Many of you will be at least passingly familiar with the cheerful catchphrase of Heath Franklin’s Chopper, one of the star characters of the MIA sketch comedy show The Ronnie Johns Half Hour. Indeed, Chopper’s Fuckin’ Christmas Bingo is something of a coda to Chopper's Harden the Fuck Up Australia Tour and Chopper's Harden the Fuck Up World Tour (you may as well get used to the profanity now, folks).
All of which is a fair indication that Franklin has carved out a respectable spot in the national zeitgeist for his impression of the infamous criminal. Well, sort of. The Chopper you see on TV or stage isn’t so much a straight-up impression of the real Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read as it is based on (or equally derived from) Eric Bana’s portrayal of Read in 2000’s titular film.
That being said, Franklin’s Chopper is very much a character that has taken on a life of his own, both in the original 3rd Degree stage shows and especially the resulting TV programme, the aforementioned Ronnie Johns. Franklin has taken the germ of Read/Bana’s loquacious everyman persona, always offering an opinion from a position of self-assured authority, and gone to the next level where his Chopper has become a rough-hewn expert on everything, giving a constant stream of friendly (if sometimes abusive) advice on a range of incongruous topics, almost as though he were a self-help guru. Of course virtually all his suggestions inevitably involve some manner of criminality or violence. Perhaps the most identifiable part of his characterisation is his profuse but utterly good-natured swearing, and his casual distain for those he deems “scum”, such as drug dealers and “hommosexuals”.
Removed from the moral quagmire of elevating the real Chopper Read to cult hero status, Franklin’s Chopper has taken on a life of his own as a simplified and exaggerated (if such a thing is possible) version of a familiar figure in the cultural landscape, infused with crowd-pleasing tropes of sardonic larrikinism, and that of the (slightly) altruistic criminal who seems to come out on top, even with all his ignorance, intolerance and stupidity on full display.
Which brings us to Chopper’s Fuckin’ Christmas Bingo. Spun off one of the character’s earliest sketches in which Chopper incongruously hosts a bingo night, this is a Yuletide show with a difference. Crowned with a Santa hat and little set to speak of, Chopper hosts his audience (who are handed bingo cards and textas at the door) in a real game of bingo, complete with largely ad-libbed nicknames for the numbers, interrupted by the occasional bit of enforced audience participation. So, although the proceedings evidently have a format, it is effectively improvised from start to finish.
The show has been promoted as a solo gig, but this is more than a little unfair, as Chopper is supported throughout by comedic pianist Sammy J and the marvelous Felicity Ward as Jenny, Chopper’s junkie niece and bingo assistant. Ward is one of Franklin’s co-stars on Ronnie Johns, perhaps best known for the recurring sketch “Poppy’s Pictures”. Like many other talented comediennes, Ward is forever choosing to play against her considerable good looks by taking on a host of hilariously dowdy, neurotic or otherwise plain weird ugly duckling characters, and Jenny is perhaps one of her most delightfully grotesque yet. A marvelously addled, croaky-voiced smackhead, Jenny awkwardly assists Chopper in the proceedings, shuffling around catching the bingo balls while copping a lot of verbal abuse and playing out some nice sight gags, yet generously refusing to pull focus throughout. Although I suspect she was enjoying herself, Ward’s comic talent is enormous, and she deserves more than to play second banana.
Sammy J also adds a lot to the show with his musical accompaniment, nicely keeping up with Chopper’s stream of ribald ad-libs and providing some banter of his own. Sammy’s crowning moment came with his musical interlude, singing a delightfully puerile song about Year 9 students experimental escapades at “fingering”.
It can’t be denied that Franklin is the star attraction, and deservedly so. Although it wasn’t an uproarious crowd, he certainly had the largely blue-collar audience chortling with him the whole way, stringing them along with Chopper’s characteristic half-baked truisms and convivial bullying.
Indeed, there was considerable audience interaction, from the occasional bingo win, to several installments of invading the stalls to grill a “Deadshit in the Audience” and some special “challenges”. I was involuntarily, but happily, roped into “The Superman Challenge”, whereby three of us had to race into the toilets, with the first one returning with their underpants worn outside their trousers the winner, which I’m proud to say was me by a nose. I was awarded an autographed toilet seat for my efforts! Subsequent challenges involved a Santa piñata, punters decorating their partners like Christmas trees, and having a nunchuck battle with strings of raw sausages. Much chaotic hilarity ensued.
The final phase involved a high-speed round of bingo whilst Chopper read the jokes from Christmas crackers only to find with mounting frustration that they all contained inspirational quotes instead, escalating until whipping the audience into a frenzy of laughs. After their curtain call, Chopper returned for an encore of sorts in the vein of his Ronnie Johns segments, reading The Night Before Christmas with his own unique commentary.
Chopper’s Fuckin’ Christmas Bingo was a delightful, outrageous evening. As the criminal raconteur put it himself: “It has been, let’s face it, festive as fuck.”
Laughing Stock Productions presents
CHOPPER'S F*CKIN‚ CHRISTMAS BINGO
starring Heath Franklin as Chopper
Dec 8, 8pm and 16, 6pm
Factory Theatre, Enmore
Dec 9, 6pm and 14 8pm