A conversation with Christine last night wound it's way from my friends Bret and Jemaine (and how happy I am for their success here in the USA as the comedy duo The Flight of the Conchords), via Rhys Darby (who plays Murray on the Conchords HBO show), to Billy T James.
The link between Rhys Darby and Billy T was the Billy T James comedy award, for which Rhys was nominated a few times. It was at the Billy T James Awards ceremony in 2001 that many of us first saw Rhys perform.
But when I finished talked to Christine, it was Billy T who stayed with me and kept me awake til well after my bedtime. Billy T James was one of New Zealand's most well-loved comedians. I grew up on the Billy T James show.
Born William Taitoko, Billy T James famously claimed he had changed his name to something "that Australians could pronounce". His work tackled racism and New Zealand's colonial history with such irreverance and humour that he was equally enjoyed by Maori, Pakeha (loosely translated, descendants of the white settlers) and other immigrant groups.
Billy T had a whole series of jokes about key events in New Zealand's colonial history. This one about the signing of the Treat of Waitangi gives you a taste:
Recently I talked with a friend about comedy entertainment. She was saying that she thinks sometimes we forget that it really is just entertainment, it's not actually changing the world. In lots of cases, she's right. But it made me think about Billy T James, and to remember that in some cases a little perfectly pitched, well-delivered comedy may be the most powerful catalyst for a little political revolution.