The Endangered Species Aotearoa host on the power of Oprah, the cartoon that’s better than The Simpsons and his surprising TV style icon.
Unlike the robust grasshopper, only found in a patch of gravel road in Mackenzie Country, you don’t have to look very far to find Pax Assadi. He’s currently co-hosting TVNZ1’s Endangered Species Aotearoa with WWF, searching for rare species like the aforementioned grass hopper with expert conservationist Nicola Toki. Wading through wetlands, climbing mountains and taking his shirt off at what feels like every opportunity, the comedian and writer could not be further away from the natural habitat we usually encounter him in.
Assadi’s more frequented television habitats include comedy panel shows like Have You Been Paying Attention, 7 Days and The Project, and the pastel, sugary hues of the Great Kiwi Bake Off tent. Assadi has also written and stars in his own sitcom Raised by Refugees, in which he explores growing up as an Iranian-Pakistani New Zealander in the early 2000s. If that wasn’t quite enough credits for you, he’s also appeared in Frickin’ Dangerous Bro… On the Road, Brown Eye, and might even pop up during the ad breaks as the voice of 2 Degrees.
Crucially, Pax Assadi believes that someone’s television diet can say a lot about them. “They say the eyes are the window to the soul, but I think it’s your TV watching habits that are the window to your soul,” he tells The Spinoff ahead of his hallowed My Life in TV interview. With that in mind, here lies the secrets to Pax Assadi’s soul…
My earliest TV memory is… Watching Oprah at four or five years old. I just remember being fascinated by it. Seeing Oprah so early on and at such a young age shaped me to be a really big fan of daytime television chat formats – I love Oprah, I love Ellen, I love The View. Sometimes I’ll go on YouTube and just watch clips of The View. There’s something about the the format and the way that they engage with their guests that feels really nostalgic
The TV show I used to rush home from school to watch was… When I was at primary school, I would rush home to watch Dragonball Z. I loved it. I loved to watch Goku power up for four episodes. Once I got older, and my basketball trainings became longer and more intense, I would rush home a bit later to watch My Wife and Kids. I loved that show because it was the first time I felt like I could understand adults doing comedy. I felt like My Wife and Kids was for me – they were referencing NBA players that I liked, they were doing jokes about rappers that I liked. It was an exciting feeling that I hadn’t had before of “Oh, this comedy is for me.”
My earliest TV crush was… Hillary Banks from Fresh Prince of Bel Air. That was a rollercoaster of a time, to say the least. Just a talented, beautiful woman.
The TV ad I can’t stop thinking about is… I always think about that ad where the dog falls off the back of a truck and then goes “bugger” with that weird, freaky, digital mouth. I will never forget that ad because my mum and dad just found it so funny. They were like, “Oh, this is good comedy”. Honestly, even to this day, I don’t think they fully get it.
My TV guilty pleasure is… I don’t know if you’d call this a guilty pleasure, but the show that I always go back to when I don’t know what to watch is Futurama. It’s really funny, it’s just really good writing, and the premise will always be a good premise. I watch it all the time, over and over again, and I just love it. This is a controversial thing to say, but I actually think it’s better than The Simpsons. I know this is crazy talk for some people.
My favourite TV moment of all time is… There’s a moment from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that I go back and watch once every six months. It’s the scene where Will’s real dad shows up, and Will tries really hard to connect with him. At the end of the episode, they are were meant to hang out and go somewhere, but the dad has just disappeared and has basically repeated exactly what he what he did when Will has a kid.
When Will just breaks down and starts crying and screaming “why doesn’t he want me?” and launches into Uncle Phil’s arms? That is my favourite television moment ever, especially because a light show like Fresh Prince just slaps you in the face with this incredibly emotional moment that no one was expecting. I just think it’s brilliant.
My favourite TV character of all time is… Will from Fresh Prince – I resonated with him so much as a young brown kid who just wanted to be cool, because he was just the coolest guy on television.
The most stylish person on TV is… This is a weird one but, for me, it’s Ellen Degeneres. So often I would have been watching Ellen and been like “Oh man, that’s a cool suit” or “Oh man, I want to wear that cardigan”. I am also a bit of a watch nerd and she is a legend in the watch world. She has some of the rarest, craziest watches.
My most used streaming platform is… It would be between TVNZ+, and Neon. I know I sound like a corporate shill right now because Endangered Species is on TVNZ+ and then my sitcom Raised by Refugees is on Neon. But honestly, even if I didn’t have those shows on those platforms, I would still use those the most. But am I just watching my sitcom Raised by Refugees on repeat? Yes. Does that count? Yes.
My favourite TV project I’ve ever been involved in is… A tie between Raised by Refugees and Endangered Species. Genuinely, there wasn’t a single day on either of those shows where I didn’t wake up excited to go to set, or go into the bush to find some crazy rare frog.
My one piece of advice for anyone who wants to make a TV show is… Understand that there are so many steps to making a television show, and it’s one of the hardest things you could ever possibly do. If you ever get the opportunity to make a television show, be ready to make sacrifices, but don’t feel like because you’re making those sacrifices, you’re making a bad show. The show that you make might end up looking slightly different to what you envisioned in the beginning, but that is always going to happen just by the nature of how hard it is to make television. And that’s OK. Let it evolve and become what it becomes. And be proud of it.
The TV show that defined your lockdown is… Umbrella Academy on Netflix, my wife and I watched that all during lockdown. It’s perfect for us because a I’m a massive nerd. I like Lord of the Rings and superheroes and sci-fi, and my wife is the total opposite. Umbrella Academy felt like the perfect coming together of real human stories that my wife could actually be interested in, and then superhero things that I care about.
The TV show I wish I had been involved in is… It’s a basic answer, but probably Friends. That show genuinely seemed like so much fun to make. I don’t know if I’d want to be one of the writers or producers because that seems stressful, especially once the show became one of the biggest shows on the planet, the pressure probably would have been crazy. But I feel like being one of the cast members would have been so much fun, to form those friendships and be so familiar with the set, and to just have fun every time you’re on set. Also: the money.
My most watched TV show of all time is… It would probably be Futurama again, but I used to love watching Star Trek, so that would be up there. That’s a comfort thing as well, because my dad used to love watching Star Trek. I also watched a lot of Stargate reruns too – remember every school holidays you’d be sitting there at home at one o’clock in the afternoon and Stargate would be on TV? I watched an obscene amount of Stargate just because of that.
My most controversial TV take is… That Game of Thrones is average. It’s well-written enough, but I think it uses controversy to make itself more interesting and I just think it’s not as good as people think it is. When I really broke it down and asked a bunch of questions – what is the show telling me? What is it exploring? What is the storytelling? – I found it kind of boring, to be honest.
One show that I will never watch no matter how many people say I should is… It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I’m sorry, there’s too many episodes and I cannot be bothered. It happens all the time, everyone’s like, “Oh, you’re a comedian. You should watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”. Everybody. And then they’re like “What are you even doing with your career if you haven’t watched It’s Always Sunny?” I’m sorry. I’m not gonna watch it. OK? There’s a seven seasons. I’m not watching it.
The last thing I watched on television is… I watched the first episode of my rough cuts of my second season of my sitcom Raised by Refugees, does that count? Other than that it would be the first episode of that show Ghosts on TVNZ+. I think I’ll keep watching it, it was pretty fun and pretty funny. It’s one of those shows where I watched the first episode and thought “Oh, I think my wife would like this”, so I stopped watching it so we can watch it together.
Watch Endangered Species Aotearoa Mondays 8.30pm on TVNZ1, or catch up here on TVNZ+.