Limelight is delighted that Peter Berner is joining us as a regular contributor, channeling his topical wit and delightful whimsy into a monthly arts cartoon for our print magazine, with the first one appearing in our new-look October issue.
A stand-up comic, television presenter, radio broadcaster, writer, artist and cartoonist, his many credits include BackBerner, The Einstein Factor and The Loaded Brush for ABC-TV, You Have Been Watching for The Comedy Channel, and The B Team with Peter Berner for Sky News Live. He has also published two books of cartoons – The Book of He, which looks at life from the perspective of a happily ordinary man, and The Book of They about relationships. He spoke to Limelight.
Peter Berner. Image supplied
You are a graduate of the National Art School and you still paint. While studying did you envisage a career as a painter primarily rather than an illustrator and comedian?
I remember when I told my parents I wanted to quit my job and be a comedian. After my Dad stopped crying he said “make sure you have something to fall back on”. So I went to art school. It turns out the thing I’m falling back on is actually flakier than the thing I’m falling from. So, I guess what I’m saying is, “careers” have never been my strong suit.
Did you always love making art?
Always. I’ve got better by doing. So, that’s a life lesson for all the young folk reading this. Keep at it. I would encourage everyone to make art. We all did as kids and the only reason you stop is some grown up told you “there are no purple cows on the moon, stop being a dreamer and get a real job”. I see COVID bringing out the artists in people.
When did comedy come into the equation? And how did that start?
1988. I think it was sort of a bucket list thing back before bucket lists were a thing. I figured I do it once, like bungee jumping, and that’d be it. But it turned out I was good at it. On top of which I liked hanging around with comics. Turns out I fit in in around people who don’t fit in. Plus, days off. That was a big incentive, too.
Did you enjoy doing stand-up? Or did you find it terrifying?
Acceptance of strangers in a dark room is the best drug there is. I love everything about it: the laughter, the dark, challenging ideas. Being able to drink at work. In fact, people who hire you give you drinks at work. Show me another job where that happens.
You moved on to host both TV and radio shows. Do you have a preference between the two?
I like radio. Truth is, I’m not pretty enough for television. I’m like English rock bands of the 70s, famous in spite of bad teeth. But radio is more immediate. Like stand up. See, in TV the lawyers say “you can’t say that” but in radio the lawyers say “we wish you hadn’t said that”.
How often do you paint these days?
Everyday. I paint now more than I do anything else. COVID has a lot to do with that. Stand-up is tough without an audience. Not impossible. Just harder. I paint and exhibit throughout the year. Everyone should visit the gallery that represents me, Project Gallery 90 in Sydney. A great stable of artists.
You were a finalist in the 2018 Archibald Prize with a self-portrait. How was that experience? Would you ever enter the Archibald again?
It was fun. I think self-portraits are great for me because I’m the only person who can tell me “my kid could do that”. I still enter each year. It’s a lottery. But it was a high point for me to get hung. Beats the two Logie nominations if I was being honest.
What kinds of paintings are you working on at the moment?
I have always been a people watcher. So, I paint faces. I like capturing an expression that hints at a story.
You have also been the subject of a portrait selected as an Archibald finalist in 2001. Was that fun?
It was. The fantastic Martine Emdur painted me back when I was a minor media personality hosting BackBerner. She offered me the painting but I didn’t take her up on the offer. I couldn’t see a picture of me staring down from my wall. Given what her work is worth now that was a dumb decision!
Does drawing illustrations feel like a very different process to painting?
I love black and white. Cartoonists were my first heroes. I love the brevity. The drawing always comes first. The joke is a result of the drawing. It feels like impro with pen and ink. My painting is created in the same way.
You published books of humorous illustrations in 2015 and 2017. Is there another book on the way?
I was asked to write a book on Procrastination… but…
Finally welcome to Limelight! Is this the first time you have been a regular cartoonist for a publication?
When I was backpacking around Europe in the 80s I sold some cartoons to a magazine to fund my journey and for a while I drew for a street press paper but Limelight is by far the most prestigious…
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