The latest comedy to land on Netflix is Short Poppies – a mockumentary-style series created by Rhys Darby. Recognise him? If you’re a Flight of the Conchords fan you should. Darby made his name playing bumbling band manager Murray opposite Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement (and the latter directs two episodes of Short Poppies).
The new eight-part series is fronted by journalist David Farrier and profiles the lives of seven ordinary New Zealand characters. Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, his travels can only take him to one small town where he meets and spends a day with individuals who ordinarily wouldn’t get the taste of lime light.
The entire series drops on Netflix tomorrow (3 April), but before you binge to your heart’s content, here’s what the man himself, Rhys Darby, had to say on his love for British comedy, the future of television and those Flight of the Conchords reunion rumours…
Where did the idea for Short Poppies come from?
In New Zealand we have a TV show called Country Calendar. It’s one of our longest running and most popular shows. Everyday people living in rural areas are profiled. It’s a serious and intriguing look into the heart of our society. I thought it would be fun to do a comedy take on this.
I had all these uniquely Kiwi characters rattling around in my head, so I decided to develop a vehicle to get them out. I also wanted to be able to improvise a lot of the dialogue, so mockumentary is the best genre for that.
You get to inhabit a series of different characters on the show – which is your favourite and why?
To be honest it’s hard to pick a favourite because I see them all as extensions of my own personality. The first character I came up with will always have a special place in my heart, and that’s the ranger Bill Napier. I always wanted to be a ranger when I was a kid. Bill is a man’s man living in a modern ladies bush. Sorry, I’m not even sure if I can say that?
Who are your favourite comedians? Who inspired you when you were first starting out in comedy?
In New Zealand I was influenced by John Clarke. This TV show in particular pays homage to some of his earlier work. From the British side of things, I was slightly obsessed with Monty Python. From there it lead back to the Goons, in particular Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. Then I discovered the physical masterminds Rowan Atkinson and Jim Carrey.
It sounds like you’re rather a big fan of British comedy…
It’s always been my everything. As you can see from the above question… I’m a little obsessed. I worked on the British comedy circuit for around seven years. The clubs in the UK are where I cut my teeth.
Netflix and similar on-demand services have created a new way of watching television – do you think the television schedules will eventually disappear altogether? Will we miss them if they do?
Yes, I think things are changing rapidly for television. My generation and above will probably miss the scheduling. It’s a sense of order that we’ve been used to for years but it does feel right to change with the times. Television is finally becoming like books. Readily available from anywhere and at any time. If one enjoys reading a chapter of a book, surely one should be able to read the next chapter immediately… it just makes sense!
You’ve written and star in Short Poppies – do you feel the pressure, having put so much of yourself into the show?
I do feel a bit of pressure but I’ve waited for this. I’ve given myself a few years since Flight of the Conchords to get this right. FOTC was my first acting job. I’m really glad I gained a few years of experience after that before attempting this bad boy!
You’ve done a lot since Flight of the Conchords but is that what you still get recognised for most?
Yes and I’m fine with that. I was very lucky when the lads asked me to play their manager. I’m forever grateful. That TV show changed my life, so yes, I share that blind optimism that Murray has always had.
Were you surprised when the show didn’t return for a third series?
No. It was a decision made by Bret and Jemaine at the time. They told me and I understood why. Get out on a high note, never overstay your welcome… Yes it’s something all our mothers have told us.
Flight of the Conchords still has a lot of fans – do you think it could ever come back?
Never say never but most likely not. I was over the moon that I got to work with Jemaine in Short Poppies though. He directed two episodes. He knows my comedy better than anyone and pushes me to my limits!
There have been rumours of a Flight of the Conchords movie. Is that something you’d like to be involved in?
Of course but hey… that rumour’s been around for a while now.
What do you think happened to the band in the years since we’ve seen them – did Murray ever get them any good gigs? Did they ever make it big?
They made it big in New Zealand with a no.1 song called Feel Inside (and stuff like that). It raised a lot of money for the CureKids NZ charity organisation a couple of years ago. Since then they’ve gone awol. Murray has returned to his farm in Taranaki.
Do you think Murray’s promotional work in Flight of the Conchords ever encouraged people to visit New Zealand?
Possibly. Although I think a lot of people just ordered those tourism posters online. Murray Hewitt was awarded the title of New Zealander of the year by the New Zealand News Paper back in 2009. I know for a fact Bill Napier is hoping for some sort of recognition this year…
Short Poppies arrives on Netflix on Thursday 3 April