I’ve interviewed Greg Fleet – Oz comedy legend for comics and comedy lovers alike – a number of times and each occasion has been fun. The first time, dating back about a decade ago to the days of the original Harold Park Hotel, was in support of his show Scary – which would culminate in the courtyard where the audience, led there by Fleety, would watch him attempt to boot a roast chicken over the fence (successfully, more often than not). I can’t for the life of me remember why; like so many other details of the show, the reason has faded into the abyss. Although I do remember Fleety was selling t-shirts after the performance, and I tried to score a freeby from him – being the keenbean comedy nerd who had interviewed him, and all – though sadly to no avail. I duly purchased one, and although I have’t seen it for the better part of the intervening decade, I recall it bore the caption “‘Vengeance is mine,’ sayeth the nailgun,” attributed, mock Biblically, to ‘The Book of Ian’ (although I can’t recall the chapter or verse ).
I present this first interview in anticipation of Fleety’s up-coming appearances at Local Laughs (Darlinghurst), BBs (Bondi Beach), Cabana Bar (St Leonards) and Mic in Hand (Glebe). Although, as he won’t be performing Scary at these venues, don’t expect roast chook bootage.
“My ultimate horror is to fall out of a 40-storey building – to my death, obviously – but to land teeth-first on a drinking fountain. Before I die I’d have a half-second to go ‘ow, my teeth!’ Thinking about things that can happen to teeth is a spin-out. Putting a fork or something between them and bending it really quickly…”The man talking to me on the other end of the line is Greg Fleet, and the fact that he is discussing horrific, spin-out topics is fitting, for the next show he is to embark upon in Sydney is Scary. Five seconds on the phone with him and you know that he is the man for the job. For example, the first thing he does when he picks up the receiver is to make me jump by emitting a loud and unexpected squawk down the line. I cannot reproduce it here in words, but imagine a chook that has been impinged upon unbearably, taken within inches of its life without actually being allowed to die. The sound it would make is the noise Fleet assaults me with. After I introduce myself, he makes it again before clearing his throat and announcing that he’s “just eating a bowl of cereal”. Interesting news, considering it is 6:30pm.
When I call again later, having given him sufficient time to complete his breakfast, Fleet explains that the squawk is his “favourite noise at the moment,” something he and a friend in England made up as their contribution to the English language:
“If something is really sh*t — you know, I went into this rap one day, sitting around the house, and it was SO SH*T that it was embarrassing, not only for me but for those having heard it, just hearing someone be so sh*t. So we came up with this thing where, if something was bad, we said it was ‘loggy’. You know, we say, ‘oh man, that was so... loggy.’” Fleet luxuriates in the syllables, lingering on the double-g without actually pronouncing them properly. “We’re trying to say it in the most humiliating, embarrassing, fey way. And then ‘extra loggy’ becomes ‘cloggy’. It’s ‘log’, ‘loggy’, ‘cloggy’, ‘clowky’, ‘clowl…’” By this stage it’s the now-familiar squawk of the tortured chook that first answered the phone. See, Fleety’s English friends phone from overseas just to announce to him that he is “so clowky”, followed by the squawk. So when I phoned him out of the blue, he assumed it was an international – rather than merely interstate – call, and just wanted to get in first.
Glad we sorted that out.
Onto more important topics. Like his dinner of breakfast cereal. Having seen earlier Greg Fleet shows in which the comic makes full admission of his drug use, and knowing him as a veteran of many an Edinburgh Festival, I wonder if while in Scotland he might have become acquainted with that country’s most vile and addictive substance: porridge. Fleet clucks at me some more before breaking into a foreign accent:“Oh, no, no, no. Porridge for bad man; porridge make kill; porridge make murder. Me so sorry for kill stranger. Eat porridge make me kill again. Now me feel clean. Me have blood of stranger in mouth so deep.”
I laugh with insecure trepidation. Fleet joins in, cackling dementedly. “I reckon murder is hilarious,” he says. He outlines a new method that he recently devised, which he calls “mystery-bagging” or “carpet-bagging”. What you do is “kill someone or knock them unconscious and make a small incision in their back – about four inches across – and then just poke natural oysters in there. Fill them up with oysters. So the police find them and they’ve got two dozen oysters inside them, like a carpetbagger steak. THE SEAFOOD KILLER STRIKES AGAIN! It’s something pointless. Really time-consuming and indulgent.”
Will this stuff feature in Scary, I wonder.
“Maybe," Fleety says. "I don’t know. I’ll mention it the night you come. And I’ll give you a bit of ‘clowk’ as well.” I can hardly wait. Meanwhile, Fleet’s strange mind elaborates on his ‘clowky’ movement. “We drew these drawings. You know how sometimes you can curl your feet up when you’re in a car accident or whatever? You curl your feet?”
“Like when the house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz?”, I suggest. When the ruby slippers are removed, her feet, protruding from beneath the farm house, wither and roll up.
“Yeah, that sort of thing. If you see anything clowky it makes your feet curl. We ended up curling our feet and creating a character who went with Loggy. Loggy was a rapper, but he had this DJ called Curve Foot. ‘Curve Foot appears courtesy of WEA records.’ Then we came up with ‘loop foot’, which is when you get curve foot so badly that your toenails grow into your heels, and you’ve got a circular foot. So there’s Loggy, Curve Foot, Loop Foot and then... what else?” Greg loses his train of thought as he tries to complete the list of characters, and before I can offer ‘Fleet Foot’ – (as in the Dylan lyric: ‘Maggie comes Fleet Foot/Face full of black soot…’) – he gives me a despairing ‘clowk’.
