Funny guy's got the chops

Last updated 12:41 08/11/2012
Neil young
ON HIS (s)HITLIST: Australian comedian Heath Franklin as Chopper.

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Heath Franklin's notoriety precedes him. Or at least his alter-ego's does. Gwyneth Hyndman caught up with Franklin to talk all things Chopper-related.

Comedian Heath Franklin met the real Chopper only once. It was in 2006, just after his comedy show began to take off and Franklin describes the encounter at an Australian magazine photoshoot with the actual Chopper Read - convicted murderer, kidnapper, author, artist, men's magazine columnist and a notorious charmer with a laundry list of torturous deaths he's inflicted on scum of the crime world - as kind of awkward.

"I was doing it as a joke at university; then I was getting paid for it and I just got caught up in the moment. When I did [meet Chopper] it was a lot like being caught in the act. Like making fun of the headmaster in front of the whole school and then you turn around and there's the headmaster right behind you." Franklin says he felt like a fake.

"He's got the voice, the tattoos up and down his arm, the knocked-out teeth . . ."

None of Franklin's tattoos are real, he says.

The appeal of Read is a mystery, even to Franklin, a law school dropout who religiously watched the 2000 movie Chopper, played by Eric Bana.

"I was just watching it and watching it all the time - while other people were quoting Austin Powers, I was quoting Chopper.

"What does that tell you about me? He's a man of such great extremes. He can go from charming to homicidal in the blink of an eye. I don't know what it is about him that's so funny." Franklin says it's the extreme personality that attracts him to characters.

There's MasterChef Australia judge Matt Preston - an easy target for laughs. And Bear Grylls of Man vs Wild, a recent favourite, isn't the stretch from his Chopper character that some might think.

"They're both kind of opposite sides of the same coin. Bear Grylls is, I'm presuming, this fairly educated guy, then suddenly he's got his trousers off, drinking his own urine. And he's got this absolutely breathless voice, like he's been running or climbing up the side of a mountain. Then there's the ‘dangerous voice' when he's in a cave somewhere . . .

"They have to live in a fun world. Like if I took over their life for three minutes, I have to think ‘is this funny?"'

The next character he is bringing to life is a banker doing a spiel during the global financial crisis, guaranteed to get the blood boiling: "He's just this really selfish, greedy, crude character."

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The last time Franklin heard from Read was about a year ago, he says. It was a message relayed through one of Read's bodyguards calling to ask if Franklin could mention Read's show One Night with Chopper in one of his performances. Franklin has a sense of humour about being slightly used as a promotional tool.

Although Read tweeted in April that he was diagnosed with liver cancer and given anywhere from six months to six years to live, Franklin is sceptical. Read is known for being a prankster.

Whether it's rumour or truth, it wouldn't have significant impact on his stage character, which is clearly separate from the real Chopper. "I found early on the less I try to stay up to date [with the real-life characters] the better. I don't want to go too far. Getting into being [Chopper] before I go on stage, it's not hard. I'm just on slow simmer beforehand then I do a bunch of starfishes before going on . . . if there's a lot of noise when you first come out it's like a jolt of electricity. I tend to take a few more risks then."

The (s)Hitlist, starring Heath Franklin's Chopper, will be at the Nelson School of Music on November 13 at 7.30pm. Tickets from Ticketdirect.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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