If you’re going to joke about death, racism and mental health, you’re bound to have some critics in the crowd.
Australian standup sensation Harley Breen is well aware of this ahead of the premiere of his new show, Taboo, in which he’ll be using comedy to bring attention to these very topics.
But it doesn’t need to be all so bad, says the comedian, who believes some of these issues are often not talked about, and bringing them to the forefront through comedy is a great way to fuel constructive conversation.
“I think a lot of these subjects, people don’t want to joke about it,” Harley tells Yahoo Lifestyle Australia.
“Then you sit there and say, ‘Go on talk about it’, and that’s [when the] problem starts.”
Through the series, Harley spends five days with individuals who are facing terminal illnesses, battling mental health issues or have experienced racism.
In that period of time he learns about their journeys, and which aspects they personally make light of when describing them.
“Pretty much across the board I got a good gauge of what the individuals find funny about their stories,” explains Harley.
“I think if you’re going to talk about something, then you’ve got to joke about it, because you’re talking about it so why aren’t you joking?
“I guess in terms of finding the line, on each case I wasn’t trying to write jokes about terminal illness. I was trying to write jokes about Michael and his experience living with it,” he says, referring to one of the people on the show.
“So the line’s based on what I knew from him and what I thought he would laugh at. It really comes back to an issue of consent, not of comedy.”
Not without criticism
In the lead up to its premiere, the show has already sparked some backlash, with some people criticising its lack of ‘sensitivity’.
Writer and disability rights activist Carly Findlay, recently wrote about the program on Facebook, saying, “Maybe I’m wrong but this show Taboo is just another non disabled white straight man taking up the space - when the disabled and terminally ill people should be centered (sic)”.
“She’s commenting from her experience and perspective. I’m not one that can then comment on a comment,” Harley tells Yahoo Lifestyle Australia.
“I guess I would say 85% of this show is documentary. 85% of this show is about celebrating one of the participants in each episode and hearing their story and I just happen to be there to facilitate it and get those stories out.
“It is the most collaborating thing I’ve ever done,” he continues, “but it hasn’t gone unnoticed by even myself. I am a straight white male who is privileged, talking about minority.”
Taboo premieres on Thursday night at 8:40pm on Channel Ten.
If you are concerned about the mental health of yourself or a loved one, seek support and information by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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