Comedy kings Hamish Blake and Andy Lee finally look set to make the transition from radio stars to successful TV funnymen. Bryce Corbett caught up with the boys in New York for a chat about radio, TV and their enduring friendship.
Stop me if you've heard this one before ... Two men walk into a bar. One is a science geek — a hyperactive, perma-peppy ball of wit and enthusiasm — the other is a straight-A student with an overactive imagination, a keen sense of the absurd and matinee-idol looks.
They are both 19 years old, both studying commerce at Melbourne University and they have only just met.
They hit it off so well, they decide to skip lectures to sit in the Union bar, drink and write comedy sketches for a TV show that exists only in their imagination.
Ten years later, they find themselves in New York, hosting their own TV chat show for a major commercial network, with a multi-million dollar production budget.
The story of how two likely lads from Melbourne, Hamish Blake and Andy Lee, skyrocketed from the relative obscurity of undergraduate revues and community TV to become one of Australia's most successful comedy duos is the stuff of showbiz lore.
It's the tale of how a precociously smart, aspiring astrophysicist (Hamish) and his part-time rock star buddy (Andy) turned a friendship into an industry.
A journey whose latest instalment is being played out as we speak across the river from the Empire State Building in a down-at-heel, converted plastics factory in Brooklyn.
For 10 weeks, this little corner of Brooklyn will be a sliver of Australia in the Big Apple. A small patch of the world's greatest metropolis in which sarcasm, laconic wit and dry Aussie humour will briefly reign supreme.
Tonight, they're taping the third episode of Hamish & Andy's Gap Year and as they bound out on to the stage in their trademark "traxcedos", the boys are met with rapturous applause.
With their respectful demeanour, winning personalities and good looks, Hamish, 29, and Andy, 30, are the boys you'd want your daughter to bring home.
Or, as 43-year-old married mother-of-two Joanne Jorgensen-Casey from Sydney, would attest, they're the boys many Australian women would quite simply like to take home.
Sitting excitedly next to me in the studio audience, Joanne, who has flown to New York from Australia only two hours beforehand, freely confesses her infatuation.
"I'm bordering on being a stalker," she says, excitedly. "In my house, nobody can interrupt me between four and six on a Friday afternoon. That's Mummy's time with Hamish and Andy."
As the tape rolls, Hamish and Andy lean into the camera. They are about to face the toughest test their decade-long friendship has yet endured.
The name "Hamish & Andy" has been trademark registered. What was once a casual friendship — two blokes in a uni bar with a shared, keen sense of the absurd — has now become a serious commercial concern.
The question then is this: if it all got out of hand, if the pressure of their success began to impact on their friendship, would they walk away?
"The friendship is paramount," says Andy, emphatically. "As soon as we met, we started hanging out and pretty much haven't stopped since. To then have someone turn around and say, 'You two being mates is really important to our company', well, it's kind of funny."
Hamish agrees. "Apart from my basketball card collection and my lovely girlfriend Zoe," he says, "my relationship with Andy is the most important thing in my life.
"Back in the really early days, we just thought, we are having the best time as friends, let's do a show together because that's going to be fun and it will make our friendship even stronger.
"But the road before us is littered with the remains of similar pairs of friends who were not so lucky. And every now and then we do ask ourselves, do we want to go there? Do we want to risk this friendship? I guess we'll see how it goes."
Hamish & Andy's Gap Year airs Thursday at 8.30pm on the Nine Network.
Read more of this story in the September issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.
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