My really awesome year!
The funny man steps off the sidelines to steer his own show, writes Mercedes Maguire
I t’s one of the many occupational hazards Peter Helliar has come to accept as part of the job. Along with people asking him to be funny on demand, the Melbourne comedian says he is increasingly put on the spot to voice his opinion over just about any topic. But as far as his role on Network Ten panel show The Project goes, the humble yet very talented Helliar says he’s happy to simply be the funny sidekick.
“I’ll be at a dinner party and a guy will come up and ask me where I sit on the assisted dying debate,” Helliar tells BW Magazine.
“Being the funny sidekick on The Project is a fun place to be, (co-hosts) Carrie (Bickmore) and Waleed (Aly) arrive at the office earlier to review news but I don’t have to adjust my chair in that sense. To be honest, my role on The Project is to not talk during the important political parts, and then to throw to a clip of a monkey flinging poo at people.”
If Helliar is downplaying his talent and his career, it’s not intentional. The 42-year-old father-of-three has had a stellar year; he was nominated for the Gold Logie (which went to Samuel Johnson), he released his first children’s book, Frankie Fish And The Sonic Suitcase, and he has just landed the role of hosting a game show for Ten called Cram.
“2017 has been a lovely year,” he says in his typically self-deprecating mode.
“OK, I do have “The Year of Pete” banners hanging up around the house.
“Seriously though, I have been doing comedy for 21 years, and on TV pretty much every year since I started with Rove in 1999. There’s been a few years where there’s been a few things happen, but I guess 2017 has been a busy one.”
Cram, which will air weekly from Tuesday, is a UK concept where members of the public compete in two teams to see which side can remember the most from a short video clip.
It has been redesigned for Australian audiences by ITV Studios to be more like a panel show, where two groups of celebrities, led by comedian Dilruk Jayasinha and actor Virginia Gay, compete against each other with Helliar at the helm.
The topics are diverse, ranging from the history of flying to singer Justin Bieber.
“Historically I have been the disrupter and the sniper from the sidelines,” Helliar says.
“But this is a little different, I’ll get to steer the ship a bit more, yet still be part of the game. It’s really addictive, you can’t help but join in and anyone can play because you’re given all the information, you just have to remember it. I imagine families will really get into it because it’s something they can watch together. One of the show’s executives said, ‘Watching you do this show is like you’re in your own playground’.”
During the series we’ll see Helliar joke around with fellow comedians such as his good mate Rove McManus, Dave Hughes, Jimeoin and Josh Thomas. Celebrity guests include Miranda Tapsell, Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Danielle Cormack. I n a busy year, Helliar is probably most proud of the release of his first children’s book. Frankie Fish went to number one in its first week, knocking the latest Diary Of A Wimpy Kid offering off the top spot. “When the publisher called to tell me, I said, ‘Is that good, is it enough?’ Between March, when it was released, and June it had sold 50,000 copies, but I had no reference for this.
“I really loved writing and promoting this book, I’ve been writing kid’s book since I was a kid in primary school, so this first publication was kind of special, and a long time coming.”
Helliar is busy writing a follow up to the popular book and has hinted at a series of maybe five or six books plus some picture books for younger audiences.
He says he was chuffed to see the characters of Frankie and his grandad in recent Book Week school parades on Facebook and Instagram, with his youngest son Oscar, 9, dressing as Grandad. He says kids send him their reviews of his book and some have even made him their own version of a Sonic Suitcase.
The books he wrote as a child were recently unearthed by his mum and have proven good fodder. They have a common theme in that they generally feature Helliar as the heroic protagonist, as the titles Indiana Helliar, and Me, The Sports Star, suggest. He read from them at the recent Byron Writer’s festival and is using
them as material for a new comedy show he is working on.
“I’m working on a few new live shows, one of which will be aimed at families,” Helliar says.
“It’s about the books I wrote as a kid. When I read them at the (Byron) Writer’s Festival, I realised kids loved them but so did their parents because there’s lots of references to pop culture, things like Back To The Future and Pat Cash, but it’s all through the eyes of an eight-year-old.”
As a father of three boys — Oscar, 9, Aidan, 12, and Liam, 14 — Helliar says he often gets raised eyebrows and grimaces of commiseration. But he says so far his parental entry into the teenage years has been easy. A dedicated family man and husband to Bridget, whom he refers to as the captain of their home, Helliar says getting a good homework balance is a priority. “I try to keep a work-life balance at the forefront of my mind, but it’s funny how kids have a way of reminding you about these things,” Helliar says. “Recently we were having dinner and a publicist needed answers to some Cram questions for an article, so I said, ‘Sorry I have to do this.’ To which one of my sons answered, ‘Is it really so important? They can wait while you have dinner.’ He was right, of course. “The balance can be tricky. My own dad worked in the government and had a very different kind of job to me, I never saw him in the mornings, but the make-up of my job is very different, I am around in the mornings, for one.
“I’m a very different dad compared to my dad, I wear my heart on my sleeve a lot more than my dad did.
“I always hug and kiss my kids goodbye and show them all the time that I love them.
“There are some times I think being a dad has been too easy because the kids have given us so little trouble and it makes me nervous for what’s potentially ahead.
“People will go ‘Wow, three boys’ and raise their eyebrows like something terrible is about to happen but, really, they’re good kids.”
Cram airs on Ten at 7.30pm on November 2
Pete and Bridget at a red carpet event, and (above) reading his book to children at Middle Park Primary School. Main picture: Julie Kiriacoudis
Peterter Helliar enjoying a break with his his dog Ruby, and and (left ) with wife Bridget theirand their sons Liam, Oscar and Aidan.