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Hamish Blake

Studio Visit

5th September, 2014
Lucy Feagins
Friday 5th September 2014

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Hamish Blake at work earlier this week recording his radio show, 'Happy Hour' with Andy Lee for the Austereo Network.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.

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In the studio with Hamish Blake.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.

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Hamish's long time collaborator, Andy Lee, in the studio earlier this week.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.

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Hamish Blake in the studio.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.

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Hamish in the studio.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.

In amongst the emerging and undiscovered creatives we often feature around here, every now and then it's always good to throw in an LEGITIMATELY FAMOUS PERSON, you know, just to keep our credibility and search engine optimisation up there.  Kidding, kidding.  Truth is, I've long been a fan of the devilishly talented Hamish Blake... and though he doesn't quite fall into the usual categories of our Friday interviewees, there is no denying Hamish's many talents as both a writer and an entertainer, and his tireless creative output.   As we sign off on another MAN WEEK, we're more than a little chuffed to chat to one of Melbourne's busiest and best known creative blokes today.

You don't need me to tell you that Hamish is pretty much Australian entertainment royalty.  I mean, he has a GOLD LOGIE after all. Since 2003 (when he was just 22 years old) Hamish has worked with long time collaborator Andy Lee, performing live on radio and TV, most notably with their brilliant long running radio show, Hamish & Andy. Aside from his work with Andy, Hamish has also been a regular solo guest on various TV shows.   In 2012, Hamish and Andy won a Logie for their self-produced TV program Hamish and Andy's Gap Year, and in that same year Hamish was awarded his Gold Logie for 'Most Popular Personality on Television'. Not a bad year, then.

Despite our obsession with all things 'celebrity', it's often easy to overlook the freakish talent, hard work and drive that underpins this kind of fame and success.  When it comes down to it, Hamish really is one in a million.  His quick wit, intuitive comedic timing, and enduringly mischievous, likeable temperament have won him loyal fans ever since his very early days on community radio.  From what I can gather, having met Hamish on a couple of brief occasions, there really is no distinction between his public and private personas.  The whole 'likeability' thing is totally 100% authentic, as is the disarmingly quick wit.  I can confirm, hand on heart, that in real life, Hamish really is that talented, charming guy with a perpetual twinkle in his eye, who actually does deserve all his successes, and then some.

In today's interview, I was keen to really try my best to delve a little beyond the celebrity thing.  I was interested in Hamish's role as a writer, a producer and an entrepreneur of sorts.  I wanted to know how the hell a precocious Melbourne uni student ends up with a slot on prime time radio in his early twenties, and how that first break led Hamish to found his own production company, Radio Karate, with friends and collaborators Andy Lee, Ryan Shelton and Tim Bartley, dreaming up all manner of near-impossible TV show ideas (filming in the amazon, for instance!) and making them happen!  Though it all looks like effortless hilarity from the outside, there's no denying the sheer talent and incredible amount of work it takes to turn a handful of silly, funny ideas into a high rating TV series or radio show.

It must be said, Hamish has charmed the pants of us here in the TDF office this week.  Lisa has thoroughly enjoyed an intense and almost competitive level of hilarious banter via email with Hamish in the lead up to this story, whilst our dear photographer Sean Fennessy seems to have developed a next-level man crush after spending time with him  this week.  All in a day's work for Mr Blake, I imagine.

Hamish and Andy's 'Happy Hour' on the Austereo radio network is syndicated nationally from 3.00 - 4.00pm every Monday to Friday, and you can also catch Hamish's highly entertaining musings in his weekly Sunday Style column, every Sunday in the Herald Sun.

OH and BIG THANKS to Hamish's leading lady ZOE, for helping us get this interview across the line in time!

Tell us a little bit about yourself  – what did you study, how did you originally get started in TV and radio, and what path led you to what you are doing today?

