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Rhys Darby not planning to slow down

BY GREER MCDONALD
Last updated 17:43 07/11/2009
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Kiwi comes home: New Zealand comic Rhys Darby warms up another crowd.

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From television and film to prime-time advertising campaigns, comedian Rhys Darby admits he's overexposed. He says the only time it's good to be a sellout is when you're doing standup comedy on the road.

Rhys Darby reckons we must all be "pretty bloody sick" of his face right now.

He says the country has been "Darby- fied" thanks to some "unlucky timing", which means his face and wise-cracking jokes are at just about every turn.

"We've experienced that this year," he says. "I've been overexposed.

"It's because I've come home. It's unlucky timing."

For the man who made his name playing Murray the manager in The Flight of the Conchords, the Darby deluge has come in many new forms: cameos on homegrown TV shows 7 Days and The Jaquie Brown Diaries, a Rwandan adventure on TVNZ's Intrepid Journeys and host of C4's Rocked the Nation.

Then there's the advertising promotions with both mobile phone company 2degrees and Greenpeace's Sign On campaign on climate change.

"It's been fast and furious and I've ticked things here and there," he says. "They all get broadcast at the same time. It's just a phase I'm going through."

Add into the mix roles alongside comedy heavyweight Jim Carrey in Hollywood blockbuster Yes Man and British film The Boat That Rocked, and you could surmise it's been quite a year.

But now he's home. And despite copping some flak, 35-year-old Darby has no intentions of slowing down.

In fact, this interview was done on a lunchbreak during filming for his new project, a new TV3 skit-show RadiRadiRah - from the creative brains behind bro'Town.

According to his wife and manager, Rosie Carnahan-Darby, it was the only time during the day he had free. Most nights it's well after 8pm before he "kisses our son goodnight", she says.

Ironic, then, that there's "no TV- watching going on" when he does get home, says Darby.

RHYS MONTAGUE DARBY (the middle name is after his grandfather) first began entertaining Kiwis nearly 15 years ago.

After training as a morse code signaller in the army, he left in 1994 and went to university to become a reporter.

"It's a funny story but I'll tell you anyway . . ." he says, pausing for laughter. "That's one of my favourite sayings."

He then tells of how becoming a reporter was a lifelong dream that he based on his obsession with Tintin, "a guy who travelled around the world telling stories".

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However, while completing his arts degree, he was sidetracked by comedy. "Tintin couldn't have a Kiwi accent, anyway."

It's a passion that set him on a path of international travel for more than a decade, albeit telling stories of a different kind.

"Solo standup became my thing, but I put a spin on it by being very physical on stage and using my theatrical strengths in mime and sound effects to tell stories by acting them out," says Darby on his MySpace web page.

"In 2002 I moved to the UK to see how my act would go down there . . . Four years later I hooked up with the FOTC [Flight of the Conchords] and well . . . you know the rest."

Modest as ever, he plays down his link with the famous duo of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie - but admits they're probably a key reason why his standup live shows sold out.

The Conchords' TV show began in 2007 and is based on Clement and McKenzie's folk parody band. The second season ended earlier this year on the US network HBO, and has just finished screening in New Zealand

"It's gonna be a blast. Coming back [to New Zealand] as a much more well- known entity, I think they'll go for it," he says.

"Because the Conchords haven't done a national tour, but I've managed to squeeze in the time."

The entire It's Rhys Darby Night tour sold out through notifications on social networking site Facebook.

"It's a gift for the hard-out fans. The people who have been following me are in the know."

He says the show, which will play over three nights at Wellington's Opera House next week, is a "combination of my favourite things".

"There will be some sound effects, I'll do some characters."

And for those who think they might be suffering some type of "Darby fatigue", he says there's no need to worry: "It's all new stuff."

And there will be another tour, he promises.

Despite having "far too many things on now, and that's not including house renovations", Darby is also preparing for his next role - father of two.

His second child, another boy to join big brother "almost four-year-old" Finn, is due just before Christmas.

The couple's original plan was always to raise their children in New Zealand, says Darby.

