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LNBB Appreciation Day: An Interview with Leigh Hart

We talked to Late Night Big Breakfast’s Leigh Hart about his mum, the starving people in Africa, and how he got the most out of Mike the Mongolian throat singer.//

So, let’s start at the very beginning. After Moon TV, did you have the concept for this show immediately?
I think I pitched the show to TV3 after taking it from Moon TV as a standalone. Because the breakfast segment is so generic, you can pitch the concept and worry about the content later. Then we went to do some other things like Mysterious Planet. I compiled a whole episode of our old breakfast bits and sent them to TVNZ who said, “yep, we’ll have the show”. It’s a versatile concept, and we are able to fill it with skits and that. Having said that, it all has to be in context.

jax and the guys

jax and the guys

We can’t go off and do a parody of a show like we did on Moon TV, it has to be in the ‘breakfast’ format. That comedy has to come from a guest, a musical act or an infomercial. When there’s a guest who says or does something really funny, in editing we have to keep thinking of the big picture: would this actually happen on a breakfast show? Sometimes we have to sabotage some gags just so the big picture still fits within the breakfast show context.

It’s actually really funny watching Breakfast or Good Morning after seeing LNBB. A while ago they had the Wiggles dancing around and it was no less ludicrous than the Mongolian throat singer in haberdasheries.
It’s totally the same. The difference is that we identify that our guests are lame, whereas they don’t. It’s a lot of fun. We could have had even crazier guests, but it’s actually funnier to be as close the real shows as we can. It’s more about how we deal with the guests as opposed to having whacky guests. We preferred to get a boring psychiatrist or someone with a lame book coming out rather than a crazy or funny guest. Getting a stand up comedian on, for example, wouldn’t be a good guest. In a way we’re trying to do everything but put comedy in. Moon is a bit like that for me as well actually, sometimes comedy is about what you leave out rather than what you put in.

So where do these carefully chosen guests come from?
They’re not actually as well picked as you think. I was putting it off and off. They are a combination of real people and the odd actor. Or real people acting, and actors not acting. There’s nothing worse than an actor who’s acting because you can tell they’re acting. If you get a non-actor to act – they are a lot more believable. If we did it again I would try and do it weekly, and would literally steal TVNZ’s guests from Breakfast. It doesn’t really matter who the guests are, I realise now. It’s all about us not listening to them, and the guests trying to bring it back to them. There’s nothing worse than when people arrive and know it’s a comedy show and try to be funny rather than relaxed.

Talking milk, farming, and business.

Talking milk, farming, and business.

Did the non-actors actually know what they were getting themselves into, or did they think it was a real talk show? A lot of people thought they were coming on a more legitimate talk show. The guests are a very important part, but more important is how we treat them. It’s with respect, in a way, because the joke is actually on us. The people who don’t ‘get’ the show are totally focussed on the fact that we don’t let the guests talk – but they’re totally missing the point. We are incompetent, self-indulgent breakfast hosts. It’s all about us. It’s about how many coffee cups or pictures we can sell. Once people buy into that, it’s almost like a switch flicks on. Even my mum hated it. She kept saying, “why can’t you be normal, just do it like a normal person”. I don’t know when it happened but she just suddenly ‘got’ it one day. Maybe she had a few drinks or something. Now she totally gets it.

It seems like a very polarising type of comedy, like the people that get it really get it and the people who don’t are just totally out to sea.
It’s amazing how annoyed people get if they don’t understand something. Just don’t worry about it. I’ve noticed with this show, perhaps because it’s more of a TV One audience, that there are a lot more people taking it literally as a live breakfast show. The people who do get it are so hook, line, and sinker, so deep into it. I’ve always thought of comedy a bit like music, you’re not going to like every band. As a producer, you don’t suddenly change your sound to try and please everyone. You can only do what works in your own head. Go with your own instincts, and hope that there are other people out there with the same instincts.

Obviously something that pleases your Moon TV fans is the continuation of “Speed Cooking”, did you feel like you had to up your game for LNBB?
It’s a real interesting one. It’s kind of the bane of my life to be honest, one of those things that you hate doing. I hate even watching it now. My mum hates it as well. The good thing is that it was one of the few things from Moon that could actually fit into the breakfast format, because they have cooking segments all the time.

