Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Tuesday, 21 October 2008 13:03 UK

Talking Shop: Rhys Darby

New Zealand comedian Rhys Darby is best known for his role in cult comedy Flight Of The Conchords, an HBO series about an impoverished musical duo trying to make their name in the US.

Rhys Darby as Murray Hewitt
Darby as deputy cultural attache and Conchords manager Murray Hewitt

Darby plays Murray, the band's hapless manager, who genuinely believes that John Lennon recorded a song called Give Pete A Chance.

But the star is also an accomplished stand-up, with an act mixing physical comedy with mime and sound effects.

He talks about his comedy roots, burgeoning film career and the second series of Flight Of The Conchords.

How does your stand-up act differ from your TV persona?

It's quite different. I do lots of voices and characters. And I also do mime with sound effects, so it's a few miles away from the subtle humour of Murray.

Surely mime doesn't have sound effects?

This is my new mime I've brought out. When you look at mime, quite a lot of the population were missing out. The blind, for example, didn't know what was going on. But with my mime, they're getting in on the action as well.

Rhys Darby
The comic has performed successful shows at the Edinburgh Fringe
Tell me about the characters you perform.

I do a character called Bill Napier who is the head ranger of a park in New Zealand and he's a very manly man, high-spirited and a bit dim.

I do a lot of Kiwi characters, people I've come up with or who I've met on the road. People you'd see in other countries except these types have New Zealand accents - that's easy, I can do that.

What's been the biggest barrier to success in the US - your name or accent?

A bit of both. Every time I fly somewhere, there's some dude waiting for me and my name's always spent wrong. In America, they're not familiar with the spelling of Rhys - which is understandable because it's Welsh - but I always gets Rice, or Rise or Rihys.

You joined the army in your teens. How did you make the transition from the barracks to stand-up?

I've always acted the clown and there was no difference in the army. But I was also interested in the gadgets and the outfits. I got lost in the forest a lot and wasn't good at reading maps.

I initially didn't think there was a stand-up comedy thing you could do, especially in New Zealand, but I went to university and joined a comedy club.

The next thing you know, people were throwing money at me. Literally. So then I stopped doing stuff on the street and moved into clubs.


Comic Rhys Darby on stage in US

Is that how you met Jemaine and Brett from Flight Of The Conchords?

They were in Wellington and I was in Auckland, so it was a definite bus drive to get to each other. But we connected mostly when we arrived in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival.

We were amongst the only two New Zealand acts on at the time and we helped each other out. I did their flyers, Brett did my lighting, and handed out biscuits at half time in my show.

Then they were approached by the BBC to make a pilot for a radio series and they asked me to play the part of their manager. I said yes and then we really made it up as we went along.

When the show transferred from radio to TV, your character, Brian Nebitt, was rechristened Murray Hewitt. What was the thinking behind that?

We had no idea if the TV show was going to be successful or not, and I didn't want to tarnish Brian Nesbitt's good name, so I chucked this other guy in there. He's actually Brian's cousin.

Is there going to be a new series?

Yeah, we're halfway through filming the second season now and that goes to air in January in the US, so will probably come here after that.

Jemaine and Brett have been very honest about their fear of writing a second series. Were you aware of that pressure?

Definitely. It's like your difficult second album. They had to write 20 new songs from scratch, but they're absolutely brilliant. And the best part about the second season is that they write the storylines first and then write the songs to fit - with the first season it was the other way around. So it's been even more fun.

Flight of the Conchords
Flight of the Conchords received four Primetime Emmy nominations
Were you surprised by the show's success?

Absolutely. Who wants to listen to three Kiwis talking about themselves and getting lost in New York?

But the other half of me knows what the Conchords are like. They're my favourite act in the world and their songs are brilliant so at least that part of it was going to shine.

Has the show made a difference to your stand-up audiences?

Yeah, I've got a couple more people coming. Two. Two extra people, actually, who turned up expecting Murray… and enjoyed it.

And it's helped you get into Hollywood, too...

Yes, I've got a film called Yes Man coming out in December. That's based on the Danny Wallace book about a guy who says "yes" to every suggestion that comes to him for six months.

Jim Carrey's playing the Danny Wallace, and I play his father… Oh no! Sorry, I play his boss!

Is he as manic in real life as he appears on screen?

No, he's very dull. A really boring man. But when the cameras are on he comes alive and sometimes he sees cameras when they're not there.

And you're in the new Richard Curtis film too?

The movie's called The Boat That Rocked and it comes out next May. It's about the pirate radio stations here in the UK in the 1960s. It was great to play a DJ on a boat with a bunch of other guys churning out rock tunes and all the fun and laughter that happens.

Rhys Darby's DVD, Rhys Darby Live - Imagine That! is out now. He was talking to BBC entertainment news reporter Mark Savage

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