Comedian and actor Shane Bourne was born to be in show biz. The thrill of the spotlight pulses strongly through the veins on both sides of his family, but his stage debut at the age of eight at a primary school social was still a shock to him and his mother.
“I was a reasonably reserved kind of kid, not precocious at all, but I found myself on stage during this talent contest doing the Elvis Presley song Hard Headed Woman with all the moves. Everyone started screaming, which I thought was pretty good.”
“But what really hooked me on show biz was my dad. He had moved to the Gold Coast in 1956 just before its boom and set up a band which played the Beer Garden on Surfers Paradise six days a week. My brother and I would visit him and there he was in a Hawaiian shirt, surrounded by girls in bikinis, singing, playing and cracking jokes, what’s not to like?”
The man who has been a part of the Australian entertainment landscape for decades – coming to national prominence on Channel 9’s Hey, Hey It’s Saturday then showing he had dramatic acting chops in the medico-legal drama MDA and the movie The Great Mint Swindle (playing Detective Don Hancock) – will be in Perth next month for a star turn in the family musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
He has to compete with a flying car but as the tantrum-throwing, teddy-toting Baron Bomburst, he will certainly get his 15 minutes in the spotlight and a few laughs to boot.
“The Baron has the villainous self-deluded thing going but he’s really a spoilt child, stealing toys and throwing tantrums – I can’t wait to get on stage! I was rehearsing the part at home and I thought, wow this is cathartic. Instead of putting your argument calmly and wisely, you can just throw yourself down and kick your legs.”
Making people laugh is Shane’s great love, mostly because he loves a laugh himself. His first big break came when he was 21 and he had just thrown in his safe job in advertising to take a stand-up gig at a seedy pub in St Kilda.
“The George Hotel was run by a mate of Dad’s and he needed a stand-up between the burlesque acts of his show, My Bare Lady. It was a complete disaster. The first thing I heard from the stage was ‘Piss off you poofter’ but it didn’t faze me, I was in show biz.”
“I didn’t have a specific direction, I just wanted to be in the entertainment industry and stand-up comedy, while it might be the hardest route, it’s the quickest. You don’t have to study, you just get booed and have things thrown at you, but you learn fast if you’ve got something.”
“I jumped at any job. I even worked at the piano bar of Wrest Point Casino when I was in my 20s. I play a bit of piano, nothing like my brother who is the real musician, but I learnt 30 tunes, pulled out my dinner suit and headed to Hobart.”
“I got into such trouble. I didn’t realise that people would come up and ask for requests. I think I played Elton John’s Song for Guy for about an hour and a half because I didn’t want to waste any of my other songs.”
“The gig didn’t last long, just long enough for the Reception staff to wonder ‘is this guy for real’ and to fall madly in love with a young dancer from Perth. It was pretty serious because I flew over in the middle of a Perth summer just to see her. I was on the beach for half an hour before getting sunstroke and fainting over dinner with her parents.”
“The romance didn’t last – the distance was a big thing, and the climate obviously.”
Never saying no has meant that we’ve seen Shane on shows like Cop Shop and The Sullivans to the hilarious improvisation comedy show Thank God You’re Here but while the credits are long the entertainment industry is fickle.
“Sometimes I stop and wish I was a lawyer or a stockbroker – a guy who’s done the same job all his life because this industry blows hot and cold, and it’s always hard to get used to that, but knowing that it’s in my blood is a grounding thing.”