Urzila Carlson: My story, as told to Elisabeth Easther

Speaking her mind and raising laughs, Urzila Carlson is taking her stand-up show All The Rage on the road, visiting Christchurch (Dec 10), Auckland (Dec 14) and Wellington (Dec 16)

“We always lived in small mining towns in South Africa. One town was so small there were only five houses. I was the youngest of three and, because I was very close to my brother, when he went to school, I’d sneak out, aged all of 3 or 4, and run to be with him. Mum would have to come and get me until one day, my brother’s teacher told Mum I could stay, as I was getting on so well with the work. By the time I officially started school aged 5, I could already read and write.

“South Africa is a great country, but it’s very dangerous and even though I worked at a newspaper where I saw all this stuff, I said to Mum how lucky that we weren’t affected by all the violence, so mum reminded me about the armed robbery at my work. It was early one morning, Friday the 13th, just a few of us there and, while most businesses had security, because we were a newspaper, our doors were always open and these guys came in with AK47s. They took our cellphones, wallets and car keys. They stripped us down to our undies so we couldn’t chase them, then locked us in the bathroom. But in my mind, I managed to make that a thing that happened at the newspaper, rather than to me.

“I was also involved in a smash-and-grab, stuck at traffic lights in my car. In that instance, I told myself I shouldn’t have put my handbag on the seat where it could be seen, making it something I could’ve avoided. Shortly before I left South Africa I even had a home invasion. I lived in a block of 15 townhouses, and the caretaker would take shifts with her husband, keeping an eye on things. I was asleep when a text came. Burglars had taken the bars off my kitchen window and were climbing in. I raced downstairs and took a few wild swings with a cricket bat. By that stage, a few of us are there with our cricket bats, and we rounded them up and waited for the police. But because they didn’t get in and nothing happened, in my mind it was OK because I’d walked away unscathed. So when I said to Mum we’d not been affected, I was wrong and the PTSD hit later.

“I started going to therapy partly because I get a bit of online abuse and it does get to me. I’ve had a few incidents when I’ve said something and a group of people, for whatever reason, have been offended. I now have so much respect for politicians, even the bad ones, because I know how much abuse they cop. And I was in Melbourne one year for the comedy festival and, after the gala, my manager said to me, ‘You should go see my therapist. She’s great.’ ‘Why?’ I asked, ‘Just because I sometimes get pissed off when people say shit online?’ ‘No,’ she replied, ‘to find your balance and be prepared if anything does come in.’

“So I made an appointment. I didn’t even know what to say at first but, after an hour, I knew I needed another appointment. It was deeper than I thought. I have got some PTSD, some anxiety, and therapy has been amazing. I believe every single person, every adult alive, should be in therapy. I even got Mum into it. She was adopted when she was 2 or 3, so not as a baby, and she was fostered before she was adopted. When my therapist asked if I was adopted, I explained that my mum was and it turned out, a lot of my stuff was what adopted kids feel, but it was handed down to me by my mum.

“Dad was an abusive drunk, from a long line of abusive drunks. I was sad when he died a couple of years ago, but not because he died but because he’d wasted his life. I thought of the opportunities he could’ve had and didn’t take. I had to tell my sister he’d died, and she said, ‘No one will mourn for him.’ I still had to give myself time to breathe through it. I know if it wasn’t for that man, I wouldn’t be here today. But then I look at all the things I share with my kids, all the stuff we do and the little moments we share, and thought he could’ve had that, but he never did and never will. So I feel sorry for him, but I have no anger and I never missed him growing up because my mum covered everything. She was a very calm, loving influence.

“I’m super smart and I know a lot about politics and science but you can’t have an opinion without people saying, ‘Shut your mouth and tell some jokes.’ Like I always want to be shut down by some freak so, giving credit here to therapy, I don’t bite any more, I just block ignorant people because no one ever in the history of social media has ever changed someone else’s mind. It’s like trying to tell dog **** not to stink. I’ve also met amazing people through social media and that’s what keeps me on it.

“I don’t think there was ever a time I didn’t know I was gay. Looking back, when I was about 4, my mum asked what was I going to be when I grew up and I said I was going to be like my brother, Quintin. Not that I wanted to be a boy, but I just associated more with him than my sister. So I think I always knew. But I had to be sure, so I did go through a very straight patch. Then I’d date a girl, then a dude, but it was always based on the person. Back then, Mum worked as vet nurse and the vet had three sons and one day, Mum told me how Dr Andy’s son had come out. ‘And you know how Dr Andy knows his son is gay? He just called and said Dad I’m gay, and now his son is gay. I wouldn’t mind if I got a phone call like that from one of my kids.’ ‘You mean the one who’s not married?’ I asked, but she didn’t want to talk about in person, and just said, ‘If I get to work tomorrow, I would be proud. I would celebrate that.’ We didn’t talk about it again that day, and I rang her at work the next morning and she asked why hadn’t I told her years ago? I didn’t even have to say the words, but that’s how I came out.

“My family is so gay-friendly it’s embarrassing. South Africa is very conservative, they support Trump in a big way. A woman’s place is in the kitchen, the man is in charge, so it’s not the easiest place to come out but my family didn’t see it as a thing, and once I came out, I just carried on dating whoever I wanted. If we cut the whole macho thing out of society, we’d all just love whoever. If you fall for a dude, you fall for a dude, it doesn’t mean you’re straight or pansexual. Suzy might fall out of love with Tommy and fall in love with Sarah, sexuality shouldn’t be a thing, in a perfect world.

“A few years ago we didn’t know about Netflix, and who knows what the next thing will be – because comedy is a mighty oak that just keeps growing. Although yes, this year has been a bit mweh – we’ve all had to postpone or cancel things – but I’m still happy with the stuff I’ve put out. The resilience of the comedy industry is amazing, and I’m lucky to be surrounded by the right people because it all comes down to honesty and integrity. A lot of people don’t understand how integrity works, but to me, it’s when what you say, feel and think all lines up and, once you appreciate that, you are golden.”

Tickets for All The Rage are available now from livenation.co.nz

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