It ain't hard being Chopper

By Carly Gibbs

Politically incorrect but oh so funny, Heath Franklin has built up a loyal cadre of Kiwi fans. And while his fame was not unexpected, he thinks a crash back to obscurity is equally as possible.

Australian comedian Heath Franklin is best known for his work as the ever-insulting but hilarious character, Chopper, and is hitting Tauranga with his straight-up stand-up again this month.

After featuring as a guest on New Zealand's 7 Days, Franklin, the self-proclaimed International Ambassador of Hard will be "head-butting his way" to Tauranga with his newest show, A Hard Bastard's Guide to Life at Baycourt Theatre on Tuesday.

Instantly recognisable by the handlebar moustache, aviator sunglasses, all-over body tattoos and short-sleeved shirt, Franklin takes his cues from the real Chopper Read - a hardened Australian criminal who had his ears cut off in prison.

The skit, which started out in 2003 after he saw Eric Bana in the film, Chopper, has evolved a lot. His newest show is a comprehensive "hit-list" on how not to just survive, but thrive in a modern world that thinks it's better than it is.

Your persona is based on criminal Mark "Chopper" Read. How did this come about?

I watched the film with Eric Bana, I liked it, I did a sketch at uni then one thing led to another and all of a sudden I'm on TV. There was other stuff, but that is the meat and bones of it.

I hear you have met the real Chopper in person. What does he think about you taking your cues from him?

He didn't mind at the time. I would have much preferred to meet Eric Bana.

What have you learned from your past stage appearances?

How to do comedy with a 96.73 per cent success rate.

7 Days seems to embrace the legacy of Chopper with your quick-thinking wit but was there a time where you thought: can't I just get out from under this?

I have been loving 7 Days, the people who make it are incredible at their jobs, I'm happy to be involved even if I have to wear a moustache.

Who's your favourite live comedian of all time and why?

I never saw Richard Pryor live but I've seen videos, he is a genius. Great combination of self-awareness and self-deprecation but his message never gets in the way of being really, really funny. His influence is still noticeable in comedy today.

Why do you think comedians make good political and social commentators?

We have no allegiance to anyone, we're quite cynical and we try to observe and dissect as much as possible. Even if we don't notice something funny, we notice something, we just don't talk about it at work.

An example of a story that tickled your fancy in the last seven days?

Taranaki gas pipe leak, not the story, more the fact that it only just made the front page of the paper. It's estimated to have cost $75 million a day but people are more concerned about the Rugby World Cup, including that it lost $40 million over six weeks.

When Australia lost the Rugby World Cup semifinal, you consoled yourself by ... ?

Remembering I haven't cared about rugby for about a decade. It's great you guys won, you've had a tough year.

If you saw Quade Cooper in the street you'd tell him ...?

That he should stay off his knee and be more careful when trying to change direction quickly in a game for bronze.

What makes 7 Days different?

The people who work behind the scenes genuinely care about making the most entertaining show possible, they put all these amazing processes in place so that comedians can start hitting sixes straight away.

The format serves the comedy not the other way around. Paul, Jeremy and Dai do a great job week in week out too, as well as the other regulars like Ben and Steve.

The funniest thing that's ever happened to you is ... ?

I dunno, I once took 'shrooms at a beach which was quite funny, but that ended in a dark place.

In New Zealand, we have the North and South islands, and there's been some talk about making Australia our West Island. Thoughts?

You don't want it. Hot, dry, full of Aussies and Poms.

After 90 years without Kiwi apples on their shelves, Aussie shoppers are finally giving our apples the thumbs up. Aussie finally saw the light because ...?

You managed to control the fireblight that was a quarantine issue in Australia. We wanted your apples, not your parasites. Maybe if you gave it a less hysteria-inducing name, something like "the friendly bug" it wouldn't have raised alarms.

Right now in Tauranga we have a major environmental disaster with the cargo ship, Rena, running aground on the Astrolabe reef. What punishment would you dish out to the person/s responsible?

Make them suck all the penguins clean.

How and when did you develop a love for comedy?

I always talked rubbish, as long as I can remember, but it was only at uni that it became a viable hobby.

Was your rise to fame expected?

Yes and I can imagine the sudden crash back to obscurity will come just as swiftly.

What sorts of influences make up Chopper?

Zero of the real Chopper, 30 per cent is Eric Bana's version, 15 per cent people I know or have worked with and 50 per cent is me.

Who is the man behind the mo?

A man who owns a mo and travels the Pacific with it in a small box.

You've enjoyed your successes. Do you rue your failures?

Damn straight, I think it's unhealthy to move on too quickly from something negative without trying to learn from it. I think that could be the subtle theme to my comedy - self-improvement.

What's your next project?

I have some dirty secrets, some cool ideas and a heap of jokes that Chopper can't tell. I have some new characters, but I hate the phrase "new characters" because it makes it seem like calculated, by the numbers attempt to keep doing character comedy forever, which isn't my plan. I would like to make some scripted TV because there is a real drought of good scripted shows in Australia because of all the stupid talent search style shows. People still watch Fawlty Towers and Blackadder but I don't think people will be watching re-runs of X Factor in 30 years' time.

I think the legacy of our generation could be a bunch of C-grade celebrities who can't write a song or bake a cake without being shouted at, there will be no great shows that define the last decade, not from Australia anyway.

Last year was a big one for you. Other than touring, you got married and came to New Zealand for a leading role in the movie Predicament, alongside Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement. What's been the highlight of your career so far?

Predicament was awesome, 7 Days has been right up there as well.

What else lies in store for you?

Time off! Eventually ...

What's your beef with comedian Steve Wriggley? You always seems to have a go at him on 7 Days.

Ha! He started it! Steve's a great guy, we just lock horns in the name of comedy on 7 Days. I think most of us would cut out our liver if we knew it would get a laugh. I know you wanted to hear there is behind-the-scenes conflict, but there is none I know of. We hung out yesterday, he showed me a funny video on YouTube.

If you could end this interview with your favourite joke it would be ...

The perfect interview really.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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