For Pete’s sake

Peter Helliar has been left in charge of The Project desk over sum­mer

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE -

WARN­ING: Peter Helliar will be helm­ing The Project desk over sum­mer.

With Car­rie Bickmore and Waleed Aly both tak­ing hol­i­day breaks, the 40-year old comic is the last of the core trio making sure we get our news fix over the non-rat­ings pe­riod. While this may con­jure im­ages of a big kid cut­ting loose when his par­ents are out of town, Helliar says he’s not plan­ning to change a thing.

“Thank­fully, Waleed and Car­rie aren’t par­tic­u­larly strict par­ents so I feel I can mis­be­have as much as I want through­out the year any­way,” he laughs.

“The sum­mer shows are fun be­cause there’s a loose­ness to them. You just pray and hope noth­ing ter­ri­ble hap­pens in the world that you have to cover.”

How­ever, even if (touch wood) dis­as­ter does strike, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Craig Camp­bell has the ut­most con­fi­dence in his funny man.

Not only will he have the sup­port of Daniel MacPher­son (who will fill in for Aly) and for­mer Seven news­reader Chris Bath (who takes up Bickmore’s spot) but Camp­bell be­lieves Helliar is un­der­selling his abil­ity to nav­i­gate hard news.

“We’ve al­ways taken the view funny peo­ple can be se­ri­ous too and Pete doesn’t shy away from tak­ing a po­si­tion on par­tic­u­lar is­sues,” Camp­bell says.

“Pete can al­ways ask the ques­tions that the oth­ers might not be able to get away with be­cause he’s the lik­able ev­ery­day guy with no agenda.”

It’s a dream gig for Helliar, whose pas­sion for com­edy be­gan at the age of 15 when he en­tered a joke com­pe­ti­tion at his lo­cal footy club. He didn’t win, but the buzz he felt on stage led to a suc­cess­ful ca­reer which has seen him work­ing steadily since the mid-’90s, of­ten along­side orig­i­nal The Project co-host Dave Hughes.

In ad­di­tion, the pair had been an in­te­gral part of Lo­gie-win­ning show Rove – which was also pro­duced by Camp­bell.

So when Hughes quit The Project desk in 2013, “Pete was the first and log­i­cal choice,” to re­place him ac­cord­ing to Camp­bell.

For his part, Helliar had al­ready taken a keen in­ter­est in The Project.

Hav­ing given his friend Hughes ad­vice about hav­ing a live au­di­ence on set, you could spec­u­late that Helliar was al­ready in­stru­men­tal in the show’s suc­cess.

Cer­tainly, the live au­di­ence is what keeps the job fun for Helliar.

“The ad­van­tage of hav­ing a live au­di­ence is that when you have a co­me­dian on, their lifeblood is making the au­di­ence laugh,” he ex­plains.

“For me, there are times in the preshow meet­ing where I’ll feel a bit flat and think, ‘I just want to get through this show’. But then as soon as the au­di­ence comes in you’ll get a flurry of ac­tiv­ity and you’ll go, ‘This is great!’ I’ve al­ways loved do­ing the show.”

Camp­bell adds that the live au­di­ence is equally ap­pre­cia­tive of Helliar’s en­thu­si­asm for the job.

They get “treated to Pete do­ing stand-up and play­ing around in each break”, he says.

“What you see on air is the Pete we get to enjoy all day.” And that doesn’t look set to change. Helliar con­firms that both he and Bickmore re­cently signed on for an­other two years and Camp­bell adds that Aly is also con­tin­u­ing on with the show be­yond this year.

But even if one of his co-stars should leave, don’t think Helliar will be lob­by­ing for a cen­tre seat.

“I have no plans about mov­ing into one of those mid­dle chairs, I’m quite com­fort­able where I am,” he says.

“I’m pretty strict on hav­ing no in­flu­ence in the of­fice. Once you start hav­ing in­flu­ence, there’s too much pres­sure.”

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