‘Chopper’ case of assumed identity

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Don’t be fooled by the moustache, sunglasses and tattoos.
Australian stand-up comedian Heath Franklin is distinct from the character that has made him famous. Since 2005, he has been impersonating notorious jailbird and author Chopper Read, who died in 2013. Known simply as Chopper, Franklin has appeared regularly on TV3’s 7 Days programme as well as touring New Zealand in his own right. His latest tour includes a gig at the Oamaru Opera House. His publicist teed up a phone interview in the lead-up, which yours truly was delighted to snaffle. Franklin was ensconced in his Auckland hotel room when I called at 10am last Thursday. He hadn’t bothered to get out of bed, as he works late into the evenings. That is one reason why he crosses the Tasman alone, leaving his wife and children in Australia. The others are his busy touring schedule, and costs. The tour is called “Heath Franklin’s Chopper – Live from Anzakistan”. It’s his version of an amalgamated New Zealand and Australia, which has become a superpower under his rule. It has featured on Kiwi television, but Franklin has written all new material for the tour. “I’ve been doing it since January. It’s slightly different depending on where I do it. “I’ve got the structure of the show I do every night. It’s nice to have a bit of variety – for me and the audience.” Australian audiences tended to be “more uptight about a few things”, Franklin said. Immigration was one of them, but it was not a big enough issue to resonate with New Zealand audiences. In general, Australasians shared the same type of sense of humour, he said. He researched the New Zealand version by watching movies. “When I first started coming here, I tried to get waist deep in the culture.” He concluded the humour was “slightly darker here”. Franklin admitted his Chopper persona had taken over his life. “From time to time, I have a yearning to come out from behind Chopper.” When he had the chance to meet the real Chopper a few years ago, he figured he had to take it. It was “terrifying”, but with “heaps of people around” he hoped to survive. The other prospect was that they would “get on like a house on fire”. Neither happened, the encounter proving “a bit disappointing”. Franklin said he needed “mankind” to supply him with inspiration – by being “annoying and illogical”. “It’s a pretty symbiotic relationship,” he said, his eloquence revealing the man underneath the stick-on moustache.