The Opinion (AUG 11) Chris Lilley – Article
The Angry Boys creator and reality TV enthusiast on what makes him laugh and his dislike of the “comedian” tag.
I was really into The Goodies as a kid. Later on, I got into Aussie sketch shows like Fast Forward – which I loved. I don’t really follow modern Australian comedy any more, but I feel like I should.
I vaguely know who everyone is, and when the comedy festivals are on I go and see a couple of things but I don’t really feel like that’s my scene. I’m too busy watching reality TV shows. In fact, reality TV is all I watch.
A lot of my inspiration is from those shows. I love the way it’s morphed into these scripted set-ups. The people in the shows know how to perform in front of a camera and manipulate the story.
There’s this weird parallel with my shows, in that they’re completely scripted and planned but there’s more reality to it, in that we cast real people and set up real situations. It’s like I’m going more reality and reality TV is getting more scripted.
I watch The Lifestyle Channel, MTV and E!. I used to be really into The Hills and Laguna Beach. When Laguna Beach first came out, what they were doing was so innovative that I arranged to go over and spend a day meeting the crew and finding out all the secrets behind it.
I’ve been known to watch Australia’s Funniest Home Videos – I love that kind of stuff. I go through YouTube phases, too. I watched this video of a cat farting recently and it was the funniest thing ever. I couldn’t stop watching it. I think the fart was a sound effect but it was done perfectly.
There’s also this clip of a Labrador salsa dancing on its hind legs. It’s just ridiculous – a four-minute choreographed dance with a man and a dog dressed in a skirt! We used to have a German Shepherd that we’d dress in a T-shirt and shorts with the tail coming out one side, which was hilarious.
I’ve always got animals in my shows – especially dogs, because I love doing stuff with them. I don’t really laugh on-set that much because I’m pretty focused most of the time, but whenever animals are around, I piss myself.
In Angry Boys, there’s a scene where Nathan is obsessed with wanking and his brother points out that he loves lying next to the dog because he likes to feel the dog against his dick. Everyone on-set was like, “This is so juvenile. Get over it.” But I found it so funny and I couldn’t stop laughing.
It’s kind of awkward when I laugh during filming because it’s like I’m laughing at my own jokes. It’s a little weird, but I find animals are always funny.
I get a bit uncomfortable when people use the word “Comedian” to describe me, because I don’t feel like that’s what I am.
Yeah, I used to do stand-up but now I’ve morphed into this guy that creates worlds and characters. I’m more of a TV show producer than a performer or comedian. I love the idea of creating something out of nothing – working on the fine details and seeing it through to the end.
I don’t really collaborate with anyone, so it’s just a case of me having a bunch of ideas and moments that I jot down.
I’ve got piles of books filled with notes. There’s no real structure. It’s like painting. Something just begins to form – or I have characters I want to play, but I won’t put them in the show unless they fit with the premise. I really like Jonah [from Summer Heights High] but he didn’t work in Angry Boys.
The twins [Nathan and Daniel Sims] were my favourite characters for a long time and Angry Boys originated because I wanted to do a show about them. I also wanted it to be on a huge scale, so I could go off into other worlds. Then I came up with The Wall Of Legends [the wall covered in posters of bikini babes, skaters and rappers in the Sims’ boys’ bedroom] and it kinda went from there. I spent ages putting it together without telling anyone what I was doing. [US network] HBO had already said, “Whatever you want to do, we’ll do it.”
They’ve always been good like that. The first time I met with HBO was after We Can Be Heroes. They flew me over and said, “We want to make a show with you.” I couldn’t believe it. I’d already written Summer Heights High and I told them my next project was a show about an Aussie high school.
They couldn’t understand why I wanted to do that and, even though they didn’t say this, I got the impression like, “You’re an idiot. We’re giving you a chance to make an American show. We’re HBO!” But it worked out.
After Summer Heights High aired I went back to see HBO. They have this three-storey foyer with glass staircases and bridges and stuff. There’s also this billboard-sized wall and when I was there the characters from Summer Heights High were featured on it. To think that was their flagship show was just amazing and surreal. It was ABC-funded and never meant to be that huge.
The number-one objective for me isn’t to be funny. I just want to make something that’s new and interesting and unexpected. Like, when you think Angry Boys is going one way, it takes you another way and surprises you. At the same time, hopefully the characters and situations are funny enough to keep you watching. I think people just want to connect with characters and there’s humour in being able to recognise what you’re seeing on-screen, like, “Hey, I know someone like that!”
I think my opinion of comedy has changed since I started making TV shows. I saw We Can Be Heroes the other day on TV and – while I love it and it was cool to re-live it – I noticed so many in-jokes and nudge-nudge references, like, “Look at me, I’m dressed up as a character!” Now I really like being totally immersed in the character and having some dramatic moments.
Angry Boys is darker than my previous work. I’d say I’m into the more confronting stuff now. I wanted to challenge myself, take things to the next level and put myself in some really uncomfortable and full-on situations, like playing a black guy. For that reason, Angry Boys took a really long time to write.
Thinking of good, fresh ideas is hard. There’s always this fear that you’ll never be able to think of another quality idea. So, if I re-watch my work, I’ll be thinking, “Ah, those were the good old days when I thought of good stuff. Now I’ve run out of ideas.”
I reckon that’s just laziness. You need to remind yourself that you’re the guy with good ideas.
Angry Boys is out on DVD July 28