Heath Franklin had no intention of making a career out of impersonating one of Australia’s most notorious criminals when he first did so in the early 2000s.
Some 20 years later, Heath’s “Chopper” is a cult comedy classic. He regularly appears on Kiwi TV show 7 Days, has had his own television series’ and movies and is touring New Zealand with his latest stand-up show, The Silencer. His Tauranga show is at Baycourt Performing Arts centre on June 24.
Chopper’s The Silencer tour is about living in the internet era.
“Everyone’s been tricked into thinking that their opinion on every subject is valid and important and necessary,” says Heath. “A big part of the show is feel free to shut up and listen whenever you want.”
Heath does wonder if the material for his latest tour will resonate with Kiwi audiences the same way it has in Australia, but is reassured by what he reads in the news.
“That’s always my concern with doing shows in New Zealand - I write the shows in Australia where everyone’s a bit mad and no one quite makes any sense.
“But then I am heartened. You read newspapers over there and discover that there are crazy people in New Zealand as well. It's not good for you, but it makes my material work.”
As a uni student Heath and his mates loved the 2000 movie Chopper, based on the life of convicted criminal, gang member and author Mark “Chopper” Read. He would often quote some of his favourite lines from the movie so decided to do a sketch at a uni comedy night and the persona stuck.
“I loved the movie,” he explains. “It was never a conscious decision. I didn’t go ‘I’m going to sit down and I’m going to study this guy and I’m going to make a career out of pretending to be him’.”
The actual Chopper Read was still alive when Heath’s character gained infamy, and when asked what he thought of his impersonator he’d say: “If he really wanted to commit to the role, he’d cut his ears off.”
Read had a fellow inmate who cut his ears off while in prison in the late 1970s, but Heath isn’t willing to take method acting to the extreme and has kept his ears intact.
“Explaining to my wife I’ve made the rational decision to cut my ears off, so that I can continue doing comedy, would be a strange conversation to have,” says Heath.
The comedian has also chosen not to tattoo his arms like the real Chopper. Instead he draws them on himself for every performance.
“I’m right handed, but ambidextrous for tattooing,” he laughs.
“The last tour there, I was in Christchurch and got sunburnt with the tattoos on. Then I washed them off and there was white marks where the ink was, so I had reverse sunburn tattoos. That made it easier to put them on again the next time.”
The Australasian bubble opening has allowed the Sydneysider to finally do his tour after three cancellations, and it’s also enabled him to catch up with mates on the set of 7 Days.
To do the show, Heath flies in the day before filming, reads a bunch of newspapers, films the show then heads home.
“It’s usually good fun and everyone gets a bit carried away. The amount of stuff they can’t put in the episode is pretty crazy.”
The Weekend Sun has one double pass to the Baycourt show on June 24 for one lucky reader.