Rhys Darby – rhythm dancer and pub storyteller

Rhys Darby & MoataWe welcome Moata Tamaira as a guest blogger. Moata used to work at Christchurch City Libraries, but nowadays she’s known for the Blog Idle – her popular blog on Stuff. She works for Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa.

It was no great surprise to find that it was a full house in the ASB Theatre for An Hour with Rhys Darby. Whether you find his particular brand of comedy amusing or not, in recent years he has achieved the kind of success that few stand up comedians from Pakuranga could dream of. People are generally curious about successful people (this can be the only reason you’d have Donald Trump fronting a reality show. In my opinion, he’s a boor of the highest order – overachieving in that field as well as the financial).

It starts with the outfit. Darby looks like 2 or 3 different Doctor Whos glommed into one. He sports a trilby shaped hat. Thick-framed spectacles. A bowtie. A striped jacket that belongs with another outfit entirely. He’s already entertaining and he hasn’t said anything yet.

His partner in crime or “enabler” for this evening is journalist Tim Wilson who over the course of the hour flicks through Rhys’ book This way to spaceship periodically thrusting it into Darby’s hands and indicating passages that he thinks he should share very much in the manner of an affable English teacher. And Darby does need a little teacherly encouragement to focus. To start with his tendency to mine every moment for comedy is a little frustrating. Was that his genuine answer or did he just say that to be funny? I find myself wanting him to give a straight answer.

Perhaps in response to his continued quipping, Wilson asks if he has ever wanted to be serious? Has he ever wanted to be … Leo Tolstoy? Unsuprisingly the answers is no, no he hasn’t. While it’s true that Darby makes his living by being funny it’s not something that he can just turn off.

Being funny is my job but it’s also who I am… I treat comedy as a way of life.

However he understands that he isn’t everybody’s cup of comedy chai, and at Wilson’s suggestion he reads a passage describing the first time he was confronted by this in the form of a “hater”.  Naturally this encounter occurs at a urinal … (As a cautionary note, never critique a comedian when he can see your penis. In subsequent retellings it will always be referred to as “tiny”).

Fortunately Darby seems relax into the session as he goes along and gives some insight into his writing process. While I’ve heard other writers at this festival discussing their narrative choices, the context in which they might prefer the first person over the third person, for instance, Darby just wanted his book to be the written version of a conversation that he has with the reader. He wanted it to be as if he were just telling the story to you at the pub and he seems satisfied that this is what he has achieved.
Rhys Darby display at Whitcoulls
His thoughts on Kiwi vs American humour is that we’re a lot more subtle. “We’re not a set-up-punchline nation” and I tend to agree. And of the famed Kiwi self-deprecating wit he says, “We really like taking the piss out of ourselves. We’re very confident in that”. He also praises the Kiwi ability to punch above our weight on the world stage and puts at least some of that down to creativity. “Creativity,” he says, “is more important than sport”. Naturally this is a sentiment that is very well received, what with it being a literary festival and all. Is it really so long since we were in the grip of RWC fever? Would he have got away with saying that last year?

It was a very entertaining session but also one that did give the audience a little insight into the hows and whys of Darby’s writing. In the end the comedy-literary balance was harmonious enough. At least until the very end when Darby demonstrated, to a “Rhythm is a dancer” backing track some of his night club dance moves. That was pure comedy. Unless you could call the “James Bond in a ski chase” portion of his routine a literary allusion to Ian Fleming…

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