From hoop dreams to humour
Guy Williams' first brush with the heady world of the media was as a teenage basketball player in the sport pages of the Nelson Mail. But in that photo, from 2003, he was stuck right at the back of the pack, almost completely obscured by a team-mate's head.
No more. The former Nelson College student, now 24, is enjoying a brighter spotlight these days with his pitch-perfect brand of deadpan comedy.
Four years ago, as a political science student at Victoria University, Williams was warming the bench for the Wellington Saints when he decided to give comedy a go.
He got his big break when he was selected as Dai Henwood's protege on the C4 television show Jono's New Show in 2009, landing him the opening spot for Henwood's performances at the International Comedy Festival in Wellington and Auckland. Now he's a regular on TV3's The Jono Project, has appeared on 7 Days, and had a cameo last week in an episode of new comedy show Hounds.
However, his heart is with stand-up. He says the biggest honour so far is winning last month's Billy T Award, New Zealand's most prestigious comedy gong, beating Tom Furniss, Tevita Manukia, TJ McDonald and his girlfriend, Rose Matafeo, to claim the title.
"It was really a big relief, to be honest," he says. "I almost felt like it was something I needed to do. It sounds lame to say 'rite of passage', but I'm going to say that anyway."
Williams now has the pleasure of seeing himself listed as a winner on the Billy T Award Wikipedia page – which he created in 2007 because he thought it needed more recognition – alongside the likes of Taika Waititi, Cal Wilson, Jemaine Clement and Steve Wrigley.
Although he'll be familiar to late-night comedy audiences, Williams is perhaps most famous for a 2010 stunt where he pulled the wool over the eyes of a Sunday News reporter and bluffed his way into a Breakfast interview with Paul Henry. He posed as Jay Pryor of Commercial Whaling New Zealand, a fake pro-whaling lobby group complete with fake press releases and website.
"It went way too well. It was either a happy accident or a disaster accident, but either way it turned out really well for me. All of a sudden I had to become a major part of [The Jono Show]. I accidentally improved my job overnight."
Williams and his younger brother Paul will be familiar to Nelson comedy fans. Paul has reaped most of his internet fame via parody YouTube music videos filmed while he was still at school.
In 2007, the pair won a national short film award with And Inconvenient Tuth, a parody of Al Gore's film on global warming. The younger Williams, 19, is now studying at Victoria, and his digital fame is translating to the real world.
"[Paul] gets gigs booked based only on YouTube videos, which is amazing," his brother says.
"We're very lucky that our parents have always supported us in whatever we want to do, whereas some people have to get forced into doing things."
Williams retains a soft spot for his home town. "People in Nelson don't know how good they've got it. My mum always thinks she wants to move to Auckland because it's got a better lifestyle, but she's nuts. Nelson is literally the best place in New Zealand, in terms of the climate, the access to the beach, the prettiness of the city – it's actually my favourite town in New Zealand. Every time I go back there, it feels like a holiday."
And he still has the former Nelson Bays Rugby Union griffin as the background on his Twitter homepage. "I remember fondly when the horrifying griffin mascot used to stalk the sidelines scaring children," he says. "I thought it was an awesome-slash-ridiculous logo."
He wishes local rugby would go back to what it used to be, pre-Tasman Makos, "when Nelson Bays heroically battled Hawke's Bay every year in the second division final and you used to get into the game free if you painted your face".
Although he believes New Zealand comedians "punch well above their weight", Williams is keen to head overseas soon, following his dream to write for popular American satirical news programme The Daily Show.
"I think for everyone in any field, unless you're a rugby player, the plan at some stage of your life is to try and leave New Zealand. You want to be where the action is."
No local-boy-does-good story would be complete without Williams' advice to budding young comedians. He reckons he was never the funny guy at school, but that shouldn't stop anyone from trying stand-up.
"Even my mum should try it," he says. "Everyone in the world has something funny about them."
- © Fairfax NZ News