Australian mockumentary source of wigs and giggles

Alexa Addleman

The royal music begins, and scenes of a teenage girl getting ready for school fill the screen. Head-to-toe in pink, she straightens her hair, sprays perfume, and swings a messenger bag over her shoulder as she heads downstairs.

LOUNGING PROVACATIVELY on her bed, Ja’mie, played by 39-year-old comedian Chris Lilley,  stares into the camera in the mockumentary, Ja’mie Private School Girl.
LOUNGING PROVACATIVELY on her bed, Ja’mie, played by 39-year-old comedian Chris Lilley, stares into the camera in the mockumentary, Ja’mie Private School Girl.

The camera pans to follow the girl down her spiral staircase and for the first time, the face of the show’s star, Ja’mie King, is revealed. No, she is not some up-and-coming  child star who was scouted at a mall, nor is she the daughter of two Hollywood veterans fighting to get her name in lights. The heroine of this masterpiece is none other than Chris Lilley – the Australian comedian best known for producing and playing multiple characters in his mockumentary television shows.

Ja’mie Private School Girl is a spin-off of Lilley’s Summer Heights High, in which Ja’mie is a private school attendee who spends a semester at a public school in a special immersion program. In this latest installment, Ja’mie returns to Hillford Girls Grammar School for her final months of high school.

But the twist isn’t just that Ja’mie is played by a 39-year-old man wearing a dress and wig. Her appearance may be comical, but the most prominent satirical aspect is her over-the-top teenage girl behavior that is both hilarious and cringe-worthy. She is rude beyond belief at all times. She crosses lines just about every sentence, reminding us that this show is not for the easily offended. But by being so unbelievable all the time, Lilley has created a truly original character that doesn’t feel like a cheap Regina George knock-off.  Ja’mie is no classic mean girl, mostly because all of the other characters in the show act like her behavior is completely normal.

Just as she was on Summer Heights High, Ja’mie is the queen of the school, executing her powers as a prefect by verbally abusing other students and basking in her “quiche-ness,” a phrase she coined that means “hotter than hot.” She is the ultimate parody of a stuck-up, wealthy high school girl attending private school, and her friends hail her like the royalty she believes herself to be, making each outrageous incident that much more comical. Even though Ja’mie is constantly making fun of students who are different and decidedly less “quiche” than herself, all it takes is a step back to remember that she is played by a middle-aged man, and her rude commentary reflects more poorly on herself.

It’s not a stretch to say that we all know someone a little like Ja’mie. Lilley even states in an interview that he knows many Ja’mies, and through his observations of them he created this exaggerated character. Many comedic shows on television today are offensive just for the sake of it. The racial slurs and jokes about sexual orientation are meant to be funny just how they are. But Lilley artfully uses these subjects, not as the joke themselves, but as the majority of Ja’mie’s script, turning the character Ja’mie into the real joke. He has subtly made it cool to laugh at someone who is distasteful, instead of laughing at content that is distasteful.

Aside from hyperbole, Lilley nails some more tame habits of high school girls, like their tendency to all talk at the same time, and to say very long, drawn out goodbyes to each other.  In one scene, all of the girls were hanging out together and as they part ways and go to class, they all begin to talk at once, spewing goodbyes and “ILY”s  as they slowly back away from each other. Lilley illustrates something as simple as Ja’mie and her friends saying goodbye to each other before class with a harmless, well-timed scene that proves some stereotypes can actually be funny.

Perhaps the only downside to this series is that it is only six half-hour episodes, which means that every moment of Ja’mie King must be savored. Lilley’s mockumentaries have never been longer than one season, in part because he’s always thinking of what he will do next.

Ja’mie Private School Girl premiered on Nov. 24 and airs Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m. on HBO. As of press time, three of the six episodes will have already aired.