Dai Henwood’s life in TV (Image: Tina Tiller)
Dai Henwood’s life in TV (Image: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureJune 8, 2024

‘I asked them point blank’: Dai Henwood on busting open a conspiracy on 7 Days

Dai Henwood’s life in TV (Image: Tina Tiller)
Dai Henwood’s life in TV (Image: Tina Tiller)

The comedian, TV presenter and author looks back on his most memorable TV moments, including a traumatic Taskmaster task, a cursed celebrity interview and a slippery zoo escape scandal.

Dai Henwood’s first brush with fame came early. Growing up on the set of Gliding On, a 1980s sitcom starring his father Ray Henwood, he realised the power of television to connect with people. “For anyone of an age and stage in New Zealand, Gliding On was appointment viewing,” he says. “Fame was another level back then, because there were only two TV stations. Dad didn’t need a passport or a driver’s licence – every single New Zealander knew who he was.”

Now every single New Zealander knows who Dai Henwood is, thanks to a prolific career in comedy and television. Henwood has won multiple awards during his 25 years in stand-up comedy, including the Billy T Award and Fred Award. His TV career began on C4 in the mid 2000s with the chaotic Insert Video Here, before crossing over to presenting shows like Family Feud NZ, Dancing with the Stars NZ and Lego Masters NZ. He’s also been a team captain on the long-running comedy panel show 7 Days, appeared on season four of Taskmaster NZ, and was a regular co-host on The Project NZ. 

More recently, Henwood turned his talents to writing. His autobiography The Life of Dai was a collaborative effort with friend Jaquie Brown, written while Henwood was receiving treatment for incurable cancer. The book looks back on Henwood’s early life and career, but it’s also a testament to staying positive in the face of adversity. “I want people to take away that now is the time to live,” he says. “It’s about trying not to focus on the ‘woe is me’ negative future. Humans are wired to hone in on that negative outcome, but what about actually thinking, ‘what if it all works out’?”

As The Life of Dai hits bookshelves this week, we asked Dai to reflect on his favourite television moments, including an early TV crush, a cursed interview with Karl Urban and busting open a secret otter scandal.

Dai Henwood in Taskmaster NZ (Image: Supplied)

My earliest TV memory is… Gliding On. My dad was in it and I grew up on the set at Avalon studios. I used to get up before my parents and watch a VHS of Gliding On before school, that was my early morning TV ritual. Watching Dad on Gliding On and watching it being filmed was a holistic experience. It was the longest running New Zealand comedy show until 7 Days, because it went for six years. There was no other comedy show that actually kept getting renewed or had that many seasons. 

The TV show I used to rush home from school to watch was… 3:45 Live with Fenella Bathfield and Rikki Morris. It glued together all the after school kids shows, and I used to just love it. It signified the end of the day. I’d make half a loaf of bread, peanut butter, toast, sit down and watch 3:45 live.

My earliest TV crush was… Same show, Fenella Bathfield. Actually, I’m probably due a rabbit hole about what happened to Fenella Bathfield, because I don’t know what she did after that. 

The TV moment that haunts me is… I was interviewing Karl Urban and I was quite hungover. I asked him a question, and he gave a wonderful, quite long-winded answer. Then I asked him the exact same question again, and he went, “you’ve just asked me that question”. For some reason, I thought I hadn’t and I doubled down, saying “no, I haven’t, just answer it”. I was trying to make a joke and my timing was all off, and he just read it like I was being very staunch. I could see my mate Mikey who was filming it, looking at me, like, “what are you doing, dude?” The whole interview shut down after that, he was very cagey. 

The TV ad I can’t stop thinking about is… The Wattyl Solagard ads with the really punishing dad jokes, like “Wattyl you do next?” I want to turn the TV off, but I can’t stop watching them. They’ve obviously affected me, because if I had to do my deck, I only know Wattyl Solagard. 

