Laughing with refugees: How one kiwi charity is using humour to address intolerance
“Comedy” and “refugees” are not two words you often read side-by-side. But one innovative New Zealand charity is
combining the two in the hopes that laughter can help kiwis tackle some uncomfortable issues.
This World Refugee Day, Auckland-based refugee mental health and wellbeing charity, Refugees as Survivors New Zealand
(RASNZ) is holding it’s first-ever RASNZ Comedy Gala. Twelve diverse comedians, including two whose parents came to New
Zealand as refugees, have signed on to donate their time and talent.
The gala will be hosted by New Zealand comedian Pax Assadi, whose father arrived as a refugee from Iran more than 30
years ago. Other members of the line-up include Australian Netflix star Nazeem Hussain, along with kiwi comedians James
Roque, Angella Dravid, Jamaine Ross, Eli Matthewson, comedy music duo The Fan Brigade, Tarun Mohanbhai (aka “That Indian
Guy”) and more.
RASNZ CEO, Dr Ann Hood, says the organisation made a concerted effort to engage comedians from a diverse range of
backgrounds – both in terms of ethnicity and life experience.
“Our vision was for any audience member, irrespective of their ethnic, cultural or sexual identity, to see at least one
comedian up on stage who resonated with them. The best comedy is comedy that’s relatable – you’re not going to laugh at
something if it doesn’t ‘click’ with your own experiences or worldview, so it was important for us to engage established
artists who had a wide range of styles and viewpoints.”
RASNZ has worked in the refugee resettlement centre since 1995 and Hood says the organisation’s anecdotal experience
shows that positive connections with the wider community are key when it comes to refugee families happily resettling in
“As an organisation that works with refugee background whānau, we understand that humour and connection are vital to the
integration process,” she says.
Dr Hood says that, while it’s important to remember that not all refugees are Muslim (and vice-versa), the March
terrorist attacks in Christchurch brought some of these issues to the fore.
“One thing that really stood out for us after the Christchurch attacks was the fact that so many non-Muslim kiwis
wanted to show support for their Muslim community members but were scared of doing the ‘wrong’ thing and causing
offence,” she says.
“These kinds of fears keep people separated and prevent intercultural connection. We hope that comedy might be away to
break some of these walls down.”
RASNZ Comedy Gala
Date: Thursday, June 20th 7pm-9pm
Venue: Mercury Theatre, Auckland Central
• Abdul Adegbite