“Oh I don’t know,” he says, answering his own question. “Something about eating human poo? No, that’s not true, I just made it up! Oh, I so want to stab a prostitute to death and try and get away with it. Ah fuck! I shouldn’t’ve told you, now I’m gonna get done.”
Dear me. Where to from here? Fleet tells me of the Great God Clokus, a chicken figure whose fathers have been plucked entirely, except on the neck, by his mother. I start praying to the God of Interviewers for a crossover to a live feed of... well, just about anything else. Fleet obviously recognises the misgivings in my pause.
“Ask me anything, I don’t care,” he assures me.
I begin to discuss Scary with Fleety, realising that ‘Fleety’ and ‘scary’ are interchangeable concepts. “What is Scary about?” I ask.
“Nothing yet. That’s why it’s scary!”
Greg Fleet can tell me this much: the show will probably feature the Old Man character that was in Underwater World, his last Sydney show. Fleet has broken with his usual tradition of putting a show on for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, developing it in time for Edinburgh, wowing all and sundry in Scotland and then bringing the final version to Sydney. This time he has deemed his most recent Melbourne Festival show, Bridge Over the River Me, not good enough, and instead of going to Edinburgh with it, remained in Australia to appear as Feste in a Bell Shakespeare production of Twelfth Night.
“I like the discipline of doing Shakespeare,” Greg Fleet admits. “I’d love to do more; drama stretches me in a different direction”. Fleet is not unfamiliar with the straight theatre work. He has spent time at NIDA and claims his theatrical leanings stem from a desire to “know what it feels like in somebody else’s clothes”. That his comedy is becoming more character-based shows a development of both his comic and dramatic skills. Although he states the case a little differently: “The characters are usually people that I’ve killed. I’m the last person to see them and I want to keep their memory alive a little bit. Drop a few hints to the cops. But they’ll never catch me.”
“How long does it take you to come up with a show?” I politely change the subject.
“I’m gay,” he replies, also politely changing the subject. “Sorry, no, what was that? That’s not true. I just wanted to say something inappropriate. Uhm It’s kind of hard to say. From the time you come up with a title to the time you actually come up with the show, for me, can be anywhere from a year to a week. But I generally kind of fuck around with ideas a little bit, and then wait until about the last week and just panic and chuck it together.”
Fleet explains his arrival at a comedy festival as a matter of looking around the room to “see all the other comics who are there, work out that they’ve probably written their show two months before, but know that you’re probably three times better than them so it’s all right.” He cracks up. “What an arrogant f*cking c*nt!”
Perhaps the arrogance is justified. The man has been known to come away from Edinburgh with five-star reviews, his performances, in his words, “very non-clowky”. He considers himself vindicated, in a way, “because so many good Australian comics go to Edinburgh that the local comics go ‘fucken’ hell, when’s it gonna end?’” But of course, it won’t end, since “comics over here are having a hard time getting paid for a gig. They’re making a hundred and fifty bucks a year or something. And they would be making a minimum of a grand a week in the UK. And that’s pounds, too: it’s something like a million bucks Australian.”
This takes Fleet off on another tangent, this time about “the funniest person” he has ever heard, who in fact isn’t a comic earning a million dollars Australian, but “just a guy in England.”
“You know how I was saying that if something is sh*thouse, it’s loggy and clowky,” Fleet begins, “if someone offers him an extra mild cigarette instead of a strong one, he says, ‘Ah, no, I won’t accept an extra mild cigarette because I’m not actually gay’. He equates this whole ‘gay’ thing with softness and weakness. I know it’s really wrong and a cliché, but I’ve started doing it too and we can’t stop, and now I’ll go to cross the road and the lights will change and I’ll go ‘How gay! How faggotian’” (pronounced ‘fuhg-ocean’, but with more sibilance). He lists a couple of other adapted words in the clowky lexicon, like ‘huh-MOCK-shul’ (derived from ‘homsexual’), ‘huh-TROCK- shul’ (‘heterosexual’). And as for ‘buh-SOCK-shul’ (‘bisexual’), he’s used the term “in front of a few gay friends and got away with it. One of them thought it was really funny. The other one didn’t hear me. Thank god, because it was Sue-Ann Post and she probably would have picked me up and snapped my spine.”
Fleety’s not serious in his mocking attitude of the variously-sexualled – or ‘shuled’, in this case – nor in his fear of fellow comic, the six-foot-plus Sue-Ann Post. He and Postie are great mates. He describes her as “f*ckin’ great” and “so much fun” and “able to beat my head in, easy,” which sparks another memory: the time she was a topless sumo wrestler in the Jim Rose Circus. According to Fleet, “Postie” rose to the challenge, “pissed one night at the Festival Club”. Vowing to “fucken smack” her soon-to-be opponents’ “heads in”, she approached Jim Rose with the words “yeah, I’m up for it.” Fleet puts on an American accent for Rose’s reply: “Yeah, wow, great, wow, yer big, that’s great.”
Sue-Ann Post actually had slides made of the event and used them in her subsequent show Sex and Sumo. Fleet sums up the bout:
“There’s nothing like the sound of four massive titties just THWAPPING together. It’s the funniest noise Postie’s ever heard, four tits, and each one of them’s about the size of me. A big THWAP!”
That’s also kind o scary.
Getting back to the topic briefly, Greg Fleet explains that a show can alter between conception and actual performance.
“Radically?” I ask.
“Oh, f*ck yeah," he replies. Then pauses before asking, “You said ‘radically’, didn’t you? Because I thought you said ‘radishly’. Does it resemble a salad vegetable? No, because it’s been changed so much. I keep telling you things that aren’t true. I hope that you’re managing to pick them.”
Greg Fleet: a bit silly, but still, quite a scary guy.
I have another Greg Fleet interview – from one of his (many) appearances in The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged).