by Joanna Robinson
Even if good friends and creative partners Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek don’t immediately look familiar to Americans, their new comedy, The Breaker Upperers, will sound immediately recognizable. That’s not because U.S. audiences have grown accustomed to the lilts of a New Zealand accent, but because we can now recognize the rhythm of a particular strain of dry, deprecating Kiwi humor. It runs through their film, which hits Netflix on February 15 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 Kiwi comedy scene has permeated some of the highest halls of power in Hollywood—with frequent Conchords collaborator and director Taika Waititileading 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.
Though it’s getting more visible on a global scale, the New Zealand filmmaking scene is still quite tiny. So it should come as no surprise that that Waititi also serves as an executive producer on The Breaker Upperers which—written, directed by, and starring Sami and Van Beek—delivers a decidedly female take on his male-fronted Kiwi comedy films. In fact, eagle-eyed Waititi fans may already know Sam and Van Beek from their supporting work in his work.
According to Darby, the key to success with New Zealand humor is self-deprecation: “We’re so far down below, your next stop is Antarctica, so we really feel like we don’t belong,” she said. Gadsby famously swore off that brand of comedy, though—and speaking with Sami and van Beek at SXSW, where The Breaker Upperers made its debut last year, we got the impression that the New Zealand comedy world, though still quite new to the U.S., is about to undergo a major revolution.
Vanity Fair: What do you think it is about Kiwi humor that feels so familiar across multiple performers and projects?
This article was originally published here.