“Peo­ple won’t know who I am”

Satirist Mark Humphries has spent years pok­ing fun at the pow­er­ful and the po­lit­i­cal. Now he’s look­ing for his next big laugh

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy CHRIS MOHEN In­ter­view ADRI­ENNE TAM

De­spite his self-pro­claimed ob­scu­rity, SBS com­edy writer Mark Humphries is ris­ing in promi­nence – and seal­ing his sta­tus as one of Aus­tralia’s best satirists.

Just once, Mark Humphries would like to at­tend the Lo­gie Awards rather than watch it from the couch at home. And while he ad­mits he would love to be nom­i­nated one day, the com­edy writer’s ul­ti­mate dream is to host the awards, de­spite ac­knowl­edg­ing that the gig is widely con­sid­ered a “poi­soned chal­ice”. “I’m say­ing right now, I am prepared to do it,” Humphries tells Stel­lar. “I to­tally ac­cept that I am likely to crash and burn, but I think that the risk­tak­ing is what the Lo­gies miss. It’s a very safe show now. It’s still en­ter­tain­ing, but gen­er­ally you go back to when Shaun Mi­callef or An­drew Denton did it – I don’t put my­self in the same cat­e­gory as ei­ther of them – and it was an­ar­chic and cre­ative and just re­ally funny. Maybe if I am able to build up a pro­file over time, that is some­thing I’d love to be con­sid­ered for.” Building a pub­lic pro­file is ex­actly what Humphries, 32, has been do­ing for the past few years on SBS Viceland’s news show The Feed, even though he still con­sid­ers him­self and his com­edy writ­ing part­ner, Evan Wil­liams, a “lit­tle noth­ing thing in the corner”. The pair is re­spon­si­ble for more than 200 videos on The Feed, mak­ing Humphries, who also stars in many of the show’s two-and-a-half-minute sketches, a well-known face to those who en­joy a com­bi­na­tion of pol­i­tics and ir­rev­er­ent com­edy. As for the rest of Aus­tralia…

“Most peo­ple read­ing this are go­ing to go ‘Who?’” Humphries insists. “Most of Aus­tralia doesn’t know who I am.”

That is likely to change soon. Humphries’s re­cent work as Barab­bas Loins, a char­ac­ter who hap­pens to en­joy an eerily sim­i­lar life tra­jec­tory to Barn­aby Joyce, has risen to par­tic­u­lar promi­nence, seal­ing Humphries’s sta­tus as one of the best satirists in Aus­tralia.

There is, how­ever, at least one per­son who is not a fan of his out­put, with former politi­cian Mark Latham dis­miss­ing the co­me­dian as “Mr Un­funny” af­ter be­ing lam­pooned by him last year.

“I don’t re­ally have a prob­lem with Mark; he’s amus­ing to a point. I think he’s ob­vi­ously an in­tel­li­gent man and it’s a shame he uses that in­tel­li­gence to be­lit­tle peo­ple and make moun­tains out of mole­hills,” Humphries says, adding that the two have never met. “My gen­eral ex­pe­ri­ence, though, is peo­ple who have those sorts of rep­u­ta­tions are ac­tu­ally re­ally nice in per­son. So I imag­ine he would be a lit­tle more civil than he is on­line [if we were to meet face-to-face].”

Humphries him­self is ex­ceed­ingly po­lite in per­son, con­stantly ask­ing, “Was that OK?” and “Are you sure that is all right?” With his trade­mark blue but­ton-down shirt – “My dream is to have a full-time stylist. This is why I miss school, be­cause you knew what you had to wear every day” – he could be any one of the char­ac­ters he plays on­screen. But the real Mark Humphries is very dif­fer­ent to the pub­lic fig­ures and politi­cians that he por­trays.

“The real me loves mu­si­cals, that’s my big thing. I have been known to fre­quent

karaoke bars, specif­i­cally karaoke booths with a small group of friends. I’m very fond of Eurovision and I’ve been wait­ing for SBS to make the call [to rep­re­sent Aus­tralia], I’ve been sit­ting by the phone,” he says. “I saw The Phantom Of The Opera when I was eight years old and it was a real eye-opener. When you’re in the au­di­ence, the chan­de­lier flies over your head, and I later found out that Aus­tralia had some of the most lax oc­cu­pa­tional health and safety rules in the world, so we had the fastest chan­de­lier in the world. So I think that whoosh was a real… ‘this is theatre, this is dan­ger­ous’.”

