HAMISH & ANDY
As their popular radio show winds up, Melissa Cranenburgh finds out what has made duo Hamish and Andy such an enduring double act.
In person, they are distinctly different. Both tall, sure. But Hamish is impish, blue eyed and ever boyish, despite some salt peppering his short-cropped hair. He has an almost preternatural ability to make every situation gut splittingly hilarious. And Andy. Brown hair and eyes. Model-esque good looks and a resting expression that could be mistaken for brooding – until his inevitable wide, good natured smile, infectious laugh and ready wit breaks through.
But listening back to their voices on a recording, without the constant name-checks of their on-air banter, it can sometimes be hard to pick who’s who. Mainly because the pair finish each other’s thoughts, sentences and jokes so seamlessly, the banter winds into something close to a monologue. They talk in the first person plural as ‘we’ without a hint of self-consciousness: the assurance of a long-term duo. Best mates – who have known each other for a decade and a half – much of that time as co-hosts on their eponymous long-running Fox FM radio show, Hamish & Andy.
“Well…we’ve known each other for 16 years,” Andy confirms. “Just passed our 16-year anniversary. Which I think is balsa wood?”
“It’s balsa,” says Hamish, effortlessly picking up the thread. “Actually by 16 we’re probably semi precious… It would be amethyst or something like that?”
Andy: “Okay. Yeah, yeah. All the early ones are like balsa, cloth, paper, dirt… I think your second anniversary is dirt.”
“That’s why I got you that bucket of dirt that year,” Hamish adds, “and you just looked at me…”
The pair laugh. Then Andy – the occasional straight man – ponders, “I wonder if it’s the same for mateship though.”
“It is,” rejoins Hamish. “It just goes through different drinks. So we’re just hitting our martini anniversary.”
The whole interview is like this. An inexorable double act that generously riffs off whatever is thrown their way. It feels like you’re with a tight couple of mates, and they are turning everything you say, everything you ask them, into hilarious banter. It’s pretty hard not be drawn in.
Now in their mid thirties, Hamish Blake and Andy Lee met back in the late 1990s early 2000s at Melbourne University. Which is pretty funny, Andy reflects, because neither of them were particularly good at turning up. Soon they got involved in community radio at neighbouring university RMIT’s SIN FM. They also hosted a show on RMITV, a community television network on Channel 31 – then best known as the incubator for Rove McManus.
The network was abuzz with Rove’s recent success when the young Hamish and Andy came along. “When we turned up to the Channel 31 studios Rove was the big success story,” recalls Hamish. “And that was the thing: probably only one person ever gets a TV career out of [community TV] and Rove already took it.”
Success came, though. And quickly. They were picked up by Fox FM in 2003 and within a few years became a station fixture.
Fast forward to 2017, and the pair are finally winding up their long-running radio show. Not because they’ve been axed. Ratings are great. And not because they don’t love it, they still do. “It’s got to that stage where we went, well, you’ve got two options,” says Hamish. “You keep doing it till it becomes a burden, and you’re relieved to be doing this thing that you once loved and is now a burden. Or do you take the chance to leave something when you’ve never loved it more… But, don’t worry. By next march, we’re going to be going, ‘Holy Shit. What have we done? We need a job.’”
Finishing up the show motivated the pair to listen back through their old SIN shows, hoping to find a hilarious old sound bite. What they actually found, though, was that in all these years, not much has changed. “So we didn’t get that great big laugh we’d been hoping for,” says Andy. “We’ve really done the same thing for a long, long time. We’ve only got the one trick.”
The trick, if it is one, is their friendship. “It would be weird,” says Hamish, “if back at high school someone asked you in Year 10, ‘What are you going to do?’ It would be amazing if one of us gave the answer, ‘I think I’ll get to uni. But there I’ll meet a guy. And then we’ll just go off and do radio and TV together. That’s the dream. Don’t know if it’ll work…’”
Andy laughs. “Lot of your friends would go, ‘What’s wrong with me?’”
Hamish: “’You guys are nice guys. But I’m using you to get to the front of the pack,’” they both laugh. “’Then I’ll upgrade to ‘The Guy’.’”
