‘Australia’s comedians are suicidal’
Akmal Saleh still isn't sure why he was asked to voice Hamish, a wise Scottish terrier in the new children's animated movie 100% Wolf.
"I've had a great career, done eight different characters like a dog, a feral cat - a lizard was my favourite - and they all sound like me," he says.
"And now they're like: Let's get the Arab guy to do the Scottish terrier!
"I think they confused me with an actor! I can't do a Scottish accent but they seemed happy."
The film is based on a best-selling Australian children's book about Freddie, the youngest in a family of werewolves who somehow turns into a pink poodle instead.
Now he's got until the next moon to prove he's really a wolf, with the help of some doggie friends like Hamish.
Saleh says he loved working with production house Flying Bark, who he says let him ad lib and play around.
"I've made films where the budget is really tight and it's like you've got three takes to get it right or that's it … here they were just so relaxed and I loved that," he says.
But, even with the lockdown forcing him to postpone his tours and try to find other ways to occupy himself, he can't see himself transitioning to acting.
"People always ask me to audition," he says. "They say: 'Oh, we love your stuff". And then after a few minutes of me reading, they're like: "Yeah, you're not really an actor'."
And, while he loves to write jokes, that doesn't mean he will necessarily write a film - something he says he has been working on for years, only to keep putting off because he's too busy touring.
"I'd love to write a film but I still haven't written one, which goes to prove it wasn't that I was busy, it was because I have no talent!" he laughs.
But he can see the lockdown providing some rich comedic gold - just not yet.
"The bigger the tragedy, the more opportunity for comedy," he says.
"You just can't do it now. Tragedy plus time equals comedy … then you can make fun of it."
He admits this is the longest holiday he has ever had - and the most time he has spent with his wife in the 16 years of their marriage - and returning to the stage may prove difficult.
"I'm not even sure I can do it any more," he says. "You lose the rhythm and confidence. Magicians, they can keep practising at home but comedians need an audience."
And, in some ways, the audience needs comedians, with many people needing to see something funny to cheer themselves up. While Saleh says he has received many comments like that over the years, people telling him they feel "buoyant" again after seeing him, comedians can't always save people.
"The comedians of Australia are the ones most likely to be suicidal," he says.
"This is a gross generalisation by the way but people who invite comedians to parties expecting them to be telling jokes all night … most of them go into the kitchen, stick their head into the dishwasher and can't wait to leave.
"I had an electrician come in to do some work recently and he says to his apprentice that this guy is going to make you piss yourself laughing non-stop.
"It's not even 9am, I'm half-asleep and thinking: 'You are optimistic!' "
Still, he is keeping busy by trying some home renovation and trying out his father-in-law's tools.
"I've made holes in walls, painted myself different colours … at least I'm having a go," he says. "There's been some injuries but nothing permanent - there's still a bit of time yet!"
He jokes it could even be the start of a new TV show.
"The Block For Idiots!" he says. "Home renovations if you have no idea what you are doing."
Still, it can't compare to his experience on Foxtel's Selling Houses Australia, when he and his wife were trying to sell their home on the north coast.
"I've done a lot of TV that I'm proud of - this is not one of them - but it's the only one people remember!" he says.
They were desperate to sell after they discovered the idyllic paradise was deadly.
"It was a house in the absolute jungle," he says. "There was a tiger snake in the kitchen - a sentence I never thought I would say.
"We were bitten a few times by mysterious things. And there was a pack of feral dogs who would circle the house at sunset, going: 'They're got to come out sometime'.
"It was like something from a demonic horror film!"
So did he use any of that as inspiration for his work in the werewolf movie 100% Wolf?
"This is a children's movie … they would have said, less demonic creatures, more fun fluffy things!" he says.
100% Wolf is available for rent from May 29 via Apple TV, Fetch,
Foxtel and Google Play
Originally published as 'Australia's comedians are suicidal'