Flight of the Conchords fans know Rhys Darby as the bumbling band manager Murray Hewitt from the HBO series of the same name.
But over the last decade Darby has also forged a successful stand-up career in the U.K., Australia and elsewhere with similarly quirky (if not quite as bobble-headed) material that he’s increasingly taking on the road — including at downtown’s Comedy Works Thursday, Oct. 17 through Sunday, Oct. 20.
We talked to agreeable, upbeat comic via phone this week about working with the Conchords, his crazy travel schedule, ribbing Ricky Gervais, and the lessons learned from his years in the army.
So where are you at the moment?
I’m in L.A. at the moment. I’ve been here since July, although I’ve been back and forth doing various things for awhile. But we got our green cards, so the family and I kind of made more of a permanent move here.
Is it stressful traveling that much or just part of the job?
I’ve been back and forth to New Zealand, and I’ve been here for work. I’ve been traveling a lot ever since my sons were born, so they’re very used to planes. Finn was born in London when we lived over there for eight years, then we came back to America to do the Conchords TV show and then back to England again and back to New Zealand and back here for movies and things. So yeah, they’re used to it! Which is definitely different than when I was a kid, where I stayed in one place until I was lucky enough to go to Australia for a week when I was 22 or something.
I’ve never seen you play Denver before. Is this your first U.S. club tour?
I’ve been doing sporadic gigs in places I haven’t been to since I got back this time around. And I got the opportunity because of being well known from things I’ve done in the past, which have given me the chance to show up to these places and to have comedy clubs go, “Yeah, we’ll have you!” So it’s not a full tour, it’s just me doing shows, and it’s my first time in Denver. I guess being based in L.A. I can skip out to these place and come back again and not be away too long from the family. And last year I did do an extensive tour of the U.K. and took everyone with us, but it was quite an ordeal. I’ll probably do another one next year, but I’ve never done a full U.S. tour yet. I’m dipping my toes in, seeing who turns up.
Certainly there are some dedicated Conchords fans out there.
It’s been good. People have been turning out. It always surprises me! That show on HBO was pretty popular and there are Conchords fans everywhere. It helps that (the Conchords) keep touring as well. People come up to me with their DVDs that Bret and Jemaine and the other guys have signed and say, “Can you complete this for me?”
Is it a challenge asserting your persona outside of Murray, the character that people most associate you with?
Obviously it is if some of (the audience) haven’t done their research or just come knowing me from that show. They might get a little bit of a shock straight away. But I mean, I’m not THAT different from Murray. I kind of look and sound the same.
You actually look remarkably younger without the mustache.
That’s good! Well, it really added something, the little goatee. It was an old-fashioned look as well, which didn’t help. But I certainly get rid of that when I do stand-up. These days I find most people will look on the Internet and see some of my clips and not be too shocked when I come out. But if I was an actor who was known for that, and then had gone and started trying to do stand-up later — look at someone like Ricky Gervais — then that transition would be a little more difficult. But since I have a good decade of stand-up so behind me, people are assured after 30 seconds or so that it’s going to be good, instead of just me sitting behind a desk and looking confused. Most fans just want a picture with me.
I’m sure it’s a pretty different reception than when you play the U.K. or elsewhere.
In Australia you can make good money over there. In the U.S. it’s all about trying to get on TV. But in the U.K., all the stands-ups are like tradesmen and we earn good money from that, too.
Did you do any of the Oddball Festival dates this year with the Conchords?
I wasn’t asked to do any of those in advance. The guys contacted me like two days before they were doing one in Orange County and Jemaine asked if I wanted to come down and be part of it. I was like, “Well, you could have asked me a month ago. I’ve got plans, buddy!” But that’s typical of them. I think they think I just sit in a room waiting for the phone to ring.
You knew them and worked with them for a few years before the HBO show. Do you still keep in touch?
Definitely. Our paths cross normally about twice a year. Now that I’m sort of based in L.A. they come over for various bits sand pieces they’re doing and we’ll see each other.