Conchords man Rhys Darby courts the apocalypse in 2012 Fringe show
New Zealand comedian's show on how to survive Armageddon
This article is from 2012.
Whatever lies ahead in Rhys Darby’s career, one showbiz stat might continue to haunt him: he may never be as popular as Zippy. Or rather, not Darby himself, but one Murray Hewitt. The feckless Kiwi band manager he played in 22 episodes of Flight of the Conchords was voted five places down from the Rainbow legend in Loaded’s recent Top 100 Cult TV Characters poll. ‘As I flicked through it I thought, “There’s a chance I could be in here,”’ Darby recalls. ‘And then I thought, “Actually, I’ll be annoyed if I’m not in here, a hundred is a lot”. But Murray is in there at no 17 and I was pretty happy with that.’
Still, Rhys Darby has a head start on anyone in Rainbow (even Bungle) when it comes to performing innovative live comedy shows. His Edinburgh Fringe debut came in 2002 with Rhys Darby is the Neon Outlaw and he has returned with four further solo efforts. His 2012 effort, This Way to Spaceship, is based on his debut publication which he describes as, ‘an autobiographical science fiction novel; it’s a handbook about what you should do to survive the Armageddon due at the end of 2012. I have this idea that if the world does blow up, the superpowers have got spaceships ready with a special invite list to get on board. What with me making waves on the Hollywood set, obviously I’ll be on the list.’
As difficult as it might be to imagine how on earth Armageddon could be crafted into a live comedy show, it should be remembered that Rhys Darby is a one-man whirlwind on stage. His shows are a spectacular mixture of bizarre sound effects, energetic physicality, surreal stand-up and, of course, dinosaur impersonations. So what came first here: the idea for a live show which turned effortlessly into a book or a tome that suggested itself as a stage extravaganza? ‘Initially I was going to do a book tour with maybe 20 minutes of stand-up but by the time I finished the book it kind of made sense to then turn it into a stage show because it would be a good way to try and sell it and also to put the whole package on stage.’
These days, Darby splits his time between Los Angeles and New Zealand with his wife and their two young sons, which seems as far away from the initial career path in the military he had appeared destined for. ‘I think I just watched too many 80s war movies: Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Hamburger Hill; oh man, I just wanted a piece of that. The basic training side of it was very Full Metal Jacket, there was certainly a lot of abuse and holding very heavy artillery shells above my head and running through swamps. I probably should have joined the scouts but I went straight into the real army. Luckily, as it was New Zealand, we didn’t really get deployed anywhere, it was more of a civil defence outfit.’
At university, Darby studied sociology and philosophy and got his degree in art theory. ‘I guess it made me think a lot, broadened my mind. After that I got a job in an art shop selling prints, but that only lasted about six months when it closed down due to a lack of sales. But I spent a lot of that time sitting in the shop writing comedy.’ Writing comedy was one thing; getting a chance of performing his material in New Zealand was almost as easy as finding an enemy to declare war upon.
‘There was nothing happening there and to this day there’s only one full-time purpose-built comedy club in the country; there’s more of a scene now, with a good dozen or so comics making a living from it. When I was starting out there was one club and three or four bars offering the odd gig and at the time I was doing three shows a week in Auckland. I found that I’d be doing Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday and the weekend audience was like, “Hey, I saw you on Tuesday!” It would be the same people coming along.’ Over a few weeks fending off the end of the world, Rhys Darby can look forward to a whole new audience.
Rhys Darby: This Way to Spaceship, Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 4–27 Aug (not 8, 14), 8pm, £17.50–£18.50. Previews until 3 Aug, £11.