It was on Good News Week that Tom Gleeson realised making fun of celebrities to their face went down a treat.
In stand-up comedy he would also pay out on celebrities in the front row. The gags went so well it has led to Hard Chat, Gleeson’s own segment on The Weekly in which he grills celebrities with non-flattering questions.
As Gleeson explains no two chats are ever alike. Sometimes the celebrities give as good as they get, other times they take offence.
“It’s every variation. There’s ‘in on the joke,’ ‘out of the joke,’ ‘trying to play some other joke that doesn’t exist,’ there’s people rolling happily with it for a while until one question ruins the rest of their day, there’s the first question ruins the day and the rest runs off the rails… it never goes the same way,” he says.
“The segment is open-ended so it’s whatever the person wants to make it. They’ve seen it, so they come in knowing that but they play it in all different ways.”
One of his first candidates was politician Jackie Lambie, who was ready for a stoush.
“Jackie Lambie was all fun and sprightly, saying ‘I’m going to give it to you!’” Gleeson recalls.
“When she sat down in the chair, I said, ‘Who did your wardrobe, Mad Max?’ It was just a dumb joke because she had a leather jacket on.
“But I think she really liked the jacket, so it probably played to her most paranoid thought. So I think for the whole interview she was worried she didn’t look good. She just went down in energy and never quite came back.
“I felt a bit bad about ripping into Michelle Bridges, because she is a new mum,” he admits.
“But she came out of the blocks so strong. She was all over me and it was more than I expected. But it was really good because there’s no rule as to how it should be done. She ran rings about me.
“One of my favourites was Karl Stefanovic because he’s a virtuoso at TV. He’s obviously done thousands of hours of television.
“Larry Emdur was another good one. They are so in control of the camera and know exactly what they’re doing.”
An upcoming Hard Chat doesn’t end well, but he is staying mum on whom it involves.
“There’s one in the can that was like that, but I can’t tell you who it is. There was one moment where this person said, ‘This is easy, I’m having fun!’ Then I asked him one other question and his face went blank.
“You’ll know who I’m talking about when it goes to air.”
Gleeson has been performing and writing on TV for nearly 20 years, but the medium is not his preference to Live comedy.
“I’m a comedian and every now and then I lower myself to appear on network TV and then I go back to my proper job which is stand-up comedy,” he continues.
“You have more creative control, you get to say whatever you want, and it pays more. Everyone thinks you’ve stopped doing TV so you go back to the clubs, but you earn more money that way. You do TV to remind people that you exist.
“There would be other comedians who have no-one attend their shows who might disagree, but for me that’s the way it works.
“I never had a burning desire to be a stand-up. I would have preferred to be one of The Goodies.”
But it was early advice that steered him away from comedy characters to focussing on his own material and persona.
“When I used to work on Skithouse only the stuff I would write for myself would get up. So I had a chat with the director Daina Reid about being cast in other sketches and she told me I was really bad at acting, but very good at playing myself,” he says,
“So it was good advice because I just focussed on my own thing and didn’t feel guilty about it.
“(Now) I tend to write things only I can say.”
He is one of only three regulars on The Weekly with Charlie Pickering, as both performer and writer.
“I write stuff for Charlie too, people don’t know that. Usually all the big laughs he gets, I write those,” he says blankly.
“I write my own thing, obviously. But I also contribute to the rest of the script as well. I wouldn’t say I’m the most prolific, there are people who do a lot more than me.”
Gleeson and Pickering developed their rapport through his appearances on The Project, where Gleeson would say things he wasn’t supposed to.
“I would sit in the meetings but I wouldn’t talk. Or I would tell them one idea I might say. But on air I would say whatever I wanted to and always go a little bit too far. So he would rein me in, but he would enjoy it. I would say things he wasn’t allowed to say, as host,” he recalls.
“So now it’s a bit similar. I get to swing in more of a loose fashion on this show. I can be a bit more extreme than him.”
The Weekly with Charlie Pickering airs 8:30pm Wednesdays on ABC.