Straight to Helliar

by Pete Helliar
The Stick – Episode 4

Pete nearly won the Gold Logie in 2017. Except he didn’t. Stick editor Samuel Johnson tries hard not to remind him of this. But it never gets old. Written and authorised by Samuel Johnson.
Twitter & Instagram @pjhelliar

I made a joke. Have you heard the one about the comedian who made a joke?
It was me.
I was that comedian who made that joke. It offended an entire South American nation and nearly cost Australia’s greatest sporting moment in our vast history of great sporting moments. Didn’t hear it or see it? OK let me retell it for you.

Socceroos superstar and friend Tim Cahill was on The Project a few weeks ahead of the Socceroos’ final qualifying leg for Russia ‘18 against Honduras. In our production meeting it is raised that San Pedro in Honduras is the “murder capital of the world”. This is not editorialising, according to many articles on Google it’s fact. Much of it is gang related, and there have been decent attempts to address it and sweep the city clean of these elements but the fact is, San Pedro is not without danger. Remember, jokes don’t kill people, people kill people.

On air, co-host Waleed Aly raises this fact with Cahill who plays a straight bat; he’s passionate about playing football for Australia and focuses on that. I raise the fact the Honduras coach has called Cahill “the danger man”. The irony of Cahill being the danger man in the world’s most dangerous city is a juicy steak to throw at him. It gives Cahill a chance to play another safe bat or have a little fun with it. Cahill plays it safe because Cahill is a professional football player, not a professional comedian.

I however am a professional comedian whose job it is to make jokes, so I throw in: “you’ve played Syria, now you play in the murder capital of the world and if you win that you play ISIS” as I pretended to check the fixture. The studio audience laughs, Cahill giggles nervously and mutters under his breath: “you can’t say that can you?” The answer is yes, I can. My job is to make jokes, not conduct public-relations spin for crime-riddled South American countries.

The interview gets a lot of views online because Tim Cahill is a big deal, especially when the Socceroos are at the absolute business-end of World Cup qualification. After about a week, a couple of messages come through to my Facebook page in a South American language I don’t understand. Sometimes there is a Google Translate option, sometimes there isn’t. Of the four messages received, two are lovely, pointing out that Honduras does have a crime issue but it does not reflect the people or the country. They attach tourist videos of Honduras. I reply with a thumbs-up emoji to one and to another I write: “I’ll have to visit one day”. I probably won’t.

For two weeks I don’t hear of it or think about it again. I start seeing other jokes and spending time with other punchlines. I get around a bit like that. Then, the media in Honduras picks up the joke, and suddenly I am front-page news in Honduras. That’s right, my ugly mug is front and square on the front page of their daily paper. The Honduras version of El Cramo is put on hold. But the strange thing is they don’t report it as a joke from a comedian, they report it as an insult from a journalist. The Facebook messages from Honduras begin getting more aggressive. I should point out that at this stage I’d probably received more death threats from One Directioners over the journey. With that said, the irony of responding to criticism of your country’s crime rate with death threats is thicker than my Nan’s bible.

Then Tim Cahill gets asked about this upon landing in Honduras. Tim plays the straight bat so well I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes our next Number Six. Now the Aussie fans are up in arms (two and a half weeks after the joke was made). People are claiming I’ve jeopardised Australia’s hopes to win the World Cup. I would argue if our hopes can be crushed on the back of a joke made by a comedian, then perhaps we are not up to World Cup standard. I begin to sympathise with Ange Postecoglou.

At the ground, a banner is unfurled that reads ‘HELLIAR IS A C***’. This is not seen on TV but is Tweeted to me. I can’t help but laugh. Is the c*** the comedian making a joke, or the bloke who makes that sign where it’s visible to families? I make this point to someone who responds: “kids don’t really go to the soccer in Honduras anyway”. Maybe it’s too dangerous.

The Socceroos draw the game and then go on to book their tickets to Russia after a 3-0 win in Sydney. There are no reports of ‘c***’ banners at the ground. Once the game is won and our spot in the World Cup booked nobody seems to care about my joke. No Aussies at least. A few people even apologise admitting they were nervous before such a big game.

I can understand people from Honduras hearing or reading a joke made in a different language and misunderstanding it. I can see how it looked like I was comparing Honduras to ISIS. Comedy doesn’t always travel well, whether it be over time or oceans. What I do find surprising is Australians, some of whom work in the media, not understanding the difference between a comparison and an exaggeration for comic effect, otherwise known as a joke.

There seems to be outrage when a comedian makes a joke that doesn’t fit neatly into someone’s own moral compass or political preference or sporting ideology. The joke I made contained two facts: Syria is dangerous, and San Pedro is reportedly “the murder capital of the world”, followed by the comic exaggeration: Socceroos will play ISIS next. To believe otherwise would be to believe that ISIS actually has a soccer team. They don’t. I checked.

A couple of Tweeters demanded that I apologise. This would also have helped us make the World Cup supposedly. I refused. To apologise would mean that I regret the joke and I don’t because I’m a comedian and that joke was a fucking belter.

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