Packing Up Chop

22 January 2014 | 11:46 am | Jess Ribeiro

"My approach to impersonation is that I want to hijack someone’s life for five minutes or half an hour to make a bunch of jokes."

“I've always been an imitator,” Heath Franklin says when asked how he got into comedy. “My approach to impersonation is that I want to hijack someone's life for five minutes or half an hour to make a bunch of jokes. That's one of the great things about doing Chopper is that you get to make jokes for an hour about punching ticket inspectors in the face, or prison. It unlocks the world as a comedy fodder.”

Franklin actually met the real Chopper Read once, at a men's magazine photo shoot when he first started on Network Ten's The Ronnie Johns Half Hour comedy sketch show. To be in the same room as a criminal you've based a comedy character on would be uncomfortable, to say the least: “Basically, it was just really awkward. I went there dressed as him. Imagine meeting someone really famous and you're dressed as them. You feel like an idiot. And then for them to have been in and out of prison for violent crimes et cetera... It kinda adds to it. I never thought he was gonna get me, though; I made sure there was lots of people around.”

With the passing of Read on 9 October last year, how have Franklin's shows been affected? He explains, “His passing hasn't affected the shows because I was never doing a proper impersonation of the real Chopper Read. I would have had to leave out the cool '80s sunglasses and tatts he had in the film. A lot of people have made that clear distinction between him and what I do. There's not a massive overlap between his audience and mine.”

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He's retiring Chopper for his new show, however. May I Borrow A Crisis? sees Franklin stepping out as his real self. “It's hard to get used to, the divorce between the two – what [the Chopper character] keeps and what I keep. There's a lot less moustache and less swearing.”

The inspiration behind May I Borrow A Crisis? is “My entire life up to this point,” says Franklin. “It's a collection of the most profound and significant experiences of my 33 years of existence… and a few dick jokes.” In it, Franklin will be asking his audiences for their personal tragedies and turn them into comedy.

You'd expect the developmental process for such a premise to be an interesting one: “I sent it out into the wild where it was raised by wolves. Then brought it home, shaved it, taught it manners and made it dress up in a nice suit. I wish it was that exciting but actually it was a lot of writing and crippling self doubt.”

So, with all that in mind, what should audiences expect when they go to see the new show? “Expect to be beaten and robbed. That way, when you end up seeing a great comedy show, you will really appreciate it.”