Semi-autobiographical and amusedly ridiculous, the show is Rhys’ first tour in three years. The personalised performance is a tour de force, delving into to the world of ancient mysticism and social consciousness to find answers to the world’s biggest problems.
“I’ve always been interested in the paranormal and monsters and the idea of there being creatures on this planet we haven’t discovered yet,” Rhys, a self-described amateur cryptozoologist, says. “Things that are unclassified by science because they’re well hidden. The show delves into the world of strange eye-witnessing appearances, including within Australia. Australia has so many weird creatures. Not just the humans. I like the idea that we haven’t discovered everything yet. I’m a bit of an adventurer at heart.”
For die-hard fans, Rhys’ fascination with birds might not come as much of a surprise. ‘Peacock Season,’ ‘Love Birds,’ ‘Thunderbirds Are Go,’ ‘Harvey Beaks’ and his most famous ‘Flight Of The Conchords,’ are just a few examples of his lengthy association with his feathered friends. ‘Mystic Time Bird,’ a highly-anticipated return to physical comedy and a deeper introspective within the world’s most fascinating cryptids, adds another notch in the belt.
Image © Luke Fontana
“I would have done a show last year, but my mother passed away and everything got thrown up into turmoil. So, I decided to take some time out and I wrote this show about mum and about her passing. It’s not all about her – a lot of it is my usual crazy stand-up – but it’s kind of like the through line. I ended up going and seeing someone to get some help. I didn’t see anyone orthodox. It was very unorthodox. I saw a mystic man in Hawaii and he told me I’d lived many lives as a bird, and this was the first of the human. It kind of made sense to me being a bird in one of my past lives.”
Rhys says ‘Mystic Time Bird’ is “quite surreal”, as he explores several avenues of weirdness – not unlike his usual routines – however decidedly more unique. “There’s a through line, which is basically me talking to a shaman character, who is voiced by my colleague… And it’s me reflecting on life and how life has changed over the years, where we’re heading into the future, with some well-crafted jokes in there about other stuff as well. That’s the crux of it and the rest of it is pretty hard to describe. My kind of off-the-wall, off-the-cuff stand-up. It’s a lot of physical craziness.”
The quintessential New Zealander – right down to the kooky mime and sound effects – says his interest in hidden animals has allowed him to visit several beautiful places, however regards his home country as a truly mystical place. “The sea is here. I’ve flown over it. It doesn’t disappear when I’m gone. I’m lucky to have this haven on this little beautiful island. But I also have that want to believe, that 'X-Files' factor, that there’s something else out there that we can’t explain. It’s a hobby for me.
“I did a podcast called 'The Cryptid Factor' and we rely heavily on being funny to expose the interest we have in the unknown. A lot of people are either not into that stuff because they think it’s too weird, but if you bring comedy into it, and bring it to the mainstream like 'X-Files', it makes it cool. So that’s what I like to do.”
One of the trademarks of Rhys Darby is his remarkable ability to express ideas, jokes and astute observation through physical comedy, a major part of ‘Mystic Time Bird.’ “[It all] comes naturally to me, really. When I tell stories, I become quite animated… Its’s a natural progression for me to act out the scenes I’m talking about. There’s no need for it, but I always did it as a kid and enjoyed people laughing at the fact I was trying to do impressions of different people in my story. I like to take comedy to different levels. It’s not just words – I think it can be expressed physically.”
As a character actor, Rhys’s performances are always delightfully entertaining. From Anton – the leader of a local pack of werewolves in ‘What We Do In The Shadows,’ to Psycho Sam – the crazy off the grid man living on his own in the New Zealand wilderness in ‘Hunt For The Wilderpeople', Rhys embodies his roles with a fierce determination. “[Character acting] drives some of my stand-up stories. I tend to believe what I’m doing.”
‘Mystic Time Bird’ combines this quirkiness with a mature, philosophical outlook on life, something many stand-up comedians can only hope to achieve. “It comes with age, I guess,” Rhys says. “As you grow more mature and you want to have a message and let people know you’re not just coming up with random ideas and there’s a deeper meaning to it.”
Image © Luke Fontana
It is this sincerity, combined with his talent and wit, that cements Rhys Darby as an antipodean, world-renowned comedian. While he may be softly-spoken, with the charming awkwardness of one who probably has a poster of Big Foot above his bed (and it’s quite possible he does), Rhys’s intellect and humour adds several layers to his uniqueness, a word which cannot fully encapsulate the brilliance of the mind behind ‘Mystic Time Bird.’
Rhys regards ‘Mystic Time Bird’ as his best show, saying “it’s not just random thoughts – which would have been fine – a lot people just do random thoughts. Random thoughts were so last year! But I hope people walk away with those deeper thoughts still in their heads so they don’t lose them and the images of my distorted facials.”
While he hasn’t made any plans after the tour, Rhys says there’s talk of TV film options in America. “It’s all about waiting to see when that stuff happens. But really, I’ll just enjoy remaining in once place for a few months until Christmas. I’ll be due for a bit of heat after this New Zealand winter.”
And who knows what one might find in the freezing New Zealand wonderland? Perhaps a boxing match between a duck-sized horse and a horse-sized duck? “I’d love to see that because I love ducks,” Rhys says. “I’ve done a movie with ducks, and to see a giant one, well, I don’t think I’d be able to tame it. But it would come back to my 'Mystic Time Bird' vibe because I would tame it and the two of us would fly off together. Me and my big duck.”
Rhys Darby's 'Mystic Time Bird' Australian Tour Dates18 August – Enmore Theatre (Sydney)
20 August – Brisbane City Hall
21 August – Comedy Theatre (Melbourne)
23 August – Thebarton Theatre (Adelaide)
25 August – Astor Theatre (Perth)