The life of Dai Henwood

Kiwi comedian Dai Henwood has spent the last three years living “in the now” after his devastating stage 4 bowel cancer diagnosis. Metropol Editor Lynda Papesch caught up with him recently to talk about his past, present, and “futile” future.

Life goes on, one day at a time for Dai, with good moments and bad. He prefers to forget the bad, leave them in the past, and to not worry about the future.In January 2023, Dai shared publicly that three years earlier he had been diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer. Perhaps the ultimate teacher for what really matters,  his incurable cancer has shown him a new way of living that embraces small moments of perfection and cherishes things often overlooked.

In early June this year, Dai launched his memoir, aptly titled The Life of Dai, written with the help of his friend Jaquie Brown. Writing the book was cathartic, scary and empowering, says Dai. “Sharing the writing process with a friend like Jaquie has been priceless. She has been able to corral my thoughts, put them in order and make my random philosophy into a cohesive piece of writing.”

Dai found the writing process a personal challenge. “Choosing to be open with stories, thoughts and fears is a struggle for me. Although I like to be an open book, I struggle with the battle between public and private,” he explains. “While I am a public figure, up until being open with my diagnosis I was still a very private person. My wife and kids are my family, but they deserve a private life. I am the one who decided to parade around on stage and TV telling dick jokes.”

Determined not to let his cancer define him, Dai has carried on working and will be back on-stage soon, including in Christchurch, sharing his special brand of comedy. Comedy often echoes or parodies life, and Dai has found having bowel cancer has “invigorated” his. “Three years ago I was doing stand-up comedy (among other things), and I’m still making people laugh today. Although my style of comedy hasn’t changed greatly, I do feel I’m a lot more authentic.  “I can create a good laugh, for example, around various aspects of the tests I’ve had. I still love doing stand-up comedy, and that won’t change.”


Even before comedy, spirituality plays an important role in Dai’s life. He confesses to being “allergic to organised religion” growing up, yet then and now “very connected” to eastern religion such as Zen Buddhism.  “Spirituality is a huge part of my life. I meditate, and I pray. My degree at university was in comparative and eastern religion.”

From a scientific family, Dai believes religion and spirituality have a place in life, co-existing alongside science, and has found meditation a big help during recent times. He’s exceptionally proud of his family, and his achievements, not worrying about reflections of the past. “I often think back and wonder if I should have or could have done things differently, with different outcomes.

“Things I could have avoided, such as having drunk less. Then I remember all the decisions I have made in my life have brought me to this point in time; a point where I am very proud of the man I am, the father I am, the friend I am.” Hindsight is a wonderful thing, yet not always life-changing, says Dai. He consulted his general practitioner and a bowel specialist in 2017, suffering bowel cancer symptoms, and “trusted their diagnoses” that he had nothing to worry about. By the time Dai had a colonoscopy in 2020, it was too late.

Ticking clock

“I should have pushed for one earlier, but thinking about that now is a futile process. Sometimes you just have to let sleeping dogs lie. For me, that past doesn’t really exist.  “Now, I live in each and every current moment.”

Dai’s view on life now is that of a ticking clock. “Having cancer has made me aware of my [time] clock. Everyone has a clock, and a time when unfortunately we will all leave this beautiful earth.  “I don’t know how long my clock will continue to tick. I’ve finally realised I do have a finite time, and I’m using every moment to appreciate time  with family and friends. To squeeze the joy out of every precious moment with them.”

Dai admits to having “why me” moments of anger. “I’ll be walking down the street and see someone smoking, and I get angry. I’ve never smoked, yet I have cancer and I think, why me; it’s not fair.” That’s when his philosophical side kicks in. “I come to the realisation that fairness is something invented by humans, and life isn’t always fair.”

Dai’s advice

  • Don’t try and look into the future; no crystal ball gazing.
  • Just take every treatment as it comes, and don’t worry about the next one until you’re on your way to it.
  • Focus on what you’re doing each day, and live in the moment.

In The Life of Dai, he tells how he wanted to be a comedian even before he knew what a comedian was. He always knew there was something special in being able to make people laugh. Performing comedy for over 25 years, Dai is also a celebrated television presenter, hosting numerous shows, including Family Feud, Dancing with the Stars, and LEGO Masters NZ. He has won every major comedy award in NZ, including the Billy T Award, Fred Award, and NZ Comedy Guild awards for Best Male Comedian, Best MC and Best TV Achievement.

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