Chris Lilley: Australia's finest cultural export?

 

This blog has long argued Australia's cultural creep is far more significant than any lingering pangs of cultural cringe. The latest offering from the country's leading social satirist, Chris Lilley, offers yet more proof.

For the uninitiated, the multi-talented Lilley is both the author and star of a string of closely observed mockumentaries that offer the most merciless parodies on modern Australian life.

With his work picked up by the BBC and HBO, that haven of super-smart television, right now he is surely Australia's hottest cultural export. You can a get a taste here

Though regularly likened to the great Barry Humphries and Kath and Kim, Lilley has a wider repertoire of voices and has looked for his targets beyond the lace-curtain cul-de-sacs of Australian suburbia.

Similarly, whereas Humphries offered outlandish caricatures with Dame Edna and Sir Les Patterson, it is the subtle touches of Lilley's creations that make them so recognisable.

In We Can Be Heroes, Lilley played six of his compatriots competing to become the Australian of the year - a women from Western Australia with one leg longer than the other who was determined to roll from Perth to Uluru; a Queenslander, Phil Olivetti, hoping to parlay the minor celebrity he achieved through saving a group of children from an unsecured bouncy castle that floated into the air into a career as a motivational speaker; and Ricky Wong, a Chinese-Australian physics prodigy more interested in the stage than the lab, who becomes the star of an indigenous musical called Indigeridoo.

Summer Heights High was funnier still. Set in a suburban high school, Lilley introduced us to Mr G, a Broadway theatrical impresario trapped inside the body of a camp high school teacher - perhaps the funniest Australian comic creation since Norman Gunston, a hapless television reporter from Wollongong who rose to pre-eminence in the 1970s.

Guilty pleasure

Now comes the "world premiere" - the hype here is justified - of his long-awaited follow-up, Angry Boys, a co-production between ABC and HBO.

It features the Sims twins from Dunt, South Australia, whom we first met in We Can be Heroes, and a rival to Mr G called Gran, who helps run a juvenile detention centre, in a lime-green shirt embroidered with the Australian coat of arms.

Inside Gran, political incorrectness runs amok, and she mixes blatant racism towards the young men under her charge with kindness and motherly affection.

One minute she is belittling them on the football field. "Did your mum's heroin habit during pregnancy affect your co-ordination?" she says in one of her few mocking insults that I can quote here. Another moment she is making them super-hero pyjamas within matching duvet covers, or doonas as they are called in these parts.

Gran mixes humour and congeniality with some flippant old-fashioned racial stereotyping; an authoritarian bent with a playful disregard for the rules. Thus, she brings to hilarious life many of Australia's internal contradictions.

Chris Lilley is so good because he is so deadly accurate. And like most really good satire, it operates just beyond the borders of most viewers' comfort zone. It dares you to laugh, and it becomes almost a guilty pleasure to do so.

Later on in the series will come S.mouse, a rap artist from Los Angeles and the creative genius behind the most successful hip-hop single of all time, Slap My Elbow, and other US-based characters. All of which offers further evidence of Lilley's rising Anglo-spheric stardom.

But if you want to learn more about this multifarious land, I would point you in the direction of Chris Lilley's Australia.

 
Nick Bryant Article written by Nick Bryant Nick Bryant New York correspondent

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 17.

    I wouldn't compare the two episodes of Angry Boys with the two episodes I saw of Come Fly With Me. The latter lacked any originality, it seemed like an opportunity for the actors to 'black' up, wasn't clever nor funny. I haven't quite made my mind up about S.mouse in Angry Boys, but Jonah from SSH was a brilliant and realistic character, making it a convincing mockumentary unlike CFWM!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 16.

    Horrifying, bum-clenching, view through your fingers, laugh-out-loud genius. Lock up your dogs.......

  • rate this
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    Comment number 15.

    @ Eliza.
    There is nothing unique about AUS humour. Other societies are also able to laugh at themselves. Most people I have met in 42 years are not larrikans. But I am happy with AUS humour. It has its positives.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    I have watched Lilley's programs. Unfortunately I don't share the article writers views.

    I find them dour and stopped watching the latest series.

    To sum it up after 42 years in this country I have never met anyone who resembles any of his characters.

    My wife watched Summer Heights but has given up on the We can be heroes.

    Angry boys? I will look at an episode to find out if my view changes.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 13.

    @12. You're boring everyone with your constant bellyaching. Oz/Aus/Aust.....who cares!!! Get over it!

 

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