Jon Gadsby was an integral part of the NZ television comedy landscape. With longtime friend and colleague David McPhail, he headlined some of the most iconic comedy shows this country has produced. A career spanning four decades saw him impersonating everyone from poet Sam Hunt to the angel Gabriel, as well as writing and establishing characters long cemented in Kiwi screen history.
A Week of It
Gadsby's career was launched with A Week of It. Debuting in 1977 (initially in an inauspicious graveyard slot) the show was rough and ready, going to air within a few hours of being filmed with a mix of political satire, potshots at Kiwi culture, and irreverent takes on topical issues. It also saw the introduction of Wayne, a gormless character brilliantly portrayed by Gadsby, who would become the impetus for that most timeless of Kiwi putdowns: "Jeez Wayne."
McPhail and Gadsby
1980 saw the arrival of McPhail and Gadsby, and the beginning of a seven-season run from one of our most popular comedy series. The debut episode plunged straight into the theme of religion, resulting in death threats and a storm of viewer outrage. Notoriety ensured.
Gadsby was soon given the opportunity to solo write his own sitcom, Rabbiter's Rest. Set in a rural backwater, the series drew on his previous experiences as a bar worker in the Southland town of Dipton. Choosing to remain largely behind the camera, he made a single cameo in the show as a highly competitive rugby coach.
Letter to Blanchy
Letter to Blanchy saw Gadsby reunited with McPhail, for a series he described as "pure middle New Zealand." An old-fashioned back-blocks comedy, it centered on the bumblings of a trio of mates: intellectual Derek (McPhail), rough-diamond Barry (Gadsby) and tradesman Ray (Peter Rowley). Some of the situations they encountered were based on Gadsby's own "mad money-making schemes" as a teen in Invercargill.
2004 saw Gadsby head in a different television direction, visiting Myanmar for a thoughtful episode of Intrepid Journeys. Behind golden temples and scenes from Kipling, he found contradiction in the abject poverty faced by many, surmising, "I think contact, rather than isolation will provide the much needed forces of change."
An Iconic Kiwi Comedian
This NZ On Screen ScreenTalk interview from 2010 sees Gadsby reflecting on his upbringing and career - from being the newbie on A Week of It, to gaining awards and national acclaim. While his trademark humour is present throughout, the interview also reveals a softer side to one of our favourite jokers.
• You can see more Jon Gadsby screen highlights here, in NZ On Screen's Spotlight collection.