HE might seem to be the unlikeliest source of truth and wisdom, but the handlebar-moustached alter ego of comedian Heath Franklin has matured since his first appearances on television eight years ago.
Back then, Franklin’s send-ups of the notorious Melbourne criminal Mark “Chopper” Read merely exaggerated the characteristics that the real man made famous. The threats of violence delivered in that whiny, nasal voice. The big belly in the tight t-shirt. Read’s unashamed resentment for authorities, minorities and, perhaps most persistently, dishonest drug addicts.
Be it as a weather man, a driving school instructor or a petting zoo attendant, it was all about satirising the surface rather than delving into the depths.
By the time the real Chopper had put away his handguns and turned to quietly writing novels from a rural farmhouse in Tasmania, the sketch comedy Chopper was still pretending to fire them on television. Somehow Heath Franklin and, on a bigger screen, Eric Bana, looked and sounded more like the Mark Read we remembered than the original one.
Down south it seemed like the man had grown old and forgiven his many enemies but up there on stage with Franklin, the enemy was still squarely in the crosshairs. Nothing was sacred and no one was safe.
As the name of Franklin’s current tour might suggest, now Chopper has set his sights on the big man upstairs. His latest incarnation of the Collingwood con has robes draped over his beer gut and his prison tattoos. Mark Read is no longer just a westie with a record, but a figure of eternal divinity - the sandals of Jesus have evolved into rubber thongs.
Swigging on a warm stubby in his saggy jeans, our new Bogan Jesus has entered the Newcastle Town Hall. Within the first minute of his sermon, Franklin has cast his judgement on two blokes in the front row of the audience. To his left is a student and to his right is a machinist, and in a way the two men form a handy sample of the evening’s demographic – a blue collar and a no collar.
When the latter rather meekly confesses that he studies for a living, Chopper twitches in a mock disgust. “So what you’re really telling me,” he asks between beer chugs, “is that you do nothing?”
But the more important question that he asks these two, and then later to the rest of the audience, is whether they are any sort of genuine, spiritual believers. This of course seems like an unexpectedly complex thing for Chopper to be pondering over, but it doesn’t take long for the audience to realise than in his dog-eat-dog world, only the humblest among us hold the secrets to a lasting fulfillment.
Anything more complicated than a day of hard work in the yard or a drunken argument with your mates on the front lawn is only insincere, inner-city elitism.
As the Bogan Jesus delivers his own hilarious and irreverent version of the sacred commandments, it becomes clear that it is these white collar elites who are the real sinners.
These are the wankers who ride scooters to the office rather than drive V8s to the work site. They are the holidayers drinking coffee in Paris rather than the revellers drinking beer in Bali. Wankers lift tyres on the weekend in their cross-fit classes. Workers lift tyres for a living.
In the eyes of Chopper it is the suburban Australian bogan that is the real modern day hero – honest, modest and suspicious of anything false or pretentious. In a comical imagining of your next neighbourhood power failure, Franklin reminds us that it is only the bogans who would have a clue what to do. In wealthier suburbs, distressed residents would wait patiently on hold to the electricity company. Bogans would plug in a generator, keep the beers cold and have a good laugh.
And having this good old laugh is exactly what Franklin does in this show – at himself, at religion and most of all, at the pretenders. He might still pretend to fire a few pistols into the audience but his most accurate aim is reserved for all of those precious, culturally-sensitive touchstones for political correctness.
His assaults upon these targets are as brash as they are relentless. Dogs, Franklin confesses, would easily make it onto his menu if they tasted as good as pigs. In the depths of the oceans surrounding Chopper-land, dolphins are the over-sensitive imposters who can’t even breathe by themselves. Amputees with prosthetic legs might in some situations make convenient bread-butterers in prison.
Married retirees who frequent franchise cafeterias are the same as felines who suddenly find themselves on Franklin’s lap – inconveniences beyond any redemption.
As uproariously entertaining as these observations were, the best moments of the evening were also the most spontaneous. At least a couple of times, from somewhere near the back of the audience, a lone voice rang out to heckle the Bogan Jesus and stop him instantly in his tracks.
As ever, Chopper’s solution was more about his own form of justice than any other, more legal or legitimate kind. Imagining himself with the heckler in the car park after the show, his redemption and their come-uppance reminded as all that even in his priestly robes, there would always be a criminal with a conspiracy hidden somewhere up his shirtsleeves.
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