You’d Have to be a Lunatic…

If there’s one thing we have to thank Chris Lilley for, its opening our eyes to the way the Australian media works. It was obvious to us when Angry Boys launched that Lilley was a performer with no new ideas, a man seemingly content to do the exact same material – material lifted from one of the nation’s grottier playgrounds at that – again and again and again and… you get the idea. Surely our nation’s media would point this out? Surely just being a Logie winner with a smash hit series under his belt didn’t put him above serious criticism when his work was so clearly flawed?

Ahahaha what fuckwits we were. Film criticism might be about slagging off overseas crap and theatre criticism might be about making everyone feel like they’re not wasting their lives, but television criticism is about “supporting the local industry”, and that made Lilley above reproach even when he was out there trying to make “sneaky nuts” a thing. He made a show where he played a character – in blackface – taking a shit on a police car: turned out the real outrage was that that ABC forgot to nominate it for the Logies.

Chris Lilley and dozens of his fans are angry boys and girls after the ABC forgot to submit the artist’s comedy TV series Angry Boys for the publicly voted section of the Logies.

Bet that “dozens” still burns.

Of course, that’s all in the past now, right? Lilley’s steady downward spiral hit rock bottom around the time of Jonah from Tonga, and now he’s about as likely to get a good word in the local press as the dad from Hey… Dad! is to get a comeback tour. But there is one lone voice willing to call out Chris Lilley’s name in defense of the comedy “provocateur”, and if you guessed this lone warrior was employed by Fairfax (now Nine), clearly you’ve read a newspaper in the last five years:

Chris Lilley is no stranger to controversy.

Some of his best-known characters – Tongan schoolboy Jonah Takalua, introduced in 2007’s Summer Heights High, and African-American rapper S.mouse, from 2011’s Angry Boys – drew widespread criticism after they were labelled “blackface”.

You know what? In 2019 we really don’t need the quotes around “blackface”. If Lilley was parodying a specific existing human being then maybe – maybe – there’d be room for discussion. But these were generic characters Lilley created on a comedy program for parody purposes: it’s blackface.

But amazingly, this article gets worse:

In the past, Lilley’s razor-sharp, sitting-on-the-line-in-the-cultural-sand characterisations have proven easy targets.

Pat Mullins, the housewife from Nollamara in Perth, Western Australia, who suffered from skeletal dysplasia of the femur – that is, one leg is shorter than the other, allowing her to “roll” in a straight line – was one of Lilley’s most loved characters.

The accusation critics would level at that performance – that it is “disability appropriation” – is hard to reconcile with the fact that Pat’s death was devastating, and that Lilley’s performance as the character was both nuanced and genuinely moving.

“Razor-sharp”? Remember that episode in Summer Heights High where Mr G took a shit on his classroom floor than blamed it on a down syndrome student to get them thrown out of his drama class?

More importantly, where exactly were the critics calling out We Can Be Heroes for “disability appropriation”? Turns out it happened once – two days before this article ran. And the point wasn’t “how did this awful We Can Be Heroes show get made” but “why is Chris Lilley’s tired old act still acceptable in 2019” – the article even says:

I used to watch and enjoy his shows years ago. I found some of We Can Be Heroes heartwarming. I thought that Summer Heights High was a clever insight into the stereotypes at high school.

And while we’re here, what does the “genuinely moving” death of a character have to do with anything? If Lilley dressed up in blackface and did an Stepin’ Fetchit routine, would tacking on a tragic death scene suddenly make it all better?

Similarly, the characterisation of Jonah Takalua was battered by accusations of “blackface” which, curiously, did not surface materially when we were introduced to the character in 2011 but took until 2017 to find momentum.

Fun fact: like it says at the start of this very article, Jonah debuted in 2007. Easy mistake to make – unless you’re writing about how social media has made Lilley’s brand of comedy a tough ask, in which case those four years makes a huge difference in social media terms.

Oh wait, no they don’t:

And what should we make of Lilley’s Ricky Wong, the Chinese physics student from We Can Be Heroes, who eschewed academic overachievement in favour of art, and took the role of Walkabout Man in the high school musical Indigeridoo.

To summarise: that’s a white man, playing an Asian kid, wearing indigenous face paint, playing an Aboriginal. How that didn’t turn into a tsunami of social media protest goes some way to explaining how flimsy and inconsistent such firestorms can be.

To summarise: Ricky Wong appeared in 2005’s We Can Be Heroes. The reason why there wasn’t a “tsunami of social media protest” is because there was no social media to protest on. Up next: we complain that the US Navy didn’t use their helicopter fleet to rescue passengers from the Titanic.

We could go on, but this whole fucking article is so stuffed with straw men we’d be here all week. If you’re a television critic – uh, “entertainment editor-at-large” – and you don’t realise that society has changed a lot since 2009 – you know, the year Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno was released, which might explain why there wasn’t a social media outcry over it either – then have fun calling things you don’t like “gay” a la South Park circa 2005.

Bizarrely, this entire article is defending Lilley against claims that his South African Lunatics character Jana was going to be yet more blackface when clearly the initial point of the character is that she might possibly be a blackface character. Why else make her South African? Shit, just look at the photo they released of her:

That’s Lilley walking right up to the line like he always does. Which this article says is a good thing:

It is true that Lilley is a provocateur. His art plainly hungers for both the endorsement of the cool kids at school and the opprobrium of their parents and teachers.

So if he’s just doing the kind of thing that’s central to his comedy, and if it’s part of what makes his comedy work, and if his comedy is “impactful” and “nuanced’ and “genuinely moving” because of it, then why feel the need to leap to his defense? Surely the virtues of his approach to comedy are self-evident?

Unless, of course, you know you’re talking shit.

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