Between providing the laughs on The Project’s weekday lineup and touring his new stand-up show, Big Boy Pants (Melbourne International Comedy Festival, April 14, 15 and 21), funny-man Peter Helliar is unfathomably busy: he’s just knocked out his second kids’ book Frankie Fish and the Great Wall of Chaos and is cracking on with a third, a spin-off of his TV show It’s a Date is in the pipeline, and he’s dad to three boys. “I freely admit now that I’m at bursting point,” he says.
That said, Helliar’s pinned down the elements enabling him to keep it all just this side of manageable.
For a start, he’s found that the pressure of a deadline doesn’t hurt when it comes to sharpening the mind.
“Say, for the live show, the fact was that on February 1, I was going to be standing in front of 700 people at the Heath Ledger Theatre in Perth, and I just had to have a show ready,” he says.
It’s Helliar’s paradox – “live comedy makes you take deadlines seriously”.
Likewise, the imperative to spend as much time as possible with his family makes him mindful of what he’s taking on board.
“When it comes to getting a show ready, the purpose is to find new material, and not just enjoy being a stand-up, doing old material and lapping up laughs. That wouldn’t be helping my family at all. If I’m leaving home to do a gig, I need to make it worth it.”
Indeed, Helliar’s busted his chops to make it worthwhile. In fact, it’s a point of quiet pride that he’s made a flourishing career as a writer, especially as the lone book nerd coming from a family of resolute non-readers.
“I think maybe the thing I’m proud of most is that I’ve built a career, and my family can live relatively well, because I’ve created something out of nothing in a way, whether it’s jokes, routines, or hours of comedy material, TV shows or a movie,” he says. “That only occurred to me recently. I haven’t interpreted jokes, it’s all sprung up from a blank sheet of paper.”
To make a fist of it though, Helliar’s also had to become a dab hand at compartmentalising. For instance, at the moment he’s nutting out Frankie Fish 3 by night.
“Because of all of the things I do, it’s about writing when you have the opportunity,” he says. “I had a very romantic notion of what it would be like when I eventually wrote a book, involving a summer house, possibly in Italy, and a typewriter, but the reality is that I had to work within the other deadlines that I already had.”
All of which means that Helliar bolts home from The Project, has a quick bite for dinner, sees the kids before they go to bed, spends time with his wife (his kids tell him she’s funnier), writes prior to hitting the hay, and picks up his pen again for a few hours the next morning.
It’s a slog, but Helliar is adamant that it’s worth it.
- Frankie Fish and the Great Wall of Chaos. RRP $14.99.
Published by Hardie Grant Egmont.