A good yarn is all in the telling.
A story about comedy duo Hamish and Andy might just as easily kick off with the fact they’ve never had a serious argument in the 16 years since their bromance and working partnership began, or that Melbourne’s top brothel is two doors down from their South Melbourne office.
Arriving early for our interview, I watch as a man in a cobalt suit enters The Boardroom with the practised insouciance of a habitual attender. No one goes into Hamish and Andy’s office.
This is a factual tale, but one unlikely to cut the mustard for Hamish Blake and Andy Lee’s much-anticipated new television show True Story, which premieres on Channel Nine next week.
Whether a story crosses the line between fabulously true and too blue was one key filter used by researchers employed by Radio Karate – the TV production company run by Andy and Hamish, along with Tim Bartley and Ryan Shelton – in culling candidates for the new show.
“About half the stories fell into the category of being a really funny story, but there is no way it can go on television at 7.30pm,” says Hamish. “In year two or three, maybe we should do an adults-only, late-night version.”
While Hamish and Andy, both 35, are genuinely too modest to seriously contemplate a spin-off of True Story at this early stage, industry antennas are already twitching that the show has all the elements of a ratings winner.
As one reviewer wrote after the media preview: “I finally saw something genuinely new on Australian television – and it was good.”
“Who doesn’t love a great story? A cracking story is one of the most intoxicating addictive things,” Hamish says. “We all know someone who has a great story and the idea sprang from that.”
When the duo put out the call through their website, radio show and podcasts for people to share their stories for The Great Stories Project, they gave little away. “We didn’t tell people it was for TV, but we were lucky enough people trusted us,” Andy says.
One of the key elements of the show involves Hamish and Andy, outfitted in velvet “listening jackets”, hearing the story for the first time on camera. So the pair played no part in selecting tales before scripting the re-enactments.
It took as many as 65 people working full-time to create 10 half-hour episodes, involving 138 speaking roles. “A team of seven worked for five or so months, sifting through the stories,” Andy says.
“They also travelled and cold-called pubs asking who was the biggest character in town. It was a bit like panning for gold at the end of the gold rush. It is not like they were walking around Bendigo tripping over nuggets.”
The result is a mix of ripping yarns involving people of all ages and backgrounds, with scenarios such as the French horn player who accidentally sets off a fire sprinkler mid-orchestra performance, and the enthusiastic young primary school teacher who introduces a classroom currency system only to be scammed over many months by an 11-year-old entrepreneur.
It is a series that makes heroes of everyday Australians and this is the core of its charm.
“There have been many famous stories told as biopics: House of Hancock, House of Bond, Brock and Molly. But now you don’t have to spend 25 years in the public eye to get a biopic. We give the same kind of treatment to somebody who had a bad dining experience in Hong Kong,” Hamish says, deadpan.
“In fact, if you have even watched Molly, you can have your biopic,” Andy adds.
The duo have achieved astronomical radio success with their Fox FM afternoon drive-time show Hamish & Andy (started 2006), which has been syndicated nationally across the Today (now Hit) Network to become the highest rating in Australian history. But television has long been in their sights. Their Gap Year series (2011-2014) won a Silver Logie and scored Hamish a Gold gong for most popular personality in 2012.
But their television debut dates way back to 2003, when they produced a sketch show called Radio Karate for Channel 31. Their names were first put together in a program title the following year, with Channel Seven sketch show Hamish & Andy.
“Phonetically it was easier to say Hamish and Andy’s show rather than Andy and Hamish’s show,” Andy recalls.
“We both have lisps, so to not be able to say the name of the show was going to be a terrible thing. Of course I do pay Andy 10 per cent of what I earn for being first … but I own the name!” Hamish says.
The easy banter between the pair doesn’t let up. Despite what Hamish once described as the “delicate nature of commercialising a friendship”, it’s very clear their decision to quit their FM show at the end of this year will not be the end of their collaboration.
“As far as conspiracy theories about this being the end of Hamish and Andy, I can pretty much say it is not. It is just us trying to figure out what’s next,” Hamish says. “It just feels like a normal evolution.
“Eventually there are only two ways to go in entertainment industry jobs and that is you leave or get sacked. This seems like a nice natural time to leave and explore new things.”
Andy is even more forthright. “We have never had that much foresight in our whole careers and that has been really problematic for the networks as well as radio stations. The contracts have always been short because we never know what we feel like doing.”
The pair have been cracking each other up since 2001 when they met as students at Melbourne University – Hamish was enrolled in a science/commerce degree; Andy was studying marketing.
“When I met Hamish, everything he was doing I found funny and I found my response to him was making him funnier and vice versa,” Andy told Craig Bruce on the Game Changers: Radio podcast earlier this year.
“I honestly believe I have never met anyone funnier in the world and we’ve had some heavy hitters on our show.”
When they cut their teeth on RMIT’s student radio station SYN and then, in 2003, began hosting a late-night radio program on FOX FM called Almost Tuesday, they simply carried their hilarious banter from the pub to the sound studio.
The audience loved it. Within a year, they had been promoted to the Saturday morning slot and by 2006 they had the top-rating show in the prime drive-time slot, networked nationally.
How have they managed to maintain their friendship and keep the banter fresh all these years? The key, they say, is ensuring that the work remains fun.
“I’m not saying we don’t ever disagree, but it has never got ugly,” Hamish says. “The level of magnitude of anger is about the highest level of disagreement you could have over a pizza topping. There is just not a lot of sand in the gears between us.”
Their lives outside show business are also travelling smoothly. Andy, who famously dated supermodel Megan Gale for four years, is now in a steady relationship with model and PR account executive Rebecca Harding.
The couple met in 2015 when Bec was still studying and working as a waitress in a cafe. Andy worked his way slowly though an uncharacteristically large breakfast before plucking up the courage to give her his email address.
“It was while Hamish and I were on our break (having previously scaled back radio commitments before being lured back by a $4 million deal and the promise of all the flexibility they needed to work on True Story).
“It was a really nice way to get to know someone when you have a lot of time to hang out and travel,” Andy says. “We are doing what boyfriends and girlfriends do, hanging out and having a good time.”
Meanwhile, Hamish and wife, author Zoë Foster Blake, are expecting their second child in the first week of August. “It’s in hiding at the moment and still cooking for a bit,” Hamish says.
Already father to three-year-old Sonny, Hamish relishes his role as a dad, which he says has only changed life for the better.
“Who knows what else the future holds?” he says. “We enjoy doing a lot of different stuff. The general stencil for any opportunity is, ‘does this look like it will be fun if we could fit it in?’ and, if the answer is yes, by and large we will have a crack at it.”
- True Story with Hamish and Andy returns on Channel Nine on August 1 at 8.40pm