Australian entertainment has long had a fascination for men dressing in frocks to play larger than life female characters. So, get ready to meet 16-year-old North Shore private schoolgirl Ja’mie King and 47-year-old Perth housewife Pat Mullins in the coming weeks on the new ABC comedy series, We Can Be Heroes.
Comedian Chris Lilley slips on the neatly starched school uniform of the precocious Ja’mie as easily as he does the floral smocks of the warm-hearted Pat. He also plays three other characters who are all in the running for the title of Australian of the Year in the six-part mockumentary series.
Lilley, best known from the Seven Network sketch comedy series The Big Byte, has also written the series, which explores why these five have been nominated for the national title.
We Can Be Heroes has a dig at the way the Australian media make instant heroes out of everyday people, only to dispose of them just as quickly.
Sydney-born comedian Lilley confesses he had no political or social agenda in making the series. Rather, he admits it was more an excuse to play a great range of characters, and also to push the limits of acceptable humour.
Lilley admits 17-year-old South Australian twins Daniel and Nathan Sims are his favourite characters. When Daniel is not talking about why he is donating one of his eardrums to his hearing-impaired brother, he taunts his twin by calling him poofter and faggot.
A lot of the humour of the series comes out of doing things that are shocking and seeing whether you can really get away with it, Lilley says.
[Daniel’s speech] came from my observation of the way kids speak. The kids don’t mean it literally or in a homophobic way, but it is how they speak and I wanted to replicate that.
More likely to earn a camp cult following is Perth housewife Pat, who plans to roll from Perth to Uluru, and the outrageous Ja’mie, the Year 11 private schoolgirl, who loves being popular, talented and, in her own words, totally hot. Ja’mie sponsors 85 Sudanese children and undergoes a weekly 40 Hour Famine -“ more to stay in shape than for any charitable causes.
She’s a bitch, and that’s why I wanted to do her, Lilley laughs. I have observed those kinds of girls and I find them fascinating.
She was the most fun to play. In a later episode, I do a presentation which we filmed at a private school in front of 500 girls. I did this talk and then began strutting among the crowd, calling them names and telling them they were a pack of rich bitches. I was making it up as I went along, and we were filming it. It was one of the weirdest experiences of my life.
We Can Be Heroes: Finding The Australian Of The Year screens Wednesdays at 9pm on ABC TV.