For Pete’s sake
Peter Helliar has been left in charge of The Project desk over summer
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.”