David Fane is a key figure in bringing Pasifika comedy into New Zealand's mainstream. A founding member of comedy group the Naked Samoans, he went on to write and provide voices for beloved comedy bro'Town.
Fane's parents moved to Auckland from Samoa in the 1960s. He grew up in Ponsonby, in the days before palagi took over the suburb. Fane's acting career began at Auckland University, after he saw an audition sign for a play. On his second night in the role, his mother got up on-stage and scolded him for swearing. For the rest of that night's performance, he toned down the language to safer terms like "by golly". Fane's language and English Literature courses were soon abandoned for theatre.
In the early 90s Fane was thrown out of drama school Toi Whakaari, partly for not turning up enough. He is forever thankful that fellow students successfully campaigned for his return. (In this 1993 documentary, Fane can be seen among the Toi Whakaari students making a short film with director Ian Mune.) Soon afterwards, Fane met fellow Samoan-Kiwi Oscar Kightley, who invited him to co-star in his 1993 play Fresh off the Boat, about a Pacific Islander trying to adjust to life in New Zealand. The two joined the cast of sketch shows Skitz and Telly Laughs. They also got locked in a hotel room by director Nathaniel Lees, so that they would finish writing fa'afafine play A Frigate Bird Sings in time for the 1996 NZ International Arts Festival.
Skitz led to short-lived, gleefully over the top spin-off The Semisis. Fane played father to a dysfunctional Samoan family. A clip of one of the original Semisis sketches can be found here, plus the first Semisis episode. The show was directed by Danny Mulheron, who had invited Fane to join the Skitz cast.
When Oscar Kightley launched comedy troupe the Naked Samoans in 1998, Fane was on-board, alongside Mario Gaoa and Shimpal Lelisi (Robbie Magasiva and Iaheto Ah Hi joined soon after). Kightley said of Fane: "He was just hilarious, and we all kind of fell in behind him". The Samoans made comedy out of being brown and poor in Auckland. The troupe can be seen on-stage in this 2001 Tagata Pasifika episode.
In September 2004 The Naked Samoans took over Kiwi television sets, thanks to bro'Town. The animated comedy about five brown kids in South Auckland spawned catchphrases, merchandise and overseas sales. Fane writes about the whole experience here. He also pays tribute to producer Elizabeth Mitchell for managing to find funding "for New Zealand's first prime time animated TV show".
As well as being part of the writing team — and sharing two NZ Screen Awards for Best Comedy Script — Fane voiced more characters than anyone else in the cast. He voiced two of the boys, Jeff da Māori (who gave us memorable catchphrase "Not even ow!") and Mack — plus Pepelo Pepelo (dodgy father of Vale and Valea), Mrs Tapili, Wong from Hong Kong, and Abo. As Fane says in this video interview, the team tackled drug P in one episode, but called it 'upside down B', after being told P was not to be mentioned directly. Fane is proudest of bro'Town's anti-suicide episode (suicide hits Pacific Islanders at disproportionate levels).
The Naked Samoans featured in a second Pasifika-flavoured project that succeeded in crossing over, to win fans of all colours. Big screen comedy Sione's Wedding (2006) became one of the highest grossing New Zealand films released in Aotearoa to date. Fane is often recognised for his part as Bolo ("no, my name is Paul!") — cousin and conscience to Shimpal Lelisi's character of Sefa, and the man who drives the van as the boys rush to make Sione's wedding. The team reunited for 2012's Sione's 2: Unfinished Business (this time the boys were on a mission to find Bolo) and 2011 sketch series Radiradirah. Early in Radiradirah's first episode, Fane can be seen playing an elderly kuia, and a road worker keen to keep control of the stop/go sign.
He also popped up from time to time on Outrageous Fortune, providing nonsensical philosophy as the car-stealing Falani. Later he cameoed on prequel show Westside, as his own father. Thanks to the shows' co-creator James Griffin, Fane finally got a starring role. In "very subversive" 2009 comedy Diplomatic Immunity he played Jonah Fa'auigaese, the cunning ambassador to a mythical Pacific Island nation, who has to deal with a white diplomat (Craig Parker) on his turf. Although hamstrung by a 10pm timeslot, the show was praised as "highly watchable" by Dominion Post critic Jane Clifton. Clifton described how Fane played Jonah "with a stupendous blend of hauteur, venality, cheek and gloriously flashy suits".
Fane's other television roles include comic-drama The Strip (as the strip club's barman), 800 Words (as an opera singing builder), and The Market (as a Samoan chief working at an Auckland veggie stall). The Market remains a personal highlight, thanks largely to the cast "of fantastic brown creatives" Fane got to work with: among them "Samoa's own French and Saunders", Anapela Polataivao and Goretti Chadwick.
Fane made his big screen debut in 2002 martial arts parody Tongan Ninja (as Herman the Henchman). In 2008 he was nominated for a Supporting Actor Award at the Qantas Film and Television Awards, after playing a Samoan elder in horror tale The Tattooist. The same year he managed a fight scene in a wheelchair for Taika Waititi comedy Eagle Vs Shark, then co-hosted short-lived Trans-Tasman game show Island Wars, with Mikey Havoc. In 2015 he learnt more about his ancestry, for an episode of DNA Detectives.
Fane was seen in kids comedy Jandals Away, Rhys Darby romance Love Birds (2011) and Darby's web series Short Poppies (2014). He plays father to Josh Thomson in Pacific-set comedy Gary of the Pacific (2017), and father to John Tui in Trans-Tasman comedy Paper Champions (2020).
Fane is set to join Darby, Oscar Kightley and American Elizabeth Moss for Next Goal Wins (2020). The Taika Waititi-directed movie is inspired by the American Samoa soccer team's adventures at the 2001 World Cup.
His theatre credits include Niu Sila, Ladies Night, A Streetcar Named Desire, Serial Killers, and Sons. For a decade, Fane juggled his acting commitments with a role as a breakfast host on radio station Flava FM. His DJ name was Dr Fane, because his middle name is Rodney.
Profile updated on 23 April 2020
'David Fane: A comedic delight' (Video interview) NZ on Screen website. Director James Coleman. Loaded 1 February 2011. Accessed 23 April 2020
'David Fane' Gail Cowan Management website. Accessed 23 April 2020
Shaun Bamber, 'Dave Fane: God of the Pacific?' (Interview) - The Dominion Post (Your Weekend section), 11 March 2017
Jane Clifton, 'TV review: Diplomatic Immunity' - The Dominion Post, 3 July 2009
Diana Wichtel, 'David Fane Interview' - The Listener, 7 March 2009 (issue 3591)
Diplomatic Immunity website (broken link). Accessed 15 January 2015
Sione's Wedding press kit