Seriously funny: Harley Breen out to prove nothing is taboo
HOW do you find humour in death? That was the challenge comedian Harley Breen faced when he spent a week with four terminally ill Australians.
The Bundaberg native returns with three new episodes of Taboo, his Pilot Week concept that got commissioned by Channel 10 after an overwhelmingly positive response from viewers.
"I was cocked and loaded and ready for some sort of backlash because it happens with everything, but the response overwhelmingly was positive," he tells The Guide.
The pilot focused on people with physical disabilities. After spending time getting to know his subjects, Breen wrote and performed a comedy routine with them seated in the front row.
The new episodes will centre on terminal illness, racism and mental illness.
"Something society probably struggles with in general is talking about death, even though it's something each and every one of us is going to face," Breen says.
"We try to avoid the reality, but I quite enjoyed the whole process of that episode."
While death may sound like a mood killer for any stand-up comedy routine, Breen argues its ubiquity should make it one of the easiest subjects.
"If you follow the ridiculous equation 'comedy is tragedy plus time', well then, the tragedy of death should result in some great comedy," he says. "The difference here is we're talking to people who have only been diagnosed; they're not even dead yet.
"Have you heard the one about the mum dying from bowel cancer? No, because no one has heard that joke."
But the episode, the first to air tonight, is surprisingly uplifting.
"There seemed to be more of a celebration involved with the terminal illness because there's a finality to it," Breen says. "It was a case of 'what are you going to do with your life and how are you going to celebrate it?'
"I hope this show will help people see while there's a heaviness and darkness to this kind of diagnosis, there's also joy and light in life."
As a man who has never suffered from any major form of discrimination, Breen says the episode on racism was the most challenging.
"There's a lot at stake with every episode, but I was very conscious I needed to be respectful and mindful," he says. "I happen to be in the category of straight white male, so it wasn't as easy to put myself in their shoes.
"The racism episode also comes with all sorts of different alarm bells. I didn't want something that I said to embolden a racist or bigot to use my words for further bigotry. It was a trickier labyrinth to navigate."
Taboo premieres tonight at 8.40pm on Ten/WIN.