DEPENDING on your taste in comedy, Julia Morris’s stand-up will leave you shrieking with laughter or wanting to lie down in a dark room with a cup of tea and whale music.
She is, in her own words, a ”nuclear” live performer: a loud, fast-talking comedian who riffs on the ordinary humour of domestic life with eye-rolling glee.
So it came as a surprise when the 44-year-old was announced as a star of Channel Nine’s new Sunday night dramedy House Husbands, playing no-nonsense nurse Gemma, partner of Gary Sweet’s Lewis.
Even Morris had her doubts about whether she could play a straighter role. She need not have worried. Not only has the show been a great success – it has averaged an audience of more than 1 million each Sunday and a second series has been commissioned – but Morris has often been singled out for praise among the cast, with critics surprised by her serious acting chops.
It was not just the critics whose eyebrows were raised. Sweet says he was mildly concerned when Morris was announced in the role because he did not know of any dramatic acting experience she may have had.
”The thing about her, though, is that she has all the characteristics that you require to be successful as an actor, and that is that she’s incredibly intelligent,” Sweet says.
Morris is not new to acting: in fact, she has just spent the past two years studying acting in Los Angeles, hoping to crack the US sitcom scene.
Last September, on a family trip back to Australia, which was intended to last nine days, Morris was offered a spot on the reality show Celebrity Apprentice. After winning that, she was offered the role of Gemma and could not believe her luck: ”There’s just no way in my wildest dreams I would have expected that my first dramatic job would have been such a substantial job.”
It was at home in Gosford that Morris first got a taste for performance. Her parents, Michael and Maureen, imbued her and her older brother, Brendan, with a sense that anything was possible.
Blessed with a strong singing voice, Morris assumed her career would be in musical theatre. Her first TV gig was on the talent show New Faces in 1985, aged 17, in which she tied for first with a marching band.
She came across stand-up by accident, when she agreed to MC a comedy event on the central coast for a friend. She established a name for herself over many years on the touring circuit, while making regular TV appearances on shows such as Full Frontal and Beauty and the Beast.
In 1999, Morris packed up her particular brand of humour and took it to Britain to see how she might fare.
She went remarkably well. She hosted her own BBC chat show on a Friday night and a radio show.
Then she found herself doing a show at the Edinburgh Festival in 2002. There she met fellow comedian Dan Thomas, who she married in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve in 2005.
”I hit the jackpot there,” she enthuses. ”I was just hoping for a nice overnight romance but it’s turned into what could possibly be a lifetime romance.”
Two daughters followed soon after and, in a neat case of life mirroring art, Morris is able to do House Husbands because Dan is the primary carer for Ruby, 5, and Sophie, 3.
It was after Ruby was born that Morris’s life took another turn. She and Dan decided that they would prefer to raise their daughter in Australia and so they returned. Morris says she felt at the time as though she was ”starting again”.
But she had two breaks: the first was winning the singing reality show It Takes Two with opera singer David Hobson in 2008. And then she won Celebrity Apprentice. Between those shows, Morris packed up her family and moved to LA.
In the two years she was in LA, Morris switched from blonde to brunette and dropped several dress sizes. Her shape, she says, is a ”forever-changing landscape” but it was her drama teacher in LA who sparked her latest downsizing. Morris was wearing a size 15.
The teacher told her that she could not understand why Morris’s acting career was not progressing as she would like, based on the work she was doing in class.
Morris recalls her saying: ”So the only thing that I can think of is that you don’t look like everybody else. And the weight you are at the moment, you either need to put on some weight and become bigger or you need to take off some weight.”
So take it off she did bringing herself down to a trim size 10.
Morris now finds herself in the unusual – and slightly unnerving – position of being able to refuse work.
”No one would ever have thought that I was coming back into fashion, I can assure you,” she says drily. ”It has been my life’s mantra to say ‘yes’ to everything because I’m a real worker. I come from a working-class family and that’s what we’re like.”
House Husbands screens on Channel Nine at 8.30pm tonight. Julia Morris’s stand-up tour will be at The Concourse in Sydney on Friday and Saturday and the Enmore Theatre next Sunday.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.