Comedian Dai Henwood grew up the only child of a well-known actor, Ray Henwood, and Judge Carolyn Henwood. A wedding DJ before he made his name in stand-up, he is hosting this month’s Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards.

1.What's it like as a teenager when your mum's a judge?

The one thing I learned early was I could not lie to my mum. She worked in the Youth Court. Her job involved people lying to her all day and her deciding who's telling the truth and who's not. You also realise how much lawyers and actors are the same. Lawyers also like the sound of their own voice and performing. I basically grew up in rehearsal rooms with dad and I distinctly remember sitting under a desk a lot of the time with mum. She was doing family law when I was little and was a partner in the law firm. She had a really tough job but always came home lovely and cheery. I've never seen her snap.

2.Did you hang out with your dad a lot more?
Yeah, dad was on Gliding On. I've been looking back at a few tapes and it stands the test of time, that show. I'd go along to the live tapings and when they needed a baby I was it. I think I got a credit for the Christmas episode. It was a pretty liberal childhood. Mum and dad had a big focus on education and were really keen for me to go to university. They didn't dictate what I studied, just wanted me to find out what I didn't know. When you learn that you know nothing, you make an effort to read both sides of an opinion. The people who are the most hardline are the people who know the least about the issue.

3.What did you study?
Drama and eastern religion. I'd been to Japan with Dad when he was performing in Phantom of the Opera and stayed on and did a crazy Zazen meditation where you look at a white wall while sitting in the Lotus position for three hours. I was seeing full psychedelic colours at the end of it. I've always been fascinated in why people believe what they believe. I'd been to Christian kindy and a Jewish kindy because my parents' friends were Jewish. I don't believe in God but I consider myself a spiritual person and I'll let my children decide for themselves what they want to believe in.

Advertisement

4.Do you still meditate?
I try. For about two months I was doing it daily for about 20 minutes and it made me so calm. It really slowed my mind down. Sometimes I'd just go out to the car and do it there. Now I've got an app called Buddhify which is good but it's making the time.

5.Do you get sick of the short jokes?
The older I get the more interesting I find the whole short thing. It's like ginger and short are the only people you're allowed to make fun of. People at school remember me as big - I was this size at 13 but then I just stopped growing. Until [TV show] 7 Days I was never really thought of as short. You've got to remember that [cast members] Paul and Jeremy are 6'5" (196cm) and 6'4". How tall am I? I'm 5'5" (165cm). But when I'm on stage with a microphone my personality is quite big. It'd be different if I was an introvert, I think. But people can be off the charts about it. At bars, they'll just pick me up. I'm like "son, I'm just having a drink now". I can judge a gig because when I walk out someone will always yell "stand up". A pissed guy once yelled out "stand up" 14 times during a set.

6.You're a new dad, to Charlie: will he be short, do you think?
My wife's shorter than me. My mum's short. My father-in-law is short. All signs are pointing towards short. I think he'll be fine. It's a thing of giving them coping mechanisms. I don't know what those are but you definitely need to address it if you are the small kid. But look at how many successful people are short. I interviewed P. Diddy once and he had all his crew around him and wouldn't stand up. When he did, I thought, "he's only a few inches taller than me".

7.How did you end up a wedding DJ?
When I got out of school and was going to uni I wanted to find a job where I could earn the most for the least amount of work. I started working for Disco International, doing bogan weddings in the Hutt Valley. I got to wear these black shiny collar white shirts, stone wash waistcoats and acid wash jeans. My high point was playing American Pie three times in a row because the bride got so pissed she was determined I hadn't played it already. I had to play that song at every wedding. I was too young to drink and had to drive the van back anyway but the wedding guests were all on bourbon and coke. I made $200 a night, twice a weekend, while all my uni mates were slogging away in supermarkets.

8. How hard was it starting out in comedy?
You're so young, it's hard to draw anything from your own life. No one wants to hear how you dated a couple of girls and it got awkward at the school ball. I did character comedy dressed in tights as a professional wrestler and I'd be trying to make people laugh in the Cosmo club in Levin, which I always find ironic because it wasn't that cosmopolitan. The sound system went through the kitchen so halfway through my set it would cut out and go "Number 53 steak and chips". Now, when you're on TV, people are at your gigs 'cause they know you or are a fan. You're preaching to the converted as opposed to the guy who's going "I'm the funny one here, mate".

9.When have you been at your lowest and how did you pull yourself out?
Probably after the Edinburgh Festival in 2003. I had won the Billy T Award the year before and then had a shocking season in Melbourne and a very hard time in Edinburgh. At one show 24 out of 26 people walked out 15 minutes in. I'd gone backstage for a costume change, came back out and there were two people sitting there. That season ended with me cancelling some shows. I was living with the Flight of the Conchords at the time and they were just breaking. I thought, have I missed the bus here? Brett [McKenzie] and I chatted about it and he said they'd had the same experience two years earlier and I should just believe in myself.

10.What made you keep going?
I came back to Auckland, worked part-time in a bar and that was a good way to prove I was funny, I could crack up the other staff and the punters. I went back to the UK, came back through Melbourne and met my wife, Joanna. Knew instantly I wanted to marry her. I've always had that gut thing where I have to be a comic. I've always loved making people laugh. Thankfully it's all worked out.

11. What did your parents teach you that you want to pass on to Charlie?
That you can succeed in anything, but it's bloody hard work. The value of an education. Financial nous: for dad it was always feast or famine. Mum always said "walk on the shiny side of life". We used to camp at Piha beach each year - drive all the way north from Wellington - and we'd walk on the sand when the tide was out and that's what she'd say - walk on the shiny side. As I've got older I've realised you can look at things negatively or positively and it all affects your mood.

12.What are you proudest of in your career?
Being able to bring happiness to people. That is the best part of being a comedian. If someone is suffering grief, or having a bad day and you can get them out of it for a few moments, that's something I am extremely proud of.