There aren’t many people who could (deliberately) mispronounce the former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s name at the height of her pandemic powers, and still get a call from “Gladys Butter Chicken” on their birthday.
But that’s exactly what Carla From Bankstown did.
Carla is the brainchild of Benjamin James. She’s a sassy, no-nonsense woman from Sydney’s Bankstown who loves efficiency, hates time wasters, loves the word “gronk” and would not, under any circumstances, let the increasingly loathed then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison talk to her beloved (pretend) boss Berejiklian.
James used the Sydney lockdowns to bring joy to the masses online, creating videos of a hypothetical personal assistant for Berejiklian — Carla — and the types of nonsense, nuance, politics and personalities they would both have to deal with on a daily basis.
The viral videos show one side of a phone conversation between Carla, and whatever besieged friend, adversary or underprepared minion was phoning through that day in an attempt to speak to the all-powerful Premier.
She created conversations between herself and NSW’s replacement Premier Dominic Perrottet (Dominic Pair-of-Tits), former Prime Minister John Howard, politician Pauline Hanson and media personality Karl Stefanovic, to name but a few.
These were the days of ritualistic 11am press conferences, when (at-home) office productivity would slump for a good half hour, as the state’s workers tuned in to hear how many people had the virus, where exactly they had been, what it meant in terms of freedoms and restrictions, and once again absorb the “thoughts and condolences” of those in power for those who had died.
Against that heavy and draining backdrop, Carla found ways to make light of the complex situation the state was in.
“I know a lot of people struggled through lockdown. I struggled a little bit through lockdown with my mental health,” Carla tells Rolling Stone. “I was so sick of turning on the TV and seeing all the news and I just wanted to kind of turn it into something a bit more lighthearted to bring more positivity.”
Despite the noble intentions, it’s also a delicate balance. How do you satirise an area and create a caricature of the type of person who hails from there, without punching down? How do you show the quirks and comedies of a racially and economically diverse suburb without ostracising them and playing into the hands of those who might like to deride the area and its people?
Carla was acutely aware of this and made sure it was always those in power who were the butt of the joke, not those locked in their homes in Western Sydney, doing the best they could under the circumstances.
And it appears to have worked.
Aside from getting Berejiklian to wish her a happy birthday, Carla has also since appeared in the boardroom on Nine’s Celebrity Apprentice, released music and a podcast, and, now that lockdowns are over, graced many-a red carpet. Plus, she got television veteran Tracy Grimshaw (formerly of A Current Affair) to say “gronk” on national television.
For Carla though, it’s not about the mounting accolades and brand deals. It’s about bringing joy to the people who need it, and shining a light on the parts of Sydney — and the people who occupy it — that don’t always get the positive attention they deserve.
Carla tells Rolling Stone Australia about the heart-warming messages she receives from members of the local community who have recognised themselves in her idiosyncrasies, and those who have taken heart from her ability to be her authentic (pretend) self.
“I was sitting on these ideas for videos for so long. I thought ‘I’m not gonna do that, people might not respond to it, people might make fun of me for it’ — and now some of it has been my best content,” she adds.
“My advice would be if you like your content and you think it’s good, just put it out there because there’s gonna be someone who is going to relate to it, someone who’s gonna watch it. Just post it, put it out there, because you never know — that could be the video that completely flips your world upside down.”