My TV guilty pleasure is… The Blacklist. It’s a show which I don’t really enjoy, because the writing gets quite appalling, but I keep going back to it. When I’ve scrolled through every single streaming service and there’s nothing to watch, I’ll watch that. Actually, it’s a combination of Blacklist and SWAT on Netflix. Give me a procedural American cop show and I’ll love it.

Henwood and Brickmaster Robin Sather on the set of Lego Masters NZ (Photo: TVNZ)

My favourite moment from my TV career is… When I busted open the Jin the Otter conspiracy. Remember Jin the Otter who escaped from Auckland Zoo? I got word from a drunk zoo employee that it wasn’t Jin that escaped. It was the other otter, but Jin had a better public face, so they said it was Jin that had escaped. On 7 Days, we had one of the directors of the zoo on, and I asked them point blank, “is it true that Jin wasn’t the otter that escaped? It was the other otter, but you said it was Jin?” They went bright red and went, “yes, this is the first time we’ve ever publicly admitted it”. What I love about that is it’s such a low stakes New Zealand story. Out of all the animals that could escape from the zoo, it’s an otter. 

My most memorable Taskmaster task of all time was… When we had to marry something. Because I’m very happily married, it just created this whole internal dialogue. I was using my own wedding ring, and I flung the person I was marrying – which was a bag of golf clubs with some pool noodles – around and my actual wedding ring went flying off into the grass, so I was trying to find a metal detector. It was a task that seemed so easy and fun on the surface, but because it was marriage, and marriage is such an intense thing… it just became this mental thing. Usually I just ripped into the tasks and whatever happened, happened, but that one, I still think about. I felt like I was cheating on my wife, even though it was a bag of golf clubs with some pool noodle arms and a balloon for a face.

The most stylish person on television is… Larry David. He nails casual stylish, he does layering well. He does sneakers way better than Seinfeld. 

My favourite TV project that I’ve ever been involved with is… 7 Days. That was where I really honed my craft as a quick thinking improv character, distilling who I am as a comedian, and just letting that flow out week to week. I’m so proud of what that show has done for the New Zealand comedy industry, what it’s done for diversity in the comedy industry, what it’s done for people being able to showcase themselves on TV and then sell tickets to shows. It’s lifted the comedy industry up. 

What I wish people knew about comedy is… That the comedian has enough words to say to fill their time, and you don’t need to heckle. People who don’t go to comedy think that they are making the show better by heckling, but it’s very rare that the heckle is good. So when you go to a show, have faith that a comedian has thought about what they’re going to say. They’re not just getting up there, hoping someone will yell something out.

The TV show I wished I’d been involved with is… Flight of the Conchords. I grew up with Brett, I played cricket with him when I was five years old and I lived with them in Edinburgh, when they were just taking off and I was bombing very badly and cancelling shows. That was the show that was like ‘wow, New Zealand comedy is on the international scene and people are loving it’. They were cool. I would have loved a part in that. 

My most watched TV show of all time is… The Wire. I watch The Wire once a year, all five seasons and every time I watch it, I have a different favourite season. It shows that humanity is cyclical, that as it moves on, one person becomes a reincarnation of another person, and that beauty and hope can come out of complete despair. 

My controversial TV opinion is… Better Call Saul is just appalling. It’s so boring. I’ve honestly tried to watch it so many times.

The show I’ll never watch, no matter how many times people tell me to is… The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m very aware of the story, it is horrific. It came out at a time where my wife and I were watching shows like Broadchurch, and I was like, I can’t do another deeply grim, depressing show. Like, how horrific is this? Is this where we’re headed? I’m out. I’m sure it’s amazing, but I don’t need it. 

The last show I watched on TV was… Shōgun. I’ve just done a rewatch of it, but when it came out, it was the first time I’ve been waiting and Googling “what time does Shōgun come out in New Zealand?” It’s the perfect mix of beautiful, romantic, moody, then everyone gets blown up by a cannon, then it’s beautiful and romantic again. It’s so far away from action, but it’s got action in it, and it’s a beautiful story. I recommend it to anyone.

The Life of Dai is available at Laugh With Dai and at bookstores nationwide. 

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