OH, DUNNY BOY
Simon Plant gets a whiff of Kenny Smyth’s new sanitation series
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.’’
Kenny Smyth, aka Shane Jacobson, in India (above) and Cairo.