Wellington comedy could be Darling of New York

21:24, Aug 19 2012
Performer, writer, and comedian Roderick Fransham who is a finalist in the Independent Pilot Competition at the New York Television Festival.
STRUMMING UP INTEREST: Performer, writer, and comedian Roderick Fransham who is a finalist in the Independent Pilot Competition at the New York Television Festival.

A homemade comedy pilot has earned a Wellington performer and writer a spot in the finals of the New York Television Festival's competition to produce a TV series.

Roderick Fransham is the only New Zealand finalist in the competition and one of only a handful of non-Americans among 51 finalists vying for 26 guaranteed television series development deals.

He entered his sketch comedy show, Happy Darling, in the festival's Independent Pilot Competition, and will be flown to New York City in October for the finals.

His subtle but high-energy show, which mixes comedy, music and dance, will then be presented to television industry executives in Manhattan from networks and studios including MTV.

"An opportunity to meet with other creators both aspiring and accomplished in such a competitive arena is fantastic," he said.

"Also, to have your work validated to a degree above ‘crazy guy making films in his spare time' is a big boost."

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The 36-year-old has worked at Weta as a motion technical director and motion capture performer since the first Lord of the Rings film.

He spent his 20s as a professional dancer doing musical theatre at local venues such as Bats and performing in ballet chorus gigs with the New Zealand Opera.

His "first proper comedy show" was an entry to the Wellington Fringe Festival in 1998 with brother Ben and friend Stuart Coats, which won the best newcomer prize.

Happy Darling's absurd observational humour delivered in Fransham's New Zealand accent often pokes fun at middle-class malaise, with character pieces and short comedy films incorporating dance and music.

Fransham faces stiff competition, with half the finalists being New York writers on their home turf. Some of the pilot pitches feature established television industry names, including Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, Forgetting Sarah Marshall actress Kristen Bell, and actors who have appeared in comedies such as 30 Rock.

More than half the finalists will end up with their pilots made into a series for broadcast. Winning one of the development deals up for grabs at the New York Television Festival would be "life-changing" for Fransham, who lives in Newtown. "It would be the culmination of a lot of work."

With writing partner Clayton Foster, he produces a podcast, also called Happy Darling, that has a growing international cult following of listeners who tune in to hear the pals trade witticisms.

"Though it's tonally very different, [the podcast] falls under the Happy Darling banner. There is something inherently funny about people striving to be happy."

The television medium appeals to Fransham because production time is faster than in feature-length films.

"You can turn a bunch of work around in a relatively short time and get going on something new. I want to make more jokes than you can fit into a single two-hour film."

Winners of the Independent Pilot Competition will be announced at the New York Television Festival on October 27.

The Dominion Post