A Conversation with PAUL WILLIAMS

Paul Williams, star of Taskmaster NZ and a comedian in his own right, has been in Melbourne performing his new show Mamiya 7 as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (check out the review here!). I had the chance to talk to him about his experience with stand-up, Taskmaster NZ, his opinions on vanilla ice cream, and his back-up career options.


Paul Williams, star of Taskmaster NZ and a comedian in his own right, has been in  Melbourne performing his new show Mamiya 7 as part of the Melbourne  International Comedy Festival (check out the review here!). I had the chance to talk  to him about his experience with stand-up, Taskmaster NZ, his opinions on vanilla ice  cream, and his back-up career options.

AMY: So, you've been coming to the [Melbourne International Comedy Festival] for a  while, would you say that it's gotten better or worse or stayed exactly the same in terms of how much you've enjoyed it?

PAUL: I was kind of actually thinking about this the other day. Like, I think the first  time I came it was like. It was just so magical like I do think it would be hard to  probably recreate just like, how amazing I found it. But I still love it so much like this.  We've got like a full week left and I'm already so sad. Yeah, I think the first time I  came was probably the funnest, the first time I came was maybe 2017 or 2016. I was  in Rose Matefeo's show Finally Dead. I was, like, barely in it. But I was technically in it, I came for the full month.

AMY: Yeah, Melbourne is such a great city for comedy, especially the festival. This  show is obviously about your experience with your camera—the Mamiya 7—and your magical roll of film. What’s your process of developing a full set from a moment or an experience like that?

PAUL: It's not that exciting, I guess. For this one, I was in London and I would just  bike to the library most days and then sit there and then think about it. But I think, like  most comedians, you're kind of thinking about it all the time, and then you're  constantly making notes on your phone, or little voice memos or whatever to make  sure, when you have an idea that you don't forget it. I think, yeah, you've always got  to write stuff down straight away or you know, an hour later, you'll be like, “What was  that?”

AMY: Yeah, I bet. Obviously within the set, you've got very set moments with the  slideshow and props. How do you figure out where you've got room to improvise  within it? Do you have a specific script that you're following or is it more just knowing what themes you're moving through?

PAUL: Yeah. I mean, it's pretty loose still because I’ve only done it a few times. I think I can kind of go off at any time. With the slideshow, I always like having a slideshow just because—I mean, it's pretty crucial for this one because this one’s got the photos, but even in the past, I've liked it because it's literally like the structure of the show is physically there. I think you can always just go off on an improvised tangent. But it's nice that also sometimes if you do forget what’s going on, you can just hit next on the slide and you're like, “Oh, yeah, that's it”.

AMY: What would you say you enjoy most about doing comedy? I know that’s a very  broad question.

PAUL: Ah, I mean, so much. I mean firstly, you know, the travel element. Going to  Edinburgh—I love that place. It's like a working holiday. I mean, I wouldn't even call it  that. It's like a really fun trip. But then, I mean, just the rush you get from doing  comedy is so good. There's nothing really like it and I feel like it's something that you  don't really get over. The other day I did a set at the Festival Club and it went really  well. You’re just buzzing afterwards. I could barely get to sleep because of the  adrenaline. It's such a rush and it's cool that, you know, even after years of doing it,  you still kind of get that rush. Hanging out with your friends as well. Most of my best  friends are comedians and are here [in Melbourne]. I've loved just meeting comedians over the years and [finding] like-minded people. During the day where  you go and you have meals or you play football in the park or whatever, and it's just,  yeah, fun.

AMY: Well, I guess you've probably met a few people through doing Taskmaster.  How is that? I guess it's quite different from doing stand-up.

PAUL: Yeah, well, in New Zealand, to be honest, I knew most of the other comedians, just because it's so small. There's definitely been a few people that I didn't know [...] personally—I knew who they were—but yeah, Taskmaster's a dream job. It's really, really a good time. Yeah, I'm very blessed. Very blessed.

AMY: You're not just the assistant, as well. You're writing some of the tasks and the  scripts. How is it coming up with the crazy stuff that you're asking people to do?

