Meeting Rhys Darby
There’s Flight of the Conchords, New Zealand’s fourth most popular novelty music act, with a fanbase of one and a tendency to bewilder open mic night audiences with stubborn renditions of their track Who Wants To Rock The Party- Then there’s Flight of the Conchords, the platinum-selling, Grammy award-winning, Emmy-nominated musical parody juggernaut with a tour of the States on the way and a worldwide following. 3D’s Darryn King spoke to the man behind the man behind the Conchords, Rhys Darby, ahead of his stand-up tour of Australia.
No one’s been more overwhelmed by the rapid ascent of Flight of the Conchords than the three unassuming Kiwi lads in the midst of it all. “We feel we’ve been surrounded by the fans,” says actor-comedian Rhys Darby. “It’s a bit like in Return of the Jedi when C-3PO got caught in that net by the little Ewoks and they made him into this idol. It’s all very confusing. A bit like that.”
Darby plays the Conchords’ out-of-his-depth band manager, named Bryan Nesbitt in the original BBC radio series and Murray Hewitt in the HBO TV series. Many of the performances were crafted out of improvisation – the infamous roll call was Darby’s first ad lib – but that doesn’t mean that Darby hasn’t had a good long think about his character.
“When it comes down to it, he’s a naïve guy, but he’s got a good heart,” Darby says. “He’s from a small town in New Zealand and I guess he misses home a lot. He gets attached to these cool guys – a couple of cool-looking idiots – who make him feel cool. A lot of people can relate to that: not being part of the cool group. But if you get to be attached to the cool group in any way shape or form, that’s cool.”
The second series of Flight of the Conchords is currently airing Stateside and will arrive on our shores later in the year, with Murray playing a much more physical part in proceedings this time round. “I get to do a bit more movement with Murray. I do a bit of running, I jump across the bonnet of a car, we see him at his house barbecuing… It’s a lot more fun.” There’s also some choreographed dancing, apparently. “There’s more rivalry between the Australians and the New Zealanders. Murray gets hassled, so he deals with it… with a bit of dance.”
Since the success of the Conchords, Darby has landed two comedy feature film roles, his first alongside Jim Carrey in Yes Man. “One time we did 25 takes of this scene, and it was hot, and I was stuck in this office, and I thought, I’m just losing it – I can’t even remember what the funny bit was. So there was a bit of stress, and I went home thinking it was terrible. But later on you get to see it and it’s brilliant!” Darby is also set to appear in Richard Curtis’s latest effort, The Boat That Rocked, later in the year, as part of a pretty impressive Hollywood cast. “I walked in and I met these Oscar winners – Emma Thompson, Philip Seymour Hoffman – and I just went, I’ve done a film, I know what I’m doing! There were like, ‘And you are-’”
With a couple of feature film roles and two seasons of a successful HBO series in the bag, Darby feels like he’s just hitting his stride. “When I first started doing stand-up I didn’t hold back on my dreams: I wanted to go all the way. My idea was to get into television and film ultimately. Now I’m there I’m pretty comfortable and I’ve just got to keep it rockin’.”
Darby is quick to insist, however, that ten years treading the boards as a stand-up comedian was more than an apprenticeship. Last year he hit the mic in sell-out shows at the El Ray Theatre in Los Angeles (Imagine That, the DVD of the performance, was the first ever global DVD release for a Kiwi comedian), and he’ll be bringing his show to Australia next week. “You can’t beat the kick of doing live comedy and improvising on stage,” Darby says. “And as you get more well-known you get a bit more comfortable. People are there to see me now, they’ve already seen a lot of what I do, and I can have a bit more fun on stage and they’ll go with me, which has been awesome. It just gets better as a stand-up.”
WHO: Rhys Darby
WHAT: Performs The Enmore Theatre
WHEN: Thursday 12 March
MORE: enmoretheatre.com.au / rhysdarby.com