How and why did you decide to come up with this character?
It was in 2005. I was performing comedy in New Zealand and I won the Billy T James award for a show called Dance Monkey Dance. After that, people expected me to keep talking because I was a normal talk-up prop comedian. I decided to challenge myself, and surprise everyone, by doing what no one would expect – a silent character. I went down to the comedy club one evening to develop this silent guy, but within two minutes I ruined it by talking to the front row. I went back the next night and joked backstage about how the only way I could keep quiet was by putting tape on my face. So I did. Material for a five-minute sketch developed into a fifteen-minute sketch, and then suddenly I had an hour. What started out as a joke has escalated into this massive show.
A lot of people want to know – is it special tape, or do you have to rip it off your face?
It’s a brand called Nashua 357, just your standard industrial gaffer tape. It was the most industrial, heavy duty tape that I could find. I pop that on and it stays on for about two hours under lights.
What about taking it off – is that… tricky?
If it had hurt after the first show, I’d never be doing it.
Why did you decide to do America’s Got Talent?
I had a legitimate place where I could get exposure. When I first came to this country in 2007 I worked my way through the ranks of comedy until I did Edinburgh in 2010. It took me three years to establish myself here. For me to get into America, which is a massive scene, I would have to move to LA and start all over again. Quite frankly, I don’t have the time for that. I decided to go on the show and see if we could get that pop of exposure, and luckily for me, it worked quite a treat. Some might say too much.
How was the experience of being on there?
They’ve been incredibly helpful and accepting of things I want to do on the show. For example, I’ve said I don’t want to speak, I’m very happy to just be Tape Face and be purely judged on the merit of what I’m presenting. I don’t wanna have a sob story – I don’t like that part of the show, I’m quite happy.
You’ve had quite a long career – what’s been the highlight so far?
The Royal Variety was pretty incredible. In New Zealand, it’s screened on Christmas Eve, and it was the biggest television extravaganza when I was growing up. So to get the chance to actually be on that stage was bananas. Doing the Proms with a full orchestra playing my music was insane. It’s great to have a backing track playing the William Tell Overture, but when you’ve got the full orchestra blasting it out and I’m about to throw a plunger at a toilet seat, it sort of undermines it and is brilliant at the same time.
Of all audience members you’ve involved, are there any that stick out in your mind
They’re all very similar because it’s human nature to do similar things. I do the one routine where I get a guy to dress up as a stripper and take his clothes off. One show in Glasgow, many years ago, the guy took off the costume and then kept taking his own clothes off, much to the delight of the audience. It was one of those fun ones where the audience were so comfortable with themselves that they just carried on and loved it.
Do you have any comedy heroes?
Buster Keaton. I like his style and his physicality. A lot of people think that because I do silent comedy I must be a big Charlie Chaplin fan, but he isn’t my favourite – he always knew exactly what he wanted and he would get his way no matter what. But Buster Keaton – things just kind of happened around him. He was always the underdog. Wile E. Coyote is also pretty cool, and Fozzie Bear.
Do you find any differences in audience in different countries?
I genuinely thought I was going to: I did a show in North Korea and I thought, this is gonna be a whole different show. But scarily, the world over, people are the same. I would love the challenge of having a whole different view on my show, but the music and references I’m using are so recognisable – I’m sure everyone on the planet has seen the film Ghost. It’s the simplest of play humour, to a degree. In that way I’m lucky because unlike the topical comedians, I’m not limited by language: Everyone was a kid once. Everybody played. It’s an easy show in that sense.
What do you think of the UK comedy scene compared to your homeland?
The UK comedy scene is very strong, which is underlined by how hard it is to get gigs. You have a great tradition of comedy, and the audiences are very comedy savvy. We got most of it late in New Zealand, all the TV was shipped over to us. We are, to a degree, playing catch up, but we’re forming our own style.
If someone wanted to check out the NZ comedy scene, who would you suggest?
There’s a brilliant young comedian called Heidi O’Loughlin, she currently lives in London. She does a wonderful show called Fan Fiction where a group of four of them from NZ are writing fan fiction comedy in the day and performing it at night.
What’s next for you?
I’m a big fan of keeping the live side going because I think that’s where the best and most pure experience is. I still have places I want to go and see and take the show, I’d like to crack into Asia and go through China and Japan. The lack of language barrier means I can take it wherever. I’m going to try and crack the American market as much as possible off the back of America’s Got Talent, and see how far we can take it.
I’m incredibly excited about the tour show. It’s essentially the best of ‘the boy’ and more – taking show one and show two and smashing them together and putting a third theatrical show over the top of it. Now we have Kilimanjaro producing it and throwing money at it and letting me do my thing, it’s been wicked to work with a professional set and lighting designer for the first time and see how the show should have always looked, rather than being limited by my budget. As an artist, you can only go so far with cardboard boxes.