Dai Henwood explains how he bounced back from 'disaster' to become New Zealand's top comic

Dai Henwood.
Dai Henwood. Photo credit: MediaWorks

My house, my bubble: As New Zealanders stay home to fight COVID-19, Fiona Connor is talking to well-known Kiwis about what's helping to pass the time, while learning more about their craft and passions. 

Listening to the words Eddie Murphy was saying on his Delirious cassette tape set a fire within Dai Henwood at a young age. 

He would impersonate the jokes and realised, while making those around him laugh, that comedy was an avenue he'd like to explore.

Later, Henwood became obsessed with Robin Williams Live at the Met - and that's when he decided to be a comedian. 

Since then he's grown into one of New Zealand's favourite comics as a staple on 7 Days, now returning to the Kiwi's TV screens for his new show Dai's House Party. 

Here he tells Newshub about meeting one of his inspirations, how life is going in lockdown, and the joke that never fails to make him laugh. 

Where have you been doing lockdown and who is in your bubble? 

I have been at home in west Auckland with my wife, seven-year-old and three-year-old. We have been riding the wave of lockdown with plenty of ups mixed in with challenges along the way. The vibe is very baking-heavy. Bread and butter has become my bread and butter.

What has the best thing been to come out of lockdown? Have you learned anything about yourself?  

I have learned to slow down. As they say in the Special Forces, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast" - it is something I am trying to apply to life. I have also realised how important my family is to me. They are everything. 

What have you been reflecting on during this time?

I am reflecting on those closest to me. Social media means very little to me now. I was looking outward so much and now I am looking in, trying to make deep bonds with my kids, teach them things and get a bit deeper into meditation and tea.  

In terms of your career in comedy, when you look back is there something you have achieved that you're particularly proud of? 

I am very proud of not giving up in 2004 when I returned from a disaster of a season at the Edinburgh Festival. I was cancelling shows and doubting not only my work but my talent as a comedian. I stood strong, I worked and then things started to take off. I am very proud of my hard work.

Casting your mind back, can you remember the first time you were really moved by comedy - and how did that transpire into you wanting to get into the industry? 

Comedy and soul music are two things I love. Recently Bill Withers, my favourite soul singer, passed away. A joke that combines my two loves is: “How do you turn a duck into a soul singer? Put it in the oven until it’s Bill Withers” 

Has your job allowed you to meet any of your heroes or inspirations - who were they and what did they teach you? 

I opened for Jason Alexander, who played George Costanza on Seinfeld. I am a massive Seinfeld fan and to not only meet him but make him laugh - it blew me away. He taught me that if you get famous you can just be down-to-earth. He had no pomp about him. He was kind and took us bowling.

Henwood had the opportunity to meet and get to know Seinfield's Jason Alexander.
Henwood had the opportunity to meet and get to know Seinfield's Jason Alexander. Photo credit: Supplied.

Are there any complexities that come with putting yourself out there in the public eye and what do you do to relax?  

Yes, there are. Being recognised and having people yell at you on the street (positive things, although often with quite a lot of swearing) can be confronting. When I am trying to have quiet outings with family and people come up for selfies (most people are great - it is the rude ones that make it annoying). I have just realised selfies are a thing of the past though.

To relax I am a quiet person. I enjoy meditating and a good cup of tea, plus reading trashy books about lone wolf ex-SAS soldiers is my go-to. 

Tell me the new show and what you hope Kiwis take away from it? 

The new show was put together quickly after some great emergency funding by NZ On Air. It is trying to get heaps of Kiwi comics on TV and make NZ forget about the hardships for 30 minutes. I host it with a few gags at the top and then throw to comics who have put together hilarious segments. It is a whole different style of TV as it is filmed in people’s houses on their phones. Saddle up, it will be a ride.

Dai Henwood hosts Dai’s House Party, Thursday’s 8.30pm on THREE and ThreeNow.