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Compleat Beatles Treat

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Beatles Anthologywas a mammoth project begun in 1992 that involved a mutli-part television documentary – later expanded for DVD release – plus three double-CD sets with unreleased songs and alternate versions of Beatles favourites, coming to fruition from 1995. The project actually began in 1970 with a 90-minute documentary entitled The Long And Winding Road. It was constructed by Apple boss (and former Beatles road manager) Neil Aspinall from all the Beatles footage he could get his hands on.

It appeared nothing would come of it until John Lennon referred to it in a court case brought against the producers of a stageshow entitled Beatlemania! in 1980. Lennon claimed that the Beatles were intending to stage a reunion concert that would form the ending of the Long And Winding Road doco. Yoko Ono concurs that it had been Lennon’s intention to return to England after he’d come out of retirement with the album Double Fantasy. His subsequent death put an end to the reunion and The Long And Winding Road.

In 1982, a two-hour documentary entitled Compleat Beatles appeared. It was not just an amazing revelation. At the time – when the remaining Beatles hated being described as ‘former-’ or ‘ex-Beatles’ and were so keen on retelling the story – Compleat Beatles told it through in-depth interviews with the likes of producer George Martin, Liverpudlian contemporaries like Gerry Marsden, Bob Wooler and Bill Harry, snippets of news footage and clips from throughout the ’60s, narrated by Malcolm McDowell. It was brilliant. So much so, it even had a brief cinema release in 1984.

Not that I ever watched it in its entirety. Not in one sitting anyway. Or rather, one standing. Because there was one summer when it was the hot video for Christmas, and was playing on endless loop on the biggest television the David Jones department store at Warringah Mall had at their disposal. It sat at the front of the audiovisual section, near the records (or ‘vinyls’ if must – but I prefer you didn’t) and on my regular pilgrimage – taking place more frequently than weekly, but not quite daily – I’d begin in the David Jones record department and end at the Mall Music Centre (one of the best independent record stores, in its time; my first summer job was at Mall Music, as was my first full time job).

I’d stand there for between 10 minutes and half an hour at a time – always at different stages (though never at the beginning or end, it seems) – utterly transfixed. I remember hearing George Martin divulge the way in which Paul McCartney’s ‘Got up, got outta bed’ interlude was inserted into John’s ‘A Day In The Life’, how the orchestral freak-out part was constructed and recorded to comply with Lennon’s desire that it be “orgasmic”. In a time before the Internet, this information, this footage and this detail was just not available anywhere else.

It was a massively successful video release, is my point, and my family did not have a video cassette recorder and would not, still, for some years. And when it got its limited cinema release, my area (possibly my country) wasn’t so blessed.

But it’s probably why EMI attempted to release The Beatles Sessions – a single album collection of the best completed but unreleased Beatles songs – in 1985.

Eventually, Compleat Beatles (and The Beatles Sessions) were superseded by Anthology. Yet, while Anthology was far more comprehensive, it was the official, sanctioned story, as approved by all the interested parties. Compleat Beatles provided an objective approach and a particular charm.

I know you can still get the Compleat Beatles VHS video from some sources. And I’m sure it’s doing the rounds as a bootleg DVD. But people've ripped their LaserDisc and VHS versions, and uploaded them YouTube, which is much nicer (ie cheaper). Enjoy it in all its un-remastered glory while you can.


Astonishing same-seX-Men

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Big news: issue 51 of the Marvel Comics Group’s Astonishing X-Men will feature same-sex marriage. On the cover.

Canadian superhero Northstar, aka Jean-Paul Beaubier (and sometimes Jean-Paul Martin), who first appeared in the pages of the X-Men during the late-70s, was established as gay in the early ’90s; it made the headlines in 1992. A couple of decades later, same-sex marriage has been made legal in New York State. In real life. And as so many comic book superheroes reside in New York, this reality will be reflected in comics. So Northstar is to wed his lifestyle choice partner Kyle Jinadu in an issue that will hit the stands in the US towards the end of June.

“Our comics are always best when they respond to and reflect developments in the real world,” says editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics – who publish the title – Axel Alonso. “We've been doing that for decades, and this is just the latest expression of that."

I do recall a time – around the mid-’90s – when a fatal disease was decimating the mutant population of Marvel’s comics: an analogy for the AIDS epidemic. This latest development sees mutants – the most reviled of subgroups within the comic book universe – address issues more directly.

“Let me make it clear – this story begins with a marriage, but it ain't over with the marriage," Alonso says.  "We'd be doing the story a disservice not to reflect the controversy around it.” Thus, while a lot of Marvel Universe characters will be attending Northstar's wedding, not everyone is going to accept the invitation or the validity of Northstar's vows. “At least one of Northstar's team members is going to turn down the invitation, and that's going to make for an interesting dynamic."

