RNZ Programmes Online, Global

23/04/2020 - 31/05/2020

COVID-19 Lockdown Festival 2020

Production Details

The Citizen’s Handbook is a ten-part Video and Podcast comedy series and civics class for all New Zealanders created by the award-winning team behind the popular satirical web show White Man Behind A Desk.  

In a special live online launch event, Robbie talked about how they created the project, showed the first episode, then followed with a live online Q&A.

Find a recording of the Event here.

The series covers five topics: history, politics, law, economics, and international relations.  In writing and producing the series, the creators (Robbie Nicol and Finnius Teppett) have teamed up with relevant experts and a writers’ room built on a partnership between Māori and Pākehā to ensure that all information is culturally and historically accurate.

Using thorough research and sharp comedy, The Citizen’s Handbook empowers its audience with the knowledge of how this country came to be, how it currently works, and how we can face the challenges that lie ahead.

The Citizen’s Handbook puts the focus onto the actions of people, and by highlighting the power of human action in creating the present, we’re demonstrating that your actions can have a powerful impact on the future.

It’s also really funny.

Theatre , Audio (podcast) ,

Web eps: 10 min | Podcasts: 25 min

A witty waka ride through perception, awareness, understanding and knowledge to potential wellbeing

Review by Kate Timms-Dean 24th Apr 2020

For centuries, people have chosen this isolated and beautiful landscape as their home. This whenua has inspired generations of explorers, settlers and refugees to make it their home. We have named it based on the wonder it has inspired in us – Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud, Godzone, Middle Earth – and we have made it our collective home.  

That’s the story that I and many other Kiwis have grown up with: New Zealand as the new utopia; where we all say hello to our neighbour; where everyone knows your name. In a world of elitism and jarring national pride, Kiwis are humble and kind; we are the good guys.  

Little do we realise how this veneer of nationalism hides painful truths, infamous mis-steps, and a history of conflict and carnage.

The Citizen’s Handbook is a must-watch for all of us here in Aotearoa. With the tagline “Become a better New Zealand citizen”, the ten-part series aims to demystify colonisation and our current political system through the lens of culture. While not hiding his own identity, Robbie leaves no cultural stone unturned as he examines some of the skeletons in our national closet, without fear and with truckloads of humour.

Presenter and comedian Robbie Nichol is probably the first one to admit that he most likely might not be the most appropriate person to school the nation on our colonial past and present, but he has made a career of playing in the margins between races. If you haven’t already seen it, check out his hilarious commentary on the media, White Man Behind A Desk on YouTube.

Robbie jumps into New Zealand history in this new work. Interacting with a wealth of Kiwi comic talent, he explores the beginnings of Aotearoa through a Māori lens, moving through early settlement and colonisation events, before addressing the political context of modern New Zealand, covering aspects like voting, parliament, and law and order.

There is plenty of young talent on display with regular appearances from Jamaine Ross, Donna Brookbanks, Tom Sainsbury, Ryan Richards and Eli Mathewson, amongst others. Star cameos from Kiwi favourites Rawiri Paratene, Shavaughn Ruakere, and Jordan Watson (How to Dad) bring another layer to the whole and overall, acting and production is top-notch, slick and professional.

His examination of New Zealand settlement hits many of the key events, with humour and with passion. It is inspiring to see the way the uncovering of this knowledge about a land we all love affects him – at times he is angry, he is frustrated, and he is sad. And always there is that tongue-in-cheek Kiwi humour that we all love.

There is no doubt that this is a tricky space to put yourself as a self-professed “white guy”. But this is not an issue that Robbie shies away from. And he’s not above poking fun at himself. As he launches into a kōrero about Māori social structure, he prefaces this with a message to Māori, saying “don’t feel like you need to hear a Pākehā man explaining Māori society to you.” He reads the room, even when there isn’t a room.

The inclusion of a cheeky ‘narrator’ as captions that are dotted throughout is a coup de grace. Robbie’s unseen sidekick dips in from time to time, providing reality checks, fact corroboration, and oodles of humour. This is the straight guy to Robbie’s frenetic and undeniably Kiwi humour.

But it’s not all great news here – some of the humour makes me squirm, and historical figures take on a two-dimensionality, a cartoon-like air. As a Treaty of Waitangi educator with two decades of experience under my belt, I cringe at the presentation of Governor Grey as a crazed war criminal, while nevertheless agreeing what an apt descriptor this is. This is definitely not PC, but then I think that’s what makes it work.  

With a timeframe of around 25 minutes per episode, those of us who have an academic or historical interest in this kaupapa may find ourselves wondering, what about this, or that? This is not a series for us. But it is a superb window into the other Kiwi perspectives that exist beyond the mainstream for the common Kiwi. Not only does Nichol explore these perspectives, including aspects of Asian and Pacific experiences of life in Aotearoa, he links them to the wider narrative of nation-building and imperialism.

But let’s be real – this is not academic fodder. It is a series aimed to engage young people and it does a fantastic job, from the perspective of my old eyes. With a Treaty workshop on the horizon, I am currently exploring how to include the first three eps into my learning design. It may not be academic content, but it will definitely add something to the student experience. 

To many Māori, te hekenga mai o te Pākehā, the arrival of Europeans, is a double-edged sword. We share blood on both sides of the Māori-Pākehā debate, and we love our Pākehā whānau, but the almost universal blindness to the reality of colonisation in Aotearoa is mirrored by the blinkered view of our current context, where colonisation is still very real, very present. The Citizen’s Handbook doesn’t shy away from the dark side of New Zealand history and modernity, but aims to bring it out into the light.

There is a whakataukī (proverb) that comes to mind, that encapsulates the way this work contributes to the tapestry of our shared history.
Mā te rongo, ka mōhio: Through perception comes awareness;
Mā te mōhio, ka mārama: Through awareness comes understanding;
Mā te mārama, ka mātau: Through understanding comes knowledge;
Mā te mātau, ka ora: Through knowledge comes wellbeing.

There is no doubt in my mind that this series provides another avenue for climbing aboard the waka as we all journey towards knowing the history and stories of this whenua, Aotearoa.

See here


John Smythe April 26th, 2020

This is great in many ways but I do find no mention of missionaries or muskets in the first episode to be rather remiss. Both had a profound impact on tikanga Maori in the name of European 'civilisation'. 

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