By: Lauren De Vries
I am finding it difficult to express the sheer extent of my enthusiasm for Rhys Darby. Before interviewing him, I loved his work in ‘Flight of the Conchords’, ‘Pirate Radio’, and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’. After interviewing him, I literally wanted to be him. Read on for a thrilling conversation about Mongolian sand worms, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and turtles. For the full effect, please imagine this entire interview in a strong New Zealand accent.
LDV: So I know you’re famous for telling stories with mime and sound effects in your comedy, what are some of your favourite things or people to imitate?
RHYS:Well, I have a natural gift of imitating machinery which is weird, and I bring this up in my current standup show. The reason why -cause I questioned it – why do I like to mimic things, why do I mimic? And not so much doing impersonations of people, specific people, like celebrities or whatever. But I have this inclination to mimic noises in general. So once I kind of realized I was a bird in a previous life, that made sense to me.
The other thing I like to mimic is the character of people. That’s why I guess I like to do characters, because it comes naturally to me too, being different to what I am. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t like what I am, or why I do it, it’s fine. But I like being able to adapt and become other people, and I like trying to play and having fun. So yeah, I guess I mimic people but not specific people, different versions of me, and then objects. Doors opening. Police sirens. Helicopters. A lot of guns. Weapons make really good noises. It actually probably came about from early childhood playing. I used to play a lot on my own. Not that I didn’t have friends! But I liked to play with all my toys and I would just do all the noises. And then I just started doing that on stage! And people would say ‘wow, you’re really good at that’. And I was like ‘huh, I just thought everyone could do that’!
LDV: What’s your favourite version of yourself that you do imitations of? Do you have a nerdy version of yourself?
RHYS: Yeah, definitely! Well, that’s not too far away from me. But definitely I do a much softer, weaker version of me. And I actually enjoy doing the opposite. A stronger, more manly version of me. Because I guess as a boy that’s the kind of action hero that I would look up to if I could be that person. Someone who could try and save the world. But there’s always an underlying level of being a klutz. [laughs] Because otherwise it’s just not funny!
LDV: And now you kind of get to be an action hero in the Jumanji movie!
LDV: Are you excited? Do you get to do any stunts or anything cool?
RHYS: I run about a bit! Jump over things! Nothing too stunty, but at least it’s kind of a start. It shows people that you know, for those that don’t know, that I can shake it up. I’m not just good behind a desk! And of course I was in the army in New Zealand so I have got those skills. People just need to know.
LDV: I heard that you really like reading and learning about World War II. Have you had any interest in doing World War II movies or more dramatic roles?
RHYS:Yes! I would love to! Love to! I’m just waiting for the phone to ring. Yeah, I wanna do anything action, anything where you’ve gotta wear a uniform and help save the world.
LDV: That sounds good! You’ve also talked about how you’ve only been birds in your past lives, is there another animal that you wish you could’ve been in a past life?
RHYS: I do like turtles!
RHYS: They live a long time and they seem to be pretty chill. Especially sea turtles. You know, they’re just swimming about in the depths of the beautiful, tropical ocean and I don’t know, they seem cool.
LDV: That’s a good one. I also read you summited Mount Kilimanjaro, is that true?
RHYS: Oh yes, it’s one of the many things I’ve done. That’s true!
LDV: That’s amazing! Are there any similarities between mountain climbing and comedy?
RHYS: Well I guess you’ve got to keep going. That’s the hardest part. And you’ve got to believe in yourself. Certainly there are parallels between mountaineering and comedy, because if you give up, you’ll never get there. And I think that’s the one thing – maybe I – cause I was ill when I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro-
LDV: Oh wow!
RHYS: -and I shouldn’t have gone any further, but I was determined to get to the top because I didn’t know when I was going to do it again. And I don’t want to do it again-
RHYS:– but I probably will with my sons when they’re older. Because it’s one of those big mountains that you can actually achieve without being a mountaineering nut. But it was so hard. Nearly died. [laughs]
LDV: [laughs] Oh no! Are there any other mountains you want to climb?
RHYS:No! No. But I did get a call to do Everest the following year. It was for a charity event, for comedians, but my wife was like, and I agreed with her, she was like ‘no’. One mountain is enough, you know? You climb one mountain and the phone rings-!
RHYS:But yeah, it’s not my thing. I love adventure, but going up and the lack of oxygen and the altitude, it was like ‘oh my god’. I would rather go down. I’ll go caving! But I don’t want to go up.
LDV: How do you think the British comedy scene compares to the North American comedy scene today? I read you came up in England.
RHYS:Yeah! I can’t speak too much for the North American scene, but I guess the difference is for the UK, there’s probably a lot more happening. And I think the audiences, who’ve maybe been around a bit longer, are more judgemental so you get better quicker because otherwise you’re out. There’s the heckling, and things like that. Really sorts out the no goods from the goods.
And I think the other thing that happens over there is they do pay you. So I know that in the states, there’s a lot of comics that are not getting any money, and I don’t even know how they get by, but they’re hoping to get a leg up. Hoping to get a special, get on to some show. But in the UK, there are just working, jobbing comics as we call them, who have no qualms about getting onto some television show. They are just jobbing comics. And I was one of those for quite a while. My idea was to not be that, because I got there and I didn’t want to be out every night doing this. And I don’t want to be touring all the time, which is why I don’t.
When I do standup, it’s not that often. I have two children and I just don’t want to be away a lot. I know I’ve rambled off course a little there, but it is a tough life! And it’s great when you’re young, young and single, and it’s very rock and roll. You can be a comic all over the world, or just a certain area you want to be in. But at some point, and comics are very bad at this, growing up [is a question]. And the question is do you want to grow up? Do you want to have a house? Do you want to have a family? Because if you do, stop doing those clubs for a free beer. [laughs] You know? Get a job.
LDV: [laughs] True! Also on your podcast ‘The Cryptid Factor’ you talk about the search for creatures that may or may not exist. What’s the weirdest creature you’ve heard or read about?
RHYS: Good question! Well the Mongolian Death Worm is really up there for me, because it spits acid allegedly through its bumhole. Although I don’t believe that! I think these things exist, but I think it must come through the mouth! I think I’ve just added that. But my friend David went to Mongolia with some explosives to find these things. And he went to some villages, met some people, they all believed that these things existed. He was even given a sculpture of one from a local village which he brought back. But these things are these metre and a half long worm creatures that have these ferocious mouths and they spit acid and you’ll die if you come across them basically! [laughs]
RHYS: But you can hear them rumbling across the sand. And it makes sense to me that they exist, because they’re underneath the sand and they’re in an environment where it’s too hot to really be outside for very long during the day, so you wouldn’t really see them. And at night the humans are generally asleep. Which is when I think they would come out. So that one has always intrigued me.
LDV: Why did [your friend David] need explosives to find them?
RHYS: To bring them out of the sand!
LDV: Okay, so he went there with a death wish.
RHYS: [laughs] Yeah! Yeah.
LDV: One last thing, I heard that you’re doing a fall Alternative Comedy tour for JFL with TJ Miller. Any updates or anything you want to say about that?
RHYS: No, just that I’m excited! I know TJ Miller, we don’t know each other that well, but we’ve come across each other a few times. And I just hope that it’s a wonderful chaos!
Rhys Darby will be performing in Ottawa November 3rd, Toronto November 4th, and Hamilton November 5th. Just click on the link to buy your tickets before they’re all sold out! You can also follow him on Twitter or Instagram for a truly joy-filled essay of photos.