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Writer Marjorie Liu may be laying it on a bit thick, however. This is a storyline dealing with the outcasts’ outcasts: “Here are two people, trying to live their lives – mutant and gay, black and gay – empowered in their own ways, living life on their own terms.  It doesn't matter that it's a superhero comic, the message is: You can do the same thing."

That message is precisely the problem for One Million Moms, a conservative Christian group who are part of the nonprofit American Family Association (considered a ‘hate group’ by the Southern Poverty Law Centre). One Million Moms are irate at Marvel, and at rival DC who are promising to reintroduce one of its ‘major iconic characters’ as gay. The Moms argue that kids mimic their superhero idols, so it’s only a matter of time that little boys will want have same-sex relationships “like their heroes”:

“These companies are heavily influencing our youth by using children’s superheroes to desensitize and brainwash them in thinking that a gay lifestyle choice is normal and desirable,” they argue. “Children do not know what straight, homosexual, or coming out of the closet even means, but DC Comics and Marvel are using superheroes to confuse them on this topic to raise questions and awareness of an alternative lifestyle choice. These companies are prompting a premature discussion on sexual orientation.”

Obviously, all those kids who have lifted cars, managed to leap over  buildings in a single bound, bare-handedly stopped bank robberies and undertaken other such activity – all because their superhero idols have – will also develop a carnal lust for people of their own gender not because they actually feel those emotions, just because it happened in a comic and they want to imitate it. But perish forbid they might want to know stuff, and expect their parents to answer their questions and furnish them with knowledge (like, ‘where are the dinosaurs in the Bible?’) Shut that down straight away.

The fact that DC (or should it now be ‘AC/DC’?) are trying to keep up with Marvel (or should it now be 'Marvelous’?) is… typical as ever.

So who would the major iconic DC character be who is coming out of the closet? Let’s face it, could be anyone, given they spend a lifetime maintaining buff physiques, in body-hugging Lycra.

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Probably won’t be someone with a sidekick – that’s far too suss. Bruce Wayne has a duty of care for Dick Grayson, so there can’t be any Batman/Robin shenanigans. Wouldn’t be the Superman who hangs out with Jimmy Olsen. Could it be Green Arrow? That robin hood/man-in-tights thing is a bit much. Maybe Aquaman. I hear he sleeps with the fishes. Smart money is gonna be on Wonder Woman – forever a gay icon.

Interestingly, Marvel is now owned by Disney. It’s a bit suprising that the conservative family entertainer is fine with it. It’s not likely an original Disney character will be ‘tying the knot’ with a same-sex partner. If one did, who would it be? Scrooge McDuck? Cruella DeVille? Those recedivists The Beagle Boys, perhaps, cos you know what goes on inside…

Other Disney acquisitions that would seem obvious  are likewise avoiding the controversial plot development. Disney owns the Muppets, for example. Decades of smirking remarks about Sesame Street’s Bert & Ernie have given away to an active campaign to have them wed (though nobody’s asked their opinion, or that of Ernie’s Rubber Ducky, of course…) to no avail. Although a more obvious choice would be those bitchy theatre critics Statler & Waldorf (you know, the cranky old guys in the balcony…)

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From the Dec 9, 1999 edition of The Daily Nebraskan

Marvel’s making the most of it, of course. There are variations of the cover, one of which depicts the weddings of several superhero couples: Cyclops (Scott Summers) and Phoenix (Jean Grey); Ant Man (Hank Pym) and The Wasp (Janet Van Dyne); Wanda the Scarlet Witch and The Vision… But there’s a space on the front cover for your own photo. Nawww.

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Of course, this could just be a way to sell more comics, given that kids today have so many other things vying for their attention. Back when Northstar was invented, there was no internet, there were no home computers, there were less television stations, entertainment was not a mouse click away. Lots more kids used to read comics back then than do now.

I’m not just being cynical: there’s quite a bit of lead time before issue 51 of Astonishing X-Men is out. Issue 50 is only just being delivered.  That’s the issue where Northstar pops the question. All this furore, before they’ve even set a date. But at least a lot more people have now actually heard of this Canadian mutant called Northstar. He was never one of the bigger names in the superhero pantheon, so nobody – few non-Canadians, anyway – knew just how fabulous he is. Until now.


Jim and Eddie TalkS hit

Ben Kochan, a tweep I follow, tweets me to say that Jim Jefferies and Eddie Ifft mentioned me in their podcast, Jim & Eddie TalkS hit. “That would excite me,” he says. “Maybe it excites you”.

