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Kath & Kim. From left to right: Gina Riley as Kim, eating a chip, and Jane Turner as Kath, holding up a wine glass.

Image: Kath & Kim, Riley Turner Productions

I cannot say exactly when I first saw Kath & Kim. I was 11 in 2002 when the first season premiered, and I started watching it around then. I’d queue up the VCR to record the weekly episode on the VHS I’d labelled ‘Kath and Kim DO NOT TOUCH’ so my brothers wouldn’t use it to tape the footy. This was so I could rewatch the show, memorising the dialogue of the dysfunctional mother-daughter duo, which I’d repeat at school, or around the house, or simply to myself, which was the safest option. The sitcom—created, written and performed by the comic geniuses that are Gina Riley and Jane Turner—was my oasis.

People knew I was queer before I did, and as a child I was forced to become accustomed to this as over and over people wielded their knowledge as a weapon to strike me down. ‘You’re gay,’ the kids at school would snicker as they mocked me, and though I was too young to know what this even meant, I absorbed what they were really saying: that I should fear myself, that I shouldn’t dare feel there was space in this world for a boy with my effeminacy and flamboyance.

I’d queue up the VCR to record the weekly episode on the VHS I’d labelled ‘Kath and Kim DO NOT TOUCH’ so my brothers wouldn’t use it to tape the footy.

Not that I needed them to tell me that I didn’t belong. Look around: I was growing up in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it rural Australia town built on the sweat and violence of the logging industry. When conscripted into games of football with my peers, I’d sit cross-legged in the grass and collect flowers as I disappeared into worlds that were kinder to me, more welcoming, than the one I found myself in.

Kath & Kim spoke to me on a spiritual level, unlike any other media or stories I had access to at the time. These were the days before the proliferation of social media, when being gay was synonymous with isolation for me. But then I discovered these characters, proving the maxim that ‘queer people choose their family’ is true even when the family is fictional. Here was bustling, high-maintenance Kath and her lazy and immature daughter Kim, plus accident-prone Sharon and a cast of supporting characters that amused and comforted me. Together, they formed the show that touched a part of me that I would come to know as my queerness. And I’m not alone.

Over the years I’ve met droves of queer people who consider the show part of the Australian queer canon, up there with Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla. We’ve adopted the characters’ idiosyncrasies, their way of speaking, their turns of phrase. Why? What was it about Kath & Kim that resonated with me in 2002 and continues to this day? And why is this an experience shared by many across the queer spectrum?


For a text to become a cultural touchstone for queer people, there must be something intrinsically queer about it. In the case of Priscilla it’s obvious—a positive portrayal of LGBTQI individuals coupled with spectacular drag. Less so Muriel’s Wedding, but one doesn’t have to dig very deep. Muriel’s trajectory from self-loathing outcast to someone who learns how to love themselves, aided by ABBA and the adoration of a true friend, is the queer experience for many people.

Though of course I couldn’t have known this at the time, I became obsessed with Kath & Kim because it revealed myself to me.

Kath & Kim spoke to me on a spiritual level, unlike any other media or stories I had access to at the time.

The show takes great joy in looking at the minute details of our lifestyles and idiosyncrasies and saying, isn’t that absurd?! This is the essence of camp—theatricality as a device that, by heightening something, dethrones the seriousness of the game we’re all playing. Or, as Susan Sontag wrote in her 1964 essay ‘Notes on Camp’:

Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a ‘lamp’, not a woman, but a ‘woman’. To perceive Camp in objects and persons it to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theatre.

Kath & Kim is camp in the way it highlights the absurdity of the ordinary. In doing so, the show deconstructs the artifice of our lives and exposes the humour of the mundane—a very queer perspective. This is at the heart of the show, it’s the essence of its genius. Everything is a joke: their voices, their turns of phrase (‘Look at moi’), the way they dress (‘The patchwork clutch or the personalised tote?’), the joys and sorrows of their lives (‘You are effluent Kim, you’ve got a Hyundai, a home unit, a DVD player, mobile. What else is there?’). The show is tongue-in-cheek down to the smallest details, like the way Sharon enters a room (always announced by the screeching sound of the sliding door), the ridiculousness of Kim’s clothes (reaching a hilarious pinnacle when she delivers pirate realness in the school reunion episode ‘The Moon’) or how Kath speed-reads her books (eyes darting back and forth across the page).

