Comedy show student’s coming-of-age story

Dunedin comedian Tama Alexander, 20, mans the accordion ahead of the debut of his latest stand-up...
Dunedin comedian Tama Alexander, 20, mans the accordion ahead of the debut of his latest stand-up show Breatha at this year’s Dunedin Fringe Festival. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
When Tama Alexander started university, he never thought he would be cutting his degree short to chase his comedy dreams.

The University of Otago third-year student turned award-winning comedian is gearing up to get the crowd a-chortling at this year’s Dunedin Fringe Festival tomorrow.

Breatha is the sequel to Mr Alexander’s first show Fresher, which won two awards at last year’s festival.

The term "fresher" is synonymous with first-year university students, but Mr Alexander said "breatha" derived from the term "mouth breather".

"It’s a guy who doesn’t really focus on his studies — he’s only at uni for the experience of drinking and partying and doesn’t care what people think because he’s always just getting drunk."

Mr Alexander said the show was a coming-of-age story that chronicled his second year at university and appealed to a wide audience, from 16-year-olds to 60-year-olds.

While it covered the fun side of student life, such as party culture and music, it also addressed more serious issues such as alcohol dependency and mental health — some of which he had dealt with first hand.

Mr Alexander, a former self-proclaimed breatha, said what began as a term of endearment quickly became a word he "detested".

"It reflected a part of me that I didn’t want to keep going," he said.

"Once you start neglecting your studies for drinking and partying, and doing what people think is a Dunedin cultural thing, it just becomes essentially a dangerous activity."

Mr Alexander said the jump from first to second year was a shock for all students, but not all of them had to contend with growing comedic acclaim at the same time.

Over a few short months he had gone from being a relatively small comedian, to playing at venues across the country and being offered a job at a comedy club in Christchurch.

"It came as a bit of a shock to me, especially when it’s now my job to entertain people who are like triple my own age," he said.

"It’s strange having to win the approval of a bunch of random 50-year-old men at a corporate event — most students are just having fun with their mates."

While this year marked the last before he moved to Christchurch, he had made enough memories in Dunedin to last a lifetime, Mr Alexander said.

He had always viewed comedy as a hobby, but decided to "put all [his] eggs in one basket" because he could always go back to studying later, he said.

"Now it’s actually happening and I’m going to get to go off to Christchurch to see if I can make it big."

Breatha will debut tomorrow at the Playhouse Theatre.


noun / a post-first year university student characterised by excessive alcohol consumption and a disregard for their studies.