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Glenn Robbins - Performer and Writer

Most people know him best for his characters such as Uncle Arthur, Russell Coight and Kel Knight in Kath & Kim, but Glenn Robbins has had a long and successful career in the entertainment industry. He has featured in The Comedy Company, Fast Forward and Full Frontal and has been a regular member of The Panel.

His most recent role is as the host of the celebrity quiz show Out Of The Question.


Did you always want to be an entertainer?
I think I was always interested in acting – apparently I said to my mum when I was about three that I wanted to be an actor. I remember going to see plays and I was taken to see Barry Humphries when I was 10. My mother schooled me in that sense by taking me to the theatre, and it sparked my imagination from an early age. I think my initial desire was to be an actor, rather than a comedian.

How did you begin your career as an actor?
I didn't have the guts to take part in school musicals, but I used to watch all the people that were participating with envy. I now wish that I had stuck my hand up to be involved.

I was working at an insurance company when I realised I seriously wanted to pursue acting as a career. I remember being in the office and looking around at all the people who had been there for about 10 years and they didn't look to be very happy. It's good that I worked in that industry for a while because it made me realise what I really wanted to do, which was to act.

So being the conservative person that I am, I enrolled in a drama teaching course at Melbourne State College. This meant that I could pursue acting but would also have a career in teaching to fall back on in case it didn't work out.

What were some of the first productions that you worked on?
While I was at university I was part of a few productions, and after I graduated I was teaching during the day and doing stand-up comedy in my spare time. During this time, I started to develop a lot of the characters that I took onto television. Uncle Arthur was probably one of the first characters that I ever did. Once I had two or three characters I started hosting comedy nights where I learnt how to be myself on stage. I was also doing acting along the way with lots of commercials and pieces in dramas, but I found that comedy was taking up much more of my life than acting. I initially didn't know that much about comedy, it just sort of fell in my lap – my career as a comedian occurred as a result of combination of elements.

Who is your favourite character to play?
I don't think I necessarily have a favourite. While I'm working on a production I really enjoy playing a character, but I wouldn't say there is one that is more enjoyable than the other. All of my characters reflect different aspects of my own character, so they're all fun to play on different days.

How do you find inspiration for your roles?
It depends. Sometimes I'll start with an idea and will try to mould a character around it, other times I'll be on the lookout for character traits. I observe friends, family and people I encounter in the street, and then draw select elements from different people. I also look at my own moods and emotions – I often play with different sides of my own character.

How was the character of Kel Knight from Kath & Kim created?
Kel was created when I was doing sketch comedy. The character started in Fast Forward and has had a couple of different names since, such as Les Larvey. When I originally played him, he was slightly more tragic and a little sadder. Then, when I worked on Big Girl's Blouse, Gina Riley and Jane Turner asked me to do that character as part of Kath & Kim and from then on he was known as Kel Knight.

What do you think about the popularity of Kath & Kim?
I'm very proud and excited for Jane and Gina because they've put so much hard work into Kath & Kim. To get the show on air originally was an incredible toil for them, and they've done a wonderful job, so they deserve every success they have. On the personal side, I'm very proud to be part of the show's success and be able to bring something to it. I enjoy making people laugh so I'm really proud of how popular the show has become.

Do you prefer performing live in front of a crowd or on television programs?
I like all mediums, but to be honest I do gravitate towards television. Having said that, I don't like to get too fixated on one medium. I like to do things in terms of the idea. If a good idea is suited to the stage, film, or radio, I'll do it for that.

How do you prepare for live shows such as The Panel?
On The Panel we talked about things that were fertile and that people were talking about in the streets. So we did as much research as we could – reading the papers and watching television. I obviously had a few jokes up my sleeve before we went to air, but with a show like the Panel you don't talk about topics until you get on air. If you have the conversation before the show, you can't repeat it again at night because it will appear contrived, so you just have to let it happen. We used to put the ball in play and decide that on a particular night we would mention A, B and C during the show, but we wouldn't talk about it until we went to air.

What projects are you working on at the moment?
I will be hosting a quiz show, Out Of The Question, in the second half of 2008. I am also working on a bit of radio here and there.

What do you do on a typical day?
I prepare for a regular radio spot that I do, as well as do a little bit of development work for projects planned for later in the year. For productions such as Out Of The Question there are meetings to formulate how we will do things on the show. So each day I'll work on some things that are right on my doorstep as well as jobs that are further down the track. It's like planting seeds – if you do the work now, then maybe your efforts will bear some fruit in 12 months time.

What are the most important qualities someone needs to have to be successful in entertainment?
I think you've got to have determination and you've got to learn to trust your instincts. In the entertainment industry, which has high levels of unemployment, you need to keep your confidence up.

What advice do you have for people who are interested in this industry?
If you want to be an actor, you've got to be more than that. Because it is such a small industry, you have to broaden your talents and work in as many different areas as possible. You've got to try acting in all areas as well as get some experience in writing and stage production. It's such a small industry that if you don't diversify within it, you'll have long periods of unemployment. You can't sit at home and wait for the phone to ring – most of the time you have to get together with like-minded people, start your own projects and make it happen yourself.

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