Whenever we do speed cooking we kind of feel like we have to take it up a level to even justify doing it. I don’t even think we are the best to judge it anymore. Again, it’s one of those things that really alienates people. I get so many emails and comments on Youtube and stuff about all the starving people in Africa. Just because I wasted a dozen eggs, a bag of flour and a thing of milk.

It’s no different to the waste on a normal cooking show really.
Exactly, just because I’m throwing the food around people get upset. If you go to a corporate meeting at an office there’s always those eight muffins sitting there that never get eaten. You’ve always got to be prepared to alienate some people to get the rest totally in on it. It would be great if every person on the planet liked everything you did, but it’s just not going to happen.

How does the filming of “Speed Cooking” actually work?
I’m always putting it off. It’s always hard to find a location that we can trash, and people who will trust us when we say that the place will be cleaner when we leave than when we arrive. We literally have to get commercial cleaners in there, the ovens all come away from the wall – we’re scrubbing everything.

Once we have a location sorted I’ll walk around the supermarket or a hardware store, and have a look for ideas. At the supermarket I’ll see oats or something and think “oh, that might be quite good”, and then I’ll go to the hardware store and see a leaf blower and think “oh yeah”. You have to try and write it in your head because we have to film it in order for continuity. Obviously it’s a two-minute sketch but it doesn’t take two minutes to film, it’s more like an hour. We just have to film it in order because of the level of mess. Then we replace all the windows or whatever needs doing, do a good job of scrubbing it ourselves, and then get a commercial cleaner in.

Are they the houses of friends?
Mostly. Well – we did it once in Jo Seagar’s house. I was all ready to find a place to do it and she said “no, we’ll do it at my place”. Being a cook, she probably realised that there’s nothing that can’t be cleaned up. It’s all just milk and stuff. The place was spotless when we left ­– when we arrived it was actually pretty average.

Back in the ‘studio’, do you pre-write the couch bits with Jeremy and Jason?
About 50% I suppose. I’ll talk to the other guys the day before with my ideas for the guests. They pitch in stuff I never would have thought of, just totally random calls. They brought a lot to it in that sense. It’s not just what they say, but how they say it. They are both better presenters than me, both very good at doing that dry down-the-barrel type thing. I love watching them, it’s great to have someone else on screen to edit. It’s more fun working with people in a bit of a gang. I always like to compare it to music – it’s like a bit of a band.

Mike the Mongolian Throat Singer

Mike the Mongolian Throat Singer

Talking of music, how did you find your musical guests?
Most of them came from a talent website – Jazz Mania, for example. Mike the Mongolian was supposed to just be an actor for the Asian driving thing we were doing, but then afterwards he said, “I can sing as well”. Normally we would have said, “don’t worry about it, we’re cool”, but we thought we would give it a go. It’s about making the most of those opportunities.

Thank goodness he piped up.
Totally. Another key moment with the musical guests is when we decided to put them halfway through the show. Going into the second ad break we would start the music, and then when it comes back into the third part of the show the act is just finishing up. So it gives the impression that they have been playing live through the ad break. And that was great because it enhanced that element of live-ness to it. Even though it clearly wasn’t.

Where did the inspiration for the furniture store set come from originally?
Well we had done it on Moon, in that same store. Then we did it in a hotel room. I hadn’t planned on doing it again in the store – but the guy at TVNZ loved the store. I was a bit worried about going over old ground but it gives us the most opportunities for comedy and editing and it looks good.

So you shoot when there are people in the store?
Totally, it’s all during business hours. They don’t seem worried. We even get our crew to push people through and get them in the background. We want shoppers there. If there’s a scene that isn’t funny enough we’ll use a cutaway of a guy looking at a lounge suite. When you add those things in it sort of layers things up a bit. There were some real life problems – the couch that we shot the show on did actually get sold. The guy at the store tried to hold onto it for us for an extra week, but we ended up having to change lounge suites. They were so helpful – they let us do whatever we wanted. It was just like having a big studio at our doorstep.

Will you be back for for Season Two?
Well the first thing to do is get TVNZ on board. If they’re not, we’ll just take it to another network or take it online. The format has a lot of potential, so I’m not really panicking about that. Maybe we’ll slip in a little travel show or something before we get into it again. I think it will be easier this time round. We have enough confidence that enough people find it funny, so we can just get on with making it. Hopefully as soon as possible.

The final episode (and election special) of Late Night Big Breakfast airs tonight on TV ONE at 10.20pm.

Watch the complete Late Night Big Breakfast here

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