The Shire, The North Shore, Surry Hills And The Beaches Are Up For Ridicule In New Web Series, ‘Streets Of Sydney’
“We want all the characters to be losers, essentially.”
But as some have noted, there’s a common, occasionally uncomfortable thread that weaves through many of them: a tendency for class-based humour, which often punches down from the middle to the poorest classes.
The newest kids on the block, Sydney-based five-piece More Chillis Productions, flirt with the idea of class-based comedy with their just-launched eight-episode web-series Streets of Sydney. The series, which premiered with its first episode yesterday, saves its largest swipes for Sydney’s upper crust, but digs into all of the city’s best-known boroughs: from the east to the west; from the Shire to the Northern Beaches; from the North Shore to Surry Hills, and beyond.
It was the teaser for their Cronulla episode — a 75 second clip, which was released on August 20 — which drummed up the most buzz for Streets of Sydney, clocking up over 360,000 views on Facebook and winning them the attention of Mark Bouris of the Australian Apprentice, who’s already booked them for his upcoming web series on start-ups.
With cameos from a bunch of semi-recognisable friends — like L.A.-based actor and Home and Away alumni Luke Bracey; Gallipoli actor Sam Parsonson; and co-founder of The Betoota Advocate, Hamilton Archer — the charm of S.O.S lies in the even-handedness of its ridicule: that regardless of postcode, all of its characters are, essentially, losers, from the flashy, trust-fund, Eastern suburbs douchebag Nick Maloush, to the professional sign-spinner/pokie player from Western Sydney, Toolio Runamuckas.
We sat down with Tom Birmingham and Sebastian Antoniou (two of the five guys behind the series) to chat about their influences — as well as more sticky issues like stereotyping, punching down, and cultural diversity in Australian comedy.
JUNKEE: There are a lot of very specific references in each episode. Do they come from your own lived experience, or somewhere else?
Tom Birmingham: We’ve got mates from a lot of the places represented in the show, and we like using them as actors so they can sort of talk shit to the camera.
Sebastian Antoniou: There’s a bit of us in each character, definitely. And then a bit of it is just stuff that we’ve heard. A lot of our stuff is just made up though, really. The funny thing with the Northern Beaches episode is that it’s not that the characters are based on people, per se, but more experiences we’ve had. When we were 19, our friend had her birthday party on the Beaches; the theme was ‘Sex, Drugs, and Rock’n’Roll’. Naturally we were all excited, and we dressed up in mascara and leather pants.
Tom: Yeah, I had a three-piece orange suit on.
Sebastian: And then of course when we got there a few of the girls were dressed up, and all the dudes were just wearing board shorts and flat-caps, and we were the fucking losers. Sam Parsonson, who plays Patrick in the Beaches episode, had a Robert Plant wig on which got taken off of him, and he got pissed on by the Northern Beaches guys at the party. It’s just a funny thing that happened that we laugh at now.
This brand of comedy has occasionally been criticised for punching down at people of lower socio-economic standing. Do you think that’s a fair criticism?
Sebastian: If you look at the series as a whole you can see that we attack the upper classes as well, and our western suburbs characters aren’t like Trent from Punchy: they actually have layers to them, like, Toolio is actually quite a nice guy. And Sonny the bouncer: he’s a sweet guy. So it’s not just us going like, “how stupid are these people!” We kind of turn that eye more on the eastern suburbs and the North Shore.
All of the characters have flaws. All of them are idiots. That’s why we wrote it; no one is cool in the series at all. It doesn’t matter how much money they have: you’ve got your Eastern suburbs character who is supposed to be your rich wanker, but he’s an idiot and a loser, and your Western suburbs guy: we never mention if he’s poor or not, he just likes cars. But at the same time it’s hard to ignore, or to try to brush away the stereotypes.
We saw a comment online, after our trailer released, and it said, “Oh, it looks like they’ve only interviewed white males and one white female.”
Tom: We’re taking the piss. It’s a joke. It was never going to be a legitimate and realistic cross-section of Sydney.
Sebastian: If we had cast an Asian specifically because they’re Asian or anything like that, it wouldn’t have sat well either. Everyone who’s been involved has been a friend, or a friend-of-a-friend. I don’t think casting people to make the content look a little bit more realistic is worth it at the moment. But, you know, that might be something for later on.
The character Nick Maloush from the eastern suburbs episode: is he similar to people that you went to school with?
Tom: I think we knew a lot of people like that, but they weren’t all necessarily arseholes. I guess I wouldn’t be friends with someone like Nick Maloush, who is just a fuck-wit. It’s all just for a laugh though. Like the other day, one of our mates rocked up wearing a trench coat, and the first thing that happened wasn’t even a, “Hello”, it was just like: “What the fuck is that? What are you in Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Are you Angel?”
Sebastian: He looked like Angel. And that’s just the thing: that’s the kind of friendship that we have — where your friend’s been away for a year and then he comes back and you’re just like, “Dude, nice trench coat you fucking idiot.”
Most of the central characters that you empathise with in the series are men. Is that something that you were conscious of?
Tom: We consciously tried to put female characters in there for that reason, but we were also very aware that we sort of just had the guys in our friendship group at our disposal. It probably helps when you can capture the nuances of femininity that a guy can’t pick up on. If you’re writing funny stuff though, it can be funny for anyone.
Sebastian: Some of the girls did a little bit of improvisation on the day. Each actor just plays with the bare bones of the character that we give them.
Some of it is quite dramatic — like what happens to Patrick Kook, the janitor from the Beaches episode. That is some sad, raw shit.
Tom: Yeah, that’s probably the most real that it gets though. But Sam’s such a fucking good actor he can bring that out really well.
What are your wildest ambitions for the show?
Sebastian: Uhh. To get paid (laughs).
Tom: If we could do it as a job that would be awesome.
Sebastian: Even just to make a second season, so we could get a bit bigger with the characters and have better production quality. We don’t want to do the exact same thing where it’s just like: here’s Sharryd on the same rock again. I think that with a bit of money we could really make something happen with it.
Sarah Little is a Sydney writer who spends most of her time studying a Masters at Sydney Uni, watching iview and hanging out in museums.