In the name of the fa­ther

Co­me­dian Greg Fleet has left be­hind ad­dic­tion for a new fo­cus on fam­ily – but not of the per­fect kind In­ter­view by PA­TRICK CARLYON

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents -

Greg Fleet has left be­hind the demons of his past to fo­cus on fam­ily – just not The Brady Bunch va­ri­ety.

Greg Fleet has got on­stage of late to crack jokes about the fa­ther who gave him lit­tle but a sur­name and bad mem­o­ries. Bill Fleet faked his death when his son was 10, only to turn up at a real es­tate agency across town un­der a dif­fer­ent name. When Fleet’s mother con­fronted him there, he de­nied his iden­tity. Cor­nered, Bill Fleet dumped his new fam­ily and briefly re­turned to his old one – un­til he fled for good and re­turned to the United States.

Now aged 55, Fleet long ago con­cluded that his fa­ther was a so­ciopath. Bill Fleet never apol­o­gised to his kids, paid for their up­bring­ing or sent birth­day cards. When Fleet told a friend a cou­ple of years ago that his fa­ther had passed away (for real this time), the friend replied: “Are you sure?”

His odd up­bring­ing ex­plains why Fleet, him­self a fa­ther but also a re­cov­er­ing heroin and ice ad­dict, is ob­sessed with fam­ily dy­nam­ics. It’s also a start­ing point for his first novel, The Good Son, a quirky jaunt that con­trasts with his 2015 mem­oir These Things Hap­pen.

Fleet is no model of good­ness – a miss­ing lower tooth, and his husky voice, at­test to a life lived hard. As do his

fre­quent catch-ups with daugh­ter Sun­day, now 16, and can­did rev­e­la­tion that it’s un­clear who of the pair par­ents who. “She takes after her mother and so she doesn’t have any of my bad be­havioural traits,” Fleet tells Stel­lar. “I don’t have to deal with that, which is great, be­cause that would be hellish.”

Fleet’s run-ins with so­ci­etal norms be­stow him with a tal­is­man sta­tus for the comedic touch­stones of drugs, de­spair and dys­func­tion. He’s done 26 Mel­bourne Com­edy Fes­ti­vals and has per­formed Shake­speare, starred on Neigh­bours and was a reg­u­lar on Good News Week in the ’90s.

He’s fine com­pany, quick with a (ver­bal) line and cu­ri­ous, too, in ways the well-known and self-ob­sessed for­get to be. He has an en­cy­clopaedic knowl­edge of qual­ity tele­vi­sion. He shows off a still­fresh dog bite, a me­mento of a re­cent Asian tour, and boasts new glasses, sans arms, with child­like pride. There is no dis­guis­ing his chinks, yet de­spite his progress he wor­ries. “I’m con­scious of not be­com­ing an al­co­holic to re­place be­ing a drug ad­dict, which is a cliché and def­i­nitely worse,” he says. “I took two days off drink­ing, I don’t know whether I’d ever done that. I was sur­prised by how easy it was.”

He vapes, but when he meets Stel­lar in Mel­bourne’s St Kilda, he pro­duces a pack of smokes. He’s a prod­uct of share homes and a no­madic life, which may be why he sounds a lot younger than his years.

His novel opens with a son who misses his mother’s death, an idea Fleet con­jured sev­eral years be­fore a planned visit with Sun­day to his own mother in her aged-care home. The night be­fore, he got a call – his mother had passed away.

The book is breezy, in keep­ing with how a re­viewer de­scribed a re­cent stage show of Fleet’s: “seem­ingly un­shack­led from the dead weight of his dark past”. It is also a clear prod­uct of Fleet’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the no­tion that every­one has “two fam­i­lies” – the one you’re born with and the one you choose. The bonds forged in the novel are more bind­ing than the blood kin­ships; ten­der and kindly as op­posed to cyn­i­cal and ma­nip­u­la­tive.

