The serious side to the Gap Year

Andy Lee says it would be easy to take the piss out of foreign subjects, but that's not the Gap Year spirit.

HamishAndyRaintreeTo the casual viewer Hamish and Andy’s Gap Year is knockabout fun, with Hamish Blake and Andy Lee getting into all sorts of hi-jinks in foreign locations.

Next week they kick off their 6 part series Gap Year Asia, based in Bangkok. The duo visit a number of regional countries including Philippines, China, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia and more.

Amongst some of the more colourful interview subjects is a young Filipino man whose idol is Christopher Reeve as Superman and has undergone multiple plastic surgeries to look like him.

“The Philippines is such a mix of cultures. They also spoke the most English, which was a surprise,” says Lee.

“(The Pinoy Superman) was incredible. He’s had 13 plastic surgeries and he was in awe of how tall we were, which is unusual I guess for westerners in South East Asia.

“He was about to go to Japan and try and have a leg-length surgery which has previously been not so tested!

“In rural Thailand they have a rocket festival to wake up the rain gods. Now if the rain god doesn’t wake up from the amount of explosives they put in the air, he must be dead! They send up hundreds of large, home-made rockets.”

In Cambodia they learned about the ongoing plight to rid the country of land mines.

“We met an amazing guy called Akira who was in the Khmer Rouge army when he was 10 years old and he laid about 10,000 mines himself and now has dedicated his life to going out and trying to pick them out of the ground,” says Lee.

“He started out using a stick and a knife to defuse these mines. Nowadays he has a team with a couple of metal detectors.

“Hamish accidentally thought he found one, but I won’t tell you the outcome of that. It was quite an intense moment with flak jackets and helmets. Then we decided to walk behind Akira for the rest of the day. But we did end up finding one.”

But whether filming comedy-travel material in the US, Europe or Asia, Lee says the intent is never to take the piss or reinforce stereotypes.

“Generally the show isn’t necessarily about the country but the characters and accidentally, I suppose, these characters start representing their country without them even realising it. You might walk away from our show last year and think ‘I guess everyone in Lapland races reindeer,'” he explains.

“But stereotypes have been created for a reason. It’s kind of what a lot of people in those areas do. And I think it’s the same with Aussies, particularly if you head to the outback. They’re all pretty similar.

“The situation for Hame and I is never to look at things through ‘outsider-eyes.’ The idea for Gap Year and our Caravan trips is to try and expand it and hopefully live like that for a day. So if someone is telling us the craziest story our job is to believe it. Not to sit there doing snide remarks to camera and saying ‘As if’ because at the end of the day why have you travelled halfway around the globe if that’s all you want to do?”

While laughter is important medicine, it’s more about laughing with, rather than at, their subjects regardless of how bizarre they seem?e

“Those beliefs and cultures and the things they eat… the idea is to try and sit there and immerse ourselves. Instead of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes we’re walking a mile in someone else’s wooden thongs in Japan. Which were very uncomfortable.”

Filmed sequences are edited into the host-set segments which are located this year at Rain Tree Cafe in Bangkok. The location was selected over several restaurants in the Thai capital.

“One lady agreed to lease us her place as long as we paid a small amount and paid off the regular band that plays there, so they have a couple of months off care of Hamish and Andy,” he says.

“We cleared out a few chairs, put in a riser for an audience and made a bit of room for some TV cameras and that’s pretty much all we’re changing. Upstairs next to the toilets is where the director has to sit with all his screens. It’s quite funny how much you can squeeze in.”

When the pair signed with Nine there were media reports they had signed a $17m deal with the network. While Lee won’t confirm the figure, he acknowledges the fee was a production company deal meaning salaries were just one of the expenses involved.

“That was the funny thing about those reports. My mum and dad rang me and were pretty bloody excited. But it’s the responsibility of the production company. Hame and I are definitely not in charge of that money. Occasionally we allowed the purse to buy, say, a hovercraft while travelling through New Zealand,” he says.

“This time we did a race in Vietnam at one of their busiest round-abouts where we did 250 laps on mini-motorbikes so that was probably the most expensive shoot this time round.”

Ryan Shelton, Tim Bartley, Sophia Mogford and Megan Brock are part of their core production team.

After this season the boys have 1 more year to deliver to Nine, potentially in a location such as South America, Africa or even Antarctica.

“Hame and I definitely want to travel again next year and then I think we’ll weigh things up after that as to whether this series continues.”

Hamish & Andy’s Gap Year Asia airs 8pm Mondays on Nine.

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