Chris Lilley breaks his silence to talk about how he's doing and dismiss claim he's been 'cancelled'
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Chris Lilley is making a comeback? The truth is, he was never really gone.
The Aussie comedian is one of the greatest in character creation, having developed a diverse range of fan favorites from his hit mockumentary shows including Summer Heights High and Angry Boys.
His ability to embody each figure is unrivalled. Take Ja’mie, for example, the unbearably spoiled ‘Queen of Quiche’ who got her own spinoff show Ja'mie: Private School Girl. As is the case with all of his characters, Lilley didn’t use prosthetics or heavy makeup to convince audiences, and instead uncannily transformed into Ja’mie using his voice, mannerisms and writing abilities.
Though he’s garnered a cult following across the globe with a career in comedy spanning two decades, Lilley has famously avoided the press as much as possible, something you could argue adds to the authenticity of his characters.
But UNILAD was lucky enough to catch up with the man behind the alter-egos to find out more about where he’s at today and, most importantly, if he’s working on anything new.
Anyone who’s followed his trajectory will know that Lilley’s boundary-pushing humor is divisive. There’s no denying the TV landscape has shifted in recent years, creating a rift in the comedy world – should the same societal rules apply when it comes to satire?
If you sift through the latest headlines on Lilley, it would be easy to assume he had been ‘cancelled’. The comic was accused of perpetuating ‘negative stereotypes’ against Tongan culture with his spinoff show Jonah from Tonga. Similarly, critics pointed to Angry Boys’ blackface character S.mouse.
Following the 2019 release of his Netflix epic Lunatics, publications suggested networks were ‘quietly removing’ his shows from their lineups, with some even suggesting his relationship with the streaming giant went sour.
While speaking to Lilley, what becomes apparent is the fact that it’s all noise, an argument that is backed by the continuous show of support from the fans – if anything, now more than ever there’s a demand for his style of humor, one that critiques and pokes fun at tired stereotypes and narcissistic absurdity.
“Netflix has been great to work with,” he tells UNILAD. “I feel like whatever was talked about was more of a media take on the situation rather than reality.
“All of my shows have been and always are available. They never disappeared – skim through some headlines, you might think otherwise. But they’re still popular, and Netflix and I still have a great relationship. They really back Lunatics and it still does really well on that network.
“So there’s no issue – it just seems to be more of a fake take.”
Rather than going quiet, Lilley’s been busy with his parody podcast Ja'miezing, in which he revives his iconic superbrat as she details her ludicrous exploits as a university student and pro influencer.
Alongside the project, Lilley is just allowing himself some time to breathe.
“Lunatics came out and it was a really huge project, and then the whole Covid thing happened so I just didn't want to be out there. It just seemed like a time to chill out.
“I'm just sort of taking it easy, still writing, and I'm actually really enjoying finally having time to just go back and watch all the shows and run the social media pages.”
And while he’s not got a new show locked in just yet, we can expect some exciting developments in the future.
“I’m writing all the time,” he says. “As long as I can remember I’ve written scripts and had ideas. And things just kind of bubbled to the surface and found their way eventually.
“I really would love to and am looking forward to doing new characters or bringing old ones back – there's definitely lots of scripts and ideas floating around.”
As for the much-talked about spinoff series centering on Mr G, the narcissistic drama school teacher and one of Lilley’s earlier creations, fans will be pleased to know there’s a chance for him to sing, dance and act once more.
“I’ve written heaps for Mr G and he’s definitely a character who I’d love to bring back,” he says.
“It’s just circumstances at the moment. I think people think I have some sort of strategy or plan but it all just happens pretty randomly. Also, you move around different networks and they always want something unique to them so you’re a bit bound by that.
“But I could find a way – he could come back. There are literally scripts sitting on shelves for him.”
Of course, Mr G isn’t the only one Lilley would love to revive – each and every character on his shows could easily carry an entire series.
The question is: would things look any different if he were to launch a new TV project in light of the current landscape? Perhaps… but not in the way you’d expect.
When asked if he would change anything about the past, Lilley replies: “I definitely would not change a thing. I'm so proud of all my work, and I almost wish I could push the boundaries further.”
Using Mr G as an example, he adds: “I just think if your intention is to be funny and point out a really crazy, narcissistic character that’s being inappropriate in front of kids, it's like, that's the joke.
“I wish I took it further. And if he does come back, I will.”
But even someone as bold as Lilley has times where he wonders whether he crossed the line (or if the line even exists).
One moment that comes to mind is an anecdote about Mr G’s legendary drama class sequence in Summer Heights High.
“We were shooting in a real school and we scheduled heaps of time for the sequence,” Lilley explains.
“It was a whole morning and there were classes coming and going. So I’d have to think of a different thing to do in front of every group of kids.
“It’s this big, long-running sequence that’s literally just me filling time. And the line ‘thank god you’re here, grandma’s been raped’ just came out off the top of my head.
“There was a teacher watching and she ran to the principal and said, ‘This guy’s saying really full on things in front of the kids.’ And the principal pulled me aside and asked me to show her the footage and the context.
Thankfully, the principal found the whole thing hilarious.
“She said, ‘I get it, do it.’ She was amazing,” he adds. “But definitely that freaked people out at the time.”
Lilley’s come a long way since Mr G’s first debut in 2003’s Big Bite, having scaled up production with the likes of HBO and Netflix – but the creativity has always been there.
“I always used to do characters on stage at school, and then I got into stand up comedy,” he says, explaining that Mr G became part of his stand-up act.
After spending time making short films of his characters, Lilley landed a gig with the sketch show where his desire to make his own series was amplified.
With so many ideas on the go, Lilley went on to pitch his infamous mockumentary We Can Be Heroes and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I feel like I've just always, even as a kid, played characters and written scripts constantly,” he adds. “If you knew me as a kid, you’d be like, ‘Ah yeah, that makes sense.’”
Though his comedy drive comes naturally, he wouldn’t be adverse to trying something new down the line.
“I kind of like the idea of doing something really different as well. I would be open to that if something came along, like a horror movie or something crazy. I can see me as a serial killer.
“That's not my genre of writing, so maybe I’d have to jump on board someone else's thing.”
Considering he’s such a chameleon, we have no doubt he’d be able to encapsulate whatever character he took on – even though it would be jarring to see him in a more serious setting.
But for now, Lilley is focused on his podcast and writing – and enjoying the influx of fan mail.
“People, particularly in the UK, love dressing up as the characters,” he continues. “I get pics sent all the time and it’s got to be one of my favorite things.”
Can we expect more from the master of mannerisms, the king of characters, in the future? It’s looking likely.
Rounding off the conversation, Lilley concludes: “Right now I’m just happily rejoicing in the past but also looking forward to new ventures.”
And that, I think we can all agree, is pretty damn quiche.
Topics: Features, Film and TV, Celebrity