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Chris Lilley: Underrated comic genius

Underrated comic genius Chris Lilley is a two-time winner of the Australian television industry award, was awarded the inaugural award for Best Comedy Performance in Television and has produced, written and starred in his five mockumentary-formatted mini-series’. Each of Lilley’s mockumentaries are considered inappropriate for viewers under the age of 15 due mainly to uncensored vulgar language, partial nudity, bullying, and a few instances of drug use. Further, The type of humor in Lilley’s shows are also often too sophisticated for younger viewers to comprehend, and many jokes will go over their heads.

One of Lilley’s five series,”Angry Boys” (2007) even remains the most popular show to date on ABC TV’s, iView with over 1.4 million plays. Despite the great success of Sidney-born talent, he is not nearly as well-known in the United States as he is in Australia. Although his series are not featured on cable television channels in the U.S. as they are in Australia, Lilley has sold his work for Internet distribution to BBC in the United Kingdom, HBO in the U.S. and Comedy Network in Canada.

While Lilley, now 40-years-old has been in the television business since his 2os, he did not gain the recognition he deserved until he appeared in sketch comedy show, “Big Bite” in 2003. Later that year, he created his first six-episode mini-series, “We Can Be Heroes: Finding the Australian of the Year.” “Heroes” follows the daily lives of five very different individuals who are among the thousands of citizens nominated for the honorary title of Australian of the Year.

The main characters are all portrayed by Lilley, including Pat, the 40-year-old housewife plagued with the curse of two different length legs, 23-year-old Ricky whose strict parents disapprove of their genius son’s desire to become an actor rather than a physician and the former police officer Phil, who rescued a group of children in a fly-away inflatable bounce house.

Lilley’s second mockumentary, “Summer Heights High”, created in 2007, became his most-recognized series in the U.S. The series is available on hbo.com for free, can be purchased on both vudu.com and amazon.com for $1.99 per episode and $14.99 for the entire series. This series, rated 8.7 out 10 on tv.com, has earned massive ratings for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“Summer Heights High” is set mainly on the Summer Heights High public school campus including main characters such as the disobedient trouble-maker Jonah, spoiled, self-absorbed private exchange student Jam’ie and melodramatic drama teacher or, “Acting Director of Performing Arts” as he prefers, Mr. G. Lilley’s following mini series, “Jam’ie: Private School Girl” focuses on the exchange student in this spin-off of “Summer Heights,” and Lilley’s final mini series, “Jonah from Tonga” focuses on the daily life of Jonah who was first introduced in “Summer Heights.”

What is it about Lilley that makes him such a brilliant comic? Certainly his unconventional methods add to his success tremendously. Lilley’s mockumentaries are unique in the sense that each main character is featured in an every episode and is portrayed by Lilley. As described on abc.net, the characters Lilley creates in each series “represent the full spectrum of Australian society.” After watching  just one episode of his collection of series viewers will quickly realize that Lilley is a natural observer of different types people and controversial issues in the world.

Whether Lilley is portraying 65-year-old prison officer, Ruth “Gran” in “Angry Boys,” or up-and-coming rapper, S.mouse!  in We Can Be Heroes, he always succeeds in convincing viewers that he really is an elderly woman or a 16-year-old troublemaker rather than 40-year-old Chris Lilley. His characters are realistic and their personal issues are realistic because almost each of their issues and personalities are so ridiculous that it’s hard to believe somebody could make them up. Lilley however, has the observation skills to create such situations.

Although Lilley’s recognition for his comic work is unsurprisingly greater where his career began and his shows were produced, his popularity is creeping across the U.S. and steadily reaching different audiences. With his series available on the web and on-television apps, mockumentary subjects like Mr. G and Jonah are grabbing the U.S. audience by the shoulders and pulling them into the hilarious world of Chris Lilley. 

Expect to be hooked on the series once you check them out and prepare to be amazed by this actor/ writer/ producer’s natural ability to bring laughter to the world with his awareness of world issues and different types of people, while exploiting them for laughs. So check out Chris Lilley, because a true comic genius like Lilley is hard to come by.

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