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The New Zealand musical comedians on the secret to their longevity, playing the ukele and trumping Al Gore

You’re touring the UK this week. You haven’t been here for a while, have you?
We were last here for the ‘97 Edinburgh Fringe and a season at The Drill Hall theatre in London. Before that we supported Billy Bragg at The Mean Fiddler. But it doesn’t matter where we play, there’s a certain type of person who comes to our shows – fun-loving and open-minded.

What do you have in store for your show at the Union Chapel?
We always includes our comedy characters, as well as a concert set as ourselves. Always expect the unexpected!

Did the success of your biographical documentary, Untouchable Girls, catch you by surprise?
We never expected so many people would relate – it became the number one documentary ever released in NZ, beating An Inconvenient Truth.

You got honourary doctorates from the University of Waikato in 2011 – is it weird having a comedy ‘qualification’?
It was an honour.  We probably won’t use the titles, but our characters Ken and Ken are going to. Ken Moller thinks he’ll be a gynecologist – he’s not qualified, but he’ll take a look for ya!

Did you ever consider going to university yourselves?
We’ve never stepped foot in a lecture theatre, but we’ve spent 53 years attending “the university of life. As kids, it never really entered our minds to go, we quickly learned how to be personable, and how to read people. For instance, we’ve learned that you never pick someone out of the audience who is shy. We also know in the first 20 seconds of the gig who we’ll get. We only ever got it wrong once, when we picked a woman so exuberant she nearly broke Lynda’s leg climbing over her to get on stage!

When did you first know you wanted to be performers?
We had always sung as kids, and our mum bought us a ukulele when we were five. We learnt Walking In The Sunshine and practiced a whole dance routine, then decided we would perform at our cousin’s 21st. Our brother, Bruce, bought us a guitar when we were 10 and we thought we were rock stars. It wasn’t until our twenties, after we had made our first $50 (£25) busking on Queen St, in Auckland, and we’d bought gas for the car, dogfood, and beer, that we realised we could make a living off our music.

What has been the secret to your longevity and success?
We’ve always been strong and independent. We came out as lesbians back in the late Seventies, as we believed you can’t give to your audience 100 per cent if you hide something. We are old-fashioned entertainers and seem to appeal to people of all ages from all walks of life.

How did you feel being inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame?
We thought you had to be older than 100 to receive that award, but I suppose if you add our ages together, we qualify. It was a real honour, as usually we are seen as more of a comedy act, but most of our songs are 100 per cent original. We have always been outside the mainstream music industry and were ‘independent’ recording artists before there was an indie scene.

LGBT rights have advanced since you started – what still needs to change?
Gay marriage is the final frontier of human rights. Not everyone wants to get married, but
LGBT people should have the same equal rights as everyone else.

Are people politicised enough today?
Probably not, although social media can change that. We have access to more open information that ever before. Many Westerners have become too materialistic and we’re living in a time that individualism rules. You have to work harder to create and maintain a sense of community. One good thing to come out of the recession is that people are getting back to basics. In New Zealand, a lot more people are growing vegetables and trading goods and services within their communities; it’s a beautiful thing. But getting back to basics is more than that, it’s about your core values, your humanity and standing up for what is right.

What do you make of Occupy?
It is a very important protest. An expression of ordinary people’s frustration with what’s happening economically and socially – the gross inequality between the rich and everyone else. Even the middle-classes feel angry.


Topp Twins play Union Chapel. N1 2XD. Feb 17. £20
Web: www.unionchapel.org 
Station: Highbury and Islington

Untouchable Girls screens at Clapham Picturehouse, SW4 0AT. Feb 20 
Web: www.picturehouses.co.uk  
Station: Clapham Common


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Interview: New Zealand musical comedians the Topp Twins talk longevity, protest and Al Gore
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