Global Vibes: Australian comedian goes international

Photo Courtesy of HBO

Australia is not currently recognized much internationally for its comedy, but comedian Chris Lilley is trying to change that. Known for his many outrageous and boundary-crossing characters, Lilley is quickly becoming one of Australia’s most in-demand talents across the globe.

Over the past decade, he has created and starred in multiple television shows that have garnered international acclaim. His newest show, Ja’mie: Private School Girl, is a co-production between the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and HBO and will air in the U.S. on Nov. 24.

Lilley began his career as a stand-up comedian and got his first television role in the early-2000s sketch series Big Bite. On this show, Lilley began his tradition of portraying multiple characters, including the flamboyant Mr. G, who Lilley would also play in the mockumentary series Summer Heights High, and who would become one of Lilley’s most popular characters.

After Big Bite ended, Lilley created and starred in We Can Be Heroes, where he again played multiple characters, including Ja’mie King, a spoiled and vulgar female teenager who would go on to appear in several of Lilley’s most popular shows. During this stage in his career, Lilley won numerous awards, including the prestigious Rose D’Or award in Switzerland for Best Male Comedy Performance.

Summer Heights High came next for Lilley, gaining him international recognition. The show premiered on HBO in late 2008 with Lilley doing a promotional tour around the country. His next show, Angry Boys, brought him even more success abroad, airing in over 100 countries.

Lilley’s latest venture, Ja’mie: Private School Girl, centers around one of his most popular characters, Ja’mie, from We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High. Unlike his previous shows, which were aired almost a year later abroad, it will premiere in the U.S. only a month after the Australian premiere.

All of Lilley’s shows are filmed in a satirical, mockumentary style similar to NBC’s The Office, which makes them feel more realistic, and, according to Lilley, “there’s something funny about these characters in a real environment.”

His characters also push the boundaries of what is normally seen on television. For instance, in Angry Boys, one of the characters he plays is a Japanese mother that is encouraging her son to be gay.

According to Lilley, “I like humour that is shocking to watch and uncomfortable to watch.”

The comedian has faced some backlash and negative press due to the homophobic nature of some of his characters. He is not bothered by this, however, and says that he is “pointing out the homophobic culture and sort of actually making fun of kids like that.”

Lilley’s shows are also very short when compared to American shows. Each one of his shows only lasted one season of six to twelve episodes, while most successful American shows last from five to ten seasons, each consisting of 22 episodes.

Lilley creates each show to tell a whole story; however, he uses characters in multiple shows to give them a loose connection to each other.

When speaking about his new show, Lilley said, “It’s kind of like I’m doing another season, but I’m calling it something different,” referencing the fact that the show will feature a returning character but in a different setting.

Overall, Lilley’s success is a big step for Australian television. Few Australian shows have made their way to the U.S., but as Lilley’s popularity increases across the globe, perhaps other shows from down under can follow in his footsteps towards international popularity.