Getting 'Angry' With Comedian Chris Lilley

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Australian comedian Chris Lilley may not be a household name in America quite yet, but his devilishly funny mockumentaries have garnered him a cult following. He plays all the main characters himself: whether it's a snotty 16-year-old girl, an eccentric drama school teacher or an American rapper. Weekends on All Things Considered guest host Rebecca Sheir talks with comedian Chris Lilley about his newest HBO show, Angry Boys, premiering tonight.


Moving to the small screen now, HBO is premiering a new series today "Angry Boys" from Australian comedian Chris Lilley. Lilley's gained a cult following here in the States with his one-man band mockumentaries in which he plays most of the main and very eclectic characters. In "Angry Boys," he portrays no less than six characters. And as for what this new show is about, well, why don't I let him explain.

CHRIS LILLEY: Well, the main characters are Daniel and Nathan who are these twin teenage boys that live on a farm in Australia. One of the twins is deaf.


LILLEY: (As Daniel) Nathan, can you hear me?

And they have these posters on their wall they call the wall of legends. They're big fans of this Australian champion surfer, who I play as well.


LILLEY: (As Blake Oakfield) Knocka, knocka, knocka. Oy, oy, oy.

And then this American rapper S.mouse.


LILLEY: (As S.mouse) This S.mouse excavation walk.

And then the boys, they want to invite all the legends from the wall to this party to celebrate one of the twins' going away. So they arrange that via their grandmother, who I also play, who's a prison warden at a boy's prison.


LILLEY: (As Ruth Sims) Are you guys going out the escape tunnel in block 8? Gotcha.

It's a complicated story. There's a lot going on.

SHEIR: What is your process when it comes to embodying these roles from the mannerisms to the voice? You know, what's your process?

LILLEY: I don't like to sort of analyze it too much because I think it's pretty instinctive. I spend like a year or so just thinking about these characters every day and writing dialogue for them and just planning this sort of world that they're going to be set in. And it's not just a script that I've picked up and two weeks later I'm on set. It's something that I've been living with for a long time.

SHEIR: Here in America, we first got a taste of your humor in "Summer Heights High," which was also on HBO back in 2008. You played a rather, shall we say, quirky high school drama teacher Mr. G, a troubled 13-year-old boy and a self-obsessed 16-year-old girl named Ja'mie, and that's Ja'mie. I want to take a listen here to a scene where Ja'mie, who's coming from a private school to a public school, is introducing herself to her new classmates.


LILLEY: (As Ja'mie) Studies have shown that students from private schools are more likely to get into uni and end up making a lot more money.

SHEIR: In terms of your characters, a lot of female roles in past shows, and in "Angry Boys," we see you playing more women. How difficult is that?

LILLEY: The female characters are definitely a lot trickier than the male characters. And it's a lot more uncomfortable to be them and - but I always just feel like it's not about my comfort levels or even just looking terrible like - because, you know, me as a girl is not that attractive.


LILLEY: It's definitely just physically uncomfortable. Like a character like Gran in "Angry Boys," that's like a bodysuit type thing that's really hot and really just not good. And then there is just the awkwardness. Like when I played Ja'mie, she goes on a date with a 12-year-old boy because she's decided she's into younger men, and the cameras are often quite far away, and I'm sitting there like running my fingers through his hair and just - it's quite unusual.

But that's what I love about these shows is just I put myself in really crazy situations and - but then I really like the end result, and it's worth the suffering and the humiliating things that I put myself through.

SHEIR: Your characters do push the envelope in one way or another, and you have, I guess, received a bit of criticism for being too provocative. But that doesn't really seem to be your point. Why do you think you tend to gravitate to being a bit edgy?

LILLEY: I guess I'm just fascinated about making people feel a little uncomfortable. And sometimes people get all worked up about the show and they talk about what a bad influence I am and how I shouldn't have said this, shouldn't have done that. And when you get to the bottom of it, you find that they're actually fans of the show. And I just focus on the people that love it and really get it. And it's really nice to just make it for them.

SHEIR: What do you think it'll take to make producers say, you know what, Chris? You've got to rein it in.

LILLEY: Maybe if people stopped watching or something. I don't know.

SHEIR: And you have said in the past you're always thinking people are going to say no to your ideas but they keep saying yes.



LILLEY: It's just weird. And the longer I go on, the more people just - they say nothing now. They're just like, yep, do it. I feel pretty lucky.

SHEIR: Well, that's Chris Lilley. He's creator and star of the new series "Angry Boys" which premiers January 1st on HBO. He's been speaking with me from the ABC studios in Melbourne, Australia. Chris Lilley, thanks so much.

LILLEY: Thank you.

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