Indeed it does. Jim Jefferies and Eddie Ifft are among my favourite comics. I’m hoping they say nice things. Maybe point people to interviews I’ve done with them. Talk up this blog. I’m already imagining my Twitter followers increasing by a good ten percent in a couple of days, like the time Stephen Fry gave me some link love way back when. (I made him LOL. I’m going to keep bragging about it. I don’t care whether you deal with it.)

But it’s better than that.

I go straight to their podcast homepage to access their latest episode, no. 133. It features Nick Thune. I begin listening.

I begin to get worried when they start talking about fat people. Well, not when they start. When they get to the bit about ‘fat people who don’t see themselves as fat’. I’m pretty sure that’s not me, I’m just hoping I don‘t fit into (so to speak) that category without knowing it. I don’t want to be talked about on their podcast in that context. Even though, truth be told, I’m not that way about my weight. I’m aware of it. However, I am that way about my age. I’m an old person with no idea how old I actually am, or appear. There are people younger than me who seem so much older than me. Mostly because they do grown up things like work hard, earn good money, own houses, drive cars, have kids, submit their Business Activity Statements on time, that sort of thing.

But the fat discussion comes and goes…

There are one or two other moments where the podcast goes to places I hope don’t actually involve me.

Towards the end, Nick mentions he’s coming to Australia in August. I’m guessing, in the last 30 seconds, they’re going to suggest he lets me interview him for this blog.

Nope. That doesn’t happen. That’s not it. And the episode’s over.

I go to iTunes to look at other recent episodes. I see Orny Adams was their guest in the previous episode. And I shudder.

See, I interviewed Orny Adams way back in 2006. Back when I was producing a podcast – a groundbreaking podcast called Radio Ha Ha,  dissecting comedy with comedians much as all the great podcasts do now. And not necessarily doing it any better than anyone does it now. But in a time when practically nobody was podcasting, it was important and groundbreaking.

We had an awesome conversation, Orny ’n’ me. It went for ages, we covered so much ground, we got on brilliantly. And then, when it was over, I realised I’d stuffed something up technically, and hadn’t actually secured a recording I could use. That hurt.

Not long after, I interviewed Eddie Ifft for the first time. I was aware of, and overcame, the technical difficulty early in that interiew, cause I was being extra careful so as not to repeat the heartbreak of an excellent conversation resulting in nothing. Once, with Orny, was all the times I ever wanted it to happen in my life.

So seeing that Orny was the guest of Episode 132,  I knew then and there precisely how I was going to feature in Jim & Eddie TalkS hit. Here is an excerpt, and transcript of the relevant part.

 

Jim Jeffries & Eddie Ifft TalkS hit Ep 132- Eskimo - excerp by standanddeliver

 

EDDIE IFFT: I do an interview in Australia, when I was there a long time ago. I’m doing my run through and, you know, you go do your series of interviews before the festival… I’m going to all these interviews. I go to this guy, and he interviews me: Dom Romeo. He’s the nicest guy in the world.

JIM JEFFERIES: That was the first interview I ever had in my whole career.

EDDIE IFFT: He interviews me for like two hours, and he’s such a good guy, and we had had some technical problems that he fixed. And he goes, ‘thanks man; I just interviewed Orny Adams a couple of months ago – I interviewed him for two hours and then found out that the recorder didn’t work.

ORNY ADAMS: Yeah, yeah, so the whole thing sounded like… [makes unintelligible whispering sound] I’m pouring my heart out… Why do you think I’m not trying today? Done!

 

So, if you’re interested, here’s the very first interview Jim Jefferies ever did with anyone.

Here’s the last one I did with him.

Here’s an interview with Eddie Ifft from a couple of years ago (not the Radio Ha Ha one).

There is no interview with Orny Adams for me to direct you to.

Yet.


A Quick Chat with Hannah Gissane

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“My best moments in life – the times where I feel like I’ve succeeded – are when I’ve been able to communicate a message or made a connection with someone,” says Hannah Gissane.

She offers an example: recently she had to struggle through a class in Civil Procedure, before submitting to an interview for a job.

“I totally bombed the job interview, and don’t know a thing about civil procedure, but I said one funny thing in class that had everyone laughing at the same time and so it felt like a good day. I felt like I’d made a connection with people.”

If you aren’t familiar with Hannah, let me tell you: she’s not one to sit around and do nothing. Having finished the communications part of of her Communications/Law degree, she's currently completing the Law subjects. While she serves on the Lake Macquarie City Council as a Green Councillor. Despite being quite young.

How young?

When I marvel at the role of Councillor, she acknowledges it with the words, “Yeah, I know – pretty random, eh!”

That young.