PAUL: Yeah, it's really fun, it's one of the funnest bits. Again, it's a case of throughout the year, like anytime, you can kind of get stuck where you're just constantly seeing tasks everywhere and you're like, “That's a task, write that down, that's a task”. But yeah, it's very fun. There's moments where you'll be in the office, you know, throwing chocolate fish into a glass bowl or throwing different stuff to try and figure out what's, like the funnest thing to throw into a bowl, and then you're like, “What are we doing?”

AMY: An interesting job. Do you have a favourite moment from Taskmaster  specifically?

PAUL: The one that’s come to mind, I think is maybe jumping to my mind because  some people brought it up last night after the show. They brought up the season two Abraham Lincoln sketch. I mean, that was amazing. I mean, there's been a lot of amazing [moments]. I mean, I remember season one. There was one where the spelling of the word ‘dessert’ and ‘desert’ was crucial and everyone had just read ‘dessert’. And then the last person to do it was Brinley [Stent] and when she was like, “Wait...” when she figured it out, I remember getting chills. There's a few moments like that. I'm trying to think of more recent season three and four, but-

AMY: Well, my favourite moment was, again, an early moment from season one where you give birth to Angella Dravid. I think that is the funniest thing ever. Your acting is superb.

PAUL: Thank you, she directed me well. Yeah, so many, so many great moments.  I'm trying to think of more recent—it's hard because we're midway filming season five at the moment and obviously I can't [share that]. Lots of good moments to look forward to, I think.

AMY: Some more broad questions now. What is your favourite film?

PAUL: Good question—I've got five...or six. Okay, my favourite films that I usually say [is]: The Sound of Music.

AMY: Good choice.

PAUL: To Catch a Thief which was an Alfred Hitchcock, maybe lesser-known Alfred  Hitchcock, maybe not. Vertigo, a more known Alfred Hitchcock. I love Casino  Royale, the James Bond film from the early 2000s. I feel like I'm blanking on one, but maybe that's it. Maybe those are my favourite films. Maybe Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is probably up there. I'll put that at five. I mean, those weren’t in order.

AMY: I feel like I could never rank my favourite films; it changes daily. So next,  favourite comedian? If you could possibly narrow it down.

PAUL: I've always been [a fan of] Mitch Hedberg. Sort of an American one-liner type guy. He died quite young, which was very sad, so he's got a couple of albums of stand up. But him, and I think I’ve got to say Flight of the Conchords. Obviously also being from New Zealand, it was so cool to see New Zealanders. It was so good. Yeah, had so much success—well, they're still alive. I reckon Mitch Hedberg and Flight of the Conchords would be my favourite, yeah.

AMY: Two great choices. Next, what is your favourite ice cream flavour?

PAUL: I feel like this could be an unpopular choice amongst readers, but I feel like I  have to say vanilla. People hate on vanilla. I don't like when people [...] sometimes  call it plain, like plain flavour. Like it's not plain flavour, it's vanilla. Vanilla is literally a  flavour. Plain would be like milk, like no flavour. But vanilla to me is pretty much  always good no matter where you are: vanilla's classic. Whenever I go anywhere  now, I eat so much ice cream and every time I travel especially, I've got to go to the  best ice cream places in the city and I'll basically always get two or three flavours and

one will pretty much always be vanilla. Yeah, I think vanilla goes with stuff as well, so like a warm chocolate brownie with some vanilla... Actually, can I add one more  flavour?

AMY: Of course.

PAUL: Okay, my other favourite flavour would be like, I mean, store bought, from a supermarket, is Häagen-Dazs’ ‘Pralines and Cream’. So like anytime there's like a praline ice cream, I'll go for that as well, for sure.

AMY: Honestly, a very noble answer because not many people have the confidence  to say vanilla, but I agree completely. I think a lot of people feel they need to be very  quirky and unique [when giving ice cream flavours], but I think vanilla is an  underrated favourite. And just similarly on the store-bought Häagen-Dazs, my favourite ice cream flavour of all time is the Häagen-Dazs’ ‘Strawberry Cheesecake’, which is just, I think, unbeatable.

