'Taboo' Star Harley Breen Isn't Going To Come To Your House To Call You A Piece Of Sh*t
Getting up on stage and cracking jokes about a group of people with terminal illnesses doesn't sound like the best idea, but for Harley Breen it really works.
When 10 launched 'Pilot Week', Breen debuted the series 'Taboo' where he went away with a group of Australians with physical disabilities, got to know them and then he did a comedy set about them.
"The only thing I don't like about the idea is it's not my idea," Breen told 10 daily via phone. While the series almost seems custom-built for a guy like Breen, it's originally based on a Belgian show by the same name fronted by Philippe Guebels.
"I was shown a couple of episodes at the initial stage asking if I would be interested," Breen explained, "I saw the piece to camera and, within the first minute, I was like 'I'm in.'"
The basic idea is that Breen goes away with a group of people in a marginalised minority, spends time with them, hears their stories and learns about their experiences. Then he gets up on stage a few weeks later to tell jokes about a group of people... you really shouldn't joke about.
Luckily, this isn't a show where Breen is picking on his subjects, "It's about celebrating their stories and finding the ridiculous parts," he said.
The episode which aired during Pilot Week focused on a group of Aussies living with physical disabilities. The new batch of episodes sees Breen meeting victims of racism, those with mental illnesses and a group of people with terminal illnesses.
"There were elements of concern about where the power is," Breen said, "There are no rules in standup comedy, I personally have made the choices to only talk about my experiences -- that's just the way I go about my comedy."
With 'Taboo', Breen isn't changing that. At no point is his goal to mock marginalised groups, but listen to them, and make fun of their experiences together.
"I'm not standing on the outside, at the top of my privilege tower talking down to those beneath me," he said. "I get involved in the story, to hear their story so I can write jokes about my mates."
"I only ever joke about people I like," he added -- pointing out that his mum features in a lot of his standup, "And I adore her!"
"I wouldn't do this with someone I don't like, because it would be more like bullying. You call a friend a mate and you call your best mate a c**t," he said before quickly adding, "I don't think you can put that in writing..."
But it's true, for 'Taboo' to work, Breen needs the kind of people who will share their experiences with him, a straight white male ex-Queenslander, as he describes himself ("It's hard to be me at the moment!") -- he's able to share their stories, mocking the world rather than the people.
For Breen, acknowledging his own place in the world was imperative for the show to come together. The episode that focuses on four people from different cultural backgrounds who have had to struggle with bigotry, he knew it would be a big task.
"I found it challenging to hit the right tone because it was important for me that I didn't say things about their situation that didn't involve bigots and give them more words to use," he said.
Instead, approaching the episode with what the comedian described as a "delicate framework", Breen pointed out "with something like terminal illnesses it's obviously absurd you'd be cruel to someone with a terminal illness. We don't have lists of jokes in our society about people with terminal illnesses, but we do have that for racist jokes."
When the physical disability episode aired during Pilot Week, there was a wave of positive feedback from viewers, especially across social media. Breen didn't see it when it was happening, he left Twitter a few months before the ep due to the constant negativity.
"My account is still up but I haven't been near the place. I had enough of it," he said, "but when I heard positivity was coming through on Twitter... I was properly surprised."
Since the episode aired, Breen has gotten requests from people to have their own communities and groups made the focus of an episode.
"People are asking for it! They're like, 'Can you do me now?' Like okay, it's not just a for-hire service where I come round your house and say you're a piece of shit," he joked.
Despite the positive reactions, Breen said he was still a tad nervous about performing his sets at the end of each episode.
"Thanks for bringing back that trauma," he said. "If I wrote a joke about an individual, I needed that individual to laugh otherwise -- in my opinion -- I failed."
"There was huge tension about a young mother diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. How the hell am I about to do a joke in front of this woman?! I think I achieved it. I hope I did."
'Taboo' premieres Thursday, June 13 at 8.30 on 10 and WIN Network.
Featured image: Network 10.