“The whole idea is of friend­ship and what friend­ship is,” Fleet says. “It was nice to break away from my own life and write some­thing that was made up. It was nice to write some­thing that had an in­no­cence to it.” Fleet ini­tially imag­ined the story as a movie or se­ries. He has cast char­ac­ters in his mind – there’s room for Judi Dench, Julia Blake and Joanna Lum­ley. He, him­self, wants to play his favourite char­ac­ter, Cash Drive­way, un­less Ben Men­del­sohn, who has been known to play to ex­cess in the past, took the role. “We used to live to­gether,” Fleet says. “At that stage, we were ap­palling for each other.”

He has more book ideas, though which of the dozens bounc­ing around his head will make it to the page is un­clear. In any case, his ideal is more writ­ing – a book a year, a play and a film or “TV thing” based on the pre­vi­ous year’s book – as well as one-off stand-up gigs in each cap­i­tal city. Con­stant tour­ing, Fleet says, is a young per­son’s pur­suit. It’s not for him any­more, now that he’s “healthy” (read: drug-free) and doesn’t want to be away from Sun­day.

They catch up sev­eral times a week. “My ex did all the heavy lift­ing [early on]. Be­tween the road and the drugs, I was kind of like a fond un­cle: roll in and tell a few sto­ries and drink a bot­tle of wine,” he says. Things are dif­fer­ent now, and he has an hon­est re­la­tion­ship with Sun­day, who wor­ried about him in the past but put on a brave face, any­way.

“A cou­ple of years ago, she took me aside and gave it to me. I was re­ally sur­prised and re­ally pleased, ac­tu­ally. When she told me how she felt, I was shocked, but in a way: ‘Oh, of course she’s aware of it.’ It was great she felt she could do that. She got to a point that she felt she could be hon­est with me; that made me be hon­est with her. I’ll try not to but, if I do, I’ll try not to lie about it.”

He had learnt the lessons of his own fa­ther, he says, and was care­ful to avoid mak­ing the same mis­takes. He just made lots of other mis­takes in­stead. The Good Son by Greg Fleet (Pen­guin, $29.99) is out to­mor­row.

“I’m con­scious of not be­com­ing an al­co­holic to re­place drugs”

Didn’t get eight hours of sleep last night? Try these make-up tips – and no-one will be the wiser. “Gold, bronze and taupe eye shad­ows look good on every­one and are in­stant eye bright­en­ers,” says Too Faced global pro artist El­yse Re­neau. “Use matte for­mu­las to de­fine the crease of the eye­lid, satin and shiny shad­ows on the lid, and a light matte colour along the brow bone for a vis­ual lift.” (Prep eye­lids with a primer if your eye shadow tends to dis­ap­pear by mid-af­ter­noon.)

Ap­ply­ing tight­liner – which in­volves dot­ting be­tween lash roots along the up­per wa­ter­line with a felt-tip eye­liner – is a cru­cial step if you want to sub­tly de­fine and en­hance eye­lashes. “There’s not a sin­gle celebrity I’ve worked on who I haven’t tight­lined,” Re­neau says.

Cat eye­liner and a peachy-beige liner along the lower wa­ter­line can also help open up and re­fresh the eyes. When ap­ply­ing mas­cara, work “in three sec­tions – outer, in­ner and mid­dle lashes – get­ting the wand as close to the lash line as pos­si­ble, so you’re touch­ing the lash roots, then wig­gling at the base and pulling up and out”, ex­plains Re­neau, who sug­gests one fi­nal step: a shim­mery shade on the in­ner cor­ners of the eyes. If you have crepey skin around the eyes, “Fo­cus on the in­side up­per part of the tear duct, not a V-shape, to avoid get­ting prod­uct in any fine lines.”

ON FLEET (from top) Co­me­dian Greg Fleet with his daugh­ter Sun­day, who he says has been a bit of a par­ent to him, and dog Char­lie; in 2001 dur­ing one of his many per­for­mances at the Mel­bourne Com­edy Fes­ti­val; on Good News Week in 1996 with Mikey Robins (left) and Tanya Bul­mer.

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