Having always received the impression that Hannah’s a bit of a leftie – “Big time!” she confirms – I’m impressed she’s put her money where her mouth is – only in a figurative sense, of course (see below about for a Hannah/money/mouth story) and is serving the cause actively.

“If ever you need help getting to sleep at night, I’ve got a blog called From the Chamber. It’s a daggy local government blog,” she assures me. That’s how serious she is about it. Thankfully, she’s not totally serious in every aspect of her life. Hannah still has the time to do the odd comedy gig.

Hannah had attended a performing arts high school, enjoying drama in particular. When she got to university, she missed the stage – which is why she turned to stand-up. “One of my favourite things is telling stories to friends,” she says. “That’s why I had that thirst to continue to perform after school, to tell those stories that I thought were humorous.”

Of couse, serving on a city council eats into your performing career, so apart from the Newcastle Raw Comedy heats, Hannah’s not gotten up as much in the last couple of years as she used to. “I’ve mostly been doing fundraising gigs for lefty groups, women’s groups, queer organisations and that sort of thing,” she says. It was after a “really bad” relationship break-up late last year that Hannah realised she “needed a hobby” and started getting back up more regularly.

That doesn’t mean that Hannah’s material is ‘political’, or ‘has a message’. Not that she doesn’t appreciate that sort of comedy – just that, if she was doing it, she’d have nothing new to add; she’d be repeating what other people are doing. Besides, she says, “I like to think the personal is the political; a lot of it is about being a young, queer woman who is a leftie, and that just finds its way into the comedy naturally. But there’s no real edge.”

That doesn’t mean she’s turned her back on the lefty fundraisers. In fact, Hannah’s set up one called Homophobia is a Scream. It’s a night of stand-up comedy and drag.

“This is my way of keeping in touch with stand-up comedy. I’ve always liked doing community-based gigs. We’ve organised it three times before: it’s to raise money for Newcastle’s LGBTQI community group Rainbow Visions.”

Like most community groups, Rainbow Visions is strapped for cash. So Hannah put her head together with  buddy Luke (he happens to be the drag queen Donna Kebab while Hannah is drag king Hannibal Licter, in case you didn’t know) to put together a night that features their talented and funny mates.

“It wasn’t just about picking people who have indentified themselves as funny,” Hannah says. The word ‘funny’ takes me by surprise; I was expecting at least some, if not all, of the words represented by ‘LGBTQI’ to follow ‘identified themselves as’.

What it was about, Hannah continues, was she and Luke encouraging friends who belong to the community, “either queer or queer-friendly”, who they know are funny but who perhaps don’t believe themselves to be funny – to have a go. For example, Hannah has one mate who would have a lifetime of material if she just printed out all of her Facebook status updates of the last three years or so, and read them out on stage.

“She doesn’t see herself as a comedian,” Hannah says. “Not enough people have told her how funny she is.” Part of the deal is, this woman is “totally straight, but some of the stories she tells of sex with men, I think the gay men will love and identify with.”

So it’s ‘queer’ in that it’s a totally open forum to be funny about that most fundamental human activity, sex[ual ineptitude].

“It’s not opprssive, it’s not just straight, male comedians talk about how successful they are with women; it’s really dynamic and different views of sex and sexuality and gender. Everything’s open an ready to be laughed at and with.”

It’s nice that there can be such a comedy night where nothing is off-limits, where no taboos are forbidden.

I’m hoping Hannah can be as open, and that no taboos are off-limits – because I know Hannah’s got a phobia that I’ve had a bit of fun with before.

A couple of Melbourne Comedy Festivals ago, Hannah was crashing in my apartment and during the course of conversation, managed to divulge that she has a phobia of 5-cent coins. So I made the most of it. Does she still have the phobia? You betcha!

“My wallet is just chockas with small change at the moment,” Hannah admits, “but I hate having to grab handfuls of it and count so much of it and go through it all and use it for tender. So that phobia is alive and well.”

Small coins themselves, however, are not the key fear. The true fear, says Hannah, is “that they may somehow end up near my mouth and I remember very, very distinctly that you put one in your mouth…”

The memory’s not that distinct – Hannah’s suppressed some of it.

See, during festival time, I tend to build up  a hoard of pocket shrapnel that’s too inconvenient to spend on coffees. So I end up with a top drawer full of coinage. When Hannah divulged her phobia,  I ducked into my room and grabbed a not inconsiderable handful of 5-cent coins and stuck them in my mouth. Then I turned to Hannah and demaned, “Give yer Uncle Dom a kiss!” before sticking my tongue out and allowing an unfeasibly large amount of coins to fall to the ground.

“These are what nightmares are made of!” Hannah says. “This is exactly what I was dreading. I thought these were the things I just create in my mind to scare myself, but you made them all come true.”

