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Amanda Keller… Coogee’s Classic Comedienne

By James Hutton on June 2, 2013 in People

Photo: Andrew Goldie

Photo: Andrew Goldie

During the month The Beast caught up with WSFM breakfast radio presenter and anchor of Channel Ten’s hit show The Living Room, Amanda Keller…

Where are you originally from?
I was born in Brisbane and then when I was about 6 or 7 we went to Perth for two years with my dad’s job, he worked in finance, and then we came to Sydney. I was probably in Year 5 at school, so I would have been about 10. I have lived in Sydney ever since. My parents though went back to Queensland when I went to Mitchell College in Bathurst. So I went away to study for three years, came home and pretty much no one was here.

Mitchell College is Charles Sturt University no, isn’t it?
It’s the same thing, yes.

Where are you living these days?
I’m living in Coogee. My husband Harley and I were living on the northern beaches, which I liked, but I was working at Triple M in Bondi Junction at the time and the Eastern Distributor was being built so the traffic hold ups were terrible. The Wakehurst Parkway was a nightmare, especially when it rained. You could just spit out the window and the Wakehurst Parkway had to close. A unicorn tear can close the Wakehurst Parkway. After a week of that nonstop I just said I can’t do this anymore. So we rented in Coogee to see if this was the place to be and we really liked it and after that we looked around to buy. Everywhere we looked was either renovated and we couldn’t afford it or the renovation was beyond us. Finally a friend of ours said, “I’ll be your project manager.” We found a place and we did a big renovation on it before we moved in. If we didn’t do it ourselves we couldn’t have afforded it.

So when did you actually move to Coogee?
We’ve been in this house for about 11 years and we were renting for three years previous to that.

That’s a good long stint…
It is a good stint and it’s funny though because until we had kids I didn’t feel anchored in a particular suburb and now I feel like this is where we will always be. We’re Roosters supporters, suddenly this is where we live, the kids go to local schools, and I can’t imagine not being here.

But you work in North Ryde now…
I know. I try not to think about that.

How’s the commute over there?
It’s not too bad because I leave here at 4:30 in the morning. It only takes half an hour. The worst thing is, because I go through the tunnels, if I’m running late I can’t make up time because of all the speed cameras.

So you’re endorsing speeding…
If I could get away with it I would. I got down to zero points at one stage. And coming home I don’t do peak hour either. If we ever have to go in for a meeting when we’re on holidays we’re all an hour late because we all completely underestimate how long it takes to get to work at 9am.

What do you love about living in the Eastern Suburbs?
This particular part of the Eastern Suburbs I like because it’s non poncy. People’s perception of east is probably like the perception we have of people in Mosman; it’s probably not a true stereotype. I like that it’s daggy, that you can go to the shops with a dog, you don’t have to dress up to go anywhere, and you can find a cab, which was impossible in the northern beaches. We’re within a stone’s throw of a great restaurant and a great deli and a great bottle shop, all those things. To live so close to city centre and to live that close to a fabulous beach I think would be unheard of anywhere else in the world.

Is there anything you don’t like? What gets your goolies about the Eastern Suburbs?
The sense of entitlement; I always get angry when I read stories when Sculptures by the Sea is on and the joggers get angry that this fantastic international event draws people to these narrow paths and for two weeks they are outraged that they just can’t barge through. That’s the stereotype of the Eastern Suburbs, isn’t it?

Do you have any favourite local haunts?
Yeah, there are a few. I go for a walk with a girlfriend on a Saturday or Sunday morning and we walk as far as you can go towards Maroubra without having to go on the road and then we come back and we’ll sit at Morning Glory on Beach Street and have a cup of tea. We’re big fans of Sauce too, which is just down the road; we eat there a lot. We wander down there on a Friday night as a family and BJ, the owner, always has a little table for us. The kids watch the footy on the TV over my shoulder and then they go and run the oval while Harley and I sit and have a glass of port after dinner and then we can just stagger home. And sometimes for Friday night Chinese we go to Souths Juniors. They’re really good actually because my youngest son can’t have any nuts and fine and they know what we can and can’t have.

Does that mean you can’t make any gags about nut allergies?
Yeah, I do joke about it – and then I check that I’ve got the EpiPen.

