Kath & Kim: articles

Comic kinship voiced again

COMEDIANS out of the spotlight are some of the most serious people you're likely to meet. After all, who likes to take their work home?

But Jane Turner and Gina Riley have an escape hatch from the serious business behind making people laugh.

There are a couple of niggling voices at the back of their heads—the voices of Kath and Kim. And when they want to cross the bridge between work and comedy, they just let those voices speak.

Turner and Riley—or rather Kath and Kim—started writing series two of the popular comedy last July.

"These characters write themselves," Turner says. "We do a lot of improvising while we're writing. We come up with general ideas then talk in the characters, put on the voices.

"Sometimes we just blah on, it's like channelling the characters from above. We're just waiting to see what they say, we don't even think about it."

Sometimes Kath and Kim don't wait for an invitation. Turner or Riley would be busy doing something else and a joke would arrive, whispered from the character's lair at the back of the subconscious.

Of course, not all is comedy gold. "About 10 per cent of it is funny, the rest is rubbish," Turner says of their improvisation.

Sometimes Turner and Riley talk about their alter-egos as if they are real people.

For instance, Turner had an argument with her mother over whether Kath would have read The Hours.

"She's quite a wide reader, she reads all the books of films," Turner says. "But she didn't like it (the book The Hours). She was too distracted by Nicole's nose."

Kath and Kim are so familiar to their creators because they are amalgams of characters that Turner and Riley have been playing for years. By the time of the 1998 series Something Stupid, they were almost fully developed, but elements of Kath and her boyfriend/husband Kel date as far back as Fast Forward, when Turner was writing for the TV sketch show in the early 1990s.

Riley says Kim is "a patchwork of people I've met, people I've seen as well as part of me. She's a character type, one of those people whose glass of Bailey's Irish Cream is always half empty.

"But Kath came first. Kim was a reaction to that character, that claustrophobic mother-daughter, single child relationship."

They also drew inspiration from their own relationships with their mothers and children.

It was this deep knowledge and connection with the characters that attracted Turner and Riley to the idea of a Kath and Kim TV show.

"We recognise them so much," Turner says. "They're so Australian. Some of the ideas came from Sylvania Waters, bits came from a wedding series on Channel 9.

"Real people are out there saying these things, looking like this and being in these situations. It was this reality that we liked."

This honesty takes the sting out of the satire, and allows suburbanites to laugh at themselves while watching the show.

"We're all having a laugh at ourselves and celebrating our suburban-ness," Riley says. "We're a very suburban society."

Part of the fun for the pair is the language—the accents and vocabulary of the suburbs.

Thanks to the success of the show their friends are even SMS-ing them bits of dialogue—overheard "malaprops" such as "that's another feather in my bow" or "I'm very determinated", Riley says.

Turner is also fond of wordplay—one of her favourite lines is "I want to be effluent". However, one of the most memorable from series one, "I'm gropable", was actually said by a friend of theirs.

Accents also inspire the pair—from the leafy upper-middle-class pretensions of Prue and Trude ("I just bought a threw for the carch") to Kath and Kim's "iss-yews", "fice pearl" (face peel) and, of course, "noice", "un-yew-sewal" and "look at moy".

Basically, Kath and Kim is packed with everything that Riley and Turner find funny. This, plus the natural hysteria of a full-throttle TV shoot, made it hard to keep a straight face on set.

"The best take is when you're just on the brink of laughing and you do it," Riley says. "It gives it a sort of mad energy. We're not very good actors, we have a different sort of energy and we just long to laugh."

Sometimes—particularly after lunch—they had to try hard to keep their excitement under control.

"We're always going come on, come on, we've got to get this scene done," Riley says. "And that, of course, makes it worse."

But now the fun is behind them, and Riley and Turner are sweating over the success (or otherwise) of series two.

Riley fears some people might remember the first series as being more brilliant than it actually was—and judge the second harshly in comparison.

"There's so much to live up to," Turner says.

An early review from The Age newspaper said the show had "lost its pizazz".

But Turner and Riley like the new series and believe they have done a good job. The rest is up to the suburbs.

By Nick Miller
September 17, 2003
The West Australian