Life in Rhonda land
Kitty Flanagan tells ANDREW FENTON why Utopia’s resident spin doctor is her dream role
ANYONE familiar with Kitty Flanagan’s TV work will recognise her modus operandi: turn up for five minutes, upstage everyone by dropping a few comic truth bombs, and then leave.
She did it on Ten’s TheProject for five years, she’s expanded the routine on ABC’s TheWeekly with Charlie Pickering and even does it as an actor in Utopia.
In the Working Dog satire she’s government spin doctor Rhonda, who appears each episode just long enough to insist the Nation Building Authority stop work on whatever important multibillion-dollar project they’re doing in favour of a half-baked publicity launch for the government thought bubble masquerading as policy that day.
“I know my limitations – get on, get off,” laughs Flanagan, adding she’s aided in that endeavour in Utopia by the fact no one seems to know what her character’s job title is or where she’s from in the NBA building.
“I’m not even on the same floor … everyone else has an office or a desk and all I do is walk in, walk out. Where is she going? Where has she come from? I live in a fictional Rhonda land.”
The character is instantly recognisable as one of those corporate or government types who spouts communications and business jargon in an effort to make themselves sound more important: “Lean in” is a favoured expression in season two.
“People have said to me: ‘We call it doing a Rhonda now, when people start speaking in that ridiculous lingo.’ So she’s really struck a chord,” Flanagan says.
Rob Sitch, who plays Tony, the long-suffering head of the NBA, calls Flanagan “the quiet achiever of Australian television”. The character was initially envisaged as a quite minor role.
“When she came in to do the pilot she was so much fun as the character, and it was so much fun writing for her, that we ended up writing for her a lot – so our original promise that it wouldn’t take up a lot of her time, we broke that promise a bit,” Sitch says.
“In real life, I find her really delightful, and for a stand-up comedian, almost perfectly mannered – almost shy. Then we said the character is an absolute a---hole bitch!” he laughs.
Flanagan jumped at the chance to join Working Dog, citing TheD-Generation as “one of the reasons I got into comedy”.
“Perhaps stupidly I didn’t even say, ‘Yeah, what is it (the role)?’ I just said, ‘Please’. Dream come true.”
Flanagan’s been a comedian since being made redundant from her job as a copywriter in the mid-90s.
Success came quickly – six months after her first stand-up gig, she was head-hunted for FullFrontal (they scooped up Julia Morris that same night). Decamping to England, she honed her stand-up skills, and wrote and starred in TheSketch Show before being lured back to Australia for TheProject.
After five years and worried she was beginning to repeat herself, she handed in her notice in the middle of 2014, then made a spectacular crash and burn exit claiming Santa didn’t exist on her final appearance.
Intending to work on stage (she’s currently touring solo show Seriously?) she was offered a gig on fellow Project alumnus Charlie Pickering’s new show.
She says she’s “still finding my way” on the show, but the producers give her free rein.
“I say, ‘Can I do it this way this week?’ and they’re very open.”
Like her recent suggestion to dress up as giant inflatable penis with Bronwyn Bishop’s face?
She laughs: “I go: I’ve got an idea! And they say, ‘Sure, if you’re the one willing to be in the suit, go right ahead!’” UTOPIA WEDNESDAY, 9PM, ABC
Living the dream: Kitty Flanagan was so excited to work with the Working Dog team on Utopia, she didn’t even ask what the role was; inset, Flanagan doing the full Rhonda with co-star Sitch.
Picture: Nigel Lough