Permission to shine

The point of Taboo is not to confront or shock viewers says host Harley Breen but to tell the story of its participants.

“My aim is to find jokes within an intense storyline, which is a challenge at best,” he tells TV Tonight.

“It’s to make sure I create comedy that’s a celebration so that we’re all laughing together. If the 4 participants that I’m doing the punchline about aren’t laughing then I’ve failed. So it’s really them that I need to get to laugh.”

The show was part of 10’s Pilot Week last year, which saw Breen spend time with physically disabled participants and then perform a stand-up routine in front of his subjects. Attracting positive feedback it has gone on to be nominated for a Logie Award.

This week he spends a week with 4 people who are living with a terminal illness. While it would seem that nothing is off the table, he insists it is all about the approach.

“It’s all about the way that you do it and, in this case, the consent that I get. I don’t believe I’ve said anything to anyone that bombs -and I do a whole lot more stand-up than people see,” he explains.

“I don’t think I’ve done anything where I haven’t had the full consent of the participants.

“I just look at it as ‘What’s their story? What are they going through?’”

28-year-old Lauren has suffered from Cystic Fibrosis since birth; 23-year-old war veteran Matt is spending the time he has left raising money for cancer research; 34-year-old Nicole must leave early to have a cancerous tumour removed from her lung, while Michel, 44, who was diagnosed with non-smoking related lung cancer has to find the courage to tell his young daughters that his days are numbered.

I ask the awkward question….  given their circumstance, should they be spending a week for a TV documentary?

“That was one of the jokes that didn’t make the edit. I said exactly that,” Breen insists.

“All 4 of them absolutely loved it. Nicole, Lauren, Matt & Michael all have a commonality about the way they are looking at what life they have. Seize the moments you get, do things you wouldn’t normally do.

“For Lauren, who has Cystic Fibrosis, it takes a lot to be able to do anything.

“She knew going away for a week would knock her around and she estimated it would take a month of rest. But she said ‘I wouldn’t change anything. I’d do I again I a heartbeat.’”

Taboo is based on a Belgium format, which has seen a number of series and subjects tackled.

“The only thing I don’t like about the ideas is it’s not my idea,” he jokes.

“I feel like I dropped the ball and I should have come up with something like this. But I’m very fortunate to be part of the Australian version.

“I do think there is a finite amount that this show can explore, because potentially it could become very formulaic. But there are as many stories as there are people, so it all depends which way you shape it and which stories you’re trying to tell.

“It’s both a blessing and a curse, you’ve got to be careful what you wish for because it’s a bloody hard gig.”

Episodes will also dissect racism and mental health, followed by the pilot replayed.

If You Can’t Ask That was a comedy it might be something like Taboo. While it isn’t always easy viewing, there’s nothing else on television like this.

“On paper this thing doesn’t look good,” Breen agrees.

“But the end product is in stark contrast to that emotion.”

8:40pm Thursday on 10.


  1. I’ll certainly be watching, Harley has done so well to create a show that just makes us happy in the worst of times…it just something that everyone has to watch as it’s so much fun, making light of bad situations!

  2. I watched the pilot last year and it was great. I’m a Harley fan from his fantastic parenting podcast Sh*ting the the Door Open.

  3. Considering how many of us have friends and family who have been touched or stricken by diseases and conditions like these, I completely get the need to humanise and find humour in amongst the depression. I’ll definitely be watching coz it looks like it’s in the right hands with Harley Breen.

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