'Better at rude than nice': Tom Gleeson insulting celebs for a living

Was it a lifelong dream for you to make a living insulting people?

No, it’s just something I excel at. I didn’t think I’d be a comedian either, I thought I’d be in a band. I was in a band, but I was funnier than I was musical, and then I changed to comedy. And as my comedy career’s progressed, I found that I was better at being rude than I was at being nice. So I’ve kind of just followed the results.

Have you completely abandoned your musical career?

Given I know a lot of really successful musicians, and they’re doing it tough, I don’t think there’s any way that I should go back.

When you’re dealing with the contestants on Hard Quiz or the people you interview on Hard Chat, how much of your interactions are a performance and how much is genuine hatred?

It’s the weirdest thing, when people open themselves to abuse by me, it makes me instantly like them. It’s a paradox, just the fact that people even front up for the segment, I feel like they’re my best friend immediately. It’s like insulting somebody is a shortcut to a friendship, so I feel like anyone I’ve done a Hard Chat with I get on well with.

TV host Sarah Harris is one of many celebrities to be insulted by Tom Gleeson in his Hard Chat segment.

TV host Sarah Harris is one of many celebrities to be insulted by Tom Gleeson in his Hard Chat segment.

Is being slammed by Tom Gleeson now a status symbol?

In our tiny Australian entertainment industry, yeah, it’s turning into that. People are starting to request it. At first we’d do the segment and we’d get people in through favours or friends of friends, but lately we’ve had people volunteer – Human Nature asked to do it.

Do you still enjoy it when you know how much they’re enjoying it?

Yeah, I still enjoy it because it’s like it’s turned into a chess game. The agreement in the interview is that I’m going to say the most horrible things I can think of to your face, and you have to cope with it. So we agree on that and after that it turns into a big fun game.

In the first episode of the new series of Hard Quiz there’s a visually impaired contestant. Did that terrify you, when you knew you would have to find a way to be your usual self?

When he first applied to the show, I thought, well he’s asked for it, so that automatically puts him in a weird situation. But I also knew there was something really good to be said about being an equal opportunity offender. There’s something very inclusive about abusing him. It’s one of my favourite episodes, because I think people are going to get a lot of joy out of it. I never called him brave, I never called him a great example to others, I just tore him to shreds like anyone else, and I think he appreciated it.

How would you go as a contestant on Hard Quiz?

I think I’d do pretty well. I only say that because I did a quiz show called Australia’s Brainiest Radio Star and I won that. Having said that I was up against other people who work in radio, so maybe I had a soft run at that title.

What was your special subject?

I chose quantum physics and I was up against Jo Stanley who chose 1980s sitcoms and Matt Parkinson who chose World War II. Beginner’s mistake: World War II is a massive subject area. With quantum physics you only have to master the bit you think comedy writers will understand.

Isn’t Matt Parkinson now a professional quiz answerer?

Yeah, and he won Sale of the Century too. So he’s quiz aristocracy. He wasn’t happy I beat him. He looked very disconsolate.

Hard Quiz is on ABC, Wednesday, 8pm.

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