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Tuesday 9 February 2016

'Here Come The Habibs': INTERVIEWS: Rob Shehadie, Tahir Bilgic, Matt Ryan-Garnsey

It's here, you guys.

One of the most talked about programs in years: 'Here Come The Habibs'.

Josie's Juice has interviewed co creators of the much advertised Channel Nine, prime time show: Rob Shehadie, Tahir Bilgic, and Matt Ryan-Garnsey, and, you guys... this show is going to be a LOT of fun!

This trio is the brains behind the all new show, and regular viewers of wog comedy will recognise Rob and Tahir as stars of the hit TV comedy, 'Fat Pizza'.

Rob is best known for playing Rocky for the past 16 years and leaving laughing - and aghast - on 'Fat Pizza'. And Tahir is best known for starring in the hit TV comedy, 'Fat Pizza' and 'Housos', playing the much-loved character, Habib. 

Wanting to come up with a family show that represented multi-cultural Australia, the three co-creators, Rob, Tahir, and Matt created 'Here Come The Habibs', the story of a Lebanese family who move from Sydney’s west to ultra-rich, ultra, well, white Vaucluse after winning the lottery. Their interactions with new neighbours - the O’Neills - who are deemed eastern suburbs royalty, and who are “extremely uncomfortable with goats and chickens, shisha pipes and people of Mediterranean appearance,” form the show’s premise and comedic hook. The six-part series promises to “bring a fresh comic perspective to multicultural Australia.”

The trio right here: co-creators Matt, Tahir, and Rob (photography by Steve Dubé).

Says Tahir Bilgic: 

"This show is historic in terms of TV programming in Australia, for a couple of reasons:

"It's the first narrative that a commercial network has commissioned in over 15 years. It's the first time a Lebanese family will be shown on prime television.

"We'd moved away from local TV content in recent years; people haven't had much success with it, they've had cold feet and have been scared, and then all the reality TV shows kicked in and there has been so much of that over the years, that this is almost like a change of guard. People are waiting to see how this show goes, and it could open up a whole heap of other doors for local content for a start, instead of buying shows from overseas, which is easy for the networks to do.

"Shows made here with Australian actors, Australian production - Jungle Production team have been incredible to us - all local workers... it's great. People should be supporting this sort of stuff. It's homemade stuff!

"It's a narrative comedy, and tonight is episode one of six. It's a drama, and the characters continue on with storylines. I can say definitely we have no canned laugher on the show!" says Tahir, in answer to my hatred of US-style canned laughter.

"Canned laughter, when it's done properly, you don't hear it. Like 'Seinfeld', there's canned laughter but you don't hear it, but it's there.

"We've got some great characters in this show. And no canned laughter - we don't do canned laughter in this country."

Tahir is beyond happy with getting this show across the line and screening on Nine. "I am pinching myself, actually."

"The show is a result of an idea I came up with four years ago; I came up with the initial premise and synopsis for it, and then I teamed up with Rob and Matt, and then Rob managed to open the doors for us with the networks through meetings, and then we got Ben Davies and the production team Jungle involved, and worked on it for years.

"People just think these things happen overnight, in the past couple of months, but the process is four years in the making.

"I keep saying, I've repeated this many times: if I realised it was going to take that long I would never have started it in the first place! We spit nails. We spit nails and kept going and going.

"We're all hoping for another series; it'll all come down to numbers and seeng if people like it or not.

"There is potential for more episodes, and another series, but it just depends on the support.

"There's been huge buzz about this show, and there's also been some controversy. Some people are saying: "Oh, it's racist, and that we're perpetrating stereotypes. I love when people say that... oh, love it!

"'Perpetrating stereotypes'! Showing that they're university educated!"

Indeed. I agree with Tahir! We have people who are going into bat for us, but... are they the same people who called us 'dogs' at school, I wonder? I think so. It's like, now you're concerned for us... really?

"Yeah, don't worry about us! We're celebrating!" agrees Tahir.

"Look, the thing is this... you can say that for anything. 'Kath & Kim are also 'perpetuating stereotypes'.

"I mean, what do they want... a family that goes to work and comes back?

"Yeah, pitch that kind of show! See if it gets up," laughs Tahir.

"All it is is a funny show - we make comedy and we want to have a laugh together.

"We've been very careful with the show. We've steered clear of religion, we don't want to be moralistic. We just want a funny show that all different cultures of Australia can laugh at. That was our aim.

"People might have the expectation that from the shows we've done before (Fat Pizza, Swift and Shift Couriers), it might be the same. but it's not; it's totally different. 

"The show is about pre conceived ideas about people, how people behave when life changes, lots of things. It's about belonging as well, and who is put in certain pockets. You know, why can't people move to another area? And with a Lebanese family, once they've won the lotto, of course it's all about the family. It's all about opportunities... they'd probably stay in the area they live in."

Rob echoes Tahir's sentiments:

"All of the feedback has been positive. Everyone has been right into it.

"Many interviewers have come back to that question: 'What do you think of the keyboard warriors?'

"I was interviewed by someone who has an Italian background... and he loved it. And that's been my point all along: we can all relate to the Habibs 

"The Anglo families will love the Habibs.

