Much has been aimed at Chris Lilley in recent weeks for the gags he is using in the upcoming Summer Heights High. Media reports some sectors of the community offended by gags that draw upon rape, ecstacy deaths and Down Syndrome children. I’m not sure if they’ve actually seen them yet. I have, and I have news for them. They need to add homosexuals, Asians, Polynesians, and princesses from the Eastern Suburbs as well.
Lilley has never maintained his mockumentaries are to be taken at face value. In We Can Be Heroes even cancer was the source of much mirth, as Pat Mullins attempted to roll her way to Central Australia. She died before she got the chance. So is offensive humour ok? All depends on the context, but Greek comedies and social commentators will tell you that provoking reactions is part of comedy’s charter.
In Summer Heights High the chameleon-like Lilley again spotlights individuals from various social classes, this time within a public high school. The popular schoolgirl character Ja’mie is back, as part of a student exchange program. “Many of you come from povo families,” she tells an assembly of students. “Some of you don’t even have Foxtel.”
Then there’s Jonah Takalua, a foul-mouthed Tongan Year 8 bully who beats up poofters or kids with red hair. He spends a lot of time graffiti tagging his trademark image of a penis and the word “tation.” Dick-tation.
Finally, his Big Bite character, drama teacher Mr G returns. Mr G. is “an industry professional at high school teacher rates” who aspires to impart his wealth of dramatic arts to blissfully ignorant pupils. Mr. G., who is dangerously effeminate, has previously staged such wondrous self-devised musicals as Ikea The Musical and Tsunamarama, a tsunami tribute set to the music of Bananarama.
Anyone who adored We Can Be Heroes knows Lilley is the best comic to emerge from the ABC since Kath & Kim came into their own. He will eventually align with now-cherished acts such as Garry McDonald, John Clarke and Max Gillies, who hold a mirror up to our society and allow us to fall over our own laconic Aussie feet. But first he will have to endure insipid critics who don’t understand his humour. Yet.
Get on board early. Summer Heights High is a treat.
Summer Heights High premieres 9:35pm Wednesday on ABC.