PAUL: Oh yeah, yeah. I actually do want to shout out a couple more flavours if I can.

AMY: Of course!

PAUL: Okay. In New Zealand, there's a place called Duck Island, and I think that’s one of the best ice cream places I've ever been in the world. It's got a few stores: there's two in Auckland, one in Hamilton. This is not sponsored, by the way. They have not messaged me to talk about it, but [...] firstly, they do so many good flavours like they have one that’s fairy bread, which is so good.

AMY: Amazing, amazing flavour.

PAUL: Yes, so it tastes like, the ice cream—this will sound maybe gross—but it tastes almost like butter-flavoured like it's so good. And then my favourite is one that's blueberry. It's called ‘Gooey Blueberry Butter Cake’ and it's got these little chunks of chewy cake in it. I mean that might be the best ice cream in the world, I think. I've extended my answer but overall, I think vanilla. But the blueberry—the ‘Gooey Blueberry Butter Cake’ ice cream from Duck Island in New Zealand is the number one ice cream in the world.

AMY: I think that's a good three categories. I enjoy the depth of category there  because I think people don't consider the difference between general flavour, store  bought flavour and best ice cream overall. So I appreciate the depth.

PAUL: Yeah.

AMY: Another random thing: the first Paul Williams that came up for me on Instagram  is an expert in, like, holistic healing and energy transfers. I wondered if that was a  backup option for you if the comedy thing ever starts going downhill.


PAUL: Yeah, possibly. I don't know what I would do, actually. Sorry, what was it—holistic...?

AMY: Holistic healing and energy transfer. And I'm saying those words with no  knowledge behind them. I don't really know what that means, but he's got some fun  purple graphics.

PAUL: I think I’d have to look at that before I got into it. Yeah, I don't know what I  would do if I wasn't doing this kind of stuff. Maybe I'd try…yeah, I don't know—graphic design or something like that. But energy healing? That sounds cool. Sounds kind of mystical.

AMY: It seems like he's making a decent amount of money off… a mystery skill, so that seems appealing.

PAUL: Yeah, I'll look into it. Maybe next year, you'll be interviewing me because of  my energy transfer business.

AMY: I look forward to it.

PAUL: That's annoying that I'm not the first one to come up on Instagram because I  literally [...] messaged the guy who had ‘paulwilliams’ as his handle and I was like—he was just like some guy in Canada who was just, you know, he was just posting photos of his dog. And I messaged him and was like, “Hey, could I buy that off you?”,  because mine used to be ‘Paul Anthony Allan Jones Williams’, which was just very long and hard to type—my full name. So I asked, I was like, “Can I buy it?” And I think I said like, for $100 or something, and he was like, “$300!”, and I was like,  “Okay”. This was like a few years ago, I really wanted it. I think you're not supposed to do this as well, by the way [...] But it was kind of just like trust. Like I had no way of policing that he actually really let it go. So, I transferred him the money and then he was like, “Okay, cool. I've released it.” He actually did release it and I went to get it, and Instagram was like, “You can't take a username that's just been released... wait 30 days”. So for some reason, I messaged him back because I didn't want him to [take it back] so I was like, “Sweet, I've got it!” And then I just set heaps of alarms for 30 days so I could grab it straight away. But anyway...

AMY: Well, the energy-man has ‘official’ in his name and he's verified, so maybe  that's the secret.

PAUL: Yeah, that’s funny though because I feel like 'verified’ used to mean  something. But now they're just—you can just buy it. I feel like the blue tick is like the new red flag. It's like not always, but sometimes you're like, "Whoa, blue tick!” And you click on it and you're like, “Oh, OK. It's the strangest person I've ever seen.”

AMY: Yeah, there's a lot [on the page], but I've not explored that too far. I’ll leave that  to you for your new career.


PAUL: Yeah, I’ll be thinking about that a lot.


For more about Paul’sTaskmaster NZ, check out our review here

Farrago's magazine cover - Edition One 2024


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