Comedian Rhys Darby may have found fame as the band manager Murray in the hit HBO series Flight of the Conchords (FOC), but it was delivering his famous ‘Robot Man and Mermaid’ sound FX comedy routines that first propelled him into the world of stand-up notoriety.
It is little known that the New Zealand based comic actually started his career as part of a comedy double act. “When I was at University around 1995, I started my comedy career as a duo called ‘Rhysently Granted’. My friend Grant was the other guy.”
He cites amongst his heroes and inspirations, Monty Python, Peter Sellers and Jim Carrey whom he starred alongside in recent hit film ‘Yes Man’. “Jim was great, I learnt a lot from him. (in the film) I play Norman, Carl’s (Jim Carrey’s) boss in a very dull job. Norm is a colourful character but through his geekyness he doesn’t exactly have an address book full of friends.”
One of the themes prevalent throughout FOC is the rivalry and confusion between New Zealanders and Australians, and Darby riffs on this when he recalls once being heckled abroad with the line, ‘Go back to Australia!’ Thankfully he says he is quite at home performing on the Brit comedy circuit. “UK is the best place in the world to perform comedy. There’s just so many clubs and they are always full. The audiences are sharp and a little drunk so you can’t afford to drop the ball!”
Moving onto Murray and the Conchords (comedians Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement), Darby described how he became part of FOC. “I was performing in the Edinburgh fringe festival the same year the Conchords were. We were the only kiwis there back in 2002 so we helped each other out. The BBC approached the Conchords to record a radio pilot and they asked me to play the role of their manager. We made it by improvising the whole thing in their flat. Six months later it became a radio series (on BBC Radio 2). Then the TV thing happened and I was asked to be involved again.” On the subject of the famous FOC ‘band meeting’ scenes with Bret and Jemaine he says, “There was a fair bit of corpsing, we would improvise a bit and really crack each other up. Sometimes I had to do my take to two empty chairs because the boys wouldn’t stop laughing.”
Darby has progressed from stand-up and TV to films in record time. “I always dreamt of being a film actor right from the beginning of my stand-up career. The transition happened quicker than I thought it would, but I now love all three jobs equally. It’s fun working with other people. It’s something you don’t really get to do when you’re a stand-up on the road and on your own.” Rhys recently released his first stand up DVD ‘Imagine That’ to critical acclaim and rightfully glows about the experience. “It feels great. I have achieved a lot since successfully getting married but this is the big one for me. After ten years as a professional stand-up comedian, to finally be able to get the best of my work so far on DVD feels like ‘saved game’. There’s nothing worse than playing your favourite space invaders game, completing all the levels and then someone pulls the plug on the machine before you get your name up on high scores board. It was perfect timing to. I actually got the deal with Warner to make the DVD before I was in any way ‘famous’, so they took a gamble on me. They put a dollar each way on me for a placing and I came through as a winner. The response has been really good so far. Shops in New Zealand are selling out of them!”
The second series of FOC has just run in the US and is running in the UK now, it promises more of what made the first series a massive hit stateside. “Of course I am very excited about season two, filming it was a blast just as it was last year. Much of the same antics can be expected. More band meetings and wonderful songs. More rivalry between countries and awkwardness around girls. As you can see I haven’t really given anything away there... so here’s something: Murray shows off his dance skills!”
FOC has had many guest actors and comics starring in it, Darby remarked on his favourite from the new series. “Jim Gaffigan (Comedy Central) was the funniest guest comedian this year. He cracked me up all the time and he’s a great improviser. I’d love to work with him again!” On the subject of the future Darby was quite coy and determined to give nothing away. “Unfortunately my next few projects are top secret but I can tell you that I’m hoping to do a mini-tour of Australia. A stand-up tour, not just a bus tour. Imagine doing a bus tour of Australia? It would take thirty years.... ha ha...”
Whatever his future plans it is certain that Rhys Darby is one of the most charismatic un-pretentious comedians currently flying high in the world of show business.
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