Series

bro'Town

Television, 2004–2009

The gospel of bro'Town according to David

By NZ On Screen's incredibly boring introduction to what bro'Town was or is, it's plainly obvious that you guys need a helping hand. So lucky for you I’m here.

It all began in a dressing room at the Herald Theatre in Auckland. Four "Do our own thing in our own way" mates who went by the moniker The Naked Samoans, having just finished a show, were having a raucous beer or five — or 11? — when one of them, who we will call Oscar Kightley because that is his actual name, uttered the words that would send their vaka charging into new seas.

His words were “Hey guys, my mate Elizabeth Mitchell wants to know if we're keen to make animated show”. To which we answered with a resounding “Yeah sure, count us in!” and “By golly, by gum, something funny this way comes”. We pushed out to sea.

A week passes. We had come back to port. Then a year passes before Oscar gathers the troops to tell us “Great news guys! Elizabeth has found the money!” To which my fellow Naked Samoan, Shimpal Lelisi (who in fact is Niuean) replied “Fantastico……umm, money for what?” As you’ve probably guessed, none of us remembered what we’d said yes to, all those many hours ago. 

Anyhoo, Elizabeth Mitchell had done the near impossible and secured the funds for New Zealand’s first prime time animated TV show. She’d got TV3 on board, she’d got NZ On Air on board. She was/is and will always be the reason for bro'Town's many glorious seasons.

The next task was to write the scripts. Ummm, yeah, the scripts: the things that would make us laugh in the making, cry in the rejecting, laugh again in the rewriting. The saying “it takes a village to raise the jandal” is not far off the style in which we collectively wrote. And by collectively, I mean not just the Naked Samoans and Elizabeth, but everyone from TV3's network producer, the brilliant Caterina De Nave, to script editors Dave Armstrong and Maxine Fleming, script consultant Paula Boock and story producer James Griffin. Our powers combined would see us win heaps of awards, but more importantly win the smiles, giggles, guffaws and gasps from the audience of “Oh no they didn’t? Did they just”. All of us raising the jandal together!

While all this was going on, Elizabeth introduced us to 'God', a character we'd created to start and end every show. God was drawn by Niuean animation master, Maka Makatoa. We oohed and aahhhed at how cool he looked, and all agreed that God is good.

Then we were shown different designs for our characters from heaps of peeps. Going through them all was like being shown a giant picture book, each one better than the last. But then one designer took our breath away: the shape and warmth of his designs made Naked Samoan Mario Gaoa reach for a tissue, to dab away the tear from his eye. He wondered aloud if this is how Michelangelo felt when he saw Christine Chapel [Editor's note: Dave does not mean the Sistine Chapel here]. Oscar said he didn’t know, but that this guy's name was Ant Sang. A soft-spoken NZ/Chinese man, father of two and creator of cult classic comic The Dharma Punks. He designed the world we were to inhabit! Mic drop...sound of feedback…

Scripts had been written and the animation team had been assembled from everyone we could find in New Zealand, to a bunch of filipinos who had arrived to bolster the numbers. It was time for the first read-through: the room absolutely heaving with people, all of us playing the character we were drawn as. The starter gun goes off and 25 minutes later we are all smiles. The following week we have our first studio recording, a little while after that, well actually ages after — 22 September 2004 to be exact — New Zealand has officially witnessed the birth of bro'Town. The rest is history. Pick up mic…...mic drop again…..who does that twice even?.... Naked Samoan David Fane, that’s who.

David Fane is a founding member of comedy troupe The Naked Samoans. His screen CV includes Sione's WeddingOutrageous FortuneDiplomatic Immunity and horror movie The Tattooist.   

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Series background

Wow — this show is cool, genuinely hilarious, brave and extremely brilliant.

bro'Town manages to superbly mix the laugh requirements of a sitcom with affectionate truths about living in 21st Century Aotearoa. It deals with difficult subjects: particularly racism, but also dodgy parenting, poverty, drugs, sexuality, God...the works! The characters include a poor Māori who does badly at school, a racist South African, and a drunken Pacific Islander fixated on porn. 

bro'Town grew out of a stage play produced by comedy ensemble The Naked Samoans in 1998. Producer Elizabeth Mitchell spent three years raising the finance to make the first series, which must have been huge considering each episode took up to six months to make, consisted of 16,000 drawings and often used three animation studios (including one in Hyderabad, India). 

Each of The Naked Samoans has his own character: Shimpal Lelisi is Valea, Mario Gaoa voices Sione, Oscar Kightley speaks for Vale — except for David Fane, who does heaps (Jeff da Māori, Mack, Pepelo Pepelo, and others).

bro'Town rated through the roof after it premiered on TV3 in 2004. It won Best Comedy at the NZ Screen Awards three years in a row. It sold around the world and ran for five seasons. As a measure of its popularity the show has attracted Simpsons-esque cameo appearances from Prime Ministers, Xena, newsreaders, sports stars (animated as themselves)...even Prince Charles popped up in Morningside. 

Popular with young and old, the series inspired spin-off products, including a stage show, lunchboxes, T-shirts, boxer shorts and fan clubs. Lines from the show even entered the Kiwi vernacular, such as Jeff da Māori's catchphrase: "not even ow".  

bro'Town, with its sophisticated production values and Poly-saturated brazenness represents a moving on from the comedy of Billy T James and the gentle provincialism of Footroot Flats. It mirrors a New Zealand which is more than able to laugh at itself and its flaws. 

It warms my heart that the Naked Samoans and Firehorse Films have been able to make this show in the risk-averse world of television broadcasting. They have never compromised or stopped having fun; and they have not shied away from applying their abundance of comic genius to difficult material. If one day we celebrate our artists the same way we celebrate our sports heroes, these guys will get a parade down Queen Street. 

-Director Rachel Davies has directed short films (Sweetness), music videos (Goldenhorse hit Maybe Tomorrow), and commercials (Day after Day, for Women's Refuge). 

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