Twelve Questions: Leigh Hart

Comedian Leigh Hart rose to TV fame as That Guy on the programme Sports Cafe. The Radio Hauraki DJ co-hosts cult comedy series Late Night Big Breakfast, now available on-demand on NZME’s WatchMe.
Comedian Leigh Hart says  his funny but unusual take on the world began as a boarder at high school. Photo / Greg Bowker
Comedian Leigh Hart says his funny but unusual take on the world began as a boarder at high school. Photo / Greg Bowker

1. As a child, did you want to be on TV?

We didn't have a TV. I grew up in Peru in a village at the top of the Andes, higher than Mt Cook. My dad was building tunnels for an international company. He'd been a coal miner on the West Coast and was in the Strongman disaster which killed 19 people so he got out of mining and went into tunnelling. We were the only Kiwi kids in the village so I had no idea who the All Blacks or Black Caps were. We'd listen to the BBC World Service and once a week they'd screen a movie. We spent our time exploring by the river where we'd find Inca pottery and playing soccer with the locals who still spoke their tribal dialect and farmed llamas for a living.

2. Was it hard living at an altitude of 13,000ft (4000m)?

Children under 3 and pregnant women couldn't live there. Peter Snell actually asked my parents to visit his fitness training camp in Dallas to see if their lungs had developed any special capacity.

I remember thinking when I was sent to board at Christ's College I'd be fitter than the other kids. Turns out I wasn't.

3. Was Christchurch a culture shock after Peru?

It felt like when you start late and you've missed the first few classes. There were experiences you hadn't shared. I saw things in a more international way. In those days, Christ's College was pretty full-on. They still had caning and the fagging system. There was a lot of bullying, psychological and physical. I kind of embraced the ridiculousness of it, the adversity of those stupid rules. There was a prisoner of war mentality, like you're all in it together trying to beat the system. I ended up with the caning record of 40 strokes in one term.

4. Where were you caned?

On the backside, with your pants on. The maximum was six strokes at one time, which was fairly extreme. Your bum would be corrugated, black and blue and bleeding. I never did really bad things, just sneaking out of chapel and stuff. There was every chance you'd get caught. It would've been easier just to go to chapel but it was the principle of the thing. Funnily enough I got on well with all the teachers. Joe Bennett, who I now work with, was my English teacher. He wasn't a caner. I was in Flower's House, as was Charles Upham VC. He was our hero. He wasn't particularly academic or good at sports and got into a bit of trouble for sneaking out but we all know what he went on to do.

5. Were you good at sport?

No, I got into it too late. A classic school report was, "Thinks he's funny, gets the laughs but wouldn't fill the Town Hall yet." Music was my thing. I'd started on drums and got quite fanatical, practised non-stop. Then I got into guitar in school bands and that was where I got a taste for performing. We were more of a comedy act. Dad heard I was goofing off at Canterbury University so he rang and asked me to come and work with him on the Channel Tunnel.

6. What did that involve?

Pumping concrete into the wet patches where sea water was coming in. I was 19 and one of the youngest guys on the job, having a laugh with these older British guys with wicked senses of humour. One time they found a particularly large void full of water and gave me the drill, saying "Here's one for you, Kiwi". I should've known better when they all started moving backwards. Just as I was about to break through this Welsh guy said, "Don't go too far, you'll bring the whole sea in". Sure enough a load of water about the size of two cars flattened me and for a few brief seconds I thought, "Oh God, Dad's going to kill me. I'm the idiot that's brought the Channel Tunnel down."

7. Did you ever make it to rock star status with your band?

No, but we did become a working band. We got fired from a Hi De Di camp in Scarborough for some indiscretion or another and played a gig with Jimmy Barnes in the French Alps before being thrown in prison for 11 days and then deported for not having work permits.

8. How did you get into TV?

I went to Film and TV school in Christchurch and to fund that started a monthly newspaper called The Moon. I wrote all these stupid satirical articles and sold advertising. I was delivering 20,000 copies at one point in our old band van. The owner of Greenstone Pictures liked the paper and gave me a job. I ended up on Sports Cafe when Marc Ellis turned up at our flat looking for a guest and talked me into appearing as an international snail trainer going to the Snail Olympics. From there I started doing a field story each week as "That Guy".

9. I remember seeing an episode of Speed Cooking where you trashed Jo Seagar's kitchen. Was she expecting you to go that far?

She'd already seen an episode of Speed Cooking when she invited us into her kitchen out in Clevedon so she had some idea of what to expect. She was a very good sport. The furniture we smashed was our own. You always hope the viewer will ask the question, "was she in on that?" like our interview with Neil Finn the other day. It was actually his idea for us to keep requesting Tim Finn songs and it worked really well.

10. What's the idea behind your Radio Hauraki show with Jason Hoyte?

Like Late Night Big Breakfast, it's undermining an established format, the commercial radio show. It's hosted by two over-enthusiastic guys who are getting on a bit and don't realise they're incompetent. Their interviews are poor, their banter goes off track and they ignore guests.

11. What's happening with your voice?

I have this thing called muscle tension dysphomia. At first I thought it was a vocal chord thing so I had a couple of operations which didn't fix it, which was a bit stressful. I can do short bursts on radio if I manage it well but I can't do public speaking any more. I've had to redo so many voice tracks because it's distracting for the viewer.

12. As a father, will you do things differently from your own parents?

No. My parents were very supportive, although I wouldn't call them my biggest fans. I keep telling Mum she's not in the target demographic. I won't send my kids to boarding school because it's not a necessity and I want to be around for their teenage years. When I drop them off at school I always tell them to go and talk to that kid who has no one to talk to. Maybe it was seeing kids that were bullied and wishing I'd stood up for them more, but it doesn't hurt to be nice to everyone.

- NZ Herald

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