I went and saw that Rhys Darby bonehead the other year. Holy shit is he not funny! But when I saw him it was at the peak of his post-Conchords fame. He’d been in a couple of movies doing his shticky bit-part thing. Kiwi twang following him too closely. And we were all supposed to give a shit that someone – anyone! – had , er, “made it” on “the world stage”. I’d heard though, from far too many people, that he was actually really funny and really clever in his stand-up shows. So, whilst it was a job – as in a requirement, part of my role, of how I scrape together a living – I was actually curious to see him return to the stage and do his thing.
Oh man was it ever awful.
Funny thing though – I wrote this review – I’ll show you it in a minute, I’ll include it here as part of today’s piece – and people talked about it for a while after. Which doesn’t usually happen, nor should it really. I mean I guess I should think that’s a good thing – that the review is memorable, but really I’m no fool, I write these things for tomorrow’s fish’n’chip paper, I move on pretty quickly too. I have no vendettas. I’m not out to get Rhys Darby. I don’t give a fuck that he does what he does – I say good on him for being given the platform, or earning it or whatever, to let mediocrity shine. If it is all uncovered one day as some ultimate act of dada – that he really was trying to be the world’s un-funniest, totally shit-ist comedian then I would do the one thing I’ve never been able to do around his comedy: laugh. Actually two things: I’d applaud him as well.
But anyway, several weeks after the review ran people continued to ask me – some just bowling up in the street in that awkward backward-but-totally-forward way Kiwis have once they’re sure you’re fair game – if I had liked the show or not. They really could not tell. One guy even asked me to settle a bet he’d had with his wife – she was sure I hated it and was taking the piss, he was convinced I had loved the show and that his wife had it all wrong. He chatted to me at a bus-stop one day. Nice guy. But I had to tell him that no, I had not at all enjoyed it. And that yes, his wife was – once again – right. I got the feeling she was right more often than he was. I’ve not met her. But sometimes you get that sort of a feeling.
I’m often asked to “just describe the bloody show”, to leave my own opinion out of it and to be “objective”. This is how well we understand the critical process in New Zealand, this is what we say when we feel upset that our view wasn’t broadcast in the paper, that we can’t stand around the water-cooler and smirk that we liked the show – and “so did the guy that writes for the newspaper”. Now, get it right or get it wrong I completely and sincerely do not care whether I am reflecting your opinion. That’s not my job. My job is to give mine. But I decided to try this objective-thing out when working out a way to review Rhys Darby. I had sat there baffled – the audience in stitches, just howling with laughter. You know, as if they were hearing the Seven Dirty Words speech from George Carlin the very first time – at the time. Or watching Richard Pryor re-enact his freebasing bonfire. Or seeing the red-suited Eddie Murphy just kill – absolutely fucking kill – for 90 minutes. Non-stop. They – this audience – were putting Rhys Darby on that same sort of pedestal. And I couldn’t fucking believe it. But I decided I’d do as I had been told by the bought-a-ticket-boffins for once and I would be so goddamn fucking objective.
Here’s what I wrote to reflect what I – and everyone there – saw:
Rhys Darby says a word. Any word. There’s a laugh. He has more of a nasal twang to his voice sometimes – but it’s funny, no matter the amount of twang, no matter the word. Sometimes there is an expletive. And that’s always hilarious. It’s as if Murray (his character from Flight Of The Conchords) is actually swearing. In real life. Amazing. Hilarious.
There was the bit where he pretended to be an Olympic swimmer heading into a bar so in he walked while miming some freestyle arm-strokes because swimmers are always swimming – even on dry land. Funny. And then when the Olympic swimmer realised he was in the wrong bar he backstroked out of there – with real backstroke-actions. The side-splitting kind.
Next thing Rhys Darby is being a horse. Not just any kind of horse though – a dressage horse. So he’s doing really funny side-stepping and bowing and lifting his legs high, keeping them straight as he pretends to be a horse walking backwards. It’s very tricky for a horse to walk backwards and so a comedian-pretending-to-be-a-horse must take extra care when miming what it must be like to experience this equine difficulty. Crack-up.
The full house exploded with laughter as Darby ran back and forth across the stage trying to land his empty handshake. You see he had no one to shake his hand and – arm fully extended – what was he going to do? He had to ground the handshake, sinking to the stage to slide it down for a landing. Very funny. Then he mimed his fingers crawling out – as if disembarking from a plane you see. The fingers did the walking across the stage, up his leg and back into his pocket. As if nothing had happened. But then, hilariously, it was the wrong pocket! So he crossed his arms and put his other arm in the wrong pocket – next thing he’s a walking straitjacket. Make it stop! Make it stop! (Seriously – nobody was able to make it stop).
Rhys Darby entertained with sound effects. He can still do a robot noise and make the sound of doors swinging and creaking. He can make whizzing-air noises as imaginary Frisbees soar. And it is always hilarious because he was on TV in America. And in movies too.
So that was my review of Rhys Darby from his 2012 show. A few months later I received the very same show to review on DVD. That’s comedy-reviewing-karma for ya, eh?
But seriously, his was the worst live comedy show I’ve been to – ever. Because the audience was so into this stupid, awful, terrible, not-funny bullshit. I mean I’ve seen comedians die on stage, or very nearly. I’ve seen bad – but this will always be the worst thing I’ve ever sat through. Always.
I did my best there to explain just what I saw that night. And I saw – and heard – a lot of laughter too. Too much fucking laughter I think. So I’d like to know what you think – a) is Rhys Darby seriously – brutally, tragically – unfunny? And b) what’s the worst live comedy event you’ve been to? [The correct answer to b) by the way is Rhys Darby. But that’s me just reading back today’s report and being all objective and shit].
It Was The Worst started life as a series of posts on the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page