Rhys Darby talks to Lydia Jenkin about life in LA and how he plans to up the pace at the International Comedy Festival.

In recent times we've seen Rhys Darby in Modern Family, Short Poppies and The X-Files, adding madness to the mix in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and providing the voice for eccentric mayor Dennis Gob in local animated series Barefoot Bandits. He's also been based in Los Angeles, getting closer to the entertainment epicentre of Hollywood.

"At first I didn't want to be here, you know, it's quite a change. But like anywhere I guess, once you get used to it, you get into the groove, and it is very user-friendly here. The weather is always the same, and there's a lot of valet situations here, which we quite like, being able to pull up to a restaurant and literally just jump out of your car."

A scene from the upcoming X-Files episode "Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster", guest starring Kiwi actor, Rhys Darby.

But despite the move offshore, this week Darby is back home in Auckland for the 2016 NZ International Comedy Festival. And not only is he performing his solo show, I'm A Fighter Jet, he is also reforming his 90s musical sketch comedy duo Rhysently Granted with Grant Lobban, and hosting the Comedy Gala.

"I hope you're ready, because I'm not going to be your standard host. I don't know what I might do! Or maybe I do know what I'm going to do, but they don't know what I'm gonna do, so I'm just going to do it.


"The live gala, in particular, can just go on and on and on and on - the TV edit is much easier to watch than the live show, so I'd like to try and bring the pace up a little bit, make sure we keep the energy up and maybe introduce a bit more variety rather than just coming out and standing there with a microphone. I like to do some physical stuff, drop in the odd sketch or two, just spark it up a bit."

It also felt like a fitting year to bring back Rhysently Granted, given it's been 20 years since the pair first began performing.

"That was the beginning of everything for me in comedy, so I want to go back and find that spark, and find that thing that we had which got us so excited that we had to make a career out of it. Getting together, having fun, writing stuff together, and not having any worries because there was no money involved.

"It was really just us being silly buggers, and I wanted to go back to that because over the last few years it's been about making enough money and staying afloat, and the pressure of always being funnier than the last time, and I kind of got a bit bored with that."

They're bringing some of their old sketches from 1996 back to life as well as tweaking some things, and writing new bits too. There was the odd cultural reference or word that seemed a bit dated when they pulled the old work out, but there are others that somehow remain fitting.

"Back then we wrote this song called Lifeguard, and that was when Baywatch was at its height of fame, but it just so happens that they're rebooting the whole thing and making a movie, which is out next year, so we can do our Lifeguard song and it will seem like we just wrote it.

"We'll also be impressions of things that we used to like doing as kids, so there will be a lot of audience members in their 20s who won't have any idea what the Casio Calculator boxing game is, but there might be some people in their 30s and 40s who will go, 'Oh yeah! Good on ya boys!'"

They will be one of a number of comedy duos at the festival this year, something Darby is very happy to see.

"I think it's not a lost art, but a really cool art, because, well we just lost Ronnie Corbett recently, and The Two Ronnies were such an inspiration to me growing up. And there's something about bouncing off each other, you know the straight guy and the fall guy, I love that stuff, and it's a joy to get back into that."

In between the comedy rehearsals, Darby's also been working on Voltron - a Dreamworks remake of the classic 80s Japanese anime, which revolves around a 300ft robot, made up of five robot lions piloted by humans. Darby plays a character called Coran, a royal adviser to a princess from another galaxy.

It's already getting plenty of buzz in comic circles, and Darby was particularly keen to take on a role that allowed him another opportunity to showcase his vocal skills.

"Voice work is interesting because I've sort of fallen into it. It was a gentle fall originally, until a couple of years ago when I started doing some voices for the Disney show Jake and the Neverland Pirates, in which I played a penguin actually, which was appropriate.

"I've always felt that I've got a significant voice, and so one thing led to another, and I did bits and pieces, and I guess these animated shows talk to one another, and I've picked up more work.

"Voltron's been particularly cool because they let me be myself a bit, you know, use my own voice. I guess I have a voice which fits into the idea of 'alien or person from another world' because I don't sound British or American or Australian."

That's one thing that Darby has been particularly adept at - emphasising the traits that make him different, and keeping those innate Kiwi-isms rather than trying to conform to any particular American ideals.

"I remember reading a review in Edinburgh one time that said, 'You know, you've just got to get your weird little self out there, and show people who you really are, and then they just can't help but celebrate it'."

Low down


Rhys Darby


NZ International Comedy Festival

Where and when:

Hosting the Flick Electric Co Comedy Gala on Friday, April 22 at ASB Theatre (screens Monday 8.30pm TV3); solo show I'm A Fighter Jet on Friday, April 29 and Saturday, April 30 at Q Theatre; Rhysently Granted perform from Tuesday, April 26 to Saturday, April 30 at Q Theatre.