Lawrence Leung describes himself as a “reluctant skeptic” – someone who wants to believe in the unexplainable but unfortunately finds rational explanations keep getting in the way.
“People often mistake skeptics for disbelievers”, he says. “I think a good skeptic is simply someone who asks questions in a scientific way in order to find some concrete answers”. In his new series, Unbelievable, Lawrence puts this notion into practice with a series of fun investigations into things that truly fascinate him.
“Across this series I’ll meet ghosthunters, psychics, magicians, alien abductees, even a guy who drove me on a busy highway blindfolded”, he says. “I want to explore whether various impossible and irrational things are really ‘out there’ or just in our minds”.
Unbelievable is Lawrence’s second TV series with the ABC and will again be produced by proverbial pranksters, The Chaser, who began working with Lawrence after they saw a couple of his stand up comedy shows, which involved pranks and amusing social experiments.
“The Chaser guys saw these and asked me to contribute stunts for their War On Everything series”, he says.
From there Lawrence tried his luck in getting his own TV show. “I spoke to them about an idea I had called Choose Your Own Adventure and luckily, due to their poor judgment, they got behind it”.
Poor judgment or not, Choose Your Own Adventure was a success, and so it was a no-brainer for them to get on board with his new project.
“Unbelievable was based on an early Comedy Festival show of mine from 2002 called Skeptic that they had also seen, so it wasn’t too difficult to explain to The Chaser about how it could work”, he says.
It’s not just The Chaser that are fans of Lawrence’s work either. Chris Lilley buys his DVD’s as gifts for friends, and deadpan comedy genius, Steven Wright was in the audience for a stand up show he once did with fellow comedian, Andrew McClelland, and upon leaving the venue whispered to the usher “brilliant”.
A common theme that runs throughout Lawrence’s TV shows are the fascinating people he invariably encounters; and there’s definitely no shortage of them in Unbelievable.
“In one episode I meet the psychology professor who Tim Roth’s character in Lie To Me is based on. He reckons he can tell if you’re lying just by reading tiny micro-expressions in your face”.
But in everything he does, Lawrence is careful to not make fun of the people he meets. “I think they can tell I’m actually interested in what they have to say because I am so geekishly obsessed and over-researched about these subjects. I guess at the end of such ludicrous quests, it’s evident that I’m actually making fun of myself”.
Lawrence is hard pressed to single out one episode as his favourite in the new series, but did say that the final episode was the most challenging to make. “It was a hidden-camera social experiment where I wasn’t the ‘star’. I chose an unwitting computer scientist and secretly gave him the most ‘unbelievable’ week of his life in order to see if I could turn a skeptic into a believer. How it unfolded was definitely not how I expected…”
Unbelievable screens on ABC1 from Wed 15 Jun, 9.30pm.