Comedian Jonny Brugh has teamed up with his What We Do in the Shadows cast mate Jackie van Beek to make a new improvised TV comedy - Educators. He farewells his loveable buffoon character Monty in the final of 800 Words tomorrow night.
1 Your erotic dance in What We Do in the Shadows is one of the film's funniest scenes. Where did your inspiration come from?
I liked a scene in Metropolis, a silent film where a man has hallucinations of an erotic dancer: a clam shell opens and this beautiful back-lit dancer draped in translucent fabric starts to gyrate while slowly rotating inside the shell. I thought my character, the vampire Deacon, could do an homage to that. He sees erotic dance as not only an art form but also a practice, like yoga, that one should do regularly if one wants to remain erotic. He's been working on what he thinks is some pretty compelling material that he wants to show his mates.
2 Did you spend much time rehearsing the dance?
No, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi kept all the actors in the dark on what was happening each day. They'd set up a scene, we'd bring our characters to it and improvise from there. In this scene we were watching TV. Jemaine said, "It seems a bit boring. What else could we be doing?" I suggested doing an erotic dance. He goes, "That would be good. What do you need?" I said I needed snake charmer music and a fishnet singlet, which is something all men should have - in the same way they should have a suit. Then it was just start dancing and don't stop - that's a good rule in improvised comedy - but it felt like hours. It was quite humiliating but also liberating.
3 Deacon has become a hit at comic conventions around the world. Has that been fun?
Yeah, Denver was my favourite Comic Con. I did a Q&A as Deacon in a massive room with about a thousand people all dressed in costume asking Deacon questions like, 'What it's like being a vampire? and 'How do vampires travel to America?' It's a wonderfully heightened atmosphere of enthusiastic people who love fantasy and film-making. I've managed to crowd surf a few times but I'm told that could cause legal problems so I'll have to rethink that.
4 Will Deacon appear in the TV series of What We Do in the Shadows currently being made in America?
I'd love to be in it but the characters in the TV series are different. It's a similar format and way of making comedy but it's about other gangs of vampires living in places like New York or Toronto. A lot of Kiwis are involved in making it. I'd love to be part of that process.
5 You've co-created a new comedy series called Educators with Jackie van Beek and Jessie Griffin. Is that also improvised?
Yes, improvisation's a great way to make comedy. We started with a couple of characters - a teacher and a principal - that were the nightmares of my education brought to life. We pitched it to South Pacific Pictures and once we got funding, we grabbed an ensemble of our favourite actors to get together and play; Madeleine Sami, Tom Sainsbury, Kura Forrester, Cohen Holloway and Rick Donald.
6 Did your own experiences of school influence your character in Educators?
Yes, I remember as an 8-year-old doing a test: the headmaster came in and said, "There's three parts to it - if you're doing part b, you only need to do half of the multi-choice questions unless you're doing part c in which case you do all the multi choice questions. Part a is compulsory." I was lost instantly and they decided to put me back a year. I found much of school a comedy farce. I was always heading toward art school. I've got a fine arts degree, majoring in design and photography.
7 How did you get into comedy?
At age 19 I became friends with a group of boys from Dilworth College including Jason Hoyte, Brendan Lovegrove and Martin Lark who all had a similar rigorous, competitive approach to being creative. Jason and I performed as Sugar and Spice for about 12 years. We were sort of pretending to be comedians for a long time. Then you get reviews and you go, 'I suppose we are comedians'. I'm not very good at writing gags. My style of writing comedy is to play a scene and then go back through it and pick out the good bits. I get bored of being funny just for the sake of it. I love telling stories that are funny and full of heart.
8 Who are your favourite comedians?
Growing up. Rik Mayall was my favourite. Jemaine Clement has a wonderfully mysterious, sensual kind of character to his performance. Phil Kaye, a Scottish guy with a long black beard, big googly blue eyes and no shoes can have me laughing like a baby for an hour. Sugar and Spice opened for him when he came out here. He had no material. He just played games with the audience - new games that I hadn't seen before.
9 Comedians seem to have a better threshold for public failure than most people. Why is that?
Probably by failing a lot. Doing stand-up, I'd fail at least half the time. Because I had my buddy Jason Hoyte on stage next to me, we could laugh with each other about how badly it was going. Once the audience see that you know it's going badly, there's a different kind of conversation going on. Sometimes the same material will go really well one night and really badly the next. Or you'll write some great material but get bored of it. You want to keep trying new stuff.
10 How do you pronounce your surname Brugh? Is it Scottish?
Bruff. I thought it was Scottish for a long time. But then I was part of the DNA Detectives show where I discovered I'm actually descended from a Dutch slave-trading plantation owner and his Ghanaian/Nigerian concubine. That was Albert, my great-grandfather, who came to New Zealand during the gold rushes. A lot of slave owners adopted different surnames after abolition. Finding out that part of my ancestry wasn't easy. I'm probably Scottish as well. These eyebrows have got to be a giveaway, surely.
11 Did you enjoy your turn in Mega Time Squad, screened at this year's Incredibly Strange Film Festival?
Oh yes. It's a time-shifting crime caper set in Thames. It's Tim van Dammen's second feature so his sense of comedy is very strong and established. It takes a huge amount of energy and conviction to make a no-budget film. He keeps it really loose on set and everyone nailed their parts. We had the pleasure of presenting it at an underground festival in Sydney recently.
12 Was your character in 800 Words written with you in mind?
Yes, James Griffin said he wrote Monty with me in mind. My audition went well, which is rare for me, so the character's obviously a good fit. Monty is a loveable buffoon, a solo dad working hard to please his daughter. He's developed quite a nice friendship with George, although that's exacerbated by the number of outlandish Kiwi-isms he makes. I think everybody would find Monty a bit frustrating at times.
• The final of 800 Words is on Wednesday 12 December at 8.50pm on TVNZ 1 Educators is coming to TVNZ On Demand in 2019