Paul Casserly grew up in the Auckland suburb of Onehunga. While at St Peter's College he dabbled with drumsticks, then decided he'd rather be the one in charge. A self-professed 'quiet kid' at school (although he also remembers getting laughs from his schoolmates with his "heh heh heh" impression of Robert Muldoon), Casserly watched a lot of television. He also got caned for adding a twist to grammar lessons, after writing that a "kiwi eats, roots and leaves".
While studying for an arts degree at Auckland University, Casserly "found bFM". He edited bFM's magazine, and became the station's programme director. bFM proved a formative influence, as he told The Sunday Star-Times in 2005. "You had a lot of time on your hands and a studio you could just try things out in". He created satirical advice series 'Dad Tips' with Graeme Hill and Marcus Lush, and contributed to the station's "tradition of comedic anti-adverts". Weekend sessions with studio engineer Mark Tierney led to the birth of electronica act Strawpeople.
Strawpeople released six albums featuring an array of vocalists, but they performed on stage only once. Tierney departed before third album Vicarious, which was named album of the year at the 1996 NZ Music Awards. Aside from directing music videos for the band (sometimes with Tierney), Casserly has been at the helm of clips for Bic Runga, Neil Finn, The Exponents and his old schoolmate Greg Johnson.
In 1994 Casserly got a research job on slightly off the wall news show Newsnight. That year he graduated to the director’s chair, then joined bFM mates Mikey Havoc and Jeremy 'Newsboy' Wells on the first season of Havoc. The duo would gain a cult reputation among Kiwi youth for their irreverent take on local culture. Says Casserly: "Together, they had this kind of magic that you get when you get a good duo." Of his own move into television, he told Sunday Star-Times writer Veronica Schmidt "once we started getting into it, I found it more satisfying than making music." Wells recalls first meeting Casserly, and asking if he had any good ideas. "He pulled out this very small diary … he said, 'I've got this idea [for a Havoc segment] called Fun with Meat', and I thought, shit, that’s fantastic."
Being flippant with food was early fuel for an ongoing collaboration. After they Casserly and Wells worked together on ski show Shred (which he later described as "an unholy mess"), Wells became the deadpan frontperson for Casserly and Lee Baker’s media satire show Eating Media Lunch (2003 - 2008). Casserly talks in detail about the show's blurring of the lines between fact and fiction, and how the walls closed in later years, in this extended interview for TV series Funny As. Eating Media Lunch made headlines thanks to a series of fake news sketches: among them Lee Baker's Māori porn flick Anal Mana, the slaughtering of rogue sheep Shrek, and lampoonings of consumer affairs staple Target (a Casserly favourite, where undercover investigators took liberties with their subject’s household contents).
Eating Media Lunch won Casserly a Best Director gong at the 2009 Qantas Film and Television Awards, after being named Best Comedy Programme the previous year. For Casserly it was "kind of a weird fanzine": he was keen to pay homage to his subjects, while sending them up. On the ethics of satire, he reflected in 2005: "You try not to get people who are down or are lacking in power ... sometimes you do upset people and it’s usually the people you didn’t expect."
EML led to spin-off show The Unauthorised History of New Zealand, which was largely inspired by raids on New Zealand's television archive. This time Jeremy Wells channelled Kenneth Cumberland, presenter of high profile 80s show Landmarks,. Casserly says the show was in part "trying to pop the bubble of self-regard that New Zealand has had about ourselves". In 2009 Casserly and Wells put the wit in twitcher for Birdland, a series celebrating Aotearoa’s avian inhabitants and their followers.
In 2010 Casserly formed Perendale Productions with Wells and writer/producer Jodie Molloy. Soon after the trio set off through Europe trailing an orchestra, for the 76-minute documentary Grand Tour: Jeremy Wells with the NZSO.
The Perendale team also produced content for the Music Foundation, Dave Dobbyn and Crowded House (Casserly had earlier directed Neil Finn concert documentary Finn for a Day). Casserly kept Wells in his woolly Birdland socks on a long-running series of advertisements for energy company Meridian.
In 2015 Casserly paid tribute to his beginnings by directing Radio Punks, a documentary for Prime which set out to "capture the flavour of what student radio has given to New Zealand”. Student radio veteran Russell Brown praised Casserly for doing "a remarkable job". Casserly also handled the video content for Kiwi music exhibition Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa at Auckland War Memorial Museum, and produced online comedy project The Yeti Show for NZME, plus content for satirical website The Civilian.
Despite having created some controversial moments on New Zealand’s small screen and antagonised several celebrities, the former altar boy has managed to maintain his privacy. "I'm not a performer. I don't want to be on stage," he says."I've seen myself on TV a few times and I didn't like it. And there’s this thing about being on TV where every f*** out in a bar talks to you — it's just not for me."
Casserly's credit list spans co-directing a 2016 series on the Dunedin longitudinal study, launching a talk show starring Anika Moa, and producing Go Ahead Caller, a satirical spot for RNZ National. He has composed film scores, and lent his voice as narrator to this Colin McCahon documentary and How Clean is Your House?. The kid with square eyes has often reviewed television for The NZ Herald; he has also written about Thingee's eye and other iconic telly moments for NZ On Screen.
Profile updated on 19 November 2019
'Paul Casserly - Funny As Interview' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Rupert Mackenzie. Loaded 19 August 2019. Accessed 19 November 2019
Paul Casserly, 'Paul Casserly talks to Paul Casserly about Volume', Flicks website. Loaded 25 October 2016. Accessed 19 November 2019
Russell Baillie, 'The mod couple' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 30 June 2000
Russell Brown, 'Radio Punks: So many stories' (Review of Radio Punks: The Student Radio Story) Public Address website. Loaded 19 August 2015. Accessed 11 April 2018
Julie Jacobson, 'Preening stars ditched for new larks', The Dominion Post (TV Week liftout) 13 October 2009
Philip Matthews, 'Paul Casserly' (Interview) - The Listener, 29 May 2004
Veronica Schmidt, 'Shock Tactician' (Interview) - The Sunday Star-Times, 13 March 2005
Brian White, 'Strawpeople Profile' AudioCulture website. Loaded 27 May 2013. Accessed 19 November 2019
Unknown writer, 'The story behind student radio' (Interview) The Wireless website. Loaded 18 August 2015. Accessed 19 November 2019
Unknown writer, 'Strawpeople' Muzic.net website. Loaded 2004 (unknown date). Accessed 19 November 2019
Perendale Productions website. Accessed 19 November 2019