31 Dec 2022

New Year Honours: Michele A'Court says stand-up comedy a terrific vehicle for flying feminism flag

9:32 am on 31 December 2022
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Michele A'Court says her New Year honour is an acknowledgment of her work to make things better for women entertainers. Photo: Kate Little

The fight to ensure women can tell their own funny stories rather than just be the butt of jokes goes on, Michele A'Court says.

A'Court has been made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her work in the entertainment and comedy industries.

When she saw the invitation from the Governor-General's office, she thought it was a scam, but once it sank in, she was delighted.

"You don't realise it would mean something to you until it happens."

While it was exciting for her, it was also special for the comedy industry because not many have received recognition, she said.

A'Court has worked as a comedian for 30 years, a both around Aotearoa and overseas, in radio, theatre and television. She established the New Zealand Comedy Guild, still the only industry body globally solely representing comedians, serving as its inaugural chair from 1999 to 2006.

She said her career as a stand-up comic was "a brand new thing in New Zealand" when she started and it coincided with finding out she was pregnant with her daughter.

She was inspired by US comedians Danny Kaye and Carol Burnett when she was growing up and the idea of performing on a stage and making people laugh and feel better about life appealed to her.

It was also the ideal format for a feminist, she said.

"I love the idea that you can take some challenging ideas and some social activism and put it into some comedy and reach the people who otherwise you wouldn't be able to reach, and maybe make them think differently about a couple of things."

When she started, it was an unwritten rule that only one woman could be on the billing for a stand-up show. Now it was not unusual for there to be a 50-50 split.

"So we're not as lonely as we were ... There's a great network and a lot of support for each other."

This was needed, she said, because there were still times when women were resented for not being male performers.

A'Court said the fight for women to get a fairer representation as performers was continuing. It "made her heart sing" that so many women were keen to be involved in the industry, and she believed her honour was recognition for the role she had played in advancing their cause.

She was nervous about the first Feminists are Funny show she hosted in 2016 as a fundraiser for the Auckland Women's Centre but it sold out "in 30 seconds flat" and has continued to thrive.

"There's an appetite for women's voices - women and non-binary people - telling our stories and making ourselves the centre of the jokes that are told rather than the butt of the joke."

A'Court said she felt like the luckiest person alive and it was overwhelming to receive the same honour as her hero, fellow comic Ginette McDonald.

Advocate for fairer job opportunities honoured

Former Auckland Business Chamber boss Michael Barnett said his work in forging fairer employment opportunities has been the most rewarding achievement of his career.

The longtime business leader has been honoured as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business.

Michael barnett is CEO of the Auckland Commerce Chamber.

Michael Barnett has helped many migrants find jobs in New Zealand. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Christine Rovoi

Barnett led the chamber for 25 years, where he supported migrants in gaining meaningful employment and ensured prejudices during the recruitment process were overcome.

He said these issues were now able to be discussed more openly.

"I think some of the things that we assumed weren't really a bias against migrants but they were things that we assumed and I think as an organisation we were able to see that and we were able to do something about it."

Barnett also established a mental health support programme during the Covid-19 pandemic, that provided advice for struggling small businesses.

Dr Rangi Matamua greets PM Jacinda Ardern at hautapu for Matariki at Te Papa

Professor Rangi Matamua greets Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a hautapu for Matariki at Te Papa in Wellington. Photo: RNZ screenshot

Professor Rangi Matamua (Tūhoe) who is regarded as one of New Zealand's foremost Māori scholars for his contribution to Māori astronomy, star lore and Māori culture has been appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Professor Matamua has written extensively on Matariki, identifying the nine stars Māori perceived in the cluster, in contrast to the seven associated with the Pleiades in European tradition.

He was appointed the government's chief advisor Mātauranga Matariki in 2022 when Matariki was observed as a national holiday for the first time.

Professor Matamua has spent two decades researching Māori knowledge and tradition passed down from generations in a range of anthologies. He is a professor at Massey University's School of Māori Knowledge, and has undertaken significant research in the areas of Māori language revitalisation, Māori culture, and astronomy.

He was the first Māori to win the Prime Minister's Science Prize in 2019 and is a Fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

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