I studied Commerce/Science at Melbourne Uni very poorly and sporadically. After my initial desire to really Good Will Hunting the crap out of uni, I met a guy called Andy and we decided to go and have a beer instead of going to our Microeconomics lecture, which turned into seven beers, which turned into several hundred over the years, which somehow turned into a career in TV and radio. I’m sure there’s a way to express what happened in terms of microeconomic forces but, like I said, I skipped that lecture.

Hamish Blake inc. has been about a decade in the making, can you tell us what it was like in the early years trying to crack the TV and radio industries in Australia, from doing stand up gigs while at Uni, being a semi regular cast member on Rove Live to producing, writing and starring on Real Stories while also maintaining radio gigs with your chief collaborator Andy Lee?

I think life has a funny way of seeming like there was a grand plan when you look at it retrospectively, when there really wasn’t. At least that’s how my life has panned out. Maybe it’s because I’m working in an industry I’m such a fan of, that I never dared dream too far ahead because I didn’t want to seem like a wanker, or I was scared of ever not being grateful for where I was. I never had a plan to hit any particular benchmark or job, but I did know I loved comedy and radio and TV and in the early days decided that I would try and take every and any opportunity that came my way, and in that moment, give it my all. So from doing community radio, a very small behind the scenes gig in commercial radio appeared, and at the same time from doing community TV, a chance to do something on Channel 7 appeared.

Both those radio and TV gigs failed, but from the ashes, the next scrap of an opportunity came and so on and so forth. We just tried to keep at it until one day you turn around and it dawns on you that you work in the entertainment industry. The only rule I’ve ever followed is to just do what seems like fun in the near future, work hard, and trust that the rest will sort itself out. It’s not a guarantee to success, but I think it gives you a shot.

A lot of our readers would be familiar with your widely successful and hilarious TV series Gap Year with Andy Lee, can you tell us a bit about what actually happens behind the scenes in developing, producing and writing your own television series?

Gap Year came about because we had already done a few travel type specials on TV, and the team behind it (myself and Andy and our business partners Tim and Ryan) all felt like we had learnt a lot about how to shoot on the road and turn essentially 'just going out and meeting people and doing odd things' into something that resembled a TV show. Making the jump from doing a one hour special to doing ten one hour episodes was something that scared us shitless a bit, but when you’re doing this kind of thing with your best mates that fear going into a project is the thing that makes it so much more worth it if you manage to pull it off (fear of humiliation on national television is a terrific motivator).

So once we have an idea of where we’re going to do the show from (we’ve done the US, Europe, Asia and South America… and Mexico because we cheated a bit) we will sit down in our little offices in South Melbourne and literally ask each other what we think would be funny to do. We also have a couple of gun researchers who start digging around and finding stuff that Ando and I have a chat about and see if it’s the kind of thing we think would be funny to visit. Literally those days are us just sitting around eating or drinking dreaming up ideas and seeing if it makes the other guys laugh. This process takes a good few months because a) we’re making sure we’re finding the best content out there and b) you want to really make sure you think it’s properly worth it before you schedule the trip. You don’t want to be standing in the Amazon with eight crew members realizing you’re at the bad end of an idea that really could have been thought through a bit better.

Once the trip is filmed, we edit it for a few months. Sometimes we’ll shoot 10 hours for something that might end up being only a six minute piece, but this is the price you pay for making TV where you’re trying to capture a moment no one was expecting. You roll for a long time, and our editors have nightmares about our stupid faces I’m sure. We take them out for a modestly priced dinner at the end of the production, and you can tell that in no way makes up for what we put them through.

Can you also give us a ‘behind the scenes’ view of your radio show – i.e. what goes into the preparation of each Happy Hour show, do you and Andy follow a script or discussion theme for each show or just let the show candidly unfold?

