These boys just wanna have fun

02:20, Sep 01 2009
Pulp Sport
FLIGHTS OF FANCY: Pulp Sport comedians Jamie Linehan and Ben Boyce do their best Flight of the Conchords impression.

If one of them wasn't happily married you'd be waiting for the civil union invite. After more than a decade working together Jamie Linehan and Ben Boyce - Bill and Ben from cult mickey-taking show Pulp Sport - are like an old married couple. They finish each other's sentences and relate the other's exploits.

Or, as Linehan put it, "we both talk the same bullshit".

They were even hired as a duo for their first job, writing radio commercials, because they spent so much time in their separate interviews talking about their joint work.

And the man-love bond is unlikely to fracture any time soon.

Based around blokey jokes, comical attempts to sneak beer into sports grounds, and a hefty dose of ritual humiliation - including plastering TV3 sportscaster Hamish McKay's face on an erectile dysfunction billboard - Pulp Sport is now in its seventh series. Yes, seven. They can't believe it either. "To be brutally honest, I thought its shelf life was about three years ago," Linehan says.

The show has even won a gong, named best comedy at the 2007 Qantas Television Awards.


Pulp Sport now anchors TV3's Friday night line-up, attracting 223,100 viewers for the latest season's debut eight days ago. It's a far cry from the humblest of beginnings as a graveyard radio show, repeated knockbacks and a later television pilot cobbled together in a mate's kitchen.

The larrikins, who write, produce, edit and star in Pulp Sport, were already emerging in the high school years of a couple of small-town drifters.

Linehan, 30, started playing the joker around his fifth form year at Tauranga's Otumoetai College. Attracted by "pretty much anything that wasn't proper school work", he ran to become a prefect.

"My pitch was that I was only doing three Bursary subjects so I could focus more on my prefect duties. Surprisingly they bought that and I got in. I headed up the lunchtime activities committee. We did things like gumboot throwing, a Ford Falcon pushing competition.

"Random dumb games. I was destined to do stupid shit from the get go."

Linehan also played canoe polo and second XV rugby - "because then you didn't have to train quite as hard as the first XV and you got to score more tries".

Sporty, but not that committed to any one thing - "story of my life really", he laughs. " 'Needs to apply himself' was in bold on pretty much every report card I ever had."

Boyce, 30, the son of a Wairarapa principal, also goofed around but worked when it counted. He had an uncanny knack of attracting laughs - intentional or otherwise. Like the time he let off fireworks to spark up his Michael Jackson dance for PE.

"There were big burn marks all over the gym floor. I was on special detention for a week. Things like that always seemed to happen to me."

Keen on sport and the arts, Boyce's spare time was spent with gangsters, cowboys and Indians, and his mother's video camera. "I'd rope all the guys in and we'd make these stupid little movies on our farm. Pretty similar to what we're doing now, but slightly more people get to see it. I used to have to edit it on two VHS players. And if we wanted music, we used to stand there with a ghettoblaster and play the music into the camera. So when you edited it there were all these bad musical cuts. I hope they never turn up somewhere because they're probably pretty awful."

Boyce and Linehan were set on studying radio at Christchurch's broadcasting school. Both were turned down.

It was a humbling year flipping burgers, ripping cinema tickets, hefting furniture and doing free work experience at local radio stations. But it paid off - second time around both made the cut and it was there Pulp Sport was born, as Boyce's six-month radio project. "It was stuff I wanted to hear on the radio. We take sport pretty seriously in this country. There was room to take the piss and there was no-one really doing that."

So when the pair got a job writing ads for the Radio Network, Boyce took up the "sweet time from 9 to 11 on a Sunday night" to launch the radio show. Linehan eventually became co-host. By then he'd been rechristened Bill, after Bill and Ben from animated British television show Flower Pot Men, to distinguish him from Jamie, his tall cross-dressing workmate.

Then someone suggested a TV show. It took about a year of knockbacks for Bill and Ben to realise their slapped-together- in-three-days TV pilot was rubbish. Undeterred, they seconded talent from the broadcasting school's television section, and reshot the pilot in a mate's kitchen.

Amazingly, it captured the imagination of Sky TV, which gave the television rookies a month and $20,000 to put together the first series. Half the money went on a camera, leaving $10,000, a crew of four, a borrowed computer and that same mate's kitchen to assemble a hit show.

"We almost killed ourselves trying to do that," Linehan recalls. "I ended up the night before clucking like a chicken."

Which is nothing compared to the humiliation they inflict on themselves in the show's Sporting Hell segment, where a coin toss winner eats pizza while the loser performs horrid tasks. Pulp Sport's meanest, and arguably, funniest sketch, was to play a series of practical jokes on Sky sports presenter Stephen McIvor. The pranks were always borderline, but the pair earned a police warning after displaying a banner reading "McIvor blows goats" at a Warriors game.

When the show moved to TV3 in 2005 the channel's rugby reporter Hamish McKay took over TV's least-sought role as the weekly prank victim, after he foolishly said he'd never be broken on TV. "That sort of laid the gauntlet down," Linehan recalls.

But after four years of pranks (McKay reckoned it was six), including crane-lifting his car into his enclosed front yard and painting gay pride colours on his garage, McKay's still winning on the self- discipline front. "I'm always up for the funny side of it. My kids and friends love it. It's changed my public persona - people think 'He's a relaxed guy'."

As the story goes, McKay's so attached to the role, and the associated free stuff, that he blubbed at the lads' suggestion of a change in victims.

The new series promises more sophisticated humour - think frozen pee ice- blocks - that can't help but raise a laugh.

"It's not a show for our mums," Boyce says. "Mum was saying yesterday she gets nervous before the show. 'Oh God, what's my son going to be doing on TV."

The Dominion Post