OH, DUNNY BOY

Si­mon Plant gets a whiff of Kenny Smyth’s new san­i­ta­tion se­ries

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Guide -

NOW we know. The out­door dunny is uniquely Aus­tralian. We know this be­cause Kenny Smyth, Aus­tralia’s favourite Por­taloo plumber, has cir­cled the globe looking for new trends in toi­let tech­nol­ogy. And not once on his trav­els through 28 cities did he find any­thing to com­pare with our stand­alone thun­der­box.

Eng­land came close with a pop-up toi­let. So did Amer­ica with a jet­pow­ered out­house. But Smyth reck­ons ‘‘they still haven’t per­fected the art of the good old out­back crap­per. We’ve got that one to our­selves’’.

Smyth’s loo-with-a-view jour­ney is re­counted in Kenny’s World, a travel show that lifts the lid on at­trac­tions rarely fea­tured on Get­away or The Great Out­doors. It’s hard to imag­ine Catriona Rown­tree en­thus­ing over golden poo or­na­ments in Ky­oto. Or Ernie Dingo in­spect­ing an egg-shaped loo in Lon­don. But Smyth takes to th­ese sub­jects like a duck to fast-flush­ing wa­ter.

‘‘It’s like Kenny’s been given a board­ing pass to the planet,’’ Smyth’s al­ter ego, Shane Ja­cob­son says. ‘‘In all hon­esty, the tough­est thing about this whole project was pick­ing the best ma­te­rial.’’

Ja­cob­son’s 2006 com­edy film, Kenny was a lo­cal hit and earned him an AFI Award for Best Ac­tor.

‘‘The re­quests for do­ing an­other movie were quite enor­mous,’’ the 38-year-old says, ‘‘but there was so much more to be dis­cov­ered by go­ing around the world with this char­ac­ter.’’

Kenny’s World was ac­tu­ally in the works be­fore Kenny evolved as a ful­l­length fea­ture.

‘‘Yeah, this was the older idea, the un­born child,’’ he says. Ques­tion is: how did Ja­cob­son — and his film­maker brother, Clay­ton — per­suade TV ex­ec­u­tives to back a san­i­ta­tion se­ries?

‘‘Do­ing our re­search, it be­came clear no one else had touched the sub­ject,’’ he says. ‘‘And isn’t it bet­ter to have a guy in over­alls as your tour guide in­stead of some whis­per­ing, grey-haired egghead?’’

Kenny’s World min­gles trav­ellers’ tales with an­i­ma­tion and un­earths ‘‘amaz­ing facts’’. Such as? ‘‘Well, some of those shoot­ing stars peo­ple make a wish on are waste prod­ucts be­ing jet­ti­soned from a space sta­tion. I kid you not.’’

Ja­cob­son also knows the ins and outs of zero-grav­ity su­per-loos, but don’t tune into Kenny’s World ex­pect­ing toi­let hu­mour.

As with Kenny, which was re­ally a riff on com­mon de­cency, this un­likely com­edy-doco (di­rected by Clay­ton) splices wise­cracks with se­ri­ous talk. Waste man­age­ment, san­i­ta­tion and germs — Smyth ap­proaches all th­ese is­sues with a straight face.

‘‘That’s the great thing about Kenny,’’ Ja­cob­son says. ‘‘He can ask any­thing of any­body and when he does, the cam­era be­comes this great vac­u­umer of in­for­ma­tion.’’

Was Kenny’s World care­fully scripted?

‘‘Yeah, there was a def­i­nite game plan. Every­one had an ex­act po­si­tion to play. But when the ball gets bounced, you don’t al­ways know which way it’s gonna go.’’

Ja­cob­son found the teem­ing, open-sew­ered streets of In­dia es­pe­cially con­fronting.

‘‘A lot of things there af­fected us emo­tion­ally,’’ he says. ‘‘We walked through a door­way — ex­pect­ing to meet some schoolkids — and there were ac­tu­ally hun­dreds of them all lined up to meet us. Had a bit of trou­ble try­ing to keep our eyes dry.’’

But it’s not Ja­cob­son we see wip­ing away tears. It’s Smyth.

‘‘Kenny’s the best per­son to re­act to it,’’ he ex­plains, ‘‘be­cause he’s an emo­tional guy, a par­ent.’’

DID Smyth’s in­ter­vie­wees have any knowl­edge of Kenny? ‘‘Nine times out of 10, no. Our film has not been a hit in Egypt yet. But what Kenny brings to ev­ery con­ver­sa­tion, even if he doesn’t have the words, is his per­son­al­ity, his open-heart­ed­ness, his ten­der­ness.’’

If Kenny’s World has a smell, it’s a mix­ture of jet fuel, curry and yeast ‘‘be­cause Kenny had a few beers along the way’’.

But Ja­cob­son be­lieves his smallscreen ven­ture is prob­a­bly eas­ier on the eyes and the nose than the film was. ‘‘It’s a merry-go-round that moves pretty quickly.’’

Hav­ing pulled chains in Scan­di­navia and wor­shipped pe­nis stat­ues in Tokyo, Kenny Smyth must be well po­si­tioned to craft a TV ca­reer. Ja­cob­son is not so sure.

‘‘Kenny won’t re­turn any of my calls,’’ he says. ‘‘Reck­ons I’m a bit of a fake. Talk about irony.’’

Toi­let trail:

Kenny Smyth, aka Shane Ja­cob­son, in In­dia (above) and Cairo.

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