You know about Off-JFL, right? Described as Just For Laughs’ alternative sibling series, it’s where comedy nerds conglomerate to watch their heroes let loose in deliciously intimate settings. A stark contrast to short, generic sets echoing across cold, cavernous venues, these hour-long solo shows allow comedians to unravel and really sink into their craft. Audience interaction and off-the-cuff observations abound, and it is in these unscripted exchanges where the magic happens. Audience members file out of Off-JFL shows exchanging knowing looks, smugly aware that they’ve been part of something special that can never be replicated.
Rhys Darby’s “I am a Fighter Jet” is going to be one of those shows. The New Zealand native hits Mainline Theater (in all its snug, low-ceilinged glory) from July 20-24. You might not know Rhys Darby’s name, but you know his face. Best known for playing Murray (the band’s clueless-yet-lovable manager) on Flight of the Conchords, Darby has also written and starred in his own eight-part mockumentary comedy series for Netflix, Short Poppies. A veteran of almost twenty years as a standup comedian, Darby made his feature film debut in Yes Man. He went on to feature as one of the DJs in The Boat that Rocked (Pirate Radio). Most recently he was seen alongside Conchords alum Jermaine Clement in the hit film What We Do in the Shadows as alpha male werewolf, Anton.
I spoke with Darby – who is just as nice and approachable as he appears onscreen and in his stand-up – about his upcoming visit to Montreal. Darby has performed at Just For Laughs before, but this is his first solo show. The title “I am a Fighter Jet” has to do with the adventure of your life, “whether you’re an adventurer or not.” His material is comprised of a collection of stories ranging from serving in the New Zealand Army to visiting the jungles of Thailand to getting married and having kids. In his words, “it’s about choosing the the route of your life and going off the beaten track. It’s about pretending you’re a fighter jet and flying through the danger zone, then crashing into the unknown and just going with it.” Here, Darby pauses, laughs, then goes on to ponder whether he should actually use the Kenny Loggins song “Danger Zone” in his show. God, I hope he does.
If you’re familiar with Darby’s stand-up, you know that he is high-energy; no beer-bottle-on-stool-static-musings for this guy. His comedy has been described as a sensational blend of sound effects, physicality and askew observations. As he puts it, “a one-man Hollywood Production with lots of callbacks and memorable action sequences.” He lapses into various personas effortlessly; this is especially prevalent in his show Short Poppies. Here, he plays eight different characters (both men and women), all beautifully fleshed out and embodied with distinct nuance. When I compliment him on how well-developed they are, Darby explains that it is important to him not to create over-the-top caricatures. “It’s has to be believable. You can be as absurd as you want dialogue-wise as long as the look and feel is realistic.”
Although accustomed to playing larger venues, Darby is looking forward to the intimacy of performing at Mainline. “Acoustics can be tough in bigger venues. I love hearing the laughs coming back at you.”
Come and send some laughs his way at the Mainline Theatre July 20-24 at 9 p.m. $21 It’s an adventure not to be missed! Click here for ticket info.