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Getting ready for the end of the world

By Brentwood Gazette  |  Posted: July 05, 2012

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W hile most of us are happy enough to get a public endorsement from a teacher, boss or partner, Rhys Darby can retire from showbusiness today knowing he was once given a massive thumbs-up from one of his comedy heroes.

Kiwi comic Darby has long been a fan of film star and funnyman Jim Carrey, but when the pair worked together on the movie version of Danny Wallace's Yes Man, the appreciation became mutual: "He's just absolutely brilliant. He's got that Peter Sellers madness inside him" said Carrey of Darby who will hope to channel more of the legendary Goon in his first ever UK tour, entitled This Way To Spaceship.

No matter how many game shows he appears in or red-carpet premieres he turns up for, many people will simply always see Rhys Darby as Murray Hewitt. To some, his long-suffering (and occasionally insufferable) band manager in the HBO series Flight Of The Conchords was the best thing about the show.

He explains that involvement with show creators Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement has a distinctly casual Kiwiness about it.

'They were in Wellington and I was based in Auckland, but I knew of them from the country's comedy festival. They'd only just formed the Conchords the year I left New Zealand and it was two years after that that they went to do the Edinburgh Festival. We were the only Kiwi acts there so we connected up.

"They were approached by the BBC to record a radio pilot. Jemaine asked if I wanted to play the part of their manager and I had nothing else on, had an hour or so for lunch, so I said, 'oh yeah, I could come down and give it a bash'. The rest is history."

While the Flight Of The Conchords TV bandwagon may have ground to a halt (there is still talk of a potential movie which Darby says everyone is keen to make happen in the future), the recognition continues to this day.

His Edinburgh Fringe debut came in 2002 with Rhys Darby Is The Neon Outlaw and he has returned with four further solo efforts. This Way To Spaceship marks his debut UK tour.

Intriguingly, the show is based on his soon-to-be-published book, which he describes as 'an autobiographical science fiction novel; it's a handbook about what you should do to survive the up and coming Armageddon at the end of 2012.

"I have this idea that if the rumours are true and 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 with the Hollywood set, obviously I'll be on the list.

"So this book is carefully disguised stories of my life about how I got to where I am now, with advice on conversation starters at parties, fashion tips, how to work your way up the social set and get known. All total nonsense of course.

"For those who haven't received an invite for this spaceship, the last two chapters feature methods to find the ships and how to infiltrate your way in there; the last bit is about life in space and how to deal with alien attacks.

"I also put in 26 hand-drawn illustrations as I fancy myself as a bit of a drawer.'

As difficult as it might be to imagine how on earth all this could be crafted into a live show, it should be remembered that Rhys Darby is a one-man tinderbox on stage. His shows are a spectacular mixture of bizarre sound effects, energetic physicality, surreal stand-up and 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 tour a whole package."

It's all a long way from his university days studying art theory which was followed by a short stint in the military. But Darby decided to follow his dream of being a comedy performer, although at that time there wasn't much of a scene in New Zealand at all.

'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."

The British comics who jetted over for the New Zealand Comedy Festival became a beacon of hope for Darby.

"I enjoyed hanging out with them and they suggested that I should make the move as my act had universal appeal. And so I did and never looked back. I came over with some friends; we were 24 or something and it was time to go on an adventure."

That adventure shows no sign of slowing down for Rhys Darby.

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