When we heard (thanks sdf) that Rebel Wilson was on an American scriptwriting podcast talking about Australia’s dreaded “Tall Poppy Syndrome”, well… you knew we couldn’t stay away. The good stuff in Scriptnotes episode 182; The One with Dan Savage and Rebel Wilson starts around the 39 and a half minute mark, and when you hear Wilson tell her admiring hosts that Pizza “won the Australian version of the Emmys one year” (this did not actually happen) you know you’re in for some comedy gold.
[this isn’t going to make sense until you’ve read on, but still: considering what Wilson goes on to say about Australia’s attitude to success, why don’t the hosts question the fact that Australia even has a version of the Emmys? Surely if you’re successful here you get a boot in the arse, not some kind of prize?]
And gold is most certainly in these here hills, as a couple of minutes in Wilson reveals that the sinister Tall Poppy Syndrome is why she “wanted to live and work in America” – gee, guess that answers why she wanted to leave the success of Monster House behind.
Her definition of this syndrome is blunt: “It’s when you get too good or too successful in Australia… people want to cut you down.” Seems kind of strange, but she’s speaking from personal experience: “That’s what happened to me in Australia, I was on all these different television shows and people were like “she’s had her go, let someone else have a go!’.” Make sure you’re listening closely, because you don’t want to miss the incredulous host murmuring “Amazing,” as if he can hardly believe his ears that such a twisted society could possibly exist.
For poor innocent, hard-working, massively talented and successful Rebel, things only got worse: “I’m now really experienced, I’m now ready to go the next step, to make my own movies, but the Australian system is like ‘you think you’re so good now, why don’t you go be unemployed’, and I’m like ‘No!’.”
That’s right: the ratings failure of Bogan Pride was down to “the Australian system” (presumably like Communism, but even more heavy-handed) demanding that Wilson be unemployed. Why don’t you explain to us exactly how that happened, Ms Wilson?
“In Australia there’s this bizarre culture where they celebrate the mediocre people.”
That’s at the 42 minute, 32 second mark for those playing at home, because you’re probably going to want to confirm for yourself that Rebel Wilson just said that everyone celebrated in Australia is “mediocre”. Bonus points for calling our culture “bizarre”, but considering we did give her major roles in at least four separate television programs it’s easy to see where she might have picked up that idea.
Not being a complete moron, Wilson does try to walk back what she’s just said – “I’m being very general in my explanation of what it is, but it is a real thing” – but soon enough she realises she’s so far out on a limb she might as well keep on going with the crazy, because it seems that Australians didn’t watch Chris Lilley’s latest show “because they’re like ‘eh, seen it before, phfft.’ – but he’s one of our best comedic talents, an amazing guy.”
– and we’re going to stop you there Rebel, because what you seem to be saying is that because “he’s one of our best comedic talents”, he should get a free pass to make shit. Does anyone really think that “eh, seen it before” isn’t a reasonable reaction to Ja’mie: Private School Girl, Chris Lilley’s third series focusing on Ja’mie King, aka Lilley in a dress acting like a bitch?
At this point even the hosts have to speak up, so fantastic is the picture of this crazy backwards society.
Host: “What’s the attitude to Baz Luhrmann?”
Wilson: “The same.”
Host: “Wow, crazy.”
Yeah, didn’t Luhrmann win every award going at last year’s AFI Awards? And didn’t critics in the US generally think his version of The Great Gatsby was a bit of a mess? It’s starting to seem just a little bit like Wilson might be full of shit on this topic – but don’t worry, she hasn’t finished shovelling yet:
“I’m trying to change it – if you have a talent for something, like in sports or the arts – you should go for it, you should try hard and try to be the best.”
Ok. Does anyone seriously think that sportspeople in Australia are not encouraged to “try hard, try to be the best”? Now that she’s brought sports into it, suddenly lines like “It’s really frowned on in Australia to be exceptional in your field” are just… did Wilson hit her head over in America? Has she somehow confused Australia with The Land of Oz?
And by the time one of the hosts says “Australia is a big small town”, we’ve had just about enough of this self-serving bullshit. Tall Poppy Syndrome drove Wilson out of the country because we’re just so damn mean to our success stories, you say? Here’s a counter argument: Australians are generally aware that in our tiny media pool there isn’t really a lot of room for people who are – how can we put this – shithouse.
Unlike the US, where their much bigger entertainment industry means they can afford to keep average types around for years on the off chance they might come good or be somehow useful in something better than they are, here if you aren’t really, really good, people start asking why they’re wasting their time with you. It’s not “I was really good but they wanted to cut me down,” it’s “I thought I was really good and they kept telling me to get off the stage.”
Put another way, you don’t hear people who are actually successful long-term in Australian comedy – Working Dog say, or Dave Hughes or Will Anderson or even Shaun Micallef – going on about Tall Poppy Syndrome all that often.
As for the star of Pizza and Bogan Pride and Monster House and The Wedge? She can’t seem to shut up about it.