Meet Chris Lilley – the inspiration behind Summer Heights High

The comedian and writer explains why he is giving Summer Heights High monster Ja'mie her very own show - Ja'mie: Private School Girl

The bitch is back.


Ja’mie King, the snob/monster from the smash hit Aussie sitcom Summer Heights High is returning to UK screens, with BBC3 airing J’aimie, Private School Girl on February 6.

We caught up with Chris Lilley, the man who created and plays Ja’aimie in the HBO/BBC/ABC (Australia) co-production.

And here’s what he told us. So – why more Ja’mie “the smartest non Asian in year 11”?

Chris Lilley: She’s always been one of my favourite characters. Everyone loves the biggest bitch in school. And she’s a character that can get into some pretty funny situations and its fascinating to see how she responds. And I wanted to expand more on her private school world and her home life and explore what she’d be like in a relationship with a boy. She was desperate to come back. 

I love her – she’s grotesque but very funny (“you’ve got wheelchair people… so cute”). Is there anything redemptive about her in your view?
She’s a fun character to observe because underneath all her nastiness, homophobia, racism and self centredness she is actually quite insecure and has to deal with all the issues that most teenage girls have to deal with. She’s clearly got some body image issues as she mentions her allegedly small tits every five seconds. And I think there is something endearing and fascinating by a girl who puts on a facade and tries to present herself in a certain way. There are glimpses of Ja’mie revealing her true self in some scenes where she has a D&M with her Mum and when she goes through a break up with a boy. She’s more complex than she might seem at first.
Does her kind of arrogance/snobbery/sense of entitlement make you angry? Is that why you invented her character?
Not really. I mostly just thought it was a funny set up for a character. And a world which would be fascinating to delve into.
How do you feel about her? Do you like anything about her (in any way whatsoever)?
I love her and like everything about her in every way whatsoever.
Is she your strongest character, in your view?
Like in an arm wrestle? Probably not. Gran from Angry Boys is definitely the strongest.
Did you always think she would be the one who would have a longer life?
No I don’t plan too far ahead so I had no idea. I just decide what’s fun after finishing a project. And I choose the characters that I love to play and to write for rather than what I think people want. That always seems to create a better outcome.
Is she based on anyone you know/knew? Or is she an amalgam of people?
No one in particular. I went to a similar school but the Co-ed version so yes there were plenty of Ja’mie’s around. And I had a Ja’mie style older sister (nowhere near as bad). So it’s a world that was very familiar to me.
How do you see the new series in relation to Summer Heights High – how are they different? Do you see the shows as a progression? Or what?
This series focusses on the character of Ja’mie only and is presented as more of a youth reality style show rather than a serious documentary. Ja’mie narrates her story and is always the centre of the narrative. The show opens about a year after Ja’mie attended Summer Heights High for a term. It spans her last three months of school and focusses on the events that “changed her life forever”.
What are you aiming for in the new series and have you achieved what you set out to achieve?
My aim was to make something unique, compelling, shocking, confrontational and most importantly really really funny. It’s supposed to reflect the reality of the private school world but mostly its designed to make you laugh.
We laugh, sure. But what kind of other reaction do you want from your audiences? Do you want us to think about the world’s your portray? In what way?
I mostly just want you to laugh. And feel a connection to the character and believe she’s real. Any other reactions are fine but I’ll leave that up to the audience to interpret.
How do you write/ work/get your inspiration? Do you have a strict regime? Are you a workaholic?
I don’t do much else than create these shows but its hard to say if I’m a workaholic because its so enjoyable to work on them. I am always thinking of funny ideas and writing them down so the process of writing is a constant evolution. The hard part is consolidating all of those ideas into something that is going to work as a TV series.
What are you doing next?
I am working on a TV series about Jonah from Summer Heights High.