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Lawrence Leung's Unbelievable

From: Giuliano Marinkovic <giuliano.marinkovic.nul>
Date: Fri, 1 Jul 2011 11:00:01 +0200
Archived: Fri, 01 Jul 2011 08:03:02 -0400
Subject: Lawrence Leung's Unbelievable


Lawrence Leung's Unbelievable - new Australian ABC series

Episode 3 - UFO

Are you brave enough to enter inside wild UFO Land of believers,
hoaxers and skeptics? :)

From UFO hunting in Roswell, New Mexico, to launching his own
unidentified object into the sky, Lawrence Leung goes boldly
where no man has gone before to make contact with aliens.


Part 1


Part 2



Source: The Australian


June 11, 2011

Disbelief system in Lawrence Leung's Unbelievable

Lawrence Leung examines the irrational and the impossible in

I came to the slightly odd Lawrence Leung cold, having missed
the bearded young comedian's earlier ABC Choose Your Own
Adventure sketch series and never having seen him live.

I quickly warmed to his "reluctant sceptic" schtick in this new
six-part ABC series, Lawrence Leung's Unbelievable, and enjoyed
the whimsical metaphysical edge as he examines the irrational
and the impossible.

Leung's show is produced by the Chaser team in its incarnation
as Unbelievable Productions, with Julian Morrow as executive
producer. It's a series filled with tricks of the mind,
perceptual observations and those perplexing questions with
which this one-time illusionist and former major in psychology
seems obsessed. Do psychic powers really exist? How does one
make contact with aliens? What are ghostly apparitions? Is it
possible to trick a master magician? What do sceptics really
believe, if anything? How do liars and cheats manipulate us and
deceive us without us knowing?

It's fertile ground for humour, but don't expect the
transgressive comedy of, say, John Safran, who through his
various shows continues in his loopy way also to seek answers to
universal questions.

Safran's humour, propelled by a sense of disorderly wisdom, is a
warning about taking anything too seriously and is often truly

While Leung also employs documentary stunts in the style of
Sacha Baron Cohen's Ali G and Borat, unlike the intellectually
unruly Safran he rarely causes as much displeasure as he does
surprise and delight.

Nor is the gentle Leung a kind of fundamentalist comedian like
Chris Lilley, who, for all his obvious ability to create
excruciatingly funny situations, never goes after the easy gag.
Even when he is seemingly ad libbing, you sense him feinting,
drawing the situation out and refusing to deny the moment's

Leung is altogether more relaxed, sometimes even a little
ramshackle, in his approach to comedy. This is surprising given
that the 33-year-old is an accomplished, award-winning comedian
who has been performing internationally since 2001, having
started doing stand-up and improvised sketch comedy in
University of Melbourne revues.

He has taken his solo shows across Australia and the globe,
including Auckland, Dublin, four seasons at the Edinburgh
Fringe, London's Soho Theatre and several at the Sydney Opera
House. He's a favourite at Melbourne's International Comedy
Festival, a regular guest on radio breakfast shows and a writer
of pranks for the Chaser. His ability to hold an audience has
been perfected by a surprisingly lengthy "apprenticeship in the
long grass", as vaudeville comedians used to call the years of
working draughty halls in small towns in the provinces.

His vast experience is paradoxically at odds with his performing
style, which is quaint, naive and not far removed from an 11-
year-old's local church presentation or school social night
turn. But the timing is meticulous as he delivers the
idiosyncratic material of his own creation. His live audiences
love him for his capricious storytelling style and obsession
with nerdy topics such as puzzles, 1980s childhood icons, high
school crushes and ghosts. And in this series there is also his
delight in con artists, card cheats, poker players, undercover
cops and those who hunt UFOs.

In the first episode Leung, in his daggy, rolled-up jeans and
bright red cardigan, sets off on his international quest
determined to believe in the unbelievable but encountering
rational explanations that keep getting in his way to
enlightenment. As does his mother, who keeps ringing him at
inopportune moments to check whether he is keeping his receipts.

First up he tells us how taking a girl to superstar "psychic
medium" John Edward's Crossing Over Down Under show ended the
relationship. Then he attends the Mind, Body, Spirit Festival
("the Big Day Out for new agers, except no one is wearing
Australian flags"). There he is told by an unlikely looking
medium, more club bouncer than visionary, that "there are no
roads, no compass and no maps; all you have to navigate with is
what you are feeling".

Perplexed, Leung finds fortune teller Lynne Kelley (a class act
who should have her own TV show), who happens to be the clear-
thinking author of The Sceptic's Guide to the Paranormal. She
drolly instructs him on the tricks of "cold reading" and out-
and-out cheating, and the way psychics and mediums can also
boost their apparent accuracy in other ways. They get something
of a free ride from the tendency of credulous folk to count the
apparent hits and ignore the misses. This apparently is known as
"confirmation bias", referring to a type of selective thinking
whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one's
beliefs, and to ignore or undervalue the relevance of what
contradicts them.

Leung realises he needs some system to tell people's fortunes
and do the psychic thing himself. This leads our intrepid hero
to try his own readings using the "vague cliches" (all anyone
else uses, after all) of a karaoke screen, scrolling the lyrics
of Madonna and Eminem songs to prompt him as he reads the minds
of gullible passers-by.

It's an elaborate and very funny set-up, which is then topped
when he uses an Australian psychic to attempt to find the still
missing former prime minister Harold Holt and another to find
someone who is still alive and happens to be in the same room.
Both fail in grand fashion, one foolishly, the other pompously.

