Entertainment

The Naked Samoans are back - and as funny as ever

They cracked us up as a foursome in the '90s. Now they're a six-piece ready to leave us spellbound.

By Sebastian van der Zwan

They may be known as the Naked Samoans, but after two decades in showbiz, these Kiwi icons are no longer keen to strip off for the cameras.

"We're older and wider," quips Dave Fane as he helps fellow comedian Shimpal Lelisi tie his lavalava for our Woman's Day shoot.

"Speak for yourself!" says Mario Gaoa. "We were all these young, slim guys when we got together. Twenty years later, they're all fat and ugly except for me."

"Well, we keep planning to meet at the gym, but not all of us turn up," sighs Oscar Kightley, adding that we can judge for ourselves who the absentees might be. Suddenly there's a gasp from our photographer.

"That lavalava is too high – I can almost see a willy," she warns. "This is not The Full Monty!"

But she's given the boys an idea and now they're all holding their hats in front of their crotches in imitation of the classic British movie about amateur strippers.

Somehow, though, Robbie Magasiva's fedora appears to be floating in mid-air.

"Look, Ma, no hands!" he cries, causing his co-star Heto Ah Hi to declare, "I've got hat envy."

The guys have plenty of new tricks planned for *The Naked Samoans Do Magic*.
The guys have plenty of new tricks planned for The Naked Samoans Do Magic.

The six famous funnymen have reunited ahead of their first stage show in 12 years, The Naked Samoans Do Magic, which they'll perform at this month's Auckland Arts Festival.

"We've wanted to get together on stage for ages, but everyone's been busy having jobs," explains Oscar, 48. "This time, director Nina Nawalowalo approached us and it just felt right – we've never had a director before and, miraculously, everyone's schedules aligned, so it was meant to be."

After forming as a four-piece in 1998 for the show Naked Samoans Talk About Their Knives, the comedy group has become part of our cultural identity with the smash-hit animated series Bro'Town and two blockbuster Sione's Wedding movies.

"If someone had told me back then that we'd achieve so much and still be here 20 years later, I would've slapped them in the face," laughs Mario, 47.

Nodding, Oscar recalls, "We had all come through acting in dramas together, but we wanted to do comedies, so we put one on. In our 20s, we felt invincible because we were ignorant of how hard it was. There was a great sense of possibility. We just knew we wanted to be on stage together, doing stuff that made us laugh."

And they're still cracking each other up. Heto, 48, adds, "One thing that hasn't changed is the laughs. We've been wetting ourselves during rehearsals. It's a lot of fun hanging out with the boys. I love these guys."

Shimpal, 45, agrees, "If it wasn't fun, we wouldn't do it. We've been friends since we were teens and, as adults, we've been Naked Samoans longer than not. I feel so lucky to have a team that's got my back. We've been through tough times and if someone's down, we pick them up. We've always got a shoulder to cry on."

Oscar adds, "There's less hair now. Dave's had a stroke and there are a few medical issues that probably come down to lifestyle – the usual stuff when you're lucky enough to string a few years together. But when we first started, there were no kids ..."

These days, between them, there are 15 children. Dave, 52, jokes, "We were much happier then! Now we're just looking for a chance to escape from them."

Of the reunion, Mario is quick to point out, "We haven't really been apart. It's not like we had a massive break-up and came back together years later. We've been a de-facto family for a long time."

Oscar adds, "We're not like the Eagles, who hated each other, vowed never to get back together and then did. We've all grown and evolved, but as you can see, we still somehow enjoy each other's company."

Latecomer Robbie, 45, was asked to join the group in 2001, along with Heto. He remembers, "Not much has changed since then, unless you're talking about my heart.

"I'd recently had my heart broken when Dave and I were working on The Strip, and he invited me to join the Naked Samoans. Now my heart has healed. Having a group like this is a very rare situation. We're in our late 40s, but when we get together, we act like children."

"Very mature children," insists Dave. "Like children who earn money. We've got paper rounds!"

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