Summer Heights High: articles

Comedian Chris Lilley says good humour should be all about pushing the boundaries.

ABC's new humour: sex, drugs and foul language

AWARD-WINNING comedian Chris Lilley's much anticipated new series is under fire for its controversial jokes and storylines, weeks before it is due to air on the ABC.

Summer Heights High, set in an Australian public high school, features jokes about a teenage ecstasy death, children with Down syndrome, child sex abuse and rape, causing some campaigners to call for it to be banned.

But, despite the controversial storylines and a stream of foul language, Lilley has denied deliberately trying to offend people, saying cutting edge comedy should be about pushing boundaries.

The eight-part "mockumentary" series premieres on September 5 at 9.30pm. Lilley told The Sun-Herald he hoped it would achieve the same cult status with young audiences by which his last creation, We Can Be Heroes, won a Logie and the international Rose d'Or award last year.

Summer Heights High follows the fortunes of teacher Mr G and his pupils, including Tongan teenager Jonah Takalua, who is a foul-mouthed serial troublemaker, and private schoolgirl Ja'mie King, who is on an exchange project to the public education sector.

In one of the episodes, a teenage pupil at the school dies after taking ecstasy. Mr G then turns the case into the subject of the end-of-term musical.

Tony Wood, whose 15-year-old daughter Anna died after taking an ecstasy tablet in 1995, said he was outraged by the overdose story line.

"The guy must be sick in the head," he said. "There is nothing comical about holding your daughter in your arms as she takes her last breaths.

"It's 12 years since Anna died and we are still dealing with it. And what about the parents of Annabel Catt [who died after taking drugs earlier this year]?

"I can't believe the ABC is going to show something like that - I hope someone has the sense to censor it, because if they show it, there will be a lot of complaints."

The first episode of the series features a comic line about a female pupil at the school being raped and a scene in which Mr G demonstrates how to hug a boy with Down syndrome.

Centre Against Sexual Assault convenor Judy Flanagan said: "There is nothing humorous about rape. It is a serious criminal offence and has a profound impact on the victims."

Other groups said they would wait until the show aired before deciding whether to complain.

A spokesman for the Australian Communications and Media Authority said that the regulator could only investigate if viewers had first used the ABC's official complaints process and were still not satisfied.

Lilley, who spent months researching material for the new show by talking to pupils and teachers at schools in the inner west, said his wit was aimed at Mr G rather than at his victims.

"I don't think there will be any complaints once people see the context in which the subjects are set," he said.

"I am not trying to deliberately offend people ... the joke is clearly about Mr G's prejudices."

Lilley, 32, attended the private Barker College and studied for a teaching degree at Macquarie University.

Courtney Gibson, head of Arts, Entertainment and Comedy at the ABC, said: "Summer Heights High has been written with the utmost care to ensure the targets of the humour are characters like drama teacher Mr G.

"It is his bigotry and prejudices which are exposed and maligned by the program," she said.

By Maxine Frith
August 19, 2007
The Sun-Herald