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Why I have a problem with Chris Lilley's comedy


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Lilley's shows have been hosted by ABC in Australia, BBC and now Netflix. However, once I began to peel back the layers of his work, some patterns became clear to me.

Tropfest Opens In Sydney, Australia

Image Credit: Eva Rinaldi via Wikimedia Commons 


Following this revelation, I decided to do some research into Lilley's other works. I was shocked to find a music video he released in 2014 of rapper S.Mouse, the character of which originated from his show 'Angry Boys'. The video was entitled 'Squashed N***a Music Video' and featured Lilley in blackface, and the 'n word' being used by the actor. 

I don't want to give the video a place in this article but you can follow the link to watch it for yourself.

For a country that has a history of oppression and attempted genocide when it comes to its Indigenous people, Australia seems to have no qualms when it comes to laughing at blackface. 

Up until the 1970s, the government in Australia was taking mixed-race children from their families and raising them in camps or in homes, with their objective being to assimilate them fully into white society and 'erase the black'.

Today, it is just as important to speak up for the oppressed. When we allow racism in mediums such as comedy we excuse it and allow it to spread.

Jonah from Tonga

Jonah // Image Credit:

Jonah from Tonga is a frequently quoted character, but Chris Lilley, a white man, adopting features of a Tongan individual is just not appropriate. Although the transition is not as extreme as S.Mouse, he does still adopt a wig of textured hair and darken his skin. You can see the difference in his appearance between the two images above. 

In addition to this, Lilley portrays numerous negative stereotypes through 'Jonah and the Islanders'. According to the Guardian'New Zealand's minister for Pacific peoples at the time, Alfred Ngaro, said the series perpetuated many "negative stereotypes". In 2017 the series was cut from Maori Television'.

I think Stuart Heritage writing in The Guardian summarises it perfectly: "Lilley’s shtick has always been remarkably narrow.

"He invents a broad character (gay teacher, Tongan teenager, black rapper, Japanese mother), abuses their stereotype for as long as he can and then attempts to salvage everything at the last moment with a bittersweet humanising moment." 

Jen Okazaki, the Japanese mother, is played by Lilley in his show 'Angry Boys'. The character is a pushy parent who eventually causes her son to fall into depression. The accent Lilley adopts for the character is one that we all know to be offensive.

Kwami, a black teenager who features in Ja'mie Private School girl, is the epitome of a racially charged character. The whole program is engineered to poke fun at him, as well as the way Ja'mie treats him.

As a viewer you may think 'isn't that awful, the way she views black men', but by hardly giving Kwami a single line. Lilley ultimately removes his voice and does not allow the black man to speak for himself. In fact, Kwami ends his appearance on the show as a 'creepy' teenager clinging onto Ja'mie as she tries to leave. Where's the comedy in that?

The worst thing is, Lilley doesn't seem to care. Despite all the criticism he has received over the years, he's earned from it. In fact, as one critic so aptly points out, Lilley himself is funded by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, also known as ABC.


In Summer Heights High, the character of the drama teacher Mr G who thinks he's god's gift to earth but has no talent whatsoever is certainly one that can provide comedic moments. 

But if you pause and begin to dissect what you are watching (and often laughing at), it does begin to become very problematic.

Take, for example, the student Toby who has down syndrome. At first, one might argue that Mr G is the epitome of how one should not treat someone with a disability and that we are laughing at the shock factor. However, the danger is that you forget that ultimately, Lilley is making fun of and using someone with a disability to his advantage in order to create comedy to benefit his pocket and that is not ok.

The worst bit is, Lilley thinks he can redeem himself with a short conversation with Toby and Mr G at the beginning of Episode 7 in which Mr G is seen to stand up for his friend. Such a moment is not enough.

Mr G also plays a part in the racism of the program, with phrases such as,"Caleb more effort please I thought black people were supposed to have rhythm".

It's clear, Mr G's comedy is the kind that shouldn't have a place in the 21st century, and yet...


Another problematic character that Lilley portrays is the Private School girl Ja'mie.


Ja'mie/ Image Credit: Equinox from the Tvdb

The comedic trope of 'men in dresses' is a common occurrence and generally, fuels laugh from the audience. However, this is a "transphobic trope". I will admit that I did not know much about this form of transphobia myself but I found that Kat Blaque perfectly summarises the issue:

"While this trope doesn’t usually directly relate to trans women, it does, however, reinforce a transphobic notion that impacts trans people because we still very much live in a society that doesn’t see men in dresses and trans women as totally different things"

Black, transgender and disabled people are not on this earth to be made a mockery of and for us to poke fun at. I know that it's easier to enjoy the show, but if we ignore the underlying -isms, we ignore the oppression and that is not acceptable to me. 

Lead Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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