Comedian Ben Hurley was head boy at Hawera High School and hoping to become a lawyer until he was hooked by comedy instead. Now a regular on TV3's 7 Days, he says he can annoy people because he's opinionated and doesn't back down from an argument.
1. Did the royal tour do it for you?
Normally I would do everything in my power to ignore it but being on 7 Days means I have "to be aware of things other people care about". Personally, I think the monarchy is irrelevant and pointless. In times gone by, the ruling classes lost their heads for their hereditary opulence but, if I'm honest William and Kate seem kind of normal by royal standards, so, come the revolution they can just get exiled to Siberia or something. I really hate that there's people in the world who get born into that and never have to work or struggle. That and the fact it costs us money to have them here when there's better things that could be spent on.
2. Describe your childhood.
It was a fairly typical small town upbringing. Lots of sports and running around outside. Playing backyard cricket in the summer evenings until we couldn't see the ball any more. The biggest thrill was once a month going to New Plymouth to go to the movies and McDonald's. Then, as we got older there was a lot of high school parties in people's garages or their tractor shed, driving around in cars and fighting the general boredom of small town NZ.
3. What kind of life plan did you have when you were head boy?
I could always talk in public and argue so I thought law school would be the best thing for me but when it came to actually enrolling in uni I couldn't go through with it. As it turns out, it was quite a good move. Everyone I knew who did first year law either freaked out, dropped out or turned into a suit-wearing dick. I did an arts degree and was a long haired, bearded dick.
4. Have you always worn facial hair?
I've had it since I could grow it. At first it was only about nine hairs in the middle of my chin, then I had a goatee but it didn't join up around the sides. When I was at uni I looked like a romantic poet. When I met my wife I had just grown a full beard and she loved it. What's wrong with my chin? I've only seen it twice. It just looked nude. And pale.
5. Are your parents funny?
My Dad Rob's a big British comedy fan and I grew up watching Fawlty Towers, Dad's Army, Blackadder. He's a funny man himself and Mum is too. It was a household where humour was appreciated. I find it odd when people say "so and so's really funny". I think I'm a good comedian. What's the difference? It's a skill set. Some of the funniest people I know are not comedians, like my friend Nigel. But once it's your job it's different. It's a skill.
6. Do you think you have to be clever to be a comedian?
You have to be smart. But that doesn't mean academic in the traditional sense necessarily. You have to be a thinker - about the world and your place in the world and being self-analytical as a comedian is pretty important.
7. What about ego?
We all have an ego and I think men have more than women. To be a comedian, you're out there on your own and you have to believe that you can do it. There has to be a certain amount of self belief, though you have to keep it in check, obviously. It's all right for a professional life but you have to appear like you're one of the people, too.
8. You left the Wellington comedy scene for several years performing in England. Did you become an Anglophile?
No, it made me love and appreciate this country more than ever. Don't get me wrong, London is a truly amazing city if you have money. I didn't really have a lot for the first year I was there. The better my career went the more I got to appreciate it. Still, it's dark, expensive and the people are generally grumpy and beaten down by life.
9. You've got two young children. What aspirations do you have for them?
To be anything other than a performer. I want geeks! Scientists, scholars, info-tech something. I want them to tell me the title of what they do and me not really understand what that is. People ask me about my girls being performers and I just think of the many lucky, lucky things that I got along the way. That doesn't always happen.
10. Do you believe in luck?
Of course you make your own luck. Meeting people and getting along with people has helped. I don't use the term networking because I've never been nice to someone I haven't liked. And I annoy people as well. I'm opinionated. I'm argumentative and I don't like to back down. I like the European culture where they scream and yell at each other and are best friends a minute later. The thing I find annoying about New Zealand is we smile through clenched teeth at one another and are non-confrontational.
11. How competitive is the Kiwi comedy scene?
As competitive as any workplace, probably. We all want a promotion, we all have the people we like to work with, the people we don't mind seeing succeed and the people we are not sure how that happened.
12. You describe yourself as a "staunch atheist": how can you be so sure?
Everyone is entitled to their beliefs but just say it out loud one day. "A man with a big beard, sits on a cloud and controls everything in the universe". I don't have to be sure. Mine's not a belief, it's just fact. The burden of proof isn't on me. I've never had any religious upbringing. I've never been to a church service. I think you should be a good person because we're highly evolved creatures with a sense of empathy.
See Ben Hurley in the 7 Days 150th episode on TV3, April 25, and in the Comedy Gala special, TV3, April 28. You can also catch his live show The Reckoning in the 2014 NZ Comedy Festival.