Benito Di Fonzo
Metro, Sydney Morning Herald, November 22, 2007
Expect role-playing, bad mime and jokes about produce from Peter Helliar.
Peter Helliar goes bananas.
130 Enmore Rd, Newtown
23 November 2007
02 9550 3666
Two shows, 7.30pm (sold out), 9.30pm.
Bananas pushed Peter Helliar over the edge. "Global warming I could handle," the blond comedian says, "but paying seven bucks for bananas was a bit full-on."
This produce-based epiphany became the seed for Hellraiser, his show looking at the comedic possibilities of some of the more serious issues of our day.
"When I started writing it, there was a foiled terrorist plot at Heathrow, North Korea was testing missiles, global warming was more on the agenda, petrol prices had skyrocketed. Then bananas got to seven bucks a kilo and I thought,
'OK, it's time to get involved now.' "
Helliar guffaws regularly during our chat. He appears not to be laughing so much at his own jokes as at the ludicrousness of life in general, a gift that would have proved invaluable earlier this year when hepatitis C support groups attacked him.
"Who'd have thought a Pamela Anderson joke could get you into hot water?" Helliar says.
Helliar made a public apology but the controversy was reported in papers around the world, including London's Daily Mail and The New York Post - which can't have hurt his notoriety, surely?
"No, there's nothing wrong with that," Helliar says.
Eschewing any future hepatitis C humour, Helliar has stuck with making fun of the intrinsically unfunny.
"It's a challenge to take an issue that on the surface isn't funny and make it, find something in it. There are only so many jokes you can make about the same target. I don't want to do any more jokes about Shane Warne, I'm bored of that. You're always looking for new stuff to find comedy in. But I don't want people to think they're going to learn anything by coming to this show. It's not preachy."
Less An Inconvenient Truth than A Mildly Informed Possibility? "Mildly informed, yeah. Half-baked opinions."
Helliar is happy to stray from the script, which lets him swerve into pet topics such as the corporate patriotism of McDonald's or his strange affection for Bunnings employees. This has led to some dangerous audience encounters.
"I once had a saucepan thrown at me," Helliar says.
Who goes to a gig with a saucepan?
"I was thinking, 'Was this pre-planned? Was there some controversial stir-fry routine that I had?' I guess they would have brought a wok if that were the case. But it was a footy club, so there was a kitchen at the back. I said, 'Hey Cranbourne, heard your footy team had a win today.' Cranbourne's a suburb outside of Melbourne. Someone up the back - obviously he didn't play that day - threw kitchenware at me."
"When I'm in Sydney, I still get people yelling out for the character, which puts a strange vibe in the room for a couple of seconds because it's hard to go into any of that kind of stuff, and I don't like to. If I'm doing Hellraiser as myself, I don't like to sponge off that character."
Much of Helliar's appeal, particularly through Strauchnie, is the self-deprecatory humour of the plain, unfit, everyman against superstars.
"There are too many comedians who have come about in recent years who are too good-looking, so we have to balance up the ledger a bit."
Surely Helliar's boss, Rove, is among those tall, handsome, young comedians?
"I'm taller than Rove," Helliar says. "I'm 5 foot 11 [180cm] and he's about 5 foot 2 [157cm]. He's got those telephone books he's sitting on, but he's got the looks on me."
Did he ever call him "shorty"?
"For the first three or four years," Helliar says, "then he won the Gold Logie."
What can punters expect from him live? "I'm a lot more physical, reasonably high-energy on stage. I use the whole stage. I like role-playing, bad mime ..."
Mime? "I'm up there with your worst comedy mimes but I give it a shot. I've become a kettle on stage, a paper clip.
I talk about global warming, drought ...
A lot of people I talk to after the show say it was their first stand-up gig. I was lucky enough to discover stand-up quite early and I think it's the perfect night out."