"When I was young, I loved 'Acropolis Now'... all my family, all my cousins, we all loved it. We all felt like we were watching ourselves on TV.

"We're all pretty similar in our style of families - our mums are the same, they all spoil us with food, and we always open our days to people.

"It's not a show just for Lebanese families... but it's a show for everyone. 
They'll fall in love with the Habibs.

"My theory is: the smart people really get it... the educated people - they will get it...

"The word Habib is a surname, a very popular surname in our culture, but it's also a way of saying mate, and it's also a word of love.

"So, to a guy you'd say Habib...

"And to a girl you'd say Habiti... to your close female partner

"Australian intellectuals get offended for us... I mean, c'mon. We're fine!

"I don't have Facebook - I only have Instagram and Twitter and I promise to God, on Instagram I've had one person have a go at me, and the rest of my supporters and followers on there have all been supportive.

"On Twitter, nobody has directly had a go at me... nobody has said, 'Rob, this is crap, or whatever... but when I search 'Here Come The Habibs' on Twitter, 99 per cent of those having a crack at the show are Anglos.

"And nearly all of them are saying, 'This show is so racist.'

"And I'm thinking: you're a dinky Di Aussie... why would you fly the flag for the Lebanese community... since when do you do that, and why would you worry about it?

"I don't understand - if the Lebanese are offended, they'll speak out.

"I'm a very proud Australian Lebanese. I've done shows for the Lebanese community, and we've had fifty to sixty thousand people come to them over years. And they loved it, they all have the DVDs, the kids still come up to me and quote me from those shows. They were proud of the show as they left.

"When they left, they were all laughing, and they went home proud and that's exactly what we are doing now... we're just converting it into TV.

"The Lebanese love making fun of themselves. There are a lot of Lebanese acts who come here and there is one coming up soon where a guy dresses up as a Lebanese lady for the whole show; his name is Im Hussein. 
He has a real crack at the Lebanese culture, but this is comedy!

"I think if this show was on SBS, nobody would have an issue with this show; they would be embracing it, saying, 'Oh this is beautiful!'

For example, 'Family Law' is on now, and everyone is saying, 'Oh this is amazing'... and I was with Benjamin Law (the creator of his show) the other day, and it's a very stereotyped Asian family... I don't really think Habib family is really, full stereotyped... I mean, you have to have a little bit of stereotype for a laugh.

"This show is all about these two families, in one area... there's no criminals in this show. it's like a 'Modern Family'.

It's two houses coming in and out, the goings on in their lives.

"Benjamin Law has Tweeted about our show... he's very supportive of the show, he loves it. 
He understands - he thinks people need to relax.

"People say: there isn't enough diversity in Australia... well here it is... so, what's the problem?

"It's here now, so let's embrace it enjoy it. Because if we want to get rid of it, are we going to go back to 'Home and Away' and 'Neighbours'.

"I am very passionate... you can't get more proud Australian than me, but I am also very proud of my culture.

"I don't degrade the Lebanese - I think the Lebanese are an amazing people.

"If those naive people did some research, and looked into Lebanon, some famous and successful people in this world are Lebanese, and people might be shocked they are Lebanese.

"For me, look at our retired Governor of Sydney, Dame Marie Bashir, one of the best Governors Australia has ever seen... she's of Lebanese background.

"Her husband is Sir Nicholas Shehadie, he's captained for the Wallabies and was a Lord Mayor of Sydney.

"The Wallabies coach right now Michael Cheika, who took the Wallabies to the finals of the world cup, but they don't mention that. John Symond is of Lebanese background. The richest man in the world is Carlos Slim Helú.

"Lebanese people are a race, and religion is not a race. They should just look at Australian Lebanese as Australian Lebanese... if a Lebanese does  a good thing, like Michael Cheka, he's a proud Australian.

"But as soon as we do something wrong, we pull put the Lebanese card, and we say, oh he's of Lebanese background, because he's a negative story. We should just all be Australians.

"My wish is that Australia gets its identity and we all just call ourselves Australian.

"Because even when an Anglo does something bad, they say, oh that's un-Australian. They don't even want to own that problem.

"Cathy Freeman - if she wins gold, she's a proud Australian. If she does something bad, oh, she's an Aboriginal. It's true!

"If an Anglo does something bad - it's un Australian - so, what is it then? Who owns the problem? But we are all Australian.

(Fun fact: Rob has been married to Jaslyn Hewitt (she's the sister of Aussie tennis champ Lleyton Hewitt) since 2010 and has two children).

Add Matt adds:

"It was four years in the making, this show. 

"If I was to give a tip to people people wanting to get an idea up in any field, it's: persistence.

"You must work hard at it and knock down the doors. Every network has gatekeepers. Make sure you've put everything in a sequence and you have a synopsis, not just an idea that anyone could come up. You have to have a creation to present.

"We also had to have in mind whether we wanted the show to go across series one, two, and three.

"This show is a wog Beverly Hillbillies."

Perfectly summed up, really.

And: this is only one of their film and TV projects in the pipeline and we can expect much more to be confirmed and released over the next twelve months.

'Here Come The Habibs' will screen each Tuesday at 8.30pm, on Channel Nine, for the next six week.

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