When Chris Franklin first appeared on the scene, it clearly marked the return of the ‘ocker bastard yob’ comedy persona – following on from the likes of Bazza McKenzie, Hoges, Crocodile Dundee. So it was the perfect title for my first interview with him.
Some time later, after that initial flush of success, Chris was back, either touring or with a new single. I interviewed him again. And noting his return, I came up with the perfect title: Return of the Ocker Yob Bastard. It was a great idea for a title; I’d just somehow managed to not realise that I’d used it before.
Chris thought it was a cack, and when I interviewed him a third time, he encouraged me to use it again. This time, I was fully aware, and tried to go with a self-conscious acknowledgement that I had mistakenly used the same title. I took a leaf out of Frank Zappa’s book, who likes to tip his hat at b-grade horror movie motifs: those initial three albums of guitar solos were called Shut Up And Play Your Guitar, Shut Up And Play Your Guitar Some More, and, most importantly, The Return Of The Son Of Shut Up And Play Your Guitar.
So the third Chris Franklin interview should have been called The Return of the Son of the Ocker Bastard Yob. The editors didn’t share my particularly idiosyncratic, Zappafied view of the world. So it went to print as, you guessed it, Return of the Ocker Bastard.
But most of this is irrelevant, since what I’m presenting here is my first ever interview with Chris Franklin. It was undertaken at a time when Barry Humphries – creator of Barry McKenzie – was visiting Australia.
Barry Humphries once pointed out that Sydney was a city whose inhabitants were inclined to eat while walking down the street, a city whose lifts often bore the aroma of sausage roll and tomato sauce. How fitting that Humphries is currently in Sydney, for if his observation were ever true, it is certainly moreso now with Melbourne comic Chris Franklin in town.
Wearer of flannelette shirts, blue singlets, thongs and a beanie, owner of sun-damaged skin, a mullet and unkempt facial hair, Franklin follows a long line of comics who embody the ocker bastard yob persona. However, Chris Franklin is more than that. With his quick wit and pithy observation, he is the thinking man’s drinking man. He is also the drinking man’s thinking man. His career is still on a steep trajectory: in the brief fifteen months during which he has been in the game he has won such accolades as “Best New Comedian in Australia” in the National Triple J Raw Comedy competition, “Best Up & Coming Comedian” in the 1997 PBS Radio Awards and has taken out the National Green Faces competition in Canberra.
A former naval chef (that is, cooker for the navy rather than cooker of belly buttons) who has helped prepare a fine sea food repast for one of Her Royal Highness the Queen’s visits (it’s not his fault nobody bothered to warn them that Elizabeth Windsor is allergic to seafood), a former paver and all-round beer enthusiast, Franklin claims that he “still hasn’t decided” to make comedy his career. “It’s been decided for me and I’m pretty happy with that.”
Chris still thinks that the idea of being payed to get drunk and talk to people, indeed, to be flown around the country to be paid to get drunk and talk to people, is pretty cool. “Before that started happening, I was doing the same thing. Only I’d be paying for the beer.”
Chris came to comedy by recognising comedian Chris Bennett in Edward’s Tavern, in Prahran, Victoria. the night after Bennett had appeared on Hey, Hey It’s Saturday. “I thought, ‘that’s that funny bloke’,” Chris says. “I decided to go over and annoy him for the next eight hours!” Chris Franklin spent the rest of the evening giving Chris Bennett pointers, the way drunken punters are wont to do to professional comics: “Here’s one you can use, here’s one you can use, here’s another one you can use, here’s a song I sing.” The comic eventually invited the punter to his next gig. Upon Franklin’s appearance, Bennett informed him it was a good thing he’d arrived, he was due on stage any minute. Thus Chris Franklin made his debut as an open mike comic, delivering for his virgin ‘five minute’ slot nearly twenty minutes of vintage Col Elliott jokes.
“Thankfully it was a young audience who didn’t know the jokes, and enjoyed them. During the whole time I’m up there I can hear Bennett standing in the wings going, ‘Here’s one you can use, here’s one you can use, and here’s one you can use.’ But the crowd loved it, and I came off stage and said to the guy who books acts, ‘How f*ck*n good was that?’ He said, ‘yeah, it wasn’t too bad. Just, next time, write your own stuff.’”
Chris Franklin was an ‘accident’ born eight years after the youngest of his two sisters. He was brought up in a close-knit family. “Mum’s got four brothers and three sisters who are all married with grown-up children themselves,” he says. “That whole nucleus is like a mafia.” While Chris grew up listening to Col Elliott with his dad, his mum used to wake him up “at 11 o’clock at night on a school night” to watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus. “She’s very comedy orientated,” he says. “She’s a good old bird, my mum!” Chris knows his mother is proud of him because she keeps all of his press clippings. She won’t tell him herself, however, most probably because of routines are coarse and close to the bone. “A lot of my stories are about family members,” Chris admits. “I’ve been doing them for years without getting paid for it.”
Franklin’s fan-base may be fellow flannelette-wearers, but he enjoys playing posh venues because the patrons look at the guy in the thongs and beanie with distrust – until they realise that he’s the man they’ve payed to see. “They think I’m going to rape their mobile phones or pinch their girlfriends,” Chris laughs. “At the end of the night they come up to me in their ties and suits and everything and try to be cool: ‘excuse me Chris, my sister was engaged to someone whose brother knew someone who lived in the same street as a Westy once.’ I go, ‘yeah, good on you mate, buy me a beer.’” More often than not, they do.