Hannah’s got a more precise fear, however. A mouthful of coins is scary, but not so scary as “a jarful of coins in the corner of a dusty shower in a beach changing room.” That’s so precise as to suggest some professional exploration of forogotten childhood events may be in order…

Nothing so sinister. Rather, Hannah has a school memory of Ryan and Shannon, a couple who were going out. Ryan, as a romantic gesture, bought Shannon a packet of Burger Men – or rather, financed it, giving Shannon the dollar-coin. When Shannon returned with the Burger Men, she handed Ryan the 20-cent-coin change. Ryan said, ‘don’t be silly’ but didn’t give the coin back; rather, he slipped it in the bag.

“I always remember that – and remember thinking, ‘Yuck! How many people have touched that coin, and now it’s mixed in with her food. And she might eat that instead of a Burger Man…’ I think that’s where it started.”

The 5-cent coin is worse: “it’s more unassuming”, according to Hannah. And it’s the coin – or its pre-decimal equivalent – grandparents will reminisce was secreted in Christmas puddings back in the good ol’ days. “It scares me that someone could put a small, unassuming coin in a pudding and it might end up in your digestive system! And it was meant to be a good thing…”

I do recall a story of an old person sneezing out a florin that had been lodged somewhere in ’em since their youth. “Oh! God! Damn it!” Hannah says when I tell her. “This is exactly what I fear, and I knew it wasn’t an irrational fear…”

Well, considering nobody considers 5 cents a worthy treasure to secret within a Christmas pudding anymore, and there have been no other stories of people sneezing up long-forgotten currency, if it gets in the way of counting, banking and spending money, it’s a bit irrational.

So I guess, buy your tickets for Homophobia It’s  A Scream online. And if you must hand over any currency to Hannah, use the bigger denomination: avoid small coins at all costs!

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Wiggledy Piggledy

 

This is Cereal
This is cereal! Hoard your Pufferbillies and Ooby Doos (and Ogi Bears, Etsons, and Linstones, if Annah-Arbera haven't sued); the boxes have just become collectible…

 

Showbiz news shock horror: The Wiggles are breaking up. And it’s not some Wigglesque Yoko Ono waking up Jeff Fatt (the Purple Wiggle) once and for all, making him realise he doesn't have to be 'Elvis Wiggle surrounded by sycophants' anymore, stop making Wiggles albums and DVDs and start making experimental albums posed on the cover in a colour other than purple scenario…

Oh no.

It’s weirder than that.

Turns out Jeff Fatt, Greg Page (Yellow Wiggle) and Murray Cook (Red Wiggle) are handing in their coloured skivvies, to be replaced by younger folk.

But it's weirder than that.

One of the new Wiggles is a chick.

That's right. Greg Page, who came back to replace his replacement Sam Moran, is being replaced by 20-year-old Emma Watkins.

Watkins, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, has served as their “back-up dancer”. (Whatever that is. Are there even ‘back-up dancers’? What do they do? Do back-up dancers dance the rhythmic harmonies so the lead dancers and the solo dancers can dance over the top of them, secure in the knowledge that they have the support of a dedicated, solid bed of dance?)

There’s a bit of a furore that Sam Moran got dudded - if Page was coming back only to go again, why not leave Moran in the yellow skivvie? Why not make Emma Watkins the new Purple Wiggle? Why not a bit of, "Wake up, Emma!" Women sleep too, you know. Course they do. In fact, sometimes you have to check if they’re awake in order to initiate the wiggling in the first place…

Oh. Maybe that's precisely why she couldn't be the Purple Wiggle… it's a kids' show, after all.

Anyway, Emma's the new Yellow Wiggle. And it's not that weird. Kylie has served as the fifth Wiggle. And she was the Pink Wiggle. Meanwhile, Lachlan Gillespie's the new Red Wiggle. And Simon Pryce is the new Purple Wiggle who gets to sleep.

The current Wiggles reckon, after 20 years at it, it's time for a bit of a rest. When you consider that they can play up to 500 shows a year, you begin to understand. Jeff is 58 - well you can understand why he needs a bit of a kip in the middle of the show.

Indeed, Anthony Field confesses, sometimes it all gets too much: he's battled the kind of depression that leaves him bawling his eyes out in the dressing room. Which makes it odd that he's the one that's staying put, at the centre of it all. Maybe it's the others who make him cry… But don't be shedding any tears for them. They'll still be around, undertaking 'backstage roles' rather than jumping around the stage.

Except for Sam Moran, of course.