You’re on breakfast radio, you host ‘The Living Room’ on Channel Ten and you were a team captain on ‘Talking About Your Generation’ before it got canned; are you the busiest woman in Australian entertainment?
Sometimes I feel like it, though it is sporadic. Radio is every day but the other stuff happens sporadically. We record two episodes of ‘The Living Room’ every fortnight and that’s a long day, then every second week or so after that I’ll do a location story. Last year I was doing one every week but I felt like it was going to kill me, so this year I’m finding it much more doable. As daggy as it sounds, most afternoons I like to have an afternoon nap because I actually do shift work. We’re on air from 5:30am to 9:00am and there’s a blank slate in front of us and we have to fill that every day. I’ve done a full day’s work before 9:00am. With The Living Room, when we record two episodes we’ll do a rehearsal and at 2 o’clock my eyeballs start to hang out of my head because that’s traditionally when I go and have a sleep. Some days are harder than others.

What do you get up to in your spare time?
I try to go to the gym two afternoons a week up at Fresh Fitness in Charring Cross. I train with a guy called Doug, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:30pm, when I can. I have an afternoon sleep and then it’s like coming out of general anaesthetic. If I wasn’t going to meet him there is no way I could get out of bed, but knowing he is there waiting for me I have to get up and go. And I’m always late. At 4:30 I will still be lying in bed thinking I can’t do this but then you just get up and do it. And if I don’t do that I will try to take the dog for a walk.

How old are your two boys these days?
They turned 12 and 10 in May.

How do they feel about having a famous mum?
They don’t even notice. I’ll say stuff on radio and it will be on at home and I’ll say to Harley, “Did they mind me saying that?” And he’ll say, “They didn’t even hear it.” They don’t even listen. It’s on but they don’t even switch in. It used to be easier; when they were really little I’d just talk about them all the time but now that they’re older I ask them first and sometimes they will say no and I’ll think that I shouldn’t have asked. I’m very mindful; I don’t want to completely humiliate them. One of them says I can say anything but the other one’s not so keen. It’s a fine line.

Who goes to bed first these days, you or the kids?
These days it’s me; there’s been a transformation. They want to lie in bed with me and watch television and I have to boot them out so I can go to sleep.

What does your husband Harley do for work?
He’s a freelance television producer/director. Harley used to travel quite a bit and make docos and things, but because we don’t have family in Sydney and I get up at 4am and go to work at 4:30am, he chooses to stay here unless it’s a really important trip and then we have to get someone to stay over because he needs to be here when the kids get up in the morning and to take them to school. He’s still making docos and things but these days he’s doing quite a few things at the uni for climate change and making stuff for their websites. He’s got a full edit suite that’s on our dining table at the moment because we’re getting renovations done. He’s sort of a self sourcing production unit.

While his name is Harley, he’s not all tattoos and motorbikes, is he?
No, he’s a car man. He’s got a Lotus 18 racer, which is in New Zealand. It’s a little single seater race car so he’s more of a car hoon than a bike guy, both of which bore me senseless, so whatever. Boring hobby.

Blokes pick those hobbies intentionally so that their wives/girlfriends won’t be interested and they can spend time alone in the garage…
I think you’re probably right. It would be very tiresome for him if I just said, “Tell me all about it. How fascinating. Let me stay up late with you to watch the grand prix; that would be great.”

Do you have any tattoos?
No. We were watching the football the other day and my son said, “He looks weird” and I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “He’s got no tattoos.” He saw a footballer with no tattoos and he thought it was strange.

Are you worried about your boys getting tattoos?
I think by the time we get there the tide will have turned. Tattoos were supposed to be tribal and set you apart but now everyone looks the same.

What’s your favourite medium: radio or television?
They both have different things that I like about them. The thing about radio is there’s no one left anymore apart from us to be radio evangelists really because we both turn down a lot of stuff so we can both keep doing radio because we really love it. I can’t think of any other job where you hit the ground running – and I know there’s breakfast television but it’s far more produced than radio is – and there’s your brain and that’s the only filter, unless you’re Kyle Sandilands and someone’s got their finger on the seven second delay. So you have to come up with what’s good, what’s bad, what’s appropriate, what’s inappropriate, and it’s a constant challenge and you’re constantly skating on thin ice. You might think of something horrendously rude to say and you choose not to or you know there’s a joke there somewhere and you can’t find it and then the moment you do it’s like hitting the sweet spot on the tennis racquet. It’s a constant challenge to be focused. Some days you forget you’re on the radio and then we end up just having the dumbest show. But there are days when you just think you’re just talking to a friend and you forget that you’re on the radio and it’s just brilliant.

