Comedian Corner: James Roque

By Liam Stretch

You may have seen James Roque on Jono and Ben,  Funny Girls,  Only in Aotearoa,  Have You Been Paying Attention?, and 7 Days – or perhaps on the stage at New Zealand International Comedy Festival. This quick-witted comedian is one to watch, and Liam Stretch found out who the man behind the jokes is.  

Who is James Roque? 

The Filipino Step-son of NZ comedy! Or the Kiwi-Pinoy comedy boy! Or the disappointment to his parents! 

Who is your funny icon? 

It’s too hard to pick just one! But the following people are my faves: Chris Rock, Ali Wong, Dave Chappelle, John Mulaney. 

What’s your comedy style? 

I’m just a nice guy who wants to be your friend. (And then once I’m your friend, challenge you with some socio-political provocations). 

What led you to comedy?  

I’ve always been pretty chill with public speaking. I did real well at school speech contests. But it wasn’t until I did the Class Comedians programme in 2009 that I learnt that I could really do stand-up comedy.  

If you weren’t a comedian, what would you be? 

Definitely something to do with art. I’ve always been a creative, so I reckon something like a comic book illustrator or graphic designer. 

If you could have your own character on The Masked Singer, what would you be and why? 

Mine would be a really adorable dog. Cause who doesn’t love dogs!? Either that or something weird like a stapler or something.  

What’s your go-to karaoke song? 

Hands down a tie between Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus or Torn by Natalie Imbruglia. 

Does Rhys Darby pull out sound effects in normal conversation? 

You’d be surprised how much more chill Rhys is in real life. But if you pay him in coins, he will do the noises for you. 

What is the weirdest gig you’ve ever done? 

It’s not really bad-weird, but it was definitely strange nonetheless. But I once gigged inside a barn in front of around 1000 scouts in Rotorua. It was genuinely so fun. They were a great audience. 

What is it like being Filipino and in comedy in NZ? 

It’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s changing slowly, but NZ Comedy is a pretty white space. And because of that having the label of being Filipino can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that it gives me a point of difference on a line-up and gives me a unique perspective. But it can be a curse in that sometimes I feel pressure to feel like everyone expects me to just talk about being Filipino. These days, I try to not overthink it and just try and talk about what I want to talk about. If it’s Filipino, then great. If not, then that’s totally fine too! 

What could NZ comedy be doing better? 

I think NZ comedy is in such a better place than it was 10, 15 years ago when I was growing up. There’s been a push for inclusion for people from all walks of life, which has really been felt throughout the whole industry, and it’s been great to see. We are seeing more and more representation for people when it comes to racial backgrounds and gender identities which is awesome! I reckon we could probably do better at making it accessible for people with disabilities, whether that’s audiences or for comics with disabilities themselves! Comedy should be for everyone.  

I also think NZ comedy can back itself more. We have an amazing pool of talented comedians in NZ, and I want every single person in the industry to shoot for the moon! We’ve seen it’s possible to do great things! Rose Matafeo, Urzila Carlson, Rhys Darby, the Conchords and Taika are all people who have shown us we can do it.  

What’s coming up for you, and how can we see you? 

I’m about to go on tour in the North Island with my show Boy Mestizo, and then I’m taping it as a stand-up comedy special in May! Look out for that! Otherwise, I don’t know; follow me on TikTok or something? (@jamesroque31) 

Salt and Vinegar or Ready Salted? 

Salt and vinegar all day, every day!