Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Leigh Hart: The man making a mockery of TV

Chris Schulz got a role in Leigh Hart’s new comedy and now regrets it.
Hamsterman is about a dodgy pet shop owner who spends his days eating yoghurt and sculling cheap beer stashed next to dog rolls.
Hamsterman is about a dodgy pet shop owner who spends his days eating yoghurt and sculling cheap beer stashed next to dog rolls.

In a room filled with pet cages, plastic bunnies and creepy paintings of kittens, all hell has broken loose.

Guinea pigs scuttle for cover and chirping budgies reach a crescendo as a dodgy character who reeks of alcohol waves a vacuum cleaner wildly in front of a camera.





That man is Leigh Hart, the Kiwi comedian dressed as a dodgy pet shop owner called Colin for a mockumentary filming in the side room of a surreal Glen Eden pet store.

Suddenly, Hart's moustache falls off, a grey ball of fake hamster fuzz is flung into a wall, camerman Brent Spillane drops his rig and everyone - including the store's owners - erupts into giggles.

The bit involves Colin accidentally vacuuming up and killing a rare Siberian hamster while cleaning out his cage.

Once the giggles die down, Hart adopts Colin's Kiwi-as accent and delivers the punchline: "Well, he's even rarer now."

This is, you feel, just another ridiculous day in the life of Hart. To get the full experience, he's persuaded me to play a magazine journalist while I report on the making of it.

As I pretend to be a reporter on assignment from Rodent Monthly, I realise I've been roped into one of those super-meta moments that all Hart's shows seem to thrive on.

Leigh Hart as The Hamsterman from Amsterdam. Photo / Supplied
Leigh Hart as The Hamsterman from Amsterdam. Photo / Supplied

Just 10 minutes after I arrive on set, I'm already having regrets.

As I awkwardly recite my lines in a piece-to-camera in front of a cat toy display, Hart fires up a power drill and blasts it through the chipboard wall beside me. The drill bit is just inches from my head.

I'm instructed to look awkwardly at the drill, then back at the camera, but my apprehension must be obvious: I'm terrified Hart's going to make me look stupid during the editing process.

Hart assures me he won't - and even invites me to watch him edit it to make sure.

"It's very slapstick and Colin's just useless, but it's also playing on how lame reality TV is. It's very voiceover driven. It's just him wandering around the store," he says.

Hart's aim, he says, is to mock stereotypes and cliches using grossly exaggerated versions of his own personality. He does this across all of his projects, from his drive-time Hauraki radio show Bhuja! and the Alternative Commentary Collective, to TV shows Olympico and joke chat show Late Night Big Breakfast. One suspects his newly-funded show Hartland will do the same thing.

"Some of those guests know what's going on, some don't. At the end of the day, we're the ones that look stupid," he says of Late Night Big Breakfast.





"If you come on the show and don't get a chance to talk, that reflects on us and how incompetent the show is. We don't ambush people," he says.

He's resurrecting Hamsterman - about an incompetent pet shop owner who spends his days eating yoghurt and sculling cheap beer stashed next to dog rolls - over other fan favourites from Moon TV like Speedo Cops and Speed Cooking because it's easier to film, and less demanding of his time.

"It's the antithesis to Speed Cooking," Hart tells me between takes, trying to fix his faulty moustache. "It's a full on show and I hate doing it. What's the opposite of that? Me doing nothing."

Hart has spent three days at Pet Shop Boyz in character as Colin. He works with a loose script, plays the scenes out with Spillane before filming, then grabs bits on the fly, occasionally roping in customers to appear on the show.

He admits he's finding it harder to find the energy to play some of his more unusual, eccentric characters.

"As you get older you get lazier. I wake up and, if it's raining, I think, 'Great, we can cancel filming'.

"We start doing it and it's fine, you're pleased you did. I feel great knowing we've done this."

Then, as has happened several times during the afternoon, Hart is interrupted by a fan, a woman dressed as a monarch butterfly who flitters in from a nearby cafe.

She's already approached him once today for a selfie, but this time she's come bearing gifts - biscuits baked in the shape of bunnies.

"Have a happy Easter," she half-sings, handing them to a bemused Hart.

He pauses, then his eyes light up. You can tell he's already trying to work out how to get her into an episode of Hamsterman - just like me.

Lowdown

What: Leigh Hart in Hamsterman from Amsterdam
Where and when: Streaming now on WatchMe.co.nz

- TimeOut

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 05 Dec 2016 22:46:22 Processing Time: 580ms