Six years after first arriving on our screens, Jono and Ben air their final episode tonight. In tribute, Dylan Reeve looks back on the best part of the show: Guy Williams’ NZ Today segment.
For a certain group of overseas internet users, New Zealand’s most prominent journalist isn’t who you’d expect. It’s not John Campbell, nor Nicky Hager. Definitely not Mike Hosking. Maybe David Farrier, what with his Dark Touristing and Tickle adventures… But I’m talking about Guy Williams. Yes, that Guy Williams.
Williams’ Jono & Ben segment, ‘NZ Today’, has hit the front page of the Reddit’s popular /r/videos with reasonably consistency. For his recent investigation into a 24/7 guppy farming operation in New Lynn, the link’s title was simply: “New Zealand’s top reporter strikes again”.
There’s something special about the short, often absurdist segments Williams produces for the imaginary current affairs show within a show. It’s not just that they’re perfectly constructed to showcase Williams’ understated and self-deprecating humour. There’s a deeper magic.
Most of us, if asked to name the funniest person we could think of, or to recall an incident where we cried with laughter, point to some friend of ours. We’ll think of an event that was so funny that we can’t even remember what it was that made us laugh, just that we laughed so hard it hurt, all because of some weird thing that funny mate said.
Williams takes his often awkward suit jacket and branded microphone into very unpretentious parts of the country, digs into the weird and wonderful things we all know exist around us, and uncovers those hilarious people with perfectly unexpected quips. He finds the funny mates we all know and lets them shine.
The whole show is a joke premise, but the humour is always grounded in our reality. Many of the best moments are thanks to the unassuming Kiwis who find themselves standing in front of the NZ Today cameras. Williams is happy to let those people revel in their jokes, and hang awkwardly when their comedy doesn’t quite land.
In the case of Issac and Josh from Marton, Williams even pivoted his entire segment around two interesting and funny locals when the main story didn’t turn out to be all he’d imagined.
Beyond being a semi-satirical current affairs segment, NZ Today is a fantastic showcase for people, places and events that feel familiar to us. “What I learned was as long as there was a small town involved you basically couldn’t fuck it up,” says Williams about the talent and stories he’s discovered.
There’s a weird charm and sense of comfort to watching unmistakably New Zealand characters being themselves on TV with no pretension. Even more wonderful (and surprising) is seeing overseas viewers react the same way on Reddit and YouTube, places where comments are often best avoided.
“Reddit Videos has been so great,” says Williams. “To do well on Reddit has been a real boost, not just the viewership but the lovely compliments [from everyone] has been awesome.
“I literally prepped Issac and Josh from Marton before the segment played to not read the comments and it was an awesome surprise to see that they were almost universally loved!”
NZ Today is a masterpiece of both comedy and current affairs, and it’s sad to see it go. Hopefully it might find its way back to our screens in the future in some new incarnation – the NZ On Air tagline ‘our stories, our voices’ could just as easily be the tagline of NZ Today. The show has done a fantastic jobs of putting New Zealand stories and New Zealand voices front and centre – and here’s the best five of them, for posterity’s sake:
5. The Greymouth Boat Crash
This is the segment that launched NZ Today. A short video of a dude in Greymouth crashing his boat into a pole had gone viral internationally, but no one had found the man at the centre of it all. Williams set out to find the elusive man.
4. Guy Goes To Haast
Haast has had no cellphone reception for years, but with new coverage on the way Williams travels to Haast to find out what the locals think and get them up to speed on cellphones. This segment is also notable for one of the best musical moments on NZ television in the first 20 seconds.
3. Lake Taupo Hole In One
Is the lake Taupo Hole-in-one challenge a scam? Williams goes to investigate the conspiracy!
2. 24 Hour Guppy Fish Farm
Why is there a 24/7 guppy farm and shop operating out of a nondescript West Auckland building? Williams goes to investigate and uncovers an amazing character.
1. Chicken and Chips in Marton
A house in Fielding has been on the market for more than ten years. Williams goes to find out why… and the story falls flat, but then something better turns up.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.