Sabrina Muysken & Stephanie Stefanovic
Comedian Peter Helliar is a man of many talents. Since starting out as a stand-up comedian in the 90s, he has worked across television with successful shows such as Rove, skitHOUSE and more recently The Project. He has also co-hosted countless radio programs and even written, produced and starred in his own film, I Love You Too.
With little of the entertainment business left to conquer, 2016 will see Helliar return to his stand-up comedy roots. The funnyman has already begun taking to stages across Australia with his latest hit show One Hot Mess, which is garnering rave reviews as anything but.
“The title is basically an umbrella for me to talk about anything I like… Somehow it was also quite apt in describing the kind of comedy that I like. It feels a bit messy, a bit playful. I like titles that are a little bit at odds and juxtaposing who I am. I’m a 40 year-old male who wears a suit on television most nights, so ‘One Hot Mess’ is in a sense a little bit ridiculous.”
As a seasoned performer Helliar is well versed in the careful creative process behind moulding a new stand-up show. His approach to One Hot Mess
was no different.
“With every show I always say it’s like starting at the bottom of a mountain and looking up, realising you’ve got a big climb ahead. You’ve got to start thinking about what you want to talk about, going out to the bars and trying out jokes and routines. Usually they’re just little seeds of an idea or just the premise and you want to see if it’s connecting with an audience. You concentrate on the ones that work and keep building routines around them. The show eventually starts to take shape and have a theme.”
Despite embodying the qualities of the affable everyman, qualities that have undoubtedly contributed to his great onstage success, today Helliar is well recognised as an entertainment powerhouse. Even so, the Australian comedian simply identifies himself as just that – a comedian. From a young age he has had his sights set on entertaining.
“I always enjoyed watching comedy on television. I guess those were the seeds… Seeing live stand-up when I was 15, even before then maybe, I would think ‘what an amazing thing to do, I think this is what I want to do!’ ”
Since then, the days of modestly enjoying authentic comedic acts have come under threat. In an age where our media landscape is ever-changing and social media tools have gained sizable power, there is a strong debate over whether instantaneous medias are destroying the comedy scene. For Helliar, who on Twitter alone has gathered a following of almost 250 thousand, social media is a double edged sword. Successfully harnessing new media platforms means greater opportunity for self expression, promotion and audience connection. Yet with greater reach comes greater opportunity to offend.
“It’s great that comedians don’t have to wait for a TV opportunity or a radio opportunity to get their brand out there. Seeing people use social media to launch podcasts and youtube videos can be a really powerful thing.
“The negative with social media is the trend of being offended on other peoples’ behalf and manufactured rage. I know there have been times when I maybe haven’t gone for a joke that I might have gone for. Because the audience is bigger and the opportunity for people to be offended is larger, you may hold back because you can’t be bothered dealing with the backlash.”
Early 2014 saw Helliar take over from good friend and fellow comedian Dave Hughes and become a co-host on Channel 10’s widely successful entertainment news program The Project. The presenting role has seen Helliar drift slightly ashore from his usual comedic charmas he’s tackled serious issues pertaining to the environment, politics and finance. However, where appropriate the talented entertainer can be seen injecting his sharp-witted humour into seemingly mundane news segments.
“Doing stand-up, I don’t have to run anything by anybody, which is great. I use all the skills I have learnt in stand-up to do the job that I do on The Project but it is different in that I’m not crafting routines. I’ve got to make sure that my head is around the issues that we’re talking about. Comedically and sometimes not comedically. It’s about knowing that it’s not a good time for jokes if it’s a serious subject and knowing when those moments are.
“It’s a great gig – I interviewed Julia Bishop and Justin Bieber on the same day last year. Here on The Project I’m actually delivering jokes I’ve never delivered before, live on TV.”
On whether his three sons enjoy having a comedian as a dad Helliar says he “thinks” his children like it, but instilling a sense of humility in them is far more important.
“Last year when we were having breakfast before school my youngest looked like he had something on his mind. He said, ‘Dad, I’m different from all the other kids at school.’ He seemed quite serious. And I said, ‘Why? What’s going on?’ And he goes, ‘Because I’m famous and the other kids aren’t’. I had to explain to him that he’s not famous, that’s not how it works. I just do a job, same as the other dads do a job. And there’s no difference really in what we do. I tried to nip that in the bud.”
Peter Helliar’s comedy show ‘One Hot Mess’ airs May 7 at The Concourse Chatswood as part of the Sydney Comedy Festival.