Although, it's the Orange Wiggle I feel most sorry for…

OrangeWiggle


Soup to Nuts: BastardChef Too
(More MasterChef Music)

As begun last week, this is the second instalment of the do-it-yourself series of compilation CDs that should rightfully put Matt Preston’s virtually foodless music compilation to shame.

Soup to Nuts: BastardChef Too:

  1. Muffin Man - Frank Zappa/Mothers/Captain Beefheart
  2. Meat City - John Lennon
  3. We Are Hungry Men - David Bowie
  4. America Eats Its Young - Funkadelic
  5. Too Many Cooks (Spoil The Soup) - Mick Jagger
  6. Cookin’ In The Kitchen Of Love - Ringo Starr
  7. Tandoori Chicken - Ronnie Spector
  8. Saturday Night Fish Fry - The Coasters
  9. The Rhubarb Tart Song - John Cleese
  10. Sugar Sugar - The Archies
  11. Boiled Beef And Carrots - Lenny Henry
  12. Bread and Butter - The Newbeats

(Unfortunately, if you are reading this post on your Apple iDevice, you won’t see the player below; it’s encoded in flash.)

Soup to Nuts: BastardChef Too from standanddeliver on 8tracks.

 

 

1: Muffin Man - Zappa/Beefheart/Mothers

Muffins occupy an interesting place on the food spectrum. Or perhaps two — since on the one hand, they’re that bready substitute you toast for brekky, to have hot with butter and the spread of your choice or with sausage and egg. But then they’re also a kind of cake – sometimes with fruit, so you can kid yourself that you’re having something healthy with your coffee or tea.

Although it takes its name from an innocent nursery rhyme (“do you know the muffin man/Who lives on Drury Lane?”) Frank Zappa brings a different muffin conundrum to the fore:

Girl, you thought it was a man
But it was a muffin.
The cries you heard in the night
Was on account of him stuffin’.

What’s he stuffing, exactly? (Or, as Tom Waits might ask, ‘What’s he building in there?’)

The tack piano that accompanies the mad narrative, reminiscent of the original soundtrack to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis). But combined with Zappa’s declamatory narrative, it is a b-grade horror movie – about the Muffin Man in question, ensconced in his Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, working on “that prince of foods: the muffin”.

Every chef’s been in a similar situation. And not just chefs: every creative identifies with the archetypal ‘Frankenstein’ scenario of the mad scientist bringing their creation to life. Even Zappa himself – who’d use horror movie nomenclature for his work: follow-up songs and albums may be titled ‘Son of… and ‘Return of the Son of…’ (as in the Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar series). He also named his home studio the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen.

It’s significant that the song graces Bongo Fury, the live album commemorating the mid-’70s tour undertaken with Captain Beefheart. The good Captain – entangled in contractual purgatory at the time – was a childhood friend of Zappa’s and they shared a love of music and cinema. Indeed, early on they sought to collaborate on a b-grade movie their own: Captain Beefheart vs the Grunt People. Beefheart’s dad used to drive a bread van, which the teenage pair would break into in order to steal pineapple buns. Muffins of their time, no doubt.

So – d'ya reckon anyone in the MasterChef utility research kitchen will have a stab at ‘that prince of foods, the muffin’? Who cares. It’s more exciting when the monstrous culinary equivalent of Frankenstein rises from the slab.

Find it: closing the album Bongo Fury as well as the compilation Strictly Commercial: The Best Of Frank Zappa.

 

2: Meat City - John Lennon

There’s clearly a fine art to cooking meat well – but that has nothing to do with this song from John Lennon’s fourth post-Beatles album.

Lennon seems to be a running theme on this volume of BastardChef; in addition to this offering, from his 1973 album Mind Games, you’ll find him twiddling Mick Jagger’s knobs on ‘Too Many Cooks (Spoil the Soup)’ and bashing Ringo Starr’s keys on Lennon’s own ‘Cookin’ (In the Kitchen of Love)’.

The Mind Games album dates from the beginning of Lennon’s ‘lost weekend’, its origins lying in Yoko Ono’s album Feeling the Space. Lennon dug the musicians her assistant May Pang had assembled. Turns out Lennon dug May Pang: by the time he’d written a bunch of songs and was ready to record, he’d split from Yoko, who’d somehow given her blessing on his taking May as his mistress. How did this affect John? Take a look at the album cover: Yoko still looms large over lonely Lennon.

So rather than wholesale butcheries with massive cool rooms featuring acres of fresh flesh on display, it would seem ‘Meat City’ is about Lennon’s visit to the world of singledom: pick-up bars, swingers parties and the massive hotbeds featuring acres of fresh flesh on display.

