The international divide between American audiences and comedians from other English-speaking countries remains pretty firmly in place, despite our increased exposure through the internet. There are whole types of TV programs—namely, comedy game shows and panel shows—featuring primarily comedians that never caught on here. Where’s our 8 Out of 10 Cats? @Midnight came close, but who could handle a daily dose of Chris Hardwick? While comics host talk shows, they aren’t quite the universally utilized figures that they are in, for example, the U.K. or Australia.
New Zealand-based Urzila Carlson is one such comedian whose career doesn’t make sense in American terms. She makes regular appearances on the panel shows 7 Days and Have You Been Paying Attention?, in addition to replacing Lindsay Lohan as a judge on the Australian version of The Masked Singer. Now, though, we’re given the chance to get to know Carlson in more familiar terms: through a Netflix stand-up special.
Carlson presents Overqualified Loser as a loosely connected exploration of the word “loser.” To be honest, it’s a bit nebulous and feels tacked on as far as themes go. The through line amounts to little more than exploring different meanings and perceptions of a “loser,” though Carlson is at her best when she discusses the term in the context of fatphobia. She rightfully points out losing anything has a negative connotation, until it reaches the topic of weight, and also proposes that The Biggest Loser should have rude people (interrupters, right wing politicians, etc.) as its contestants, instead of fat people.
Eventually, the loser motif just becomes her segueing different bits with “You’re not a loser if…” in a simplistic fashion. Carlson thankfully manages to stick the landing when she declares who the true losers are near the end of the set. I won’t spoil who gets the grand prize, but her declaration manages to tie in overarching ideas in a pleasing, if not wholly satisfying, way.
Crude construction of the set aside, Carlson herself is hilarious. Certain jokes could be sharper, and there are some missed opportunities, but all of that is negligible considering her punchy delivery. From her New Zealand-softened South African accent to the exaggerated faces she pulls, Carlson is an instant charmer. Any region-specific humor is contextualized well enough that it’s easy to understand (apparently the weather is mercurial in Melbourne, who knew?) and makes the set feel unique. Carlson’s jokes also prove incredibly quotable. “Like, I don’t identify as fat, but… I’m quite a few meals ahead and a few shits behind,” she declares in a particularly memorable one-liner.
In spite of its faults, Overqualified Loser is an enjoyable introduction to Carlson’s winning personality. We’re left in no doubt of who she is, both as a person and a comedian, and we like what we see.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.