You and Jonesy are literally best mates; do you think that’s why the show works?
Yeah, I think it does. Charlie, our producer, was saying we’re not a manufactured team. Some manufactured teams work really well but we had a friendship before we worked together and I think chemistry is 90% of it. You can’t make chemistry but I think we started with it and I think that’s a huge advantage. We bicker constantly, but we love and hate each other like siblings.

What attracts listeners and viewers to you?
I think part of it is longevity because I’ve been around for a thousand years. I’m very grateful to be busier than I’ve ever been at 51 years of age. I think my career has never been based on appearance. When I look at how I looked in my days at ‘Beyond 2000’, I pretty much had a Flock Of Seagulls hairdo and I had ping pong ball and seed pod earrings and MC Hammer pants. I wouldn’t have been employed now because they don’t put women on television anymore if you look like a mental unless you’re in a kooky kids show. So I think maybe part of it is that I’ve always been familiar, I look like your friend, and I think on radio that’s part of it too. I get many comments of people who feel that they’re like me and their friends are like me and I take that as a huge compliment because I think my friends are like me too. I think I have experiences that everyone else has. I just get a chance to talk about them. In radio they call it relatability. It’s not like I’m an astronaut pretending to be having the same life as the listeners, I’m actually having the same life as the listeners, apart from my space exploration on the weekends.

From where did you get your sense of humour? Are your parents funny?
My dad is very funny. He used to buy us Monty Python records and all that sort of stuff. So I think maybe that’s it. My family’s always had a nice sense of the absurd, which I think may be part of it. I don’t think our humour is intellectual by any means so I think it’s probably just pointing out the absurdity in stuff, which is that relatable thing that everyone else thinks is funny too. So it’s not like I’m coming from a different way of looking at it or anything.

How long have you and Jonesy been working together for?
This is our eighth year on air.

Do Jonesy and Harley get along well?
They do; they’re very different men and Jonesy’s wife Helen is very different to me but we often say that our partners like Jonesy and I bash against each other and we get belligerent with each other but we are like siblings but our partners are kind of similar people. They’re calmer and quieter and don’t take the bait when we go “eh, eh, eh, eh.” They’ve learnt to manage us in a way that Jonesy and I don’t manage each other, if you know what I mean. And as families we do socialise with them quite often because their youngest son is good friends with my son.

So you have to go down to the Shire?
Yep, I have to make sure my passport’s up to date.

How did you get your first break in the entertainment/media industry?
I did a course at Mitchell College and then I applied for jobs all over the place when I came back to Sydney. I went for a job at ‘Simon Townsend’s Wonder World’ as a researcher but I didn’t get the job. A friend of mine got it and I was just devastated, but the producer phoned me soon after and said, “I need a producer’s assistant.” I didn’t even know what that was, but basically I had to have some secretarial skills and on the first day I had an electric typewriter and I’d never even seen one before. I had to ask someone how to turn it on. After a week I was moved into the research department and then I was a researcher there for a year. A lot of my friends still are people I met there. Everyone had to have such a really strong work ethic. I had to come up with two stories a day and if I woke up in the morning and it was raining I had to find other stories. It took me years to be able to enjoy the sound of rain on the roof. Simon was such a hard taskmaster but I think it stood everyone in good stead. When I worked at ‘Beyond 2000’ we’d do 22 stories in one trip and if you were sick, bad luck. Every second day you were flying and doing another story. Even the guys at 60 Minutes used to say, “How do you guys do that?” But I think I’d had such a strong work ethic drummed into me at ‘Simon Townsend’s Wonderful World’ that it allowed me to do those other jobs.

When it comes to television, do you prefer the role of host/presenter, reporter or actress, because I believe you act as well?
Have you seen my acting work in ‘Swift and Shift’? I think I’ve had more comments about that than anything I’ve ever done. People in airports stop me all the time to talk about ‘Swift and Shift’. If everyone has ever worked in that kind of industry or business they say that is so spot on and what is funny is it offended everyone in equal measure so no one could really take offence. In answer to your question though, I’d like to do all of them. I used to worry that I never had a plan and I never knew exactly what I wanted to do but I think that stood me in good stead because it means if a door opens sideways I’ll go and do that. So all those three things are things I’d like to do.