True to that period of unfocused rage, there are still elements of random political activism left over from previous album Sometime In New York City: that weird interlude that sounds like a synthesised chipmonk speaking alien is in fact Lennon’s own voice, sped up and run backwards, suggesting all pigs ought to be loved very much (my paraphrasing). The version on the flip side of the Mind Games single is a slightly different mix, where the synthesised chipmonk turns out to be saying “check the album” backwards.

Find it: on the album Mind Games.

 

3. We Are Hungry Men - David Bowie

Whomever said, 'the way to a man's heart is through his stomach' wasn't lying. All men are hungry men. But none more so than late-’60s David Bowie: hungry for success, and, to look at him – ‘Biafra-thin rabbit-in-the-headlights’ as one cultural commentator described him – literally hungry.

The hunger to make it as a recording artist meant the former David Robert Jones toyed with various styles and genres including cockney music hall, mod beats and whatever category this vision of a future dystopia fits into. The song opens with a Kenneth Williams impression (so it’s not meant to be taken so seriously, clearly), delivering the bleak news of over-population. Then Bowie takes on the role of a young, charismatic, crackpot leader offering more-or-less the same Modest Proposal as Jonathan Swift as a means to overcome the multitude of starving poor.

The early ‘hungry’ – or ‘lean’ period – of Bowie’s work includes a stack of songs that have been repackaged in various compilations over the decades. While the artist has all but disowned his oeuvre from that time, the collection was finally given its rightful release as a deluxe double CD collection, much to fans’ pleasure. Bowie himself cherry picked his favourites and re-recorded them for an album called Toy earlier this century – that still remains officially unavailable.

Find it: in both stereo and mono mixes on the 2-disc David Bowie [Deluxe Edition].Download it here.

 

4: America Eats Its Young - Funkadelic

Following on from the high-camp Bowie song about infantricide, ‘We Are Hungry Men’, comes the darker, down-beat bad acid trip of Funkadelic.

Are they proclaiming, on a metaphoric level, that America has failed its youth? The dark mutterings don’t quite lend themselves to transparent interpretation.

Instead, sit back and enjoy – as best you can – the grunted insinuations and squealed backing vocals as they slowly build to a grinding, faded frenzy. It helps if you imagine it the soundtrack of Matt Preston discovering the fish is still raw, the omlette contains eggshell and the rice hasn’t been fluffed; time to send the dish back, and the chef away in tears.

And if it gets too much, relax: a far more upbeat food-related funk will follow, courtesy of Mick Jagger’s ‘Too Many Cooks’.

Find it: on the album America Eats Its Young . Download it here.

 

5: Too Many Cooks (Spoil the Soup) - Mick Jagger

If it’s a Rolling Stones song about anything other than getting some nookie, you can bet that it is in fact a metaphor for getting some nookie. This is also the case with almost all of Mick Jagger’s solo oeuvre. ‘Too Many Gooks (Spoil the Soup)’ appears to be a more explicit reading of ‘Cook Cook Blues’. 'Cook Cook Blues' is an ’80s Stones blues jam that took a long time to prepare - finally served as a single flip side in 1989 (and features on BastardChef Volume 1) that uses food as its metaphor. But the funky ‘Too Many Cooks’ was not written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and its recording predates ‘Cook Cook Blues’ by about a decade – even though it took even longer - almost another decade! - to see the light of day. It has a far more interesting pedigree.

The song was produced by John Lennon during his ‘lost weekend’ – some 18 months of separation from Yoko Ono that involved revelry, debauchery and recording with various buddies. The sessions for ‘Too Many Cooks’ must have been quite debauched indeed, since Mick Jagger claims to have had no recollection of them, unaware the song existed until an acetate of it turned up many years later (and, knowing Mick, then taken back into the studio for tweaking, polishing and finishing properly before subsequent release).

If the food-as-sex metaphor is annoying, play this song on and on; what with the strange eroticism on display when you watch Nigella Lawson taste everything she’s preparing, and Matt Preston tasting absolutely anything, the appetite may sicken and so die…

Find it: along with two other previously unreleased tracks, on the Very Best of Mick Jagger compilation.

 

6: Cookin’ (In The Kitchen Of Love) - Ringo Starr

Stepping out first with an unlikely collection of old-time crooner’s standards, Sentimental Journey (“recorded for me mum!”) and then the country album Beaucoups of Blues , by his third album Ringo the erstwhile Beatles drummer had hit upon a system that’s pretty much served him well ever since: treat each album as a party and invite all your mates to rock up with a song (or, in Ringo’s case, ‘easy listening' up with a song).

Hence John Lennon’s contribution for Ringo’s 1976 album, Ringo's Rotogravure : a party song about getting through life, with Lennon himself guesting on piano.

