.” It’s no secret that most scenes are dominated by the white straight male, and it is especially apparent in the comedy scene. So like with most change, those who are from marginalised communities often have to do a lot of the grunt work.

“I am delighted to report that there is a place for gender and sexual minorities in stand-up, but it is not without its struggle. 

“I confess there are many times I shy from confrontation and keep my head down and avoid problematic comedians. But it’s hard, yeah? Especially as a newbie amateur comedian, you don’t want to burn bridges or develop a reputation that hinders your career prospects. It shouldn’t always fall on the marginalised to do all the fighting for equality but so often it does.”

That fight can be found in the title of her latest show - Jadwiga Green: Cardigan Faget - a reference to street harassment.  

“A friend of mine was harassed for wearing a tidy cardigan on a Dunedin street, which is ridiculous because Dunedin is cold and cardigans are warm,” Green explains. “But in some places in Aotearoa, it is still unthinkable or in the least uncommon to step outside the status quo of gender presentation. 

“Said friend is a cis, straight, white man but just for presenting in a fashionable way, he was the target of homophobic harassment. The threat is so much worse, and often violent for actual LGBTQ+ people. I hope Cardigan Faget can address this prejudice and highlight the absurdity of it.”

Conflicted inspiration

Jadwiga Green.

A South Island girl at heart, Green is currently studying for a certificate in Creative Writing through the Hagley Writers Institute in Ōtautahi (watch this space) and enjoying performing around the country. 

“The biggest difference in the South Island is that there are fewer paid opportunities, so you really do it because you love it. You do it for the joy and sense of community. Sometimes in small South Island towns, you are required to provide extra explanation about certain topics (defining pansexuality comes to mind) whereas in Wellington and Auckland that’s not usually needed.” 

Thanks to a supportive friend group, Green was encouraged to pick up a mic and share her comedy more widely. She says it’s real joy being able to have the stage and make people laugh.

“I love knowing that I can be of use, that I can bring happiness to other people. It’s incredibly fulfilling. That and I have always watched stand-up comedy and admired people who used comedy as a vehicle for social change.”

There’s an interesting discourse around PC culture damaging comedy because how can we make jokes about anything now? If you’re a comic and you’re asking yourself this, maybe think and review why people are telling you that you can’t make jokes like this anymore...

Green tells us of what has inspired her work, and like many of us, has a problematic fav.

"Dave Chappelle was the first. I greatly admired his ability to criticise and challenge racism swiftly, deftly and often punching up with impeccable humour. Lately, he has turned into a bit of a bully, specifically targeting gender diverse people, especially trans women. 

“Eric Andre is one of my favourite comedians for his relentlessly absurd and exceptionally funny styling. His hour-long special, Legalise Everything, is one of my favourites. I deeply admire Hannah Gadsby for her muted humour and for giving a place to quiet folks such as myself who shy from parades and parties. And for her challenging prejudice with a very open anger. Robin Tran is a new favourite, a rising star in the USA, also a trans woman. 

“And memes. Copious amounts of memes."

Unrequested responsibility

Even though she never asked for it, Green has the added pressure of not only making people laugh but also being a spokesperson for the LGBTIQA+ community. 

Green admits it can be tiring and daunting having to deal with questions where she is expected to be an educator and a mouthpiece.

“There are interviews I’ve done where I’m asked questions which in Queer contexts would be tired, well-trod ground. But for those outside of our community, these facets of everyday Queer life are sensational or even revolutionary. ‘Are you really a woman?’ ‘Do you want “the surgery”?’ 

“I try and keep to what I already discuss in my show but to be honest, I don’t feel like it is necessarily right to expect an LGBTQ+ artist to answer on big issues for all the community. I can speak to my personal lived experience as an artist but I’m not a community leader.”

Green continues “I’m happy to speak to my lived experience, to offer this in the hope it can reach and relate to others. But I’m not half as educated as actual advocacy groups in the LGBTQ+ community, they are the real people who should be consulted.

“I think if venues look to people doing the hard mahi, people who -often selflessly - dedicate their lives to bettering the quality of life for marginalised people, this is where positive change can begin. Groups like Qtopia in Ōtautahi, Gender Minorities Aotearoa in Wellington.”

Among other handy trans resources to read or share with those not up with the vocab (so someone in that community doesn’t have to do the emotional labour): Supporting the Transgender People in Your Life: A Guide to Being a Good Ally, Rainbow Youth, InsideOUT and Trans 101: Glossary of Trans Words and How to Use Them

Ya gotta laugh

Jadwiga Green winning the 2020 Raw Quest Comedy title.

Setting the tone is an important element for any comedian - and Green usually goes with her proudest punch line. 

“Probably my most frequently used introduction. ‘My name is Jadwiga, I’m transgender. My preferred pronouns are me and you’ - and I point to an audience member and give them a finger gun. It’s cheeky and fun.”

And her absolute favourite parts of comedy?

“I thoroughly enjoy the feeling that I get to bring happiness to a room of people. To provide entertainment and hopefully make their day brighter. It’s a very simple joy but it is profound in its impact on my wellbeing. 

“I feel very duty-bound to comedy, it is something I have a skill for and so I wish to give what I can to others in the hopes of making a positive difference. That’s really squishy and emotional but it’s often how I feel. 

“If I can offer a fresh perspective or highlight productive ways of thinking on issues important to me, that is an added joy.”

After performances in Auckland, Jadwiga Green: Cardigan Faget is part of the NZ International Comedy Festival 2021 at BATS Theatre running until 22 May - with just a handful of tickets remaining.

Written by

Courtney Rose Brown

19 May 2021

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