According to Wikipeadia you’ve actually been working in media entertainment for 30 years…
My god, would that be true? Do you know, once I read on Wikipeadia that I did a children’s show with Bert Newton called ‘Shower Time with Uncle Bert’, which obviously isn’t the case. It also said that I’d lost a lot of money in the ’80s by investing in ATMs for dwarfs and that I had often spoken about it. There was still one left in Melbourne but the others had all gone bust.

In that time, what’s been your favourite job/role?
All of them, I’ll preface it by saying, have moments where I think how lucky I am and days where I can be driving to whatever I’m doing and I’ll see someone sweeping a street and I’ll wish I could just do that for the day instead. Sometimes I just want to sweep a street. So all of them have the highs and the lows but if I had to pick one it would be ‘Beyond 2000’.

You’re a bit of a collector of interesting things; what’s the most interesting thing you’ve collected?
I’ve got some royal cups. I’ve even got one with Princess Anne on it, which is very rare; you never find that. A friend of mine found it in a boot sale at Swansea in Wales for £2 and bought it for me. The same friend also got me a cup with Edward VIII, who abdicated, on it. He abdicated because he fell in love with Wallis Simpson. It was a coronation cup for him even though he had abdicated and was never crowned king. I thought it was but apparently they made thousands of them. I thought it was going to be valuable but it was only worth the £2 that my friend had paid for it.

Where does the line fall between collector and crazy hoarder?
I’m a slight hoarder, not because I can’t throw anything out but because I can’t be bothered. It’s laziness. I would like to declutter. It’s not that I emotionally hold on to things, it’s just that I open the cupboard and I can’t be bothered going through everything. I’m a hoarder by laziness, rather than by choice.

I believe you’re a Roosters fan?

Do you think they can win the comp this year?
As a Roosters fan we don’t ever want to say it. We’ve had a lot of heart break. We went to the Anzac Day game this year and we slaughtered St George but I know what it’s like to be on the other end of the result. Look, I’ve said it before, but I do feel there’s an energy shift this year.

Do you support any charities?
There are a couple that I support. My nephew had a liver transplant when he was a baby so I’m a big supporter and mouthpiece for organ donation and also a patron of a charity for the Sydney Children’s Hospital called Sydney Kids Committee. It’s a non-profit organisation completely run by volunteers and we have a ball once a year. At the bigger end of town is the Gold Telethon and that’s also for the Sydney Children’s Hospital. WSFM is also doing stuff for that. I’m also an ambassador for Save Our Sons, which raises fund and awareness for a disease called Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, which affects boys when they’re about 5 years old and their limbs start to get a bit wobbly and they’ve all passed away by 20. It’s horrendous.

Do you have any advice for youngsters looking to get into television and radio?
People always used to say to me “Keep phoning until people get sick of you.” I could never do that. I could never take the advice that people seemed to give me. What I would say though is that I’ve taken a lot of jobs that I wouldn’t have predicted I’d do. I would never have thought I’d work on a science show and yet it was a great stepping-stone. Don’t just pooh pooh a job because you think it isn’t what you want to do, because you never know what that door will lead to.

In an ideal world what does the future hold for Amanda Keller?
It’s weird, just to still be working now I think is fantastic. I don’t want to work more but I don’t want to work less. I joke with Jonesy about how in a couple of years time I fantasise about living in an Italian village slicing tomatoes but I’d be bored after about half an hour. But if I could just do that for half an hour that would be good. If you could live in that state wouldn’t that be great? I’d like to still be viable and whether it’s writing or radio or television, I don’t mind if the pace is slightly less. I appreciate that this is a heightened pace and I’m happy for it to be less in coming years but I’d still like to be doing something in the media.

Do you have any projects in the pipeline?
I am writing a book. I’ve been asked to write a book in my exhausting spare time and I keep asking how many words is a book because I’ve done 5,000 in five months and if they just want a pamphlet then it’s ready to go.

Do you have a career highlight thus far?
There have been lots of them. I’d like to say meeting the Dalai Lama but I haven’t met him. I met Barry Manilow, my teenage crush. When we were 46, I went to Vegas with my girlfriend who also loved him when we were teenagers. I’ve got a teenage diary filled with my love of Barry. I pretended I was doing an interview with him so we could actually meet him and he’s so odd. We had a photo taken with him and as the camera clicked he farted. My 30 year love affair with Barry and he farts in a photo. I console myself by saying it’s like we were married after all. My friend was so appalled she said, “You can never tell anyone.” I said, “Are you kidding? I’m going to tell everyone.” So that was probably a life highlight.