You might recognise Pete Rowsthorn as Brett Craig (aka: Bretty) – the often distressed husband of Kim Craig nee Day in the very hilare Kath & Kim series. But Pete’s acting CV is packed with so much more.
Where most actors start on stage and then may end up becoming drama teachers, Rowsthorn actually began his career as an acting teacher. He then moved into the entertainment industry; one of his first gigs being ‘The Comedy Company’ in 1989.
Since then, he has enjoyed stints in television and stage acting – from the comical to the deadpan, and has even featured occasionally in film. Occasionally he’s appeared on Channel 7’s Flashpoint and even on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. It’s something he’s proud to mention in his stand-up show, The Comedy Stylings of Pete Rowsthorn & Frankie.
Who is Frankie, you might ask? Well, she’s his daughter with whom Pete is generous enough to share the limelight and for whom it appears the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Frankie is very funny, her stint slotted in the second third of the program.
The first and last third of the show is Pete delivering his dry humour in full force as he relays hilarious tales of family life, life in WA, life behind the TV cameras, and life in front of them. Surprisingly, there’s not much mention of treading the boards of theatre. I once saw Pete in a brilliant stint in Black Swan State Theatre Company’s Glengarry Glenross, and I’d have thought a comic like he would make good use of the opportunity to talk his more serious work up. But Pete’s current mission was to make us laugh, not to make us gasp in awe.
Here, Pete Rowsthorn speaks with Cream about letting go of the comical mask on occasion, his strong admiration for local talent, and of course, that recurring passion for laugh-a-minute comedy.
Interview by Andrea Manno
First of all, Pete, we’ve got to talk about Kath & Kim. Was it enjoyable to play Bretty on the show?
It was a gift from heaven for me. We did ten years of that show and every second year we made another series. I knew all those guys from Melbourne and it was a bit of a hand-picked cast. It was good for me to play something that’s really flat and straight and doesn’t pull faces and doesn’t try to be funny. I was just the reactor, kind of like the audience – reacting to Kim, Kath, Kel and Sharon because they were doing big things. So I could be just a [sidekick] character. But it was a really, really enjoyable job.
Do your family like watching re-runs of TV shows you’ve appeared in?
They watch bits and pieces. Thank God You’re Here was back on Foxtel so they liked watching that, especially the episodes I was in.
“Laughter is an energy; it’s a complete release, and it’s euphoric. I think if you don’t laugh, you’re having a terrible life. I think if you don’t laugh, you’re having a terrible life. People need to laugh; it’s like a community service.”
Tell me about your character in Glengarry Glen Ross?
Well, the play is about real estate. It’s about competition in the work place; because all these guys are working on commission. Management have organised a leader board, if you’re not on the board for a certain amount of time or you haven’t raised enough money, you get given the ass. Or you just get given really shitty properties to sell; stuff that’s hard to sell. My character [was] in that position.
Did you view the film for acting tips?
I hadn’t seen the film but I heard it’s a very good one. When I got the part, I made a point not to watch the person who was playing me in the film because you start to adapt things to how it was done before.
How do you find it working on occasion with the Black Swan State Theatre Company?
The Company is a well provided-for venue and it has great rehearsal facilities. The sets are always good. Everyone there strives for perfection and works hard. I just like the rehearsal process, nutting out why things are happening and then getting it up on its feet and making it come to life. I’ve done a few plays but I learn so much every time I do another… and I really like it for that reason.
You’ve also done The New Rocky Horror Show…
Yeah, I did that Rocky Horror Show for years; I reckon I did about six hundred shows of that. I like to mix it up a bit; do different characters for a bit. I don’t know how but I don’t have the mental capacity to do the same thing for two years, so I like to take some months off and then come back to a play. I’ve had some really great opportunities like that. I did The Importance Of Being Ernest with Black Swan; I normally do one a year. The actors in Perth have often worked all over the world but, like most people, they want to come back to WA. I think the people in Perth are really talented and the standards are pretty high.
Do you do a lot of stand-up comedy between television and plays?
Yeah, that’s my bread and butter. In the corporate sector, I go out and host events, awards nights, functions. I’m an MC but I also do comedy during a night of that or sometimes I will just go to a function to do stand-up for half an hour or more. I do that all over the country. That’s how I make my cash really ’cause showbiz doesn’t pay very well but comedy does. [Laughs].
Have you ever considered going to the US to get into more film work?
Well, I’m not Brad Pitt. And with my kids [Pete has four children], I have a different lifestyle. You can work from Australia quite easily I think. Guy Pearce does it, and Eric Bana. But they’re established. At fifty-plus, you sort of think I might have missed that film boat. I’m happy being a character-actor doing bits and pieces on telly here and in Australian films, like Paper Planes, which did really well at the box office. I’m just happy that I’m making a career out of something that’s so much fun and that I love; happy to get up on stage and make people laugh.
“The actors in Perth have often worked all over the world but, like most people, they want to come back to WA. I think the people in Perth are really talented and the standards are pretty high.”
Do you believe humour is healing?
Yes. Laughter is an energy; it’s a complete release, and it’s euphoric. I think if you don’t laugh, you’re having a terrible life. Then there is laughing so hard that you can’t stop and you’re crying. If I can get people to do that, and I’m in the right mood, it’s a great thing to watch. It’s a beautiful thing to do and I’m happy I can do it. People need to laugh; it’s like a community service.
Can you recount or tell a joke in everyday life – just sitting around with friends – or are you more serious in your private life?
It’s definitely mood-driven; like you are, like we all are. If you get the right group of people and you’re in the right mood, you can. Other times, I can’t; you don’t feel like that. I err on the side of humour to get something going, like if we’re touring in the car. I’m good at picking moods and shifting them. I’m good at breaking tension, so if there’s something going on, I can shake the mood. Sometimes people expect you to be funny; I can’t stand people who go ‘well, c’mon, tell us a joke!’ It’s like telling you ‘well, write an article about me, go on’ and you go ‘well, shut up, I’m not ready!’ I find I’m hilarious in the shower and that I get funny thoughts at different times. Often, when I’m with my wife and I just bang on about stuff and annoy her. I do the same joke or jokes to her for years and years and still make her laugh with a similar thing.
What is the most embarrassing moment in your career or life?
It’s hard to think of one right now… I’ll probably come up with 20 later on. It’s always very embarrassing when you have to explain yourself to someone, like someone will say ‘I know you; where are you from?’, and I’ll say ‘Kath & Kim?’ But no. Maybe it was Thank God You’re Here? Nope. Can We Help? Nope. Paper Planes? Nope. But that’s just an example of an awkward conversation…
‘The Comedy Stylings of Pete Rowsthorn & Frankie’ is part of Fringe World 2021. Pete & Frankie perform at The Saloon Bar in the Royal Hotel, Perth CBD on February 4, 6, 11, 12 and 13. Tickets are available at www.fringeworld.com.au.