Radio is a different beast to TV. There are far less logistical checks and balances, there is no making sure you have insurance for your equipment because you’re in a Bolivian jungle, there is no person that has to sit in a tiny dark room making sure all the colours are right.  On TV there are about 80 people involved with seeing a joke go to air. Radio’s simplicity is you can have a thought, next thing it’s coming out of your mouth and then it’s part of the show that day, like it or not (this has proved to make or break careers, depending on which radio person you are). That is radio’s beauty. It’s a lot more disposable, but the immediacy of radio gives it a 'pure fun' factor that’s hard for TV to mimic.

A radio day with Andy is a very casual day. We’ll meet with our team and map out a very loose plan of what we want to talk about (no more than a few words to guide a five minute talk break), then prepare anything pre-recorded like songs or sound effects we’ll need, then jump in the studio and do the show. Radio is a total high wire act with your partner, and Ando and I know we’re lucky to have found in each other someone who makes it feel effortless. Our gift to each other is that the other guy can make a whole day on air feel like no work, and as we’re pretty lazy by nature this is a very appealing concept.

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Hamish in the studio. Photo - Sean Fennessy.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?

If we’re just doing radio I’ll find a café somewhere and have a think about what I think would make good banter on the show, then I’ll mooch off to the studios and get into it. Ideally, there’s a lot of spare time in there for my beautiful wife and baby son, and just getting general life done. It’s important to make sure you’re out and about and not always just thinking about radio or TV.  Ironically, that’s when most of the ideas come anyway because as anyone who’s in radio will tell you, you’re never not thinking about it.

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Hamish working at one of his favourite local cafes, snapped paparazzi style through the window by Sean Fennessy.
Which other Australian writers, comedians and local creatives are you inspired by at the moment?

There’s so many. The Working Dog guys have always been a huge inspiration, both in a comedic sense and also as a huge creative force that isn’t afraid to shift genres if it believes in an idea.

Of course the guys I work with are an inspiration, and also Jess Harris who was kind enough to cast me in her show twentysomething on ABC2. I went to school with Jess and have no doubt she will become a comedic force internationally.

We also have some of the best stand ups in the world here, you could literally name fifty that I am inspired by, but looking at the past year I think I’d have to say that Luke McGregor has definitely been one that I’ve felt is truly unique.

Can you list for us your top resources (across any media) that you turn to when you’re in a need of a bolt of creative inspiration?

There are the standard ones I guess, your news outlets or sites like wired.com etc, but honestly, when I really need a creative bolt, I go for a walk and have a look around. Just kidding, I sit on the couch and read Daily Mail and eat peanut butter and fall asleep and promise to do some work tomorrow. (No, I do go for a walk, I’m not sure how serious I’m meant to be being).

As an entrepreneurial writer, broadcaster and comedian, we thought it would only be appropriate to quiz you and find out who your all time favourite writer, broadcaster and comedian are... ?

1. Broadcaster: Tony Martin

2. Writer: Bill Bryson

3. Comedian: Ricky Gervais (Steve Carrel or Bill Murray if we’re talking acting… shit I also have to put Tina Fey in, but also how can you not have Will Ferrell… this is hard.).

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

Getting my face on a packet of chips.

What would be your dream creative project?

All the above people call me up on speaker phone and say they want to do a movie with me, and then when I get to the first day of rehearsals they all just say, “who cares about the movie, let’s make a documentary where the best burger in New York is, also Beyonce wants to sing 12 new songs for the burger doco soundtrack and we all have to go to her house for a meeting right now”.

What are you looking forward to?

Getting progressively better at fatherhood and husband…hood.

MELBOURNE QUESTIONS

What is your favourite Melbourne suburb and why?

Fitzroy cos I need 600 different types of coffee a day. I also live there.

What and where was the last great meal you had in Melbourne?

Kong lived up to the hype for me.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

In bed with my wife and son and hopefully eating pancakes. No offence but once you found me I’d probably politely ask you to leave and then recheck the window locks on my house.

Melbourne's best kept secret?

Shannon Bennett's new Burnham Beeches project up in the Dandenongs is well worth a sticky beak. Incredible setting to brilliant casual food. And the air up there makes you feel healthy even if the lobster roll doesn’t.

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