Summer Heights High: articles

Meet Chris Lilley - the man behind the comic creations

HIS seven comedy creations have become TV legends in the blink of an eye but getting to know the eighth one - the man himself - is a harder nut to crack.

His latest show Summer Heights High, featuring the exploits of drama teacher Mr G and students Ja'mie King and Jonah Takalua, has been attracting more than one million viewers to the ABC.

Yesterday the show's writer and actor Chris Lilley revealed there's a little bit of his own schooldays in the show and he draws on the real life stories of today's youngsters to keep his script contemporary.

Recently, Lilley, 32, experienced first-hand the full extent of his and his characters' new-found popularity. "I was walking down the street near where I live and there were a bunch of builders working on a construction site and they were (calling out) 'Chris Lilley, Jonah'," Lilley said.

"I never would have got that audience with (previous series) We Can Be Heroes."

Lilley, who grew up in Sydney, now lives with his girlfriend in St Kilda. He has been hailed as Australia's own Ricky Gervais for his edgy work on We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High.

Bitchy private school student Ja'mie King, who featured in both shows, is mimicked in schoolgrounds and offices nationwide while viewers are just getting to know troubled Tongan teen Jonah Takalua from the new series.

Manic music teacher Mr G has been established since 2003 while Lilley's other four characters seeking to be Australian Of The Year in We Can Be Heroes are also well known to fans.

All are the result of a man who has grown up observing people, their behaviour and idiosyncracies.

"There was this one teacher (in high school) who thought I used to do an impersonation of her and I didn't," he said. "I used to impersonate the head of sport and this woman was the head of the girls. She was convinced it was her."

Comedian and Rove regular Ryan Shelton helped his friend develop Ja'mie and worked on the other characters as he helped write WCBH.

"Chris goes out and meets people his characters are like and he makes studies of them, takes notes or interviews people and sometimes film them," Shelton said.

"He watches those videos over and over and over and I'm sure he's done it with Jonah. You watch him, the way he moves and all the little nuances. He's fidgety, he's always touching something or fiddling with it in that ADD way and you know he's spoken with kids and studied them."

"We'd spend two hours a day on Ja'mie, talking about what school girls do - his personal experiences, what I remembered from school.

"He did so much research, meeting private high school girls or just eavesdropping on them.

"He had an idea of what she would be like and he wouldn't have thrown himself into a character like that unless he knew exactly how to be play her convincingly."

Lilley says: "I don't like to analyse how it works too much. It's not like I play the tape and copy it. I absorb the general feel of the characters.

By Stephen Downie and Marcus Casey
September 20, 2007
The Daily Telegraph