Shes funny that way…
Robyn Butler tells Stellar how her well-honed sense of humour used to get her out of childhood chores and shares how an onscreen marriage became a real one.
Even as a little girl, Robyn Butler understood the power a person could wield with a small spike of humour. And she had no qualms about harnessing this knowledge to her advantage, especially if it got her out of doing household chores.
If my mum was mad my mum and dad both worked, they worked hard because I made a mess or didnt fold the washing, I would very quickly turn it around and make it a laugh about being incompetent, Butler tells Stellar. It became part of my skill set. I think a lot of funny kids, and funny people, learnt it as a tool quite early.
Humour also became her coping mechanism when panic attacks and anxiety would hit then and still today, at age 52. But like fellow comedian Hannah Gadsby, Butler thinks it is not always wise to disguise everything as a joke.
To understand that something is making you anxious, then to be able to laugh healthily about it, is the goal, says Butler. [Gadsby] said it far better than I did. I might make a joke at my expense before anybody else can, but theres a ne line between being sweetly selfdeprecating and self-annihilating.
Butler credits both therapy and her husband Wayne Hope who, like her, is a showbiz multi-hyphenate who acts, writes, directs and produces for helping to keep her mind in good stead. The two met in 1998 on the set of the Comedy Channel series Small Tales & True, ironically playing husband and wife. And what can we do except enact that for realsies? she asks with a laugh.
The pair teamed up at home and in the ofce, going on to form the production company Gristmill, and have been an unstoppable content-creating duo ever since. There is their AFI-nominated TV show Stories From The Golf (2004), the Rose dOr-nominated sitcom The Librarians (2007-10), the critically acclaimed Very Small Business (2008) and Upper Middle Bogan (2013), the 2015 feature lm Now Add Honey, for which Butler was nominated for an AACTA Award, Logie-winning childrens mockumentary Little Lunch (2015-19), which was also a nalist in the 2017 International Emmy Awards and last years Back In Very Small Business, another AACTA nominee.
Living and working together might nudge other couples toward divorce, but
Butler says the opposite is true in her case. We really bring out the best in each other. People can get a bit eye roll-y about, They work together,
they love each other, but now they go, Well, thats the goal, isnt it? The goal is to be with someone who makes you really
happy and you do your best work.
So its little wonder Butler refuses to play the national sport of bemoaning the dire state of Australian TV, pointing out that globally our stories have been told and translated everywhere. The show weve just made [ABCs Little Lunch] is also on Netix. Weve been creating a show for the whole world based in a little primary school in suburban Melbourne, so I think thats summed up really well the state of Australian television.
Both of their daughters Molly, 23, and Emily, 16 are taking up the family business. Molly acts and writes, and Butler says Emily is just starting to nd that shes interested in writing and directing. She is bullish on their future in the industry, particularly given the changes she has seen over the years.
I have so often been the only female in the room, or one of two females in the room, for so much of my career, says Butler. Now look at the landscape. In the last 10 years there has been an explosion of awareness. Women are fronting shows, women are the voice of shows. I mean, women still arent hosting [latenight] shows in the US and they arent hosting a lot of shows here thats got to change. Were still making progress.
Although Butler admits her strongest afnity lies with writing, she still clearly delights in being in front of a camera. As team captain for Gen X on the Nine Network revival of Talkin Bout Your Generation, Butler is leading a peer group that is very wise and mature… obviously against Andy Lees Gen Y and Laurence Boxhalls Gen Z. The game show, hosted by her longtime friend Shaun Micallef, sees the three team captains and their celebrity guest cohorts test their pop-culture knowledge to determine a (dubious) winner.
Asked to choose which generation needs the most work, Butler says,
Oh listen, its very dicey territory Im in! She pauses. OK, Generation Z needs the most work because they have the most growing up to do thats just a given. And that speaks to me when I was Generation Z before it was called Generation Z, when it was just called being a kid or a teenager or a young person. Having said that, the young people in my life that I work with are
so incredible and have wherewithal I know I did not possess.
Still, its unlikely most people young or old possess Butlers ability to make people laugh. And while she may have long ago stopped using punchlines to avoid housework, she still gets a kick out of hearing her loved ones chuckle at something she has said or done. As she puts it, If I can make my family laugh, I think Ive achieved something good.
Talkin Bout Your Generation airs 7.30pm, Wednesday May 1, on the Nine Network.
Ive so often been the only female in the room for much of my career
ROBYN WEARS (right) Camilla and Marc dress, camillaandmarc.com; her own rings (worn throughout); (left) Scanlan Theodore dress, scanlantheodore.com Hair and Make-Up Craig Beaglehole using Mecca Cosmetica (from top left) Robyn Butler and fellow team captain Andy Lee on Talkin Bout Your Generation last year; at the 2017 Logie Awards with her husband and creative collaborator Wayne Hope after their Most Outstanding Childrens Program win for Little Lunch.