New HBO Sitcom Stars Australian Comic Chris Lilley

Ja'mie King is a spoiled teen princess who calls her friends "skanks" and makes sure to tell poor people, as bluntly as she can, how much she pities them. Jonah Takalua, a monosyllabic Pacific Islander, is a delinquent who bullies his schoolmates, torments his teachers and draws sophomoric graffiti (penises, usually—he's not very good) on every open surface. Mr. G is an egomaniacal drama teacher who has seized control of the school's latest production, which he rechristened "Mr. G—The Musical." Together, they are the stars of the new HBO sitcom "Summer Heights High," a faux documentary in the cringe-comedy tradition of "The Office" set in an Australian high school. If Ja'mie (that's "Jeh-may"), Jonah and Mr. G look eerily similar, it's because they're played by the same actor: Aussie superstar Chris Lilley, a protean comic who is swiftly emerging as his country's Peter Sellers.

Back home, Lilley, 33, is a bit of a cipher. Despite his ballooning fame, he's media shy and soft-spoken. "The press say I'm some reclusive freak," he says. "I get labeled that because I don't like jumping up and down at telethons and walking up every red carpet." He saves his antics for his shows, which he writes and develops himself, sprinkling real people into the cast around him. In his previous series, "The Nominees," which aired on the Sundance Channel in 2006, he played six characters, each vying for the humanitarian title of "Australian of the Year." The sextet included a middle-aged housewife who plans to roll—as in, lie down on the ground and roll—hundreds of miles for charity and an Asian teen hiding his love of theater from his strict parents. "The Nominees" also introduced the deliciously awful Ja'mie, whose snotty digs—at one point, she barks at a phone operator, "I don't know what you look like but you sound so fat"—have made her a cult hero in Australia.

Lilley inhabits each character so thoroughly that within minutes you forget you're watching the same actor. "Once I knew I wanted to do a show about a school," he says, "I spent a lot of time there. Ridiculous amounts of time." It was time well spent, mate.

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