"We're very lucky with timings . . . New Zealand is the best country to bring up any child."

Darby says he's been told one of the greatest things he has is that comedic timing. "And Finn has that, that comedy timing. He's a little bit loopy, exactly 50/50 like me and his mother."

He says the growing brood of baby Conchords (Clement and McKenzie have both become first-time dads in the past year) hasn't changed the dynamics of the comedic team.

"We've always been quite homebody types . . . it's not like we go out and party the night away. Well, at least not like we used to back in the days in Edinburgh.

"Children just add to that. We've all been with the same women for more than 10 years."

Darby says he receives a lot of support from the Kiwi comedy scene. "They're all my friends, we're all very close. They take the piss out of me, it's the New Zealand way. I think they've all been very very proud of me."

Darby says he makes an "honest attempt" to stay out of the spotlight, despite admitting that he pops up on media social pages weekly.

"It's a little bit embarrassing. There aren't many celebrities in New Zealand. There's sports people, then there's 50 per cent of people who couldn't give a shit about them."

(Darby is not a rugby fan - at all. "Can you imagine what it will be like in 2011? The entire country is going to go mad," he says, plunging us all into mourning when we "crash out in the first round or whatever we do.")

He says the tide is "slowly turning" in terms of paparazzi in New Zealand, and he predicts a rise in art-loving among Kiwis.

"The comedians are going to become a bit more famous. But I'm still looking forward to getting out of everyone's faces."

Of course when he jumps on a plane to what he thinks is an escape from the public eye, his pre-recorded appearances continue to play on our screens, he admits. "So there really is no escape.

"With another one on the way, we are looking at work that's happening here in New Zealand. That's not to say I won't go overseas to do work."

Darby has agents in both the US and Britain, running around drumming up jobs and sending scripts to him Down Under.

He laughs when it's suggested he's "doing a Keisha Castle-Hughes" by basing himself in New Zealand and jetting around the globe for work. "Well, I suppose I am."

And yes, all the globetrotting has paid off in a financial sense, but "it was a gamble, not having a real job".

Darby can't resist another joke when asked about why he also chose to follow the lead of Castle-Hughes by joining up to Greenpeace's Sign On campaign.

"Just to meet her really, big fan of Whale Rider. When's she gonna do the sequel?"

He had hesitations about "signing on" - mainly because he said the campaign slogan had connotations for him of those "annoying clipboard people" who stalk pedestrians.

"The only issue was a lot of people just initially thought it was signing on to Greenpeace. So I said, 'Look, you are making sure people know this is different, right?' "

The nature and animal lover says signing on just "seemed to be a good thing to do. There's not much work involved for me. I'm just putting my head out, saying this is the right thing to do, and it might sway a lot of people."

He says that, after living internationally for the past decade, he learnt people's opinion of New Zealand was that we were "a bunch of hippies that stopped whaling". Our clean, green image was well-known. "I'm proud of that. You get a bit of flak for anything you stick your neck out for."

He is critical of Prime Minister John Key's planned no-show at the gathering of world leaders in December in Copenhagen to agree on a plan of action on climate change.

"I just can't believe he's not going to that meeting in Copenhagen. It's bloody ridiculous."

Darby on:

His Kiwi accent: "I've been able to do all  these jobs with my accent. A lot of people say,  'Hey thanks for putting our voice in these big  films."

Celebrity children: "I definitely wouldn't take Finn to fashion shows and dress him up. I don't want him in the spotlight."

His comedy idols: "Jim Carrey, definitely. And people I grew up with like the Monty Python crew, Steve Martin, Peter Sellers."

His latest British project, Amazing Dermot: "I play a down-and-out magician - he's a bit of a prick. A cross between Alan Partridge and Alan B'Stard [a corrupt MP in British television comedy The New Statesman]."

The 2degrees adverts: "Everything I do starts with the creative thing, do I want to go there? The first thing that spoke to me is it's great to go up against these great big giants - a Kiwi company - and say you know what what? And argue the point. I knew they were going to be funny."

- The Dominion Post

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