Entertainment | Comedy

Māori women are ‘naturally funny’, comedian says

Charde Heremaia says her comedy shines a light on the lives of young urban Māori. Photo / Supplied

This article was first published by RNZ.

A comedian who has drawn flak for depicting characters “from the hood” says her comedy gives a voice to urban Māori who grew up around gangs and are struggling.

On her ‘Memoirs of a Māori’ social platforms, 28-year-old Charde Heremaia enacts the stories of characters like Ataahua, an opinionated young woman “from the hood” loosely based on herself, and Henare, the son of a Black Power boss.

These characters and other depictions have been criticised by some Māori who say that her characters are stereotypical and give the culture a bad name. But Heremaia, who has nearly half a million followers, says she is expressing what being a modern-day Māori means to her.

“I’ve created all my characters based off people in my family, or people that I know. It gives people the idea of another side of being Māori.

“We’ve got kapa haka and being on the marae and a lot of our whānau can speak te reo Māori. My inspiration was to bring awareness of the urban Māori, who grew up in the hood and didn’t necessarily have much growing up. It’s reflective of my own life.”

Heremaia grew up in Maraenui, Napier, where she had whānau members in gangs. She says her upbringing left her feeling different from other children.

“It highlighted the fact that we were a poor family. It was a shock all the kids coming to school with the flashiest gears and I struggled with growing up not being able to keep up with my other mates.”

Heremaia started creating characters for her Memoirs of a Māori Facebook page in 2013, while still at high school. She quit her job in customer services in 2019 to focus on producing online content full time.

“I found that I wasn’t alone. There’s a whole community of us that can relate to the skits that I put out.”

She is particularly inspired by social media star Nix Adams, a former P addict and sex worker, saying that Adams has shown that you can be your authentic self and build a strong following.

“Many of us do live that life and have grown up in that life. It’s not a stereotype. It’s who we are.”

Heremaia made her stage debut 18 months ago, after posting on her Facebook page that she was keen to try stand-up. Clubs in Manawatū and Wellington gave her a chance.

“They gave me six minutes. I wrote and performed it, and I got more shows.”

While she is still performing around the country as well as online, Heremaia’s new goal is to write a solo comedy show and write for TV.

She looks up to Māori wāhine stand-up comedians like Courtney Dawson, Kura Turuwhenua and Janaye Henry. She had the opportunity to perform alongside her mates in 2022 in Auckland in the world’s first female all-Māori stand-up comedy gig. The groundbreaking show won several awards at the 2022 Auckland Fringe Festival.

“Māori women are naturally funny. I felt so honoured to be included in this show and being around other Māori wāhine comedians. These women are massive inspirations to me.”

By Aroha Awarau of RNZ.