6 Dec 2023

Jo Randerson Awarded 2023 Topp Prize

Jo Randerson Awarded 2023 Topp Prize

Now in its second year the Topp Prize, embodying the wildcard spirit of the Topp Twins, has been awarded to Te Whanganui-a-Tara based performer, comedian, writer, clown, director, multi-media artist, theatre-maker, filmmaker, leader, advocate, and moderator – Jo Randerson (ONZM).

Jo’s work always sits in that beautiful spot of vital, political, community-driven and always so funny!” say inaugural winner of the Topp Prize, Chris Parker. 

The New Zealand Comedy Trust is delighted that the 2023 Topp Prize has gone to Randerson whose unique voice has not only entertained a wide range of audiences but has fused activism, art and laughter to uplift communities. 

Jo will take home a $15,000 cash grant from the New Zealand Comedy Trust and two iconic milk bottle lolly artworks from Simon Lewis Wards - housed in a double hot pink crate to match Camp Mother’s pantsuit. But most importantly, Jo has the prestige and recognition bestowed by a kick-ass selection panel and Dames Jools and Lynda Topp – the namesakes of this award.

It is a true honour to award the Topp Prize to Jo Randerson. She has been a pillar of Te Whanganui-a-Tara’s creative scene since the 90s. Jo has taken comedy into all areas and genres of the arts and her revolutionary work is as revolutionary today as it was when it was first created. Her generosity, her activism and relentless work to support others across the arts has made a true impact, not just in the capital, but nationwide and across the globe. I can’t think of anyone else that would create a hilarious walking-tour experience with the Grim Reaper to give his reputation a makeover!” - Lauren Whitney, Chief Executive of New Zealand Comedy Trust.

Kicking off her career in the 90’s at BATS Theatre and making television appearances as a stand-up comedian, Jo Randerson has gone on to achieve great success bringing her humour to all areas of the arts. Jo has been nominated for a Billy T Award (2005), received the Robert Burns Playwrighting Fellowship, an Arts Foundation New Gen Award, the Bruce Mason Award for playwrighting and an ONZM. She was the inaugural winner alongside her brother Jeremy of Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Golden Gibbo Award in 2004, for an independent show that bucks the trend and pursues an artist’s innovative idea. Most recently she won the NZ International Film Festival Patrons Award for Best Short Film for her film Hey Brainy Man. She’s written, performed and directed more ground-breaking shows than you can shake a stick at.

Jo founded her own theatre company, Barbarian Productions in 2001, whose award-winning shows have played in Melbourne, Prague, Edinburgh, Adelaide, Norway and Brisbane as well as around Aotearoa. It has evolved into a creative force with her partner Thomas Lahood, a small team of dedicated staff and a large horde of independent artists, performers, designers, makers and technicians. They are driven by their belief in radical fun, courageous expression, fluidity, generosity and participation – all values that capture Jo’s essence. Taking residence in Vogelmorn Bowling Club, the company has reinvigorated the local community, offering a vibrant social hub and a vital space for artists to develop work.

Jo is motivated by social justice, equity and is especially passionate about arts in the economy. Barbarian Productions was the first performing arts company to be Living Wage accredited. Jo is currently finishing her new non-fiction book Secret Art Powers, about to open a new show U R Back as part of the Wellington Fringe, and creating a new comedy show with her family called Speed Is Emotional.

I’m blown away to receive this - the Topps are total heroes to me and I’m honoured to have my name in the same sentence as them. Their joyful advocacy and political comedy is completely inspirational! The phone call came out of the blue, it was a total surprise; I saw ‘Jools’ Ipad’ join the Zoom call and was like… wait, whaaat? No way!” says Jo Randerson.

The New Zealand Comedy Trust established the Topp Prize in 2022 as a non-competitive prize awarded annually to a practising individual, duo or group with a strong, clear and unique voice. Its purpose is to honour artists that embrace their own voice and make a real impact, in the way that the Topp Twins have always done with their voices. It can be bestowed to a person or group making Aotearoa laugh with an out-of-the-box approach, whether that comedy takes place on the stage, on the screen or in a completely unexpected comedy space altogether. 

Dames Lynda and Jools Topp say: “We are honoured to have our legacy acknowledged alongside kiwi comedy legends Billy T James and Fred Dagg. As young performers we were not afraid to stand up for what we believed in and incorporated these issues into our live shows. Being out lesbians in the early 80’s singing country music through comedic characters, the Gingham Sisters was probably one of the most diverse combinations of political comedy in the world, and to have an award honouring those qualities means so much to us.

Deeply admired and respected by comedians who want to showcase their own unique style, Jo has worked with a range of comedians to support the development of their shows as a director. In fact, Jo was pivotal in Chris Parker’s breakthrough work, directing the critically acclaimed No More Dancing In The Good Room.

Jo Randerson is such an incredibly inspiring, unique and nurturing figure in our comedy scene. I personally feel so lucky to have got to work with her early in my career and her guidance and artistry inspired me to be the comic I wanted to become, not the comic I thought I had to be. But this isn’t just the case with me, Jo has fostered this relationship with so many talented artists in our industry who I’m sure would feel exactly the same. From Banging Cymbal Clanging Gong, the wedding dress shop she set up opposite parliament in the lead-up to the Gay Marriage Vote, to helping set up the incredible community space at the Vogelmorn Bowling Club.- Chris Parker, 2022 Topp Prize Winner

This year’s selection panel led by comedy industry legend Paul Horan included Sam Brooks (The Spinoff – Journalist and Playwright), Amie Mills (NZ On Air – Head of Funding), Gemma Gracewood (Editor In Chief Letterboxd, Writer, Producer and NZ Comedy Trust board member), Chris Parker (Comedian, actor, writer, Fred Award Winner and inaugural winner of the Topp Prize), Salesi Le’ota (Playmarket Coordinator and Arts Practitioner) and Rhys Nicholson (Comedian, author and judge on Rupaul’s Drag Race Down Under).