My interview with Shane Jacobson, star of the Australian hit comedy Kenny, appears in today's Fast Forward Weekly. If you're in Calgary, pick up a copy!
Good guys don’t always finish last
Shane Jacobson isn’t a celebrity, just a guy with a ‘recognizable fat head’
By Andrea Warner
Shane Jacobson is about to be a very famous man. Already a 2006 best actor-winner from the Film Critics Circle of Australia for his humble little plumber film, Kenny, Jacobson is just now touching down on North American soil. Move over, FUBAR — a new classic of the mockumentary genre has arrived.
Kenny tells the simple but profound story of a porta-potty worker struggling to keep people happy. The movie connected so deeply with Australian audiences that it quickly became a cult hit, and soon Kenny fever went airborne.
Jacobson’s shares his Kenny success with his director, co-writer and brother, Clayton. This is their first collaboration, and the resounding accolades are still rolling in. The pair have just completed work on a Kenny “World Toilet Tour,” which will air in eight half-hour instalments on Australian television, and finds Kenny in places as far-flung as Egypt, India, China and outer space.
This is a big leap forward for the actor and writer, who used to supplement his income by producing events. Without those event management connections, he likely would never have stumbled across the Splash Down worker (the real port-o-potty company where the fictional Kenny works) who inspired the film.
“I met the Splash Down worker [at] an event,” Jacobson recalls. “One of the ladies came out [of the toilet] and she was like ‘that hole in there, it stinks.’ He said, ‘Look lady, I don’t want to state the obvious here, but that’s a ladies’ toilet and you just came out of it, and you’re saying it stinks. I don’t manufacture the stink. If it stinks in there, it’s clearly got something to do with you or the lady who was in there before you. I only take the stuff away, I don’t manufacture it.’”
Therein lies the film’s simple premise — a man who refuses to be embarrassed about what he does, and is genuinely happy and content with his life. It’s a refreshing change from most cinematic heroes, who are either complex, conflicted or a curiously tedious combination of the two. Jacobson says that Kenny is actually a movie about decency more than anything else.
“We’re dealing with working-class stuff here,” he explains. “Working in a job the world frowns upon, there’s a lot of heart to be found.” He recounts his experiences in shopping malls where the cleaners keep their heads down and don’t make eye contact, trained to not expect respect. Jacobson and his brother make it a point to have the cleaners in the audience stand up after Kenny screenings and be applauded. That natural desire to champion the underdog is a huge part of what makes Kenny shine, and why Jacobson and his brother were so determined to create a character that was genuine and unselfconscious.
“We all hear the expression never judge a book by its cover, and I find that an interesting notion,” Jacobson says. “The difference with our film is that the message isn’t to the people who judge, but to the books who are being judged. To all those books who are being judged, it doesn’t change the content of your book. It just means they’ve chosen not to read the pages.”
This philosophy is keeping Jacobson focused on his career. He likens the last two years to being a “paper airplane in a hurricane,” but he’s grateful for the opportunities Kenny has afforded him. Now he and his brother get to wrestle with the notion of celebrity.
“My anonymity’s kind of disappeared in this country, but I hate the word ‘star’ or ‘celebrity,’” he says. “My brother and I have always said I just have a more recognizable head. I just have a recognizable fat head.”