Peter Helliar, stand-up comedian, The Spiegeltent
Being a stand-up is what I relate to most – it's what I consider myself ...
Peter Helliar is one of Australia’s greatest stand-up comedians and television identities – and us Gold Coast folk are luckily enough to be getting a taste of his insane talents and relatable humour when he brings his show ‘Big Boy Pants’ to The Spiegeltent on Sunday May 5. Ahead of his one-night-only show, Peter took time out to chat to us about high-school sketches, being a door-to-door salesman and why he has to wear his ‘big boy pants’ on the daily.
We’re excited to have you back on the Gold Coast this May! You’re bringing ‘Big Boy Pants’ to The Spiegeltent – can you give us a brief rundown of the show? What can us Gold Coast folk expect?
Well, it’s an hour of stand-up comedy and it’s a show with a loose theme about me taking responsibility and me putting my ‘big boy pants’ on. And that comes from two main ways – one having a vasectomy, which I have done before the show. It’s not a live vasectomy – thankfully. And secondly just adjusting to my role on The Project, where people are wanting to ask me for my opinions on serious subjects and social issues. Even though I’m there to provide levity, they sometimes like to, well, find out what I think about all kinds of things. Sometimes I’ve resisted it, and other times I’ve just had to embrace it. I think the Gold Coast show will be the last time I perform Big Boy Pants – I’ve loved it, it’s been so well received.
Most of us here are very familiar with who you are – and we’re used to having you in our households most nights when we turn on The Project. Though, we just want to things back to the beginning of your stand-up career. Do you remember when you first discovered that you had a knack for making people laugh?
It came in waves for me – I didn’t have an absolute epiphany as such. Through school I guess I really enjoyed making people laugh – I’d make productions and cast them and direct them. In year ten I just wrote a bunch of sketches and I got some mates to help me out at lunch time – and the kids would come and see them. So I guess there were a few hints and clues early on that I was able to make people laugh, and that’s how it all began really.
Moving a little further forward – do you remember when you realised you could actually make a living out of it?
I used to go to a local football club where there would be comedy night and you have people like Russell Gilbert that would be there – and that was probably one of the first times I thought that maybe I could be a stand-up comedian. I would watch those guys and think what a great way to make a living – going around and telling jokes. But then when you start doing it, you realise that yeah, there’s money to be made, but you have to work bloody hard, which I was prepared to do. Being a stand-up is what I relate to most – it’s what I consider myself.
Before your stand-up career kicked off, what was your very first job?
I was working for a company going door to door, selling like Blockbuster Video cards and then I moved up and got a job with a telecommunications company basically cold calling people to get them to move from Telstra to Optus. This was when mobile phones were just coming – none of us in the office had a mobile phone. People we’re like “in ten years time, 90% of the population are going to have mobile phones” and we were sitting in the office like, “Whatever! Yeah, sure!”. So yeah, I was trying to convert people from Telstra to Optus in my microfibre suit from Roger David with a briefcase that had nothing but a banana and a newspaper in it.
What was your first stand-up show like?
It was good actually! Before ‘Big Boy Pants’ we released a show called ‘One Hot Mess’, and we released it on DVD (if you remember DVDs) and as an extra on that we put my very-first stand-up gig on it. And it’s footage of me watching it, after not seeing it for years – and I must say that in my mind, it was a really good gig. Most people die when they do their first one – even though I did okay, I still wanted to reach through the screen and give myself a hug and say “it’s okay, it ends up alright”. I was on stage holding an empty water bottle and I didn’t put it down. Now usually there’s a beer on stage – because, well, if you can drink at work, why not?
Fast forward to now. Do you feel like your family and friends are a little on edge around you, in the event that their actions may be used in your hilarious works?
I do get asked this a little bit – and the absolute truth is that most of them would want to be part of the show! I reckon they’d get a bit of a kick out of it.
You’re on The Project four night a week, touring stand-up shows, and all the rest of it – any tips for how to balance the busy life of a working dad?
I think at times you have to keep in touch with the temperature at home and read the room. Sometimes you just have to put down the work tools and spend time and be present.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Comedy is about ideas. I’ve really run with that – I’ve always wanted to have an eclectic career that wasn’t just about stand up or TV. I always say to younger comics, to have ideas for everything – TV shows, live shows, sketches, podcasts, books – you never know when the opportunity is going to come up.