The comedian and host of New Zealand Today takes us through his life in TV, including the golden age of local teenage boy comedy, moments of national pride and a regrettable haka.
People always tell comedian Guy Williams that he’s going to run out of weird New Zealand stories to cover, and he always tells them the same thing. “I honestly think our supply is unlimited,” he laughs. “If you just keep your eyes and ears open when you’re in Whangamatā or Opononi or wherever, you’ll always find it.” As New Zealand Today returns to Three, the “volunteer journalist” is happy to report that he’s ticked a few more stories off his bucket list.
“These are some of my favourite people I’ve always wanted to meet. For example, I met Jim from Jim’s Mowing, and he’s an out there guy to say the least,” he says. Jim will join the ranks of iconic New Zealand names like The Christchurch Wizard and Karen (wants her 20 bucks back), as well as regular townsfolk like Herb Leaf from Opononi, in the great pantheon of New Zealand Today subjects that have appeared over four far-reaching seasons.
Williams’ favourite stories on the show have happened when things have gone wrong, like when he travelled to Marton and came across local lads Josh and Isaac. A story had fallen through in the nearby town of Fielding, so Williams decided to follow the pair after they revealed they were getting Pizza Hut for breakfast. “I was just like: ‘I don’t know what these guys are doing. But whatever they’re doing, it’s got to be amazing’,” he says. And it was.
These chance interactions can sometimes feel like divine intervention. “I’m not a religious person at all, but sometimes I feel like the show is guided by Jesus or something,” he says. “Actually, Jesus can’t take all the credit because New Zealand is just such a magical place.” With another season of otherworldly characters and stories to uncover just around the corner, we asked the New Zealand Today host to take us through his life in TV.
My earliest television memory is… Watching Danyon Loader at the Olympics in Atlanta on the school’s one colour TV was pretty amazing back in 1996. This dude’s name was Danyon, he had a ponytail, he was from Dunedin, and he was just swimming so fast. Swimming was a proper Olympic sport as well – now it’s all people doing kayaking and rowing and all these niche sports that I don’t think should be allowed.
The TV show I would rush home from school to watch is… I would always watch this show called Early Edition, which was a show where a man would get the newspaper delivered a day early and find out about crimes and then try and stop them. It sounds like I’m making that up but it was true. I remember watching Fresh Prince of Bel Air in the 90s, but then also The Brady Bunch and Brum. New Zealand TV was backwards, I basically hated everything I watched until I first saw The Simpsons. It was all bad.
The TV moment that haunts me is… There’s so many haunting moments for me, especially with Jono and Ben. It was a weekly show, so you’re making content so quickly, and it’s often gone to air before you had the chance to go “we shouldn’t have done that”. In the early 2010s there was this weird trend of skinny white guy hakas, where they would take their shirt off and do a real passionate haka in England on Waitangi Day or whatever.
We decided to parody that when Vanilla Ice was landing at Auckland Airport. And I think the joke was that Jono and Ben couldn’t get a proper haka welcome for him, so they got me instead. Now, up until this point, the Jono and Ben props department didn’t normally nail the props, but on this fucking day, they decided to really nail the brief and got this beautiful piupiu, like it honestly looked like they got it from fucking Te Papa.
It came with a korowai and a taiaha too and at least I had the good sense to not use those. But I still put on the piupiu and did this shitty haka. I can’t even remember if it was edited out or not, but I remember thinking at the time that what I was doing was bad. I’m very regretful for some of those jokes, and all the sexist or homophobic jokes I would have made back in the day. I mostly put it down to not ever having enough time to think about what I was doing.
These days, I’m haunted by future episodes of NZ Today that haven’t come out yet. Comedy is hard – you don’t know if it’s going to be funny, or if it’s going to be interesting. It’s especially worrying if you’ve got some touchy jokes or some difficult subjects coming up, which we sometimes do. That time before it’s gone to air is always pretty haunting for me. I’m haunted by ghosts who keep saying “what’s The Spinoff going to think about this”.
My earliest TV crush is… Topanga from Boy Meets World. What a babe. That was a very influential show. I don’t remember anything about it, but I just remember seeing Topanga on that show gave me butterflies.
