13 Dec 2015

NZ comedian Jon Gadsby remembered

1:02 pm on 13 December 2015

Tributes have been flowing for comedian and writer Jon Gadsby, who has died of cancer at the age of 62.

He was a regular face on television for many years, usually in partnership with his friend David McPhail. The pair starred in long-running comedy series A Week Of It and McPhail and Gadsby between the 1970s and 1990s.

Family friend and spokesperson Tracey Chambers said most of his family were with him in Christchurch last night but everyone was still shocked by his death.

He was a man of great talent, huge experience and had a great heart, she said.

McPhail said he last saw his friend yesterday morning and his death was a huge loss for him and his family.

"Naturally, I am very very upset. He and I had a long association of over 30 years together. And this is quite a break."

McPhail said his friend would be remembered for his enormous comedic talent and huge heart.

"Jon, as well as being a very funny man, was also a very compassionate man as well. And it was the combination of these qualities, his ability to make me laugh more than anything that drew us together. And I think we got enjoyment out of making people laugh."

A pivotal partnership

Born in England, Gadsby came to this country with his parents and sister at the age of eight.

The family settled in Invercargill, which he was to remember as a place of boundless adventure for a boy who loved the outdoors.

He studied at Otago University and worked for a time as a law clerk, but had had an interest in the performing arts from childhood and began working for private radio in Dunedin.

It was at a party about this time that he met McPhail, then a young TV producer, with whom he was to establish one of New Zealand's most successful comedy teams.

The duo - in shows such as A Week Of It, McPhail and Gadsby and Issues - helped take political satire to a new level in New Zealand.

They skewered successive governments in ways which, for many people, created their perceptions of such figures as Bill Rowling, Rob Muldoon, David Lange and Richard Prebble.

'We had a lot of fun'

In a 2010 interview with NZ on Screen, Gadsby recalled how A Week Of It broke new ground.

"That sort of thing hadn't really been done here, in fact wasn't - as far as I can gather - being done much anywhere else in the world.

"We had a lot of fun, but God, it was nerve-racking... We were virtually live - not quite, we were about half an hour off live, but there was no time to edit, to cover up any stuff-ups."

He co-wrote or acted in many other programmes such as Letter to Blanchy and acted in several feature films including Nutcase, where he took the lead role.

He wrote many children's books - some under the pseudonym Uncle Anzac - ran the Christchurch-based magazine Avenues, and was a syndicated newspaper columnist.

Gadsby was awarded a Queen's Service Medal in 1992.