One of our most famous faces in comedy, Oscar Knightley is the perfect person to speak to about why a good sense of humour can be the best trick for feeling good (particularly in hard years). Wellbeings chats to Oscar about how he copes with dark days, his attitude to overall wellness and why he’s so happy that the view of the ‘traditional’ KIwi male is changing.
There’s a real sense now that people are sort of communally exhausted – that we don’t have anything in reserve if things go wrong, we’ve all got a much shorter fuse. In your experience, how do we deal with that as a group and move forward in a positive way?
How we do it, is we just have to kind of just need to let things happen. There’s an old saying, “life always has a way of kicking you in the ass and reminding you what’s really important”. I think those old values that our grandparents knew, and that our parents knew, that we instinctively try and pass on to our young ones is just that: relax! Just stop, and breathe, and realise how much you can’t do.
I think part of the problem is that we’re always looking for new ways, new languages, new strategies to cope with our ever-changing world. But really, the stuff that works is going for a walk, or saying hi to your neighbour, sharing a meal, kind of checking on someone you haven’t caught up with for a while… those basics have never really changed. We still feel that same joy and happiness from really simple things.
Even with all the various forums, you know, like TikTok and different ways to communicate and it seems like in some ways, they only set to divide us and separate us forever. But the stuff that really hits, that makes something viral? It’s when something really resonates with us on a level of humanness.
You’re such a well-known personality for your comedy work but you’ve also been open about going through dark days. How do you get through those?
I guess anxiety is the biggie. So much of our life is about seeking security… and a few years ago, everything suddenly changed. The normal pattern that we’ve become so accustomed to with life was gone. I think that brought about anxiety and the fear of the loss of security [for me]. It was about income, it was about just becoming a dad, and thinking holy shit, you know, how am I gonna raise this new human without my normal means, what’s normal anymore.
I lost contracts, and I was a wreck. I was fully expecting to go down to Countdown and fill out an application form. I figured that’s a good place to work; I’d get to hang out with cool people. How did I get through it? I guess I slowly stopped getting so hung up about it. I found that in the process of not being so hung up, things presented themselves differently.
I was able to see opportunities. As time went on, it wasn’t as bad as what I’ve been building up. I’m pretty busy now. But with my new busy-ness, I’m not thinking ‘everything’s gonna be alright’. I’m still trying to hang on to those realisations that I had, that I didn’t need to be so busy, that it didn’t matter what you did and that you shouldn’t necessarily hang your identity on how you earn money, or those illusions that we kind of gather around ourselves.
I believe that, more than anything else, humour has the power to bring us back together and connect. What do you think?
The shortest distance between two people is a laugh. You only see that when you interact with Kiwis, it’s like one of the first signs that you’re kind of in with someone here is that you can kind of laugh at each other. On a very simple, basic, everyday level, laughter is so important, and there hasn’t been a lot of it in supply recently.
I’ve certainly done a lot of thinking about what’s made me laugh, and I’m discovering new things and new people. And you’re right: laughter and the ability to connect with my fellow human through making them laugh, or sharing a laugh… It’s just amazing.
What are the practices or rituals that you’ve discovered have been working for you, in your toolbox?
I used to have a toolbox full of practices and rituals but I found as time went on, the strain of keeping up those practices and rituals, and also the guilt of not adhering to them, kind of made me feel worse. I got to a point fairly recently where I realised that you kind of don’t have to be anything. We’re always aspiring to be something. whether it’s to be more onto it, be more grown up, be more mature, be more responsible, be less selfish. I think it’s the things that I’ve been actually cutting away from my life that have really helped.
So rather than kind of adding things and adding tools to my box, to my toolbox, I’m kind of trying to throw them out. You know, as Bruce Lee says, ‘Let the unnecessary stuff fall away.’ For example, I used to be the biggest Warrior’s fan – and I still am – but I’ve stopped hanging my emotional well-being to how well they do each week. It’s not very fair on the young men, they’re playing the game and they carry so much burden for their community because they play the sport to make people feel good. But that’s been the real key thing I’ve been doing is actually not so much adding stuff to my toolbox, but actually throwing away heaps of stuff that I thought I needed but actually I don’t need.
It’s a great sentiment. I’ve just tried as best I can to sit in stillness and be present in the moment, but compassion for ourselves is probably the hardest thing for all of us to do.
You’ve said a really important word there: compassion is really key. It’s really important to move forward with compassion for each other, and ourselves.
We’re talking a lot more about the way we feel, especially as men and in the Pacific Island community, which I know you’ve very active in. Does it make you happy, to see the development of the New Zealand man and how we are way more open to supporting and being there for each other than ever before?
I love it. I look at all the heroes that are emerging around New Zealand and from all different walks of life. I see different types of people, it’s no longer the kind of traditional man alone, the kind of model that Ed Hillary so personified. They’re getting on with it but also getting on with listening and talking to each other. I’m seriously encouraged and it’s very different New Zealand to the one I arrived in as a four year old.