A fan of Monty Python, spontaneity and the laughter that can be mined from awkward silences, Leigh Hart began perfecting his deadpan screen persona on SportsCafe. Hart became known as 'That Guy'. From 2002, after launching his own show, Moon TV, he began to be known as many other guys as well: including the idiot reporter, an accident-prone handyman, and promoter of a certain local brand of bacon.
Born in Greymouth, Hart's childhood covered a lot of ground. His father Herb was a West Coast miner who was lucky to survive the 1967 Strongman mine explosion. He took up tunnelling instead; as a result, Leigh spent time in Hong Kong, Melbourne and a Peruvian village high in the Andes, before finishing school at Christ's College in Christchurch. There he began playing music, and "got a taste for performing" — plus a caning record of 40 strokes in a single term.
After a stint in England helping his father patch up holes in the Channel Tunnel, Hart returned home and began singing with band Wild Turkey. The band headed to the United Kingdom, where they were fired from a summer holiday camp and thrown out of France for not having work permits.
While studying at Christchurch Film and TV School, Hart created satirical newspaper The Moon. The course taught him the importance of moving north, if he was going to get a job in television; Hart began sending his CV to production companies, and eventually got a foot in the door thanks to John Harris at Greenstone Pictures. There he did time as a runner, worked on research and programme proposals, and was a writer on early episodes of reality show The Zoo.
One evening in 1996, Marc Ellis turned up at his flat carrying a container of snails, frantically trying to find a replacement guest for sports comedy show SportsCafe. Hart's flatmate wasn't interested, so Hart was persuaded to step in and play an international snail trainer, in a mock interview with Ellis. SportsCafe's Cannonball character was leaving the show, and Hart was offered a weekly slot interviewing sportspeople, under the moniker That Guy.
In 2002 Hart proposed the idea of his own show to the programmers at Sky Television, which screened SportsCafe. With roughly $6000 in sponsored funding he made the first Moon TV series, savouring the energy of "filming on the run with a whole lot of mates". Later series saw a move to TVNZ, road trips both here and overseas, and the launch of two of Hart's longest-running sketches — a breakfast show parody where guests are talked over and interrupted by fake infomercials (which spun off into its own show), and a book slot where Hart irritates his former English teacher, Joe Bennett. In 2005 and 2007 Moon TV was nominated for best comedy programme at the NZ Screen Awards. Thanks to scenes of Alison Holst's kitchen being destroyed and Neil Finn being asked to perform songs written by his older brother, Hart enjoys encouraging viewers to question what's pre-rehearsed, and what is a genuinely shocked guest.
In 2010 Hart got his biggest budget to date, travelling to Egypt, Bermuda and a Roswell UFO festival for Leigh Hart's Mysterious Planet. He described the show at the time as an "epic TV disaster extravaganza" which took potshots at both the subject matter, and those TV shows which promised after the commercial break to prove Bigfoot existed. Hart got in hot water with US Sasquatch believers thanks to a satirical column in the NZ Herald, after taking the stand at an Ohio Bigfoot conference and presented evidence that despite his foot size, Bigfoot was less than three feet tall.
Hart was an early Kiwi presence online; his library of Moon TV clips has racked up millions of hits on YouTube. In 2016, unenthused about potentially having to wait "another two years" to learn if funding had been secured for a second series of Late Night Big Breakfast, Hart relaunched the show on new online viewing platform WatchMe. It is presented by Hart and partner in crime Jason Hoyte. Previously the two put their own distinctive spin on sports coverage on 2007's That Guy's World Cup and 2012's Olympico, sometimes in league with Jeremy Wells. Hart and Hoyte co-present a drivetime slot on Radio Hauraki, and all three are members of radio's Alternative Commentary Collective.
Outside of television shows, Hart's production company Moon Media also makes commercials and corporate videos, including taking charge of the Hellers campaign in which Hart gets passersby to sample the company's products.
In less comical mode, Hart has presented episodes of DNA Detectives, Shock Treatment, and the Strongman Mine episode of Descent from Disaster.
'Leigh Hart: On TV comedy and his distinctive voice' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 26 April 2016. Accessed 26 April 2016
Ben Christie, 'There's something about That Guy' (Interview) - Te Waha Nui, 15 October 2004, page 17
James Croot, 'That Guy Leigh Hart returns to TV' (Interview) Stuff website. Loaded 17 July 2014. Accessed 26 April 2016
Kimberley Rothwell, 'It's not about the answers' (Interview) - The Dominion Post, (TV Week liftout), 9 February 2010, page 7
Chris Schulz, 'Late Night Big Breakfast returns with new look' - The NZ Herald, 17 March 2016
Damien Venuto, 'An ocelot in adland: Leigh Hart on Moon Media's role as a provider of fast, cheap content' (Interview) StopPress website. Loaded 26 April 2016. Accessed 26 April 2016
Unknown Writer, 'Twelve Questions: Leigh Hart' - The NZ Herald, 9 January 2016