Initially, the ‘cooking in the kitchen of love’ metaphor sounds as though it might reside in the same region as the Stones’ ‘Cook Cook Blues’ or Mick Jagger’s ‘Too Many Cooks’ (and more specifically, whichever Kiss song demands “let me put my log in your fireplace”). But by the second metaphor, "truckin’ down the highway of life” and subsequent philosophical exposition “It’s got to be high, it’s got to be low/’Cause in between we just don’t go” it turns out that there's no hidden message or any depth to these words whatsoever. Lennon saved that stuff - in songs like ‘Imagine’, ‘Instant Karma’ and ‘Power to the People’ - for himself.

Don’t hold it against him. It's been noted that Lennon – and Lennon & McCartney for that matter – were, more often than not, 'dozy lyricists' when tossing off a ditty for Ringo. And besides, by this stage the working class hero was about to go into musical hibernation; he’d spent his ‘lost weekend’ being high and was about to settle into being low for the next half-decade, the sessions for this song proving his last until he started recording Double Fantasy.

And remember: Lennon’s time away from the music industry as househusband and dedicated father would be marked by such domestic activities as baking bread, about which he’d speak at length when he finally came out of retirement. Cooking in the kitchen of love, indeed.

Find it: on Ringo's Rotogravure.

 

7: Tandoori Chicken - Ronnie Spector

51K9qnZSw1L._SL500_After John Lennon handed the hitherto ‘unreleasable’ Get Back tapes over to legendary ‘Wall of Sound’ producer Phil Spector – who refashioned them into Let It Be – both Lennon and George Harrison were keen to have him produce their post-Beatles solo albums.

Sessions for a proposed solo album for Spector’s wife – and former Ronette – Ronnie Spector followed on from George Harrison’s triple album All Things Must Pass. Unfortunately, the album was shelved after only a handful of songs were recorded, the total official result being the 1971 single ‘Try Some Buy Some’.

While that song had been demoed by Harrison for All Things Must Pass and was given the Wall of Sound treatment, the flip side, ‘Tandoori Chicken’ sounds, lyrically, musically and instrumentally, pretty much as thrown together as the dinner arrangement that gave rise to it: Harrison sent Beatles roadie Mal Evans out for some takeaway during the recording sessions. Suddenly it’s a blues based b-side. It’s nice that Harrison’s Indian influences aren’t limited merely to instrumentation.

Find it: on the flip side of the ‘Try Some Buy Some’ 7-inch single; sadly not available on CD right now…

 

8: Saturday Night Fish Fry - The Coasters

The Coasters’ ‘Saturday Night Fish Fry’ is another hard-to-get food hit. The original version by the song’s author, Louis Jordan, and his jump blues backing band the Typany Five, is considered by some to be the very first rock’n’roll record. It’s the story of a party that gets out of hand and ends with an arrest.

A ‘fish fry’ is a kind of poor folks fundraiser – the person throwing it will cook and anyone willing to pay for the feed (and, no doubt, sly grog) is welcome. (The song takes place “down in New Orleans”, which, enjoying an excellent fishery until the BP oil spill pretty much killed the Gulf of Mexico, had access to excellent cheap seafood.) If you can help provide the food and drink, or serve it, or present some live entertainment, you get in free. In this song, the protagonist is the singer of the song, telling of a Saturday night fish fry that was so good, it had to be shut down by the cops. Although the protagonist never wants to hear about fish again, listening to it makes you hanker for a piping hot fish burger.

Jordan’s original version was over 5 minutes long, so it had to take up two sides of a 78rpm record. The Coasters’s version lived on the flip side of the single ‘She’s a Yum Yum’, dating from 1966 so part of the material recorded when they were signed to Atco – making it harder to get your hands on.

Find it: at the end of disc 3 of the excellent and exhaustive compilation, There’s a Riot Goin’ On: The Coasters on Atco.

 

9: The Rhubarb Tart Song - John Cleese/At Last The 1948 Show

Some people have never been subjected to the [dis]pleasure of rhubarb, but apparently it’s good for you, which is why it doesn’t taste particularly nice. And it’s used to make dessert-type foods, despite being a bitter vegetable that’s allegedly good for you. This alone makes it the perfect subject of a silly song, and who better to deliver it than John Cleese? The song gives the rhubarb tart a great deal of pomp and majesty, not just by listing great historical personages as fans of the food, but by accompanying the doggeral with one of John Phillip Sousa’s finest marches.

The song dates from 1968 sketch show At Last the 1948 Show , in which Cleese partook with fellow Python-to-be, Graham Chapman, and future The Goodie Tim Brooke-Tayler as well as Marty Feldman, with whom they’d all written for David Frost’s various satirical shows. (Frost in fact produced At Last The 1948 Show and was later slighted that he couldn’t be