Worlds Funniest Island II takes place soon (Oct 16-17). Tickets are being offered at a special price until October 4. Kath & Kim are hosting the Foxy Gala. Go on, you know you want to: buy some tickets. Now. www.worldsfunniestisland.com
While attempting to Google™ ‘Gina Riley’ for a suitable biography and ‘Kath & Kim’ for a suitable synopsis to link to from the introduction to my Julie Dawn Cole interview, I realised that virtually no examples of the former really exist online (although this bio is at least a good starting point for Riley, while Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope interview with Riley and Jane Turner provides quite a full picture), and few of the examples of the latter that do exist (again, apart from Denton’s work, of course) satisfy me as much as my own attempt of the same. So, despite its short-comings (no info whatsoever of Peter Rowsthorn’s contribution to the show; no mention of Marg Downey’s saucey cameo; certainly, no biographical details of the writer/stars) I include here my interview with Jane Turner and Gina Riley. It originally appeared in FilmInk to coincide with the 2002 DVD release of the first season of Kath & Kim .
A recent criticism from a regular visitor to this blog is that I have been ‘slipping’ – updates being posted a week apart. Thus, any excuse to raid the comedy archive is a good one, particularly when it gives repeat visitors something else to read.
In addition to more information on Riley and Turner as performers, and any information whatsoever on the likes of Rowsthorn and Downey, the other thing I’d want to add to this piece is the way in which the opening sequence of Kath & Kim seems to tip its hat to those first seasons of Absolutely Fabulous: the distinct typeface of the title and the white background are so stylised that it would seem deliberate. Was someone cleverly trying to coerce the same comedy audience who loved that particular mother/daughter comedy to give this one a go? Or is there another dimension of humour at work, perhaps a class-based one, whereby the newley ‘effluent’ Aussie middle class is, as ever, taking the mickey out of the upper-middle class English mickey-takers? If so, that’d be really noiyce and un-yews-ual – as far as sitcoms go, particularly as Kath & Kim is now being enjoyed in other territories around the world.
The first hint came during the highly stylised opening credits, when Jane Turner bent over to look back at us from between the legs of her ridiculously billowy harem pants, while Gina Riley belted out an aptly defiant rendition of the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse-penned comedy song ‘The Joker’. The exact moment followed soon after, in the very first scene of that very first episode. When Kath (Turner) turned to daughter Kim (Riley) to utter for the first time the words, “Look at moiye, Kim; look at moiye, look at moiye, look at mooooiiiiye!“ and a new catch phrase entered everyday speech, it was abundantly clear that, in addition to being a comedy lover’s wet dream, Kath & Kim would also prove to be that most elusive beast of Australian culture: the funny sitcom. Jane and Gina, creators, writers and stars of Kath & Kim, have much to be proud of.
“That’s good to hear,” Jane acknowledges appreciatively. In the process of getting the show up, she says, “a lot of crap went down”. Criticisms included the apparent lack of “emotional arc”, ensuring characters “don’t learn” and “don’t change”. Gina concurs: “nobody thought that the show was going to work.” After eighteen months writing the series, it took a further two years to convince the ABC to start shooting it. But Jane and Gina stuck to their guns, concentrating on “what we think is funny and what we think is right.” With their keen eye for detail they got it absolutely right: the misadventures of the would-be “empty nester” and her “hornbag” daughter is a cack.
However, if the characters fail to show sufficient development throughout the course of Kath & Kim’s eight episodes, it is because their characterisations come to the show fully formed. Gina agrees that, in many ways, Kath & Kim is an extension of Dumb Street, the piss-take of Aussie soaps that she and Jane used to do on Fast Forward. Furthermore, Jane has a history of ditzy comedic blonde characters under her belt – or rather, in her handbag – since, Jane admits, virtually every one of her characters has had as a prop “the same sort of white, quilted handbag with gold chain.” The handbag has been passed onto Kath, the latest in a long line of “daggy housewives” Jane has been playing since her Fast Forward days. And Glenn Robbins, who plays Kim’s “hunk of spunk” boyfriend Kel Knight, often portrayed a similarly daggy bloke opposite her. “We’ve had each other’s numbers for a while as those characters,” Jane says. Indeed, it was on a sketch-comedy show that appeared in 1995, entitled Big Girl’s Blouse, that Kath and Kim were born – in a hen’s night scene, as it happens. “Jane naturally fell into the Kath character,” Gina reports, “and I naturally fell into the Kim character, and that was it; we were off and running.”
Initially, the mockumentary voice-overs and the housing estate setting of Kath & Kim – harking back to Sylvania Waters – clearly marked middle Australia as the butt of the joke. Hence a mixed response from the critics – ‘elitist’ Sydney Morning Herald gave it the thumbs up but ‘populist’ Daily Telegraph had to withhold approval until the realisation sunk in that it’s own readership also had a sense of humour. According to Gina, “the response was the opposite in Melbourne.” However, while journalists largely misinterpreted where exactly she and Jane were coming from, the audience “cottoned on” pretty quickly that they “were taking the mickey out of ourselves as much as anyone else”. Jane adds that, having no pride, she and Gina were shameless. “We pulled out our warts and our carbuncles and our monobrows and our love handles; we dredged up our own lives.”
Although the DVD release of Kath & Kim fails to include commentary or a ‘making of’, it does provide an additional hour of material. Takes in which the actors crack each other up (Jane mostly blames Magda Szubanski, who plays Kim’s “second-best friend” Sharon: “it was very hard to maintain order with naughty girls like her around”), more mockumentary sequences and ‘wine time’ ruminations and even Sharon’s handy cam footage of Kim’s own “connubials”, initially deemed superfluous to the finished product, were far too funny to lose outright. The real question, now that Jane and Gina have raised the bar so high, is “where to next?” Not giving anything away, Jane says, “because the relationships are set, we can take them anywhere and do anything with them. We just want to keep it as real as possible.”