Humphries is also more po­lit­i­cally neu­tral than his com­edy would sug­gest. “I think I am per­ceived as a pro­gres­sive be­cause of the net­work I’m on. And be­cause, ab­so­lutely, more of­ten than not we do tar­get the con­ser­va­tive side. But I re­ally would stress that the con­ser­va­tive side is in gov­ern­ment, and so they are a big­ger tar­get nat­u­rally,” he ex­plains.

“Peo­ple might dis­agree with this but my feel­ing is that presently there are more char­ac­ters on that side who lend them­selves to car­i­ca­ture and ridicule than there are on the left. That is open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion. I would ac­tu­ally love to do more stuff lam­poon­ing the left, but I think La­bor and the Greens ei­ther don’t have as many char­ac­ters or are a lit­tle more care­ful with how they present them­selves. I should also state that my grand­fa­ther rep­re­sented the Lib­eral Party in State Par­lia­ment, by the way.”

Af­ter high school, Humphries at­tained a de­gree in ad­ver­tis­ing but found him­self “in the wilder­ness” for a few years, work­ing in a video store and then in a ware­house, and slowly los­ing hope that his dream of be­com­ing a com­edy writer would ever even­tu­ate.

“It was a pretty dark pe­riod where I was like, ‘I am never go­ing to leave this ware­house.’ No dis­re­spect to peo­ple who work in ware­houses,” Humphries has­tens to add. “It just wasn’t some­thing I wanted to do. But I was even­tu­ally for­tu­nate enough to get an in­tern­ship with [TV shows] The Hun­gry Beast and then The Roast. I was very lucky. I had al­ways wanted to do [com­edy writ­ing] but for most of my life was too ashamed to tell any­one.” He grins. “Some peo­ple would say I should still be ashamed.”

It was Humphries’s fa­ther Alan, a weath­er­man on the ABC, who first sparked his taste for the “glam­our” of tele­vi­sion. Humphries ac­knowl­edges that the nuts and bolts of TV are not as glitzy as he imag­ined they would be when he vis­ited his fa­ther on set as a young boy, but he still gets a thrill out of see­ing his work on screens across the na­tion. And so do his now-re­tired par­ents. Ini­tially they wanted their only child, an aca­dem­i­cally gifted stu­dent, to use his brains for “some­thing more worth­while”, and were un­der­stand­ably con­cerned about the at times tough re­al­ity of try­ing to crack the TV in­dus­try. But they are happy for him now that they can see it’s what he’s com­mit­ted to.

His wife, Yu­lia, is equally sup­port­ive. The pair met in Bordeaux, France, and have an 18-month-old son, Ted, whom Humphries is still very much in “gush- mode” over. “He’s got a great smile. Ted was my grand­fa­ther’s nick­name, the one who was in state pol­i­tics.”

As for what the fu­ture might hold, Humphries re­veals to Stel­lar that his SBS con­tract – and that of writ­ing part­ner Wil­liams – will fin­ish at the end of this month.

“I would love to do more things with SBS in some ca­pac­ity be­cause it is – I know it’s a cliché – but it’s a great place to work, and the peo­ple are won­der­ful. I feel priv­i­leged to work there. Hav­ing said that, I love sit­coms and I would like to just go away and think of some­thing that I could bring to the ta­ble. Maybe there is no ap­petite for that, but I feel that it’s time to at least ex­plore that av­enue.”

Just don’t ex­pect to see Humphries in pol­i­tics any­time soon.

“I do get asked that a lot, but see­ing how mer­ci­less I’ve been to peo­ple… I don’t envy any­one in pol­i­tics. I think it takes great courage or pos­si­bly naïveté. I do think we need strong peo­ple in pol­i­tics though,” he says.

With that, he takes a deep breath. “It just feels time to see what’s out there.”

The Feed airs 7.30pm, Mon­day to Thurs­day, on SBS VICELAND.

FUNNY (clock­wise BUSI­NESS from right) Mark Humphries, here with his co-writer Evan Wil­liams, makes a satir­i­cal plea for a Lo­gie in a sketch for SBS Viceland’s The Feed; as the dis­graced MP and “Min­is­ter for Lamb Cut­lets” Barab­bas Loins; (left and op­po­site) as pho­tographed for Stel­lar.

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