Lydia Jenkin

Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Rhys Darby has got the gift of the gab

Comedian Rhys Darby is capping off his very big year with a live DVD. He talks to Lydia Jenkin

Funnyman Rhys Darby is topping off a big year with a DVD release of his last stand-up tour in New Zealand.
Photo / Supplied
Funnyman Rhys Darby is topping off a big year with a DVD release of his last stand-up tour in New Zealand. Photo / Supplied

Among the many jobs comedian Rhys Darby has had of late is being one of Santa's little helpers. He voiced an elf in Aardman Animation's Arthur Christmas. It was just an afternoon session in a vocal booth.

"The funniest thing was," says Darby on the phone from Los Angeles, "at the end of it they said, 'you might be one of the few elves that we don't actually have to adjust the voice tone'. I don't know whether to take that as an insult or a compliment, but I guess I was high-pitched enough."

It seems all three Kiwi stars of the Flight of the Conchords TV show are in demand for family movies these days.

Well, Jemaine Clement did voice one of the indecipherable minions in the animated Despicable Me. And Bret McKenzie has written songs for The Muppets film (helmed by FOTC director James Bobin), and McKenzie has also hinted at a FOTC feature in interviews.

"Yeah, every couple of years those rumours seem to spark up," says Darby. "It's when one of us gets interviewed, generally, and it only takes a couple of words and all of a sudden it's big news. But all three of us have spoken and we're trying to connect at the moment. Jemaine's just called me actually, and I think next year we will try to start writing. I think making the Muppets movie has sort of inspired Bret to see that it is possible."

Darby has been busy enough without worrying about further FOTC projects. He's had roles in Yes Man and The Boat That Rocked, visited Rwanda for Intrepid Journeys, and attempted being a leading man in local romantic comedy Love Birds.

So he's striking while the iron is hot ... .

"You can't be this talented and lose heat," he laughs. "No, I've been lucky, I guess, in that once I got in with the American entertainment system and got myself a good agent, that's what it's all about over here. You've got to have the right people representing you."

Indeed, earlier this year he got a part in new CBS sitcom - a comedy of manners, How To Be a Gentleman - and moved his family to LA only for it to be cancelled after three episodes.

"We filmed nine episodes, and then halfway through filming the ninth one, they took us upstairs and said, 'right the show's being cancelled'. We weren't sure whether the show was hitting the right marks or not. I had no idea myself how it all worked with the numbers over here, but it is a big numbers game. I think we were pulling in, would you believe it, only eight million viewers per episode. Shocking isn't it?"

Darby was praised for his role, and he wasn't ultimately disappointed to be freed up for new work.

"For me it was kind of bittersweet, because I didn't really feel that I was working up to my potential being in that show. It was a multi-camera, laugh track sitcom which is a classic idea, but it's kind of weird.

"The humour of the show wasn't right up my alley, I prefer something with a bit more realism to it rather than set-up punchlines. It felt a bit like a modern day Happy Days. So I was quite happy to get out of there and get ready for the next opportunity."

There were also rumours late last year that he would be replacing Steve Carell in the American version of The Office, and though he was in the running, this didn't pan out either, though in hindsight Darby isn't too disappointed.

"I had a big two-hour interview with them, and went on set and met the writers and whatnot, and it was quite exciting for a while there. And then I heard nothing. In the end they decided to go down another route. But once again I almost think it was a blessing. I mean, I've no idea whether I would've been great in the role. I don't know whether the show would have taken off in a different direction, I don't know if it would have been more or less popular than it is right now, but at the moment it feels a bit like people have given up watching it. So it's a bullet dodged in some ways."

Darby says despite those ups and downs he feels blessed that his voice and persona has become his calling card. "The roles I am getting, they always essentially want me to be myself. I take it as a compliment that people love laughing at me."

And when Hollywood - or ad agencies on both sides of the Pacific - haven't filled his diary, he's also had time to pursue his stand-up work here and aboard. Darby toured New Zealand with a new show late last year, with his penultimate performance at Auckland's Civic Theatre filmed for the DVD It's Rhys Darby Night!.

One of his first and most brilliant jokes, involves a kazoo, a fly, and an ambulance, and his 55-minute performance includes tales of filming computer ads with Dr Dre, childhood recollections, musings on Transformers and a whole lot of funny walks, along with a set designed to echo Darby's askew world.

The extras section is a treasure trove too, with Rhys doing segments as two of his favourite characters - park ranger Bill Napier, and adventure tourism entrepreneur Ron Taylor, at a park ranger station and on the edge of a lake respectively, in full costume - much as you would in a TV show really.

"The Bill Napier character is inspired by Fred Dagg, and also just a whole lot of people I've met on the road in New Zealand, and mixed them up."

"And of course I was in the army for a while so I've met a lot of men's men, and southern types. And the other thing, is that when I was a kid I always wanted to be a ranger. So I'm essentially playing the part of another dream, or another track that I could've ended up taking.

"The advantage of being a comic and an actor is that I can still be any of these other things I ever wanted to be, I just pretend."

Lowdown

Who:Rhys Darby
What: Live comedy DVD It's Rhys Darby Night! out now.

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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