10 Jul 2021

The Mixtape - Dai Henwood

From Music 101, 4:00 pm on 10 July 2021

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

Dai Henwood is known for making New Zealand laugh. But as he tells Charlotte Ryan on this week's episode of The Mixtape, he is also looking for deeper meaning than just a punchline, and through quitting drinking and finding his bliss in meditation, he is happier than ever. 

Dai Henwood

Dai Henwood Photo: supplied

Henwood has been active for more than 20 years, winning 'Best New Face' on TV2's Pulp Comedy all the way back in 1999 right up to his long-standing gig as captain of "Team 2" on TV3's 7 Days since 2009. 

He has won multiple comedy awards and his stand-up has taken him around the world, notably being invited to the prestigious Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. He even hosted a New Zealand version of the hit American game show Family Feud.  

But for Henwood, his life has also been about learning how to channel his energy and enjoy every moment. His selection of cheerful, fun-loving songs for The Mixtape reflects that: 

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

"It took me ages to control my energy in a way, and performance was a way for me to do that," he said.

"When I was coming through school, I had a drama teacher, and he referred to me in a school report as a 'power cable thrashing on a wet pavement,' which is just such a visceral description of a human, and it was very apt at that time."

Henwood has combined music with performance since his earliest days, doing DJ performances as young as age 17. 

He started as a hardcore punk fan - not more melodic punk like the Ramones, but "basically poetry laid across horrendous music" before gravitating into hip-hop and other sounds. 

"I just loved the fighting against the system sort of stuff.

"Public Enemy was the first gig I ever went to. My baby-sitter took me when I was 13."

The life of a comedian is not a relaxed one - constant gigs and travelling, late-night piss-up sessions and a demand to always be "on".

A year and a half ago, Henwood decided to quit alcohol for good, after consciously cutting back on it since about 2013. It's a decision he has not regretted and it has certainly improved his family life. 

"I was the life of the party drunk, but the thing is that's fun for your mates, not so much for your partner.

"If you're in a different industry you'd think it [the levels of partying] was ridiculous."

He attempted to cut back on drinking, but after a while, realised teetotaling was the way to go. Thinking about his drinking got "boring," and "I was just like, zero's the easiest number to remember".

"Since I've given up drinking I've very much come back to eastern philosophy and a lot of meditation. That's all about managing energy and looking after the energy in your body. 

"I feel like I've got just a happier energy.

"I came to the conclusion that you make your life better by subtracting things rather than adding things."

This month is Dry July, where New Zealanders agree to go alcohol-free for the month and also raise funds for cancer. 

While Henwood supports the campaign, he said that for some it just becomes an excuse to binge harder at the end of the month.

"In a way Dry July and New Zealanders don't mix. Because New Zealanders are so full-on about drinking, they do Dry July and it's like 'oh, 10 more days and then I can really make up for this 30 days off the booze, then we can just smash it,' which is such a kiwi attitude."

Rose Matafeo with her award for the best comedy show at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival.

Rose Matafeo with her award for the best comedy show at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival. Photo: Twitter / Rose Matafeo

Henwood has been a part of the comedy quiz show 7 Days since 2009, and he has seen New Zealand comedy change along the way.

"We are in our 13th year. It's a big thing for me. The longest-running comedy show behind mine was my dad's show [Gliding On] that went from 1978 to 1984.

"New Zealand comedy has expanded and exploded and become so diverse over this time. 

"When I look back at who you could have on 7 Days, who would be TV-ready, it was a very small amount of people. 

"There were bugger-all [women]. We'd have seven dudes on, predominantly white.

"Seeing New Zealand comedy get to a place ... where you've then got people like Rose Matafeo, she's worked her butt off, had great ideas, taken those ideas to fruition. Seeing that is so exciting for me."

At 43, Henwood is starting to realise he is becoming an 'elder statesman' of comedy. 

"I was always the young guy and then I looked around and went, there's like two generations of comics after me now."

Meditation is a big part of his "zen comedian" lifestyle now, and he tries to fit in an hour or two of it every day. 

His song selection for The Mixtape reflects that quest for happiness. 

Songs like Future Islands' 'Seasons' - "just brings so much happy emotion to me" - to Souls of Mischief's '93' till Infinity' - 'I've heard it so many times but every time it comes on, I just get a little shake" - create that mood.

"I maintain that thing of a good tune is a good tune, and if you enjoy music, you will enjoy that tune.

"I never understood people who go, I don't like reggae, or, I don't like rock music. There's so many nuances in each kind of music.

"I weirdly had to write a will last year, you know, I've got to that age, I do a will. My lawyer gave me a bit of grief because my will was mainly the playlist for my funeral." 

Henwood is still making them laugh, but he is also still looking for the truth behind the jokes. 

"I think we think of happiness wrong. Happiness is a very calm feeling. 

"We confuse euphoria and happiness. Sometimes people think, I'm so happy, and it's no, you're just fizzing. You're just excited. Happiness is a really calm contentment, I think. 

"I can't take anything with me when I go ... all I can do is think, have I been thankful for these experiences? 

"And I'm like yes, I have."

Dai's MixTape 

Seasons - Future Islands

93' till Infinity - Souls Of Mischief

Smokebelch 11 (Beatles remix) - Sabres of Paradise

The Magic Number - De La Soul

Forever Young - Youth Group

Be Thankful for What You've Got - William DeVaughn