Really, though it has never been just about the two of them. Part of what makes Hamish and Andy so…likeable, is their genuine warmth for and interest in others. What “keeps the marriage alive”, both agree, are the people who listen to their show, joining in on the good-natured jokes and pranks – which, unlike other radio stunts, never seem to have a mean edge. Instead, it kind of feels like being part of a big friendship group. With a couple of really charismatic besties at its heart.
“Sure it’s about us,” says Andy, “but it’s more about our marriage with our listeners. We get constantly surprised by them. Their ideas are much better and stronger than ours.”
“In a sense it’s always been an open relationship,” adds Hamish. “And the third person in the relationship is sometimes millions of people who are listening to – or watching – the show. That’s probably why it’s no challenge to really keep things interesting.”
And this is the premise for the pair’s new TV show, True Story with Hamish and Andy. Billed as “the best true stories you’ve never heard” each show revolves around a true story that a listener has recounted to the Hamish & Andy show producers. After listening to hundreds of stories, the producers selected a handful, which will each have a dedicated episode.
The set up has the feel of the radio show, in a sense. Hamish and Andy (inexplicably dressed in velour blazers, emblazoned with their own made up crests) sit opposite the storyteller, and we get their genuine reactions as the story unfolds. In one episode we meet a woman who used to manage a high-class resort in Bali. In another, a man who worked in an outback croc farm. The people aren’t famous. And the stories? Not traditionally ‘newsworthy’. Just cracking, real life yarns. The sort of hilarious tales you’d tell at a party.
But the corker? As the story is told, it is wound in with a re-enactment, featuring a rolling cast of easily recognisable Australian actors and comedians – like Damien Garvey (Rake), Kat Stewart (Offspring), Mick Molloy, Sam Pang and David Roberts (Please Like Me), to name a few.
“It’s been a hell of a lot of work,” laughs Andy. “Probably not as fun to be honest, as the radio show.”
“But it stems from the same love. Which was loving every day people’s stories. The radio thrives on them... We always feel that truth is funnier than fiction… The everyday type of stories that you’re hearing from your friends – that’s the stuff that makes us laugh the most.
“It’s nice to know you don’t have to be famous – or even infamous – to get your own bio pic. You can just have done one dumb thing, one day.” He laughs. “And that led to a lot of other dumb things and now you have it immortalised on television.”
Finishing up the show did spark another classic Hamish prank. While they were on air, he asked Andy to sign a contract, completely covered, apart from the signature panel. Trusting his mate, Andy signed.
He now shoots Hamish a resigned look. The contract was for a bespoke fragrance. Andy by Hamish. Which – at the time of writing – had already sold out of pre-orders, snapped up by listeners who lapped up the gag. A shipment of 10,000 is set to hit Chemist Warehouse outlets by late August.
Hamish quipped about it in a recent episode of Hamish & Andy: “There’s been two instances already, Ando, where people have bought this as their wedding scent. Now, it doesn’t get more formal than a wedding. But that’s the beauty of a smart casual fragrance: you can dress it up.”
Long suffering Andy agreed to do one photo for the packaging and promotion (a single photo – he was clever enough to work out he wasn’t contractually obliged to do the whole shoot). But there is also now a hilarious stealth ad that Hamish strung together using footage sneakily filmed while Andy was in the studio. It’s quickly going viral.
Why a fragrance? It’s Andy’s superannuation plan, Hamish explains. A little nest egg, now their radio show is finishing up. It’s what Beckham did when he retired.
“Can we change the topic?” asks the unwilling face of the new scent.
Alright. New topic. This isn’t the first time they’ve appeared on the cover of The Big Issue. Ten years ago, they were snapped as fresh-faced twenty-somethings, horsing around in the studio. A lot’s happened since then. And a lot has stayed he same. So. What would they like to say to 10-years-ago Hamish and Andy?
Andy. “I’d just say, ‘Hey, well done guys on moisturising, because we look exactly the same.”
Hamish. “I’d actually say to 10-years-ago us. ‘Guys. Sit down. You’re gonna think we’re kidding, but people are still interested in taking a photograph of you. But don’t worry. In 10 years time it will be petering out.”
This piece was first published in The Big Issue.