Chris Lilley’s been doing a lot of press for the US launch of Angry Boys lately, and when he hasn’t been talking about hanging out with teenagers at parties or painting Australia as a racist land that just doesn’t get him* he’s been talking up his global achievements in a manner that’s more than a little surprising to those of us who’ve actually been paying attention. Quick example from an interview he did for The Atlantic:
The S.mouse song “Slap My Elbow” is a pretty dead-on Soulja Boy parody.
It ended up getting on the charts here in Australia and doing quite well, and it was really surprising. It’s funny because I wrote all of the music myself and recorded it all at home while I was writing the show, in the pre-production period, and it ended up winning this music award we have in Australia called ARIAs and S.mouse’s album, which is the soundtrack, won the ARIA. It’s really weird because the songs are ridiculous. But that was really cool.
That must have upset some legitimate artists.
I know, I know. All these actual composers and stuff.
Wow, he’s an ARIA winner! For best comedy CD, of course? Uh, no – that’d be Hamish & Andy. In fact, going by this fairly comprehensive list, Lilley doesn’t even rate a mention. That’s because he didn’t win a regular ARIA but instead won the basically ignored “Best Original Soundtrack / Cast / Show Album” in the “Fine Arts” category. As for the “legitimate artists” that were upset, well, it seems he was up against the soundtracks to Snowtown, Mad Bastards, the Mary Poppins cast recording and some symphony. Wow. Way to put the rest of the Australian music industry in its place.
[actually, the Mad Bastards soundtrack was reportedly pretty good. Unfortunately, Chris Lilley pretending to be black is clearly more popular than actual black musicians.]
Yeah yeah self-promotion, yeah yeah he’s got a show to sell, yeah yeah, winning the ARIA for Angry Boys was “really weird” even though he won the same ARIA for Summer Heights High back in 2008. But to be fair for perhaps the first time ever in our Chris Lilley coverage, what’s really interesting to us in this rash of Lilley interviews is the way that he basically doesn’t seem to give a shit about other comedy shows:
I’m not a big comedy show-watcher, but I love Ricky Gervais’ stuff and Sacha Baron Cohen’s things. But I’m not an expert on them. I’ve seen them once.
So don’t go suggesting with his awkward pauses and comments to camera and media-obsessed famewhore characters and racially charged insult-heavy comedy that he’s basically been ripping off the UK version of The Office since the dawn of time, that’s obviously not the case at all. Oh no no no no. Then there’s this line:
I don’t collaborate with anyone. I’m so independent in writing stuff and controlling what I do
Which is interesting considering Ryan Shelton helped write We Can Be Heroes:
Comedian and Rove regular Ryan Shelton helped his friend develop Ja’mie and worked on the other characters as he helped write WCBH.
“Chris goes out and meets people his characters are like and he makes studies of them, takes notes or interviews people and sometimes film them,” Shelton said.
“He watches those videos over and over and over and I’m sure he’s done it with Jonah. You watch him, the way he moves and all the little nuances. He’s fidgety, he’s always touching something or fiddling with it in that ADD way and you know he’s spoken with kids and studied them.”
“We’d spend two hours a day on Ja’mie, talking about what school girls do – his personal experiences, what I remembered from school.”
But, of course, digging up actual facts isn’t what these interviews are all about. They’re promotional tools whereby Lilley gets to push his latest effort. And if he doesn’t mention that Angry Boys was a ratings flop in Australia, why would he? That’s our job. As it is to point out that even the US reviews seem to have been mixed.
Increasingly Lilley looks set to follow the lead of the man he took absolutely nothing from comedy-wise, Ricky Gervais, and focus on making shows for the lucrative US market. Well, at least until he stops being able to play his much-loved teenage characters, which considering he’s already in his late 30s and it takes him twice as long to deliver the goods between each series (2005 for We Can Be Heroes, 2007 for Summer Heights High, 2011 for Angry Boys) may have already happened. At least all these interviews should make it difficult for the local press to keep calling Lilley “reclusive“. Shouldn’t it?
*also from that Atlantic interview: “Well, Australia has a thing where apparently it’s fine for me to dress up as an Asian woman. No one has questioned that. But there was—which I totally expected—there was a bit of an outcry about me playing a black person.” Not that we expect Lilley to read our website, but we’ve been asking questions about how dubious his work as Ricky Wong was for years. See here and here and here. And that’s just us – over the years a lot of people have questioned whether his use of the “brainy Asian” cliche was racially dodgy. Australia doesn’t have “a thing” where Lilley’s use of racial stereotypes goes by unquestioned; Lilley has a thing where he doesn’t pay attention to criticism. And another completely different thing where he thinks he can get away with hoary old racial stereotypes because he’s such a brilliant and unique artist. Ahem.