In this way, the show is in on a joke I’d long intuited, but was much too young to grasp when I first came to Kath & Kim: that in life, everything is a performance. My inability to fit in had been a gnawing problem and the show was an incredible consolation. By exaggerating banality, it showed me that I needn’t worry so much about belonging, for the world I was desperate to belong to was just a construct, and those who catch on are having the last laugh. The joker (as the theme song goes) could be me—because it’s all of us.

And then there’s the way the show overtly references homosexuality and queer culture. The second episode is called ‘Gay’. In it, Kath is horrified and repulsed to think that Kim could be gay when she swears off men and takes up golf with Sharon. Assuming that Kim and Sharon are having sex, she says in voice-over: ‘Call me old fashioned, but what they’re doing up there’s illegal, isn’t it? Well, I’m sure the bill’s before parliament. If it isn’t, it bloody well should be.’

Eventually, she’s pushed by Kel’s assertion of his own fluid sexuality (‘Kath, I was in the Navy for six years’) to examine her bigotry. Over a long, dizzying night (where reminders of the existence and permanence of gayness leer out at her as she stumbles around the city; the word ‘Lebanese’ on a restaurant sign triggers her, as does a man backing out of a closet in a furniture shop), she finally comes to educate herself so that she can accept and support Kim (who turns out to be straight). But it’s Kath who’s had a sexual awakening: ‘I’ve found this week that I’ve had more than just my eyes opened. My mind, as well. You know, I could be bi.’

Of course, the whole point of Kath is that she epitomises the middle-class suburban woman. She’s an average Australian, or at least someone we recognise as being uniquely ‘us’. Through the impeccable humour that’s the show’s brand, this episode dares to touch the shadows lurking in the Australian psyche by highlighting how narrow-minded and prejudiced Australians can be. Usually, queer-themed stories are about the difficulties of being gay. Kath & Kim subverts this trope by making Kath’s bigotry the problem to overcome. Her homophobia is stopping her from accepting her daughter, and is an obstacle to sex with her lover, as she’s turned off him after learning he’s been with men. The stakes for her are high and she needs to change, just as Australia needs to change. This was 2002—only five years earlier homosexuality was indeed illegal in Tasmania. The show takes a similar approach to racism at the beginning of the episode ‘Roots’ in season four, mocking Kim’s jingoistic nationalism and xenophobia, as well as the colonial hypocrisy of ‘go back to where you came from’.

Usually, queer-themed stories are about the difficulties of being gay. Kath & Kim subverts this trope by making Kath’s bigotry the problem to overcome.

I spoke to several people in the queer community about the show’s queerness and was reminded how important stories are in helping us understand and accept ourselves. Someone told me that Sharon is a role model for the way she’s chosen her family. In the 2012 film Kath & Kimderella, Sharon comes out as gay when the gang travels to Italy (that same year Magda Szubanski, who plays Sharon, came out at age 50, appearing on TV on Valentine’s Day in support of marriage equality and announcing to the world that she was ‘gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay…’). ‘When Sharon came out it helped me make sense of my own sexuality, the way the clues and hints fall into place,’ a woman told me. ‘The show reassured me there’s no rush in coming out, that everyone’s journey is different and sometimes it takes years to realise who you are.’

Even before the film, the show seemed to be appealing directly to a queer audience. From the guest stars (Kylie Minogue, Matt Lucas, Dame Edna) to both Kath and Kim’s outrageous yet achievable outfit choices, to the queer supporting characters (the man who owns the suit shop in Fountain Lakes; Meryl Streep, the piano player who legally changed his name when he met the real Meryl; the drag queens Kath dances with in the ‘Party’ episode). And how about that wedding! It pushes beyond satire and becomes straight-up mockery of the sacred institution, similar to the show’s treatment of religion. All this and it was still mainstream, a cultural touchstone, immensely popular within Australia and beyond. Another friend tells me: ‘The show makes me feel safe, not only for the way it supports me as a queer person but for the fact that something not inherently homophobic can be popular.’

Until Kath & Kim, I thought being an outsider meant I was doomed, but then I was shown that the opposite was true—being an outsider meant I would have the most fun. Motivated by the confidence this inspired, I began to write, even penning an episode of Kath & Kim that I sent to the show’s production company. The concept of the episode was that Kath’s nephew comes to visit (No prizes for guessing who I suggested play said nephew). I received a kind letter and signed cast photo in response (no contract as regular guest-star, unfortunately), but the symbolism here is obvious: I wanted to live in their world. But perhaps I already was. Kath & Kim had awoken me to the fact that our lives are inherently theatrical. It gave me permission to laugh at the world that sought to destroy me. And to that, I say let’s crack open the Tia Maria and put on the footy franks.