Rhys Darby, The Lowry, July 18 2014
Still best known as Murray from Flight of the Conchords, Rhys Darby has, in recent years, been making something of a name for himself outside of Australia as a stand-up – and his comedy is as affable, as gentle, as cosy and warm as you suspect Rhys himself might be in real life. He kicks off in character, as Bill Napier, a ranger Rhys has invited along on the tour who also appears within a TV series Darby has created called Short Poppies. You can see the audience trying to work out if Darby is a Steve Coogan kind of comedian, likely to hide behind characters, although this proves not to be the case. Napier is a device that allows Darby to undercut himself (all of the self-deprecating is part of his charm) – whilst at the same time introducing his support, a Cornish rap act called Hedluv & Passman. Hedluv and Passman are silly in an endearing sort of way and, despite the fact that their material, delivered at breakneck speed, doesn’t elicit as many laughs as you would really want, the audience is largely on their side.
Darby himself is a storyteller. There are maybe five interlinked stories – ranging from tales of his time in the New Zealand army (a tale that gives him the opportunity to do his machine gun noises – Darby is a regular Michael Winslow at times) to being on honeymoon in Thailand and looking for the Loch Ness monster. His great skill manifests itself in the way in which he returns to earlier jokes, reworking them in a way that feels both spontaneous and crafted. So, for example, his Bill Napier character shares with us a project to use the fingers from fingerless gloves as sleeping bags for homeless caterpillars. Later, when Darby is sharing a tale of his wanderings after accidentally downing two magic mushroom milkshakes, he is brought short by two lonely caterpillars and resolves the situation with a pair of the aforementioned sleeping bags. Similarly in an extended routine involving the sound his wife makes to call him from wherever he is (rheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee) – a routine that elicited a huge laugh when he ignored her once and then quickly ran to find her – Darby employs a diversion into how he calls his cat for supper. The cat call returns at the climax of the show (along with a home-made UFO straight out of Plan 9 from Outer Space).
All told, Darby is a consummate professional, a cosy, almost-family entertainer who can feel the temperature of the room and knows what he has to do to keep them on side. The comedian he most closely resembles is probably Eddie Izzard (when Eddie Izzard still had something to prove). By which we mean to say, you could do a lot worse than check him out next time he hits these shores.