It’s two weeks exactly until John Safran’s new series Race Relations goes to air and it’s already been labeled by someone from the Australian Family Association as “the lowest point in Australia's television history.” Are you fucking serious? Have you turned the television on recently? Programming here is hideous, almost without exception. Anyway, we have a feeling that John’s new show is going to set a new benchmark for Australian television and we can’t wait to see him try to determine, via a series of excruciating experiments, whether he should marry a Jew or a Eurasian.
John Safran: Well, I just spoke to someone from The Age who saw the first two episodes and said she thought the show was outrageous. Apparently she was really disturbed by it. It’s really weird.
Really? So you didn’t learn from the exorcism episode of your last series?
Clearly not. And this is a bit different to the last three shows which were on SBS, where people had to actively seek me out. Race Relations is going to be on the ABC in the middle of the week, which is kind of like nailing a billboard up in the city square. It’s a much more public space. It’s going to be interesting.
But your stuff is smart and funny. Have you felt compelled to make each series more controversial than the one before?
Not really. They just end up there. Race Relations actually started out as a book, which evolved into a TV show. While researching the book, I went out and did a few interviews, during which I obviously humiliated myself, and each time I was like, “why aren’t I filming this?” For some reason when you’re being filmed it’s way less humiliating because people just assume you’re doing it for television. Whereas if you just have your notepad and you stand up at a public talk, people really think you have a screw loose. Anyway, when you start editing something like this, you kind of just have to go with the strong stuff. You know what I mean?
Surely that’s what people want to see. So, for this show you turned black, female and elephant man. How did that go for you?
Well the black episode was one of the first things we filmed and we pulled it off so we were really excited for the rest of the show. When I was growing up and had my hip hop posse, my friends used to tell me to stop acting black. The idea was to really experience what it’s really like to walk in someone else’s shoes so I go undercover in Barack Obama’s hometown, Chicago
Were you a convincing black man?
Yeah, well, we realised pretty quickly that it’s pretty easy to make someone look black for camera but that it’s much more difficult to look black to another black person who’s standing five centimetres away from you. We tried everything from really low rent stuff, which didn’t work at all, so finally ended up with the guys who won the academy award for prosthetics on Benjamin Button. One of them flew to Australia and took a face cast and did his thing. It started off as a five-minute story but because it ended up being so expensive, we made a bigger deal of it and it became an entire episode. Which made it cheap.
Yeah, well I actually failed. I think that’s probably why comedy is so screwed up – people who can’t be funny are trying to be funny and people who are actually funny are out there trying to prove what artists they are by being bleak and dark. With this show, I just wanted it to be funy – that’s it. As it turns out though there’re some really awkward moments and towards the end it kind of becomes unwatchable.
In one episode you get crucified, which is pretty insane.
Yeah, I was thinking that this is why I’m fucked in the head and never get anywhere. As most people get more successful and more shows, they use their leverage to try to get more money or a better deal or whatever. I, however use my leverage to try to do things they wouldn’t let me do last time – for example I didn’t have the leverage in the town during Vs God to be nailed to a cross but now that I’m older and have my own production company, I can sit there and threaten people with not going with their network or whatever if they don’t let me do stuff on the show. It makes no sense. I use my leverage to fuck myself over.
But do you come to any grand realisations?
Well I’m not going to give that away but I do think that whatever shit goes down when it’s on air it’ll all ultimately be ok because it all leads to something. It’s actually full of pathos and might throw people around a bit but it’s all for a reason. The good thing is that I’m going to have a copy in my hand so regardless of what happens, I plan to get it out there.
As a Jewish guy, if you don’t marry a Jewish girl, what would your mum’s preference of partner be in terms of race, religion and sex? A gay, non-Jewish guy presumably being at the bottom of the list.
Ha, yeah I guess after that would come a gay Jewish man, then an Arab and Persian. I guess a non Arab Muslim is probably better than an Arab Muslim. Then you get up to Asian. But then maybe it’s better just to go with someone who no one’s going to ask questions about. You could argue that at least an Arab girl could pass as Jewish, whereas if you bring an Asian into the room, you’re really making an announcement. Just watch the show maybe.
Is this going to make it easier for you to get girlfriends do you think?
No, not only will I not be able to get a girlfriend, I’m not going to be able to make eye contact at anyone at parties. It’s just going to be too embarrassing.
BRIONY WRIGHTRace Relations starts on Wednesday October 21st on the ABC.