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“The reality was a bit more like the training in Full Metal Jacket. My sense of humour got me in trouble, but I was good for morale and the sergeants liked me. I stayed for another three years, but got to a crossroads where I would have to do more courses, rise up the ranks and own a military house in the middle of nowhere. I looked at that and thought, ‘I might go to university’.”

His first foray into comedy was with Rhysently Granted, a sketch-and-song duo with friend Grant Lobban, but it was at the University of Canterbury on the outskirts of Christchurch that he really started to hone his funnyman skills. “I saw an ad in the paper for the Green Room, a new performance cafe that turned out to be a good student hangout with a beatnik vibe and performances every night.

I got on really well with the owners; three girls, one of whom is now my wife [Rosie Carnahan]. I was there most nights staring at her, and watching the other acts, whether it was music or poetry or something obscure,” he remembers. “Quickly, over two years, more people came down to the show until we became the South Island hub of comedy. Rosie and I lived in an apartment above the building, and became the couple who let the scene flourish. It was quite a romantic beginning.”

The move to Britain, climbing the ladder of the UK comedy circuit, followed, before Flight Of The Conchords set Darby‘s star soaring as the perpetually optimistic, yet hopelessly misguided band manager, Murray. The show, shot in the US and hit on both sides of the Atlantic, captured the attention of the Hollywood crowd. Roles in Jim Carrey comedy Yes Man, and fellow NZ expat Richard Curtis’s The Boat That Rocked followed, before he decided to step away from the silly roles.

“I took the lead in an indie film called Coming And Going, and was excited to see if I could be the lead in a rom-com. And then I did a New Zealand film called Love Birds, about a guy who, essentially, has a three-way love affair with a woman and a duck. I thought more people would see it, but they didn’t – it came out here the same week as the [2011 Christchurch] earthquake and so not much attention was paid to it, as you can imagine.”

Comedy, though, remains Darby’s first love – “It is just more fun! I love making people laugh” – and he now shares his time between Los Angeles and New Zealand, where he returned after the second season of Conchords. But what of Murray, the well-meaning misfiring Conchordian who catapulted Darby to international fame?  Does he miss him? Far from lamenting a character with which most people readily associate him, Darby has more than just a soft spot for the friendly band manager.
“He has a naive optimism, there isn’t a bad bone in his body,” he explains. “And that represents the New Zealand mindset as a whole – an impressionable type of person that doesn’t mean harm to anyone and about whom people enjoy laughing at. I’m waiting for the opportunity to outdo Murray, but until that time comes he is ‘top of the pops’.”

It is highly likely, though, that the next ‘character’ to outdo Murray will be the talented Darby himself, as he boards his spaceship on a tour of out-of-this-world humour.

This Way To Spaceship begins on July 1 in Bournemouth.
London Shepherd’s Bush Empire, July 20-23. £21.50

W12 8TT |
Tube | Shepherd’s Bush

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Interview: Rhys Darby talks surviving the apocalypse and new UK stand-up tour, This Way To Spaceship
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