My favourite NZ television ad of all time is… When I was a young lad there was this guy, in the same vein of the Mad Butcher, who would come on dressed in racist Japanese gear doing a racist accent with a samurai sword, would scream at the camera about cell phone deals and then leave. His name was Ben Rumble, it might have been a South Island thing.
My television guilty pleasure is… I watch a lot of crap. I’m watching a show at the moment called Peacemaker on Neon. It’s got John Cena in it, and the opening credits are so good. I honestly started watching the show based on just seeing the opening credits. It’s a crappy superhero show that’s rooted in Deadpool style comedy. It’s pretty cringe, but I’m kind of enjoying that at the moment. I don’t know if it’s good or bad.
My favourite television moment of all time is… Flight of the Conchords One Night Stand special on HBO back in 2005 genuinely made me feel national pride. It was really good. In the 2000s, Flight of the Conchords were probably some of the best stand-ups around, and although they’re a very big deal now, they’re still not given as much credit as they could for single handedly saving musical comedy. They were just doing something that no one did well, really well, and it was also comedy that my mum could watch.
My favourite television character of all time is… Lionel Hutz or any other character done by Phil Hartman on The Simpsons. There’s this quote: “Mr. Simpson, I don’t use the word hero lightly. But you’re the greatest hero in American history…” The last time I was on The Project, Paddy Gower said that to this woman who was Kapiti’s only mental health nurse, doing a one woman protest because mental health doctors were protesting all around the country. I laughed inappropriately hard – he was quoting Lionel Hutz and he didn’t even realise it.
The most stylish person on television is… I really like Oriini Kaipara, because having a tā moko on TV is quite brave when there’s so many fucking loonies out there. I remember when she made it to the front page of Reddit and people around the world were sharing this newsreader who had an indigenous tattoo on national TV. Everyone thought it was fucking awesome, so that was another small moment of national pride.
My most used streaming platform is… I’m embarrassed to say this, but YouTube for sure. New Zealand Today only exists because of fucking YouTube. It’s an outrage that more New Zealand content isn’t allowed to be put on there, because that’s where the people are.
My most controversial TV opinion is… When I was a kid, rugby was a big deal. Going to a game with like 30,000 people was lit, even going to see Nelson playing Hawke’s Bay could draw like 15,000 people. I think rugby died in New Zealand because Sky put it behind a paywall. So much TV is now behind all these weird paywalls and weird logins. Like, I’m trying to be a good New Zealander and watch One Lane Bridge or whatever the hell, but I can’t even get in to watch it because I’ve forgotten my shitty login. That’s why I think more things need to be on YouTube, because that’s where the people are. Youtube has literally saved New Zealand Today every year which is so lucky, and I wish more local TV creators had that same luck.
The TV show I wish I was involved in is… One of the ways I would relate to my dad was watching that show Facelift with terrible puppets and jokes about how ugly and fat all the politicians were. I didn’t understand the political references, but I think that was quite influential. Moon TV, Pulp Sport, Eating Media Lunch were huge for me and I would go out of my way to watch all of those. New Zealand TV has had a huge influence on me, especially that golden era of teenage boy comedy shows.
My most-watched television show of all time is… Friends. When I was a kid, my sister would watch it every day. And then as an adult, my girlfriend would watch it every day so I’ve just been followed by Friends my whole life. I think it’s occasionally funny, but it’s also just a really good soap opera. Every episode keeps you hanging with some sort of amazing love triangle or pregnancy update.
One show I will never watch, no matter how many people tell me to is… My mum is always going on about Borgen or some other Swedish drama called Jorgen or Florgen. There always seems to be a new one and it’s never in English and I can’t handle it. I can’t handle Borgen.
The last thing I watched on TV… I don’t own a TV anymore. What I have instead is a tiny little pocket TV that I carry around with me at all times, taking in like 30 seconds of three minute long clips of misinformation and misogyny. Everything I watch is on my phone now and it’s a fucking disaster. The world is ending and my brain is mush.
Watch New Zealand Today Thursdays 8.30pm on Three, or stream it on ThreeNow.