Pizza: articles

Paul Fenech

Sign of the times: Paul Fenech.

Gluttons for punishment

Pizza ’s spin on reality attracts some hungry recruits, writes Alexa Moses.

Are you willing to be in painful situations? Would you eat a cockroach or a maggot? Will you go nude on TV? Would you pash someone of the same sex? Are you happy to be shot by a paintball?”

The questions are fired off by Paul Fenech, the man behind the comedy show Pizza. A small, muscular guy in baseball cap, jeans and gold necklace, he’s sitting in the SBS studios grilling a man opposite. With his shaved head and large earrings, the man looks like an urban pirate. He has a red hot-water bottle with him, but more about that later.

Urban Pirate says yes to the painful situations, hesitates before agreeing to eat a live insect, but has no problem with nudity, the kiss or a paintball.

Fenech is auditioning for his new five-episode series Pizza Live, in which contestants perform bizarre feats for the chance to win a regular spot in the next series of Pizza. “It’s Australia’s Ethnic Idol,” Fenech says.

Next up is a rapper who calls himself the Wagga Wagga Wog, followed by a couple of girls who want to be sexy chicks, an older American couple desperate to get on the show and a guy whose selling point is that he looks and sounds like Meat Loaf.

Then there’s a beautiful, sullen girl with a wintry voice, dressed entirely in black, who’s about to go for her black belt in tae kwon do. Sotto voce, Tae Kwon Do Girl says no, no, no, no to the questions about insects, nudity, kissing and paintball. But when Fenech asks her about painful situations, she doesn’t open her mouth, just pulls up her trouser leg and reveals a blooming bruise the size of an orange on her shin.

Fenech asks her what she wants to do for Pizza Live. “What I want to do,” she says in her low, intense voice, “is to to hit someone onscreen.” It looks good for Tae Kwon Do Girl.

They are just a few of the 800 fans who audition for Pizza Live. Throughout the process, Fenech remains professional and pleasant. “I know what it’s like to be nobody and not get a go, so I give everyone the time,” he says. “I’d expect the same.”

But back to that hot-water bottle. For his audition, Urban Pirate says he’s going to blow up the hot-water bottle until it bursts. Everyone perks up. Fenech grabs his hand-held camera and films the Urban Pirate huffing and puffing until the bottle is the size of one of those ergonomic balls people sit on. Everyone’s wincing, waiting, waiting for it.

BANG! The hot-water bottle bursts. The sponsors at the back of the room burst into applause. Fenech, who kept the camera steady the whole time, is nodding, nodding.

“Most auditions are cool—they forget these are people coming in with a lot of hopes,” Fenech says later. “It’s taken a lot for them to get there. It’s out of their realm. I’m rooting for the little guy.”

That little-guy line seems like a cliche but Fenech holds to it. “It’s true,” he says. “I seriously started in TV sweeping the floors and I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to be the guy in the corner.”

But Fenech’s no longer that guy in the corner. He’s the man who decides who eats live insects or gets beaten up on TV, and everyone in the room is waiting for his pronouncement. He puts the camera down and thinks for a moment. “You’re in,” he says, and the pirate’s face lights up.

Pizza Live begins tonight at 9 on SBS.

By Alexa Moses
May 17, 2004
Sydney Morning Herald