Over the past year—thanks to Australian Redditors, Sydney study-abroaders, and the general worldwide connectivity of the Internet—Americans have become exposed to Australia's premier morning newscaster, Karl Stefanovic. Since 2005, Karl has hosted the Today show, spending the last six years alongside often-suffering partner Lisa Wilkinson (who would be a goddess to impressionable youths were she to host a show in the States). Karl is sort of a 2003-era Matt Lauer, before everyone turned on Matt Lauer.
Karls is also fucking hilarious. Truly amazing. He could fit seamlessly into any American comedy—his delivery brings to mind an Australian Paul Rudd, yet it's possible that Ron Burgandy was based off his life. He's a man who would plead ignorance at HR's talk of "fireable statement." If he hosted NY1 or Good Day LA, he almost certainly would have been let go years ago.
And yet he delivers the news. He does the fluff, the typical morning show pieces, but he's won a "Golden Logie" (similar to an Emmy) for his coverage of the tsunami damage in Japan and an earthquake in New Zealand. Jet-legged from reporting the Royal Wedding, he returned to Australia to collect his award, thanking his wife in the speech for having "the best arse I've ever seen."
He is Australia.
Karl first popped up on my radar after his three-year-old Miley Cyrus impersonation recently went viral. The impression is not accurate. But Cyrus has a tendency to turn her interview answers into three-minute word salads, so what Karl did was needed, even if it more or less ensures he'll never get a chance to talk to her:
This Miley Cyrus smackdown led me down a deep YouTube hole. This weekend, with both roommates gone, I found myself watching dozens of years-old news clips from a country I've never visited, just to get more Karl.
It turns out that Cyrus is not the extent of his impressions: He also does a very poor Schwarzenegger. He tried out his Schwarzenegger to Schwarzenegger.
Yes. This interview is three minutes of Karl doing an imitation of the person he is interviewing. It could be a first in television history:
If you look around online for Karl's greatest hits, you'll inevitably find a deep collection, but this might be my personal favorite: A shark has been spotted in a local lake. And an on-the-scene reporter nearly kills a floating duck while attempting to catch it.
Karl makes the segment. He looks like a mischievous peeing Calvin—both because he knows the "story" they're reporting is too absurd to be true, and because he just presided over a near-duck homicide on national TV. If this were done in the U.S., the next two hours would be a series of station backtracks and lawyer-induced apologies. Even though the bit is so fundamentally dumb that it doesn't deserve that level of seriousness.
Karl combines a journalist's natural curiosity with what seems to be a complete lack of a filter—like here, when he asks whether women can feel which boob contains more breast milk, and what kinds of "steel stabby things" his co-workers use to defend their homes:
He's also not above pranking his co-workers. He's hidden Lisa's cell phone and answered it on-air. And if you're not sold yet on the Anchorman comparison, you should know that he literally changes the teleprompter scripts. He is Ron Burgandy? (Question mark intended.)
Karl makes fun of himself, but he prides himself on being tough. He's a "Queenslander," or a citizen of Australia's northwestern state, a region that doesn't include the cushy international city of Sydney. So when he cries while eating the world's hottest pie, you see his reaction alternate between male alpha-ness and a dawning realization that he's made a horrible mistake.
Of course, he might not actually be a Queenslander, as a recent (possible) stunt indicates. Karl wasn't born among the hearty people of Queensland, he was raised in the Sydney suburbs, a revelation that caused him to throw a (possibly fake) hissy fit and leave a show mid-broadcast.
Hey, did I mention he once did an entire segment at 5:30 a.m. completely blasted from the night before? It took place during on-the-set coverage of the 2009 Logies, and while Karl did cue viewers into the possibility that he took part in some "late-night revelry," the reporters back at home looked vaguely horrified behind their tight smiles. He giggles, he goes on barely-relevant tangents, he has the attention span of a lost puppy. It's utterly fascinating.
As with any outspoken guy, Karl's loose tongue can be cringe-inducing. In the most recent incident, Karl made fun of a fat dude because "no one was watching anyway." The comment attracted some viral buzz, but he kept his job. Just imagine the equivalent reaction if a States-side local reporter commented on B-roll "Obesity in America" footage with a Fat Bastard quote. The aftermath would be insufferable.
And finally, we come to this, Karl's magnum opus. In 2011, he scored a sitdown with the Dalai Lama, perhaps one of the most respected living humans. Acting similarly to the Schwarzenegger moment, Karl opened the interview by broaching the subject of Dalai Lama jokes. He told one to the Dalai Lama. He spoke to a frail and wisened man, who millions believe is a god-like figure, and his opening lines were a poorly translated joke about pizza.
This is Karl's world. We're just living in it.
I watched Karl with SportsCenter providing background noise. Skip Bayless had just come on to scream about baseball's PED suspensions. Stephen A. Smith was on next, to also scream about PED suspensions and their "disgrace to the game." I never cracked a smile once while watching the show—which is dedicated to sports, something that's supposed to be a diversion from the strains of day-to-day life and the existential terror of being one in seven billion people on Earth. Watching "light" entertainment news on NBC led to a similar feeling.
Karl is unserious and borderline unprofessional. Which is perfect for what he does. Keep the pompous pontificating and furrowed brows for things that actually matter—war, poverty, health. But when reporting "shark" sightings in freshwater lakes, or television awards shows, or the longest waterslide in the water, or One Direction, have fun with it. Not everything is life-or-death, and I'm tired of anchors pretending it is.