Then Leung encounters an American magician who can drive a car
blindfolded (I still can't work this one out) and attempts to
win the million-dollar prize from sceptic James Randi for
"evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or

It's all rather benign humour though Leung, who wrote the show,
and his producers cram many clever sketches into the episode,
and it's often very amusing. It's not really Leung's fault that
some of the alleged mediums come across as arrogant, cynical and
manipulative and not as heroic as he imagines at the start of
his quest.

He's a comic who, if you're unfamiliar with him as I was, grows
on you. You have to let him "come to you", as comedy writers
like to say of difficult material. For all his child-like
anxiety to please, he is always fated to act as the butt of
life's indignities. Nothing seems to quite work out for him but,
no matter how much he is buffeted, his eagerness to please
always picks him up again. He's never in the doldrums, always
able to muster a vestige of hope from somewhere in the back of
his mind.

He brings with him a deceptive air of under-rehearsed confusion,
which is again suggestive of a student let loose with a couple
of mates holding cameras. (Though a second viewing made me
realise how tautly edited and delivered the material was.)

His stock-in-trade is to produce a momentary look of intense
bewilderment as things go wrong or don't quite work out - which
happens a lot - followed by a small laugh, at once his wand and
safety valve. It launches hopes and greets failures alike. His
trick really is to gently send up the self-importance of every
second-rate magician who could pull anything out of the hat but
his own success.

There's a lovely sense of comic literalism about Leung; he takes
everything that happens to him equally seriously, whether it's
visual or verbal. He exudes a fervent earnestness, an air of
imprudent authority that of course is never matched by the
results of his investigations.

Leung works at a halting, quiet pace as he maintains an almost
quixotic stand against the notions that not only bewilder us but
suck so many of us right in.

He's not really a satirist; one is tempted to call him that, but
the barbed bitterness and the bitchy adrenalin are absent. What
replaces them in this series is a simple-minded love of
silliness. But have no doubt, behind the jests and awkward comic
set-ups and daggy costumes and gimcrack props, a very astute
mind is at work.

THE incisive and gorgeously chatty Virginia Trioli also returns
this week in the 13th episode of her occasional Artscape series
In Conversation. This time she conducts three revealing
interviews, with rock crooner Bryan Ferry, photographer Annie
Leibovitz and that enduring figure of style, Jerry Hall.

Trioli is easily the best arts interviewer on Australian TV -
there aren't many - highly intelligent and I've-won-a-Walkley-
twice unrelenting. Her journalistic mind is so active Trioli
appears animated even when she sits stock still and quiet.
Though with Ferry she appears simply dazed by her proximity to
the urbane and self-deprecating 65-year-old singer who has dated
some of the world's most beautiful models, some of whom also
appeared scantily clad on his album covers.

It's a fascinating interview, funny, charming and occasionally
quite intimate, even a little flirtatious. Watch for Ferry's nod
and half wink at the end of the exchange as the credits begin to
roll. It's easy to see why so many women thought they caught the
glint of possibility with the still outrageously handsome

"There's a wonderful ease and candour that comes with speaking
with artists who are past the great melodramas of their creative
and public lives, and are instead now basking in the much softer
light of a well-established life and career," Trioli says.

She handles it all with skill and wonderful empathy. Like all
expert interviewers she relies on intuition, that neurological
alarm bell that signals what to ask and when to ask it. Trioli
listens intently, her eyes shining with genuine interest,
turning interview into quiet, sometimes intense conversation.
Few TV interviewers are able to get their subjects to reveal
more than they usually would in such circumstances.

She tells Ferry she enjoyed Keith Richards's autobiography. "I
loved that observation where Richards said he's never been able
to put 'the make' on a woman; he always had to wait for them to
come to him," she says. Ferry smiles and you can almost feel him
blushing. "Join the club, pal," he mutters. "It's interesting;
I'm always lost for words really. That's why I write songs -
it's kind of a mating call."

We tend to impatient with ABC arts programming but, as series
executive producer Tarni James says, the public broadcaster is
the only free-to-air network interested in creating a diverse
slate of shows that deal with culture, whether high or low. And
Trioli's interviews are an integral part of that landscape.

"This series is designed to have an impact by scheduling three
important and high-profile interviews in a row," James says.
"The half-hour format allows ample time to really get under the
skin of the artist and discuss and discover what drives their

Trioli once told me she was never a Michael Parkinson fan,
believing he signalled his prompts too transparently and was too
obvious with his progression from question to question. "He
rarely asks a question to which he doesn't already know the
answer," she said. Instead she admired American Dick Cavett. "He
was chatty, took the second seat so the talent could shine, and
he listened," she said. "He had a lightness of touch, too; he
never seemed stitched up."

And it's a delight to watch, almost voyeuristically - the
studio, burnished and artfully lit as if for a romantic dinner -
as Trioli sets up the singer with questions so he can shine. And
shine he does, his answers infused with bits of deeply felt
personal biography that surprise with their spontaneity and warm
generosity. The clips of Ferry performing are wonderful, too,
especially a live version of his cover of Bob Dylan's A Hard
Rain's A-Gonna Fall from 1973 and his version of John Lennon's
Jealous Guy, filmed on stage in Dortmund in 1980 a week after
Lennon's murder.

More Trioli, more often, please.

Artscape: In Conversation with Virginia Trioli, Tuesday, 10pm, ABC1

Lawrence Leung's Unbelievable, Wednesday, 9.30pm, ABC1

Listen to 'Strange Days... Indeed' - The PodCast



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