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Adventures In Comedy - Lawrence Leung Interview

Author: Darryn King
Monday, March 30, 2009

Stand-up comedian and TV star Lawrence Leung has been the butt of his own jokes for a while now. 3D’s Darryn King spoke to Leung ahead of his ABC series Lawrence Leung’s Choose Your Own Adventure.

When I ask Lawrence Leung when he first realised he could be funny, I discover that he was already taking the mickey out of himself as a kid.

“I used to be very clumsy when I was a kid. I tripped over a lot, and I realised if I pretended I did it on purpose, kind of like slapstick, I could make the other kids laugh, and cover my clumsiness at the same time. Every now and then I’d fall over on purpose and people couldn’t tell the difference between me being clumsy and me just being funny.”

So it’s surprising to learn that, as a high school student, Leung wanted to be a filmmaker, not a comedian. He attended a conservative all boys’ high school – an environment in which, he says, he ‘didn’t feel particularly funny’. Just how unfunny he felt came across in the short films he was making: dark, angst-ridden homages to David Lynch with titles like Blade Walk, Bad Company and Insomnia Dream. He was always behind the camera, never in front of it, and his commitment verged on the positively tyrannical:

“Other kids were making The Adventures of My Dog, or My Cat, and I was doing all these special effects and reversing film and putting cotton wool on the camera and really punishing my actors… And doing hundreds of takes. Very Kubrick.”

But, now that the cameras have turned on Leung, it’s good that he’s learned to see the funny side of things. Leung’s new ABC1 show, Lawrence Leung’s Choose Your Own Adventure, is a co-production of Chaser Broadcasting and ABC-TV, and follows him on his quest to fulfill his childhood fantasies. “The questions that the show asks are: what did you want to be when you were a kid, who are you now, and how did you get there-”

The concept for the show came out of Leung rummaging through his childhood paraphernalia, leafing through old diaries and short stories, reliving his obsessions with the Karate Kid and the WWF (the World Wrestling Federation, not the World Wildlife Fund) – and generally reassessing his direction in life. When it came to naming the show, Leung turned to his vast collection of Choose Your Own Adventure books, the series in which the reader’s decisions determine the course of the story. They provided a convenient analogy: Leung, like all of us, could have just as easily chosen a different adventure.
“There were so many things I wanted to be when I was a kid that I never got around to when I grew up. I thought I’d pitch that idea: here I am, at this age, trying to do all the things that I’ve always wanted to do, before it’s too late, and the ABC really liked it.”

More than anything he’s done, the program promises to be an intense personal journey for Leung. He’ll be hosting segments in his real-life bedroom, turning the cameras on his parents, tracking down long lost sweethearts and enemies and meeting childhood heroes – whether well-known celebrities or his favourite primary school teacher. When I first spoke to Leung, he’d just begun filming the series, and was not a little nervous about how it would all turn out.

“Oh yeah, I’m completely frightened, because I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, and it excites me because it frightens me. If it was completely scripted like a mockumentary or drama or sitcom, I’d just be frightened about whether the audience will like it. But I think when you’re making a documentary, it’s a lot more scary.”

On the plus side, I point out, Leung is in the unique position of having the ABC fund the fulfillment of his childhood fantasies. “And I’m not going to let the taxpayer down!”

Lawrence Leung’s Choose Your Own Adventure airs on ABC1 at 9.30pm, Wednesdays.