Turning up to work to tell jokes sounds like a dream job. And for actor Ben Gerrard, Foxtel’s new Open Slather, has been just that for 3 months. But it’s also been a lot of work in the school of sketch comedy, juggling both performing and writing.
“It’s been an exciting challenge the way we are creatively involved,” he explains. “On the days you’re not shooting it’s by no means a day off. You’re constantly workshopping with writers, each other, and developing with everyone.
“I shot the first sketch I had written a week or so ago and there’s other stuff in development.
“For the performers it’s like going through an apprenticeship of writing in sketch. That’s the amazing challenge of the job.”
The reaction to his array of characters has also been well-received. So what kind of comments have friends been offering?
“That I’m funny and that I look good in silver shorts!” he laughs.
The NIDA graduate previously appeared on Princess Pictures’ sci-fi comedy Outland, which has led in part to his role in Open Slather. But he has also appeared in Wolf Creek 2, Jack Irish and worked for the Bell Shakespeare Company. He recently filmed a role in Seven’s Molly project playing transgender Caroline Jenkins, Molly’s best friend in the 1970s.
“I went straight from that into this so it was a huge head shift,” he admits.
“But if I had a preference (for roles) it would be funny tragedy. Tragi-comedy or Comic Tragedy!
“I love being able to do both.”
On Open Slather he is one of the ensemble working with comedy veterans such as Magda Szubanski, Jane Turner and Marg Downey.
“Big Girl’s Blouse is one of my favourite shows. Those poor women, I quote at them constantly! Totally fan-girling them, all the time!
“It’s very surreal. I was twerking into Gina Riley’s crotch the other day.
“It’s fun transforming and the accent work and different styles of sketch can be transforming in itself.”
Having the chance to work on so much material and to contribute to scripts has also triggered more creative ambitions.
“I’m really excited about developing my own stuff now. It’s really given me the bug. My influences have been people like Christopher Guest and one of my favourite shows is Portlandia.
“If I’m not putting any cap or glass ceiling over my dreams, I’d love to be able to work on projects like that. And with those people.”
“For now it’s full steam ahead on the Comedy Channel’s 20 episodes of its latest creation, an order that means Gerrard has plenty more characters to unveil.”
“Some are definitely easier than others, but it’s just taking a kernel and letting it grow within you, rather than trying to impersonate. It’s about ‘finding the funny.’”
Open Slather airs 7:30pm Sunday on Comedy.