Jeremy Corbett can find something funny in most situations – after all, he's made a very successful career out of it.
But there was not a lot to laugh about when he woke up one Monday morning a few weeks ago to find his face was severely swollen.
"It wasn't my best look," says the host and Weekly columnist. He'd had a terrible night's sleep thanks to flu-like symptoms and a nose so sore, it felt like "two giant pimples were trying to burst their way out".
He had no idea what had caused it and in typical "don't-make-a-fuss" Kiwi bloke fashion, told his wife Megan that he might need to make a doctor's appointment at some stage that week. But Megan wasn't having that.
"She went, 'No, you're going to hospital,'" recalls Jeremy (55). "I was thinking, 'I don't want to impose, they've got more serious things to worry about.' But Megan said, 'Stuff that, we're going.' She's good like that."
A doctor at Auckland Hospital took one look at Jeremy, whose eyes were almost swollen shut by that stage, and admitted him. He was told that he had facial cellulitis, a type of bacterial infection. He's got no idea how he got it, but was relieved to know it could be treated with intravenous antibiotics.
"Untreated, it can be really horrible – you can die from cellulitis," says Jeremy, talking to the Weekly at Auckland's Swiss-Belsuites Victoria Park hotel. "Back in the days before antibiotics, people would have parts amputated all the time because of it. Luckily for me, penicillin took care of it."
However, he had to stay in hospital for a few days, so he rang Jon Bridges, his boss on The Project, to break the bad news.
"I had just got this job and everything was going swimmingly, so I felt bad about having a week off. But they would not have wanted me on TV looking like I did. Luckily Mel Bracewell, the comedienne who does a bit of writing for The Project, jumped into my chair on the first day without much warning, and did a great job."
Josh Thompson also filled in for him, and because he missed filming an episode of 7 Days, team leader Dai Henwood stepped up and took over as host. It was just the second time in nine years that Jeremy hasn't presented the popular Three comedy show.
"That is bloody-mindedness on my part. I have learned in this industry that you never leave your seat empty because someone will fill it pretty quickly."
Once Jeremy knew what was wrong with him and was getting the treatment he needed, he was able to start cracking jokes about looking like he'd been inflated. He was concerned about his daughters Charlie (7) and Billie (5) visiting him in hospital in case they were freaked out, but by the time he'd been there three days, he and Megan decided it would be good for them to see their dad so they knew he was okay.
"I was still a bit of a sight – they drew a line around the infection to make sure it wasn't spreading, which didn't help. Charlie was fine; she ran up to me and gave me a hug. But Billie wasn't so keen. She kept her distance, which was quite funny. But as soon as I came right, I got massive hugs to make up for it."
Jeremy spent four days in hospital on a drip. And it's not the first time he's been admitted for urgent medical care – about 10 years ago he arrived at A&E in an ambulance thanks to a "thing with my heart". He has a condition called premature ventricular contractions, which can disrupt the heart's normal rhythm.
"A lot of people have it – Rob Waddell the rower has the same thing. So I can say me and Rob Waddell are very similar. But I did have that event which was pretty dramatic for Megan."
Luckily for Jeremy, Megan is good at staying calm under pressure and knowing how to act in a crisis – because he isn't.
"I always thought I'd be one of those people who are good in an emergency, but I'm not. I'm terrible. Our littlest one, Billie, had a febrile seizure in the car when she was about three. We were stopped at the traffic lights and her eyes rolled back and she stopped breathing. Luckily Megan saw and jumped in the back of the car with her. She said, 'Drive to the hospital!' and I was like, 'What? Where? Hospital?' I was hopeless.
"Megan ended up taking her out of the car and some passersby stopped to help. We called an ambulance and when we got Billie to hospital, they said, 'It happens a lot.'"
Another time, when Billie was choking, Jeremy tried to help by hitting her on the back – to no avail.
"Megan gave her a massive whack on the back and out came the food. I was just sitting there trembling – I hadn't been doing it hard enough. I'm not cool under pressure, I freeze. But hopefully I'll be better next time – and there's bound to be a next time, knowing what kids are like."
The one thing they don't tell you about parenting, says Jeremy, is how much you'll worry about your children.
"There is a part of your brain and its only job is to come up with scenarios where your kids get hurt. It sits there dormant until you have a kid and then it springs into action. I never had trouble sleeping until I had children and now I lie awake thinking about how they're going to fall down the stairs or pull a chest of drawers over on themselves."
His tendency to fret is a far cry from the way he was raised. He's the second of four boys, and says his parents Ash and Barbara – a doctor and nurse – were a lot more laid-back when he was growing up.
"We got used to getting zero treatment. Unless blood was gushing from an artery in your neck, Dad would continue to watch the news. His way of dealing with anything to do with us kids was, 'You'll be right.' Mum was the same. She'd quickly assess whether you needed treatment and mostly we didn't. Dad did stitch me up on the dining table once, after I split my chin open at the swimming pool doing something stupid."
There are no scars left as a result of his latest medical incident and it doesn't seem to have affected his TV career.
"If I had stayed looking like I was that would have been the end of it," jokes Jeremy, who says he's fully recovered.
"I did think at one stage that if I had permanent scarring, I'd have to go back to radio, or at least spend a lot more time in makeup. But as long as I can still talk, I think I'll be okay."
Jeremy is having a great time on The Project, although he admits he was unsure about taking the job at first because of the hours – mid-afternoon through to when the show ends at 7.30pm – weren't exactly family-friendly.
"I knew I'd be missing out on seeing the kids when they come home from school and before they go to bed. But what happens is that Megan picks them up from school and drives past the studio during my downtime. So she stops, and I go out and sit in the car with Charlie and Billie for a while. It's not quantity time, but it is quality time."
Charlie and Billie know their dad is on TV and don't think it is a big deal. One of the benefits of him being on The Project is that it's far more child-friendly viewing – the girls have never been allowed to see what he gets up to on 7 Days due to the adult content. When they've asked what he does on that show, he says he talks nonsense.
"And within about 30 seconds it descends into a conversation about poo, because they think that's what it means when you talk about funny stuff. And then they've forgotten all about Dad being on 7 Days because they're too busy telling poo jokes."
Jeremy gets to flex his comedy muscles on The Project as well as on 7 Days, thanks to the way the two shows combine entertainment with current affairs. His favourite assignments so far have included covering virtual reality games developed by Weta Gameshop and going up in a plane used as an observatory by NASA.
"That was very cool, and they gave me stickers and badges and a certificate I'm getting framed. I'm not a fan of putting stickers on my laptop, but this time NASA stickers are allowed."
He'd love to do more stories about innovative Kiwi companies and perhaps interview one of his comedy heroes, such as Bill Bailey or Eddie Izzard. But he's more than happy with the variety of things he gets to do.
"The Project really is a gift of a job. I enjoy live TV and unless we are doing a really dark story, we can have a bit of fun. I get to work with a really amazing team and everyone has been so welcoming. Jesse Mulligan and Kanoa Lloyd are very good at what they do. Kanoa is from that generation that is really media-savvy and she's a true professional. So is Jesse and he's got a great sense of humour – he is very dry, but very funny.
"The producers basically do all the hard work, getting the stories together, and I just turn up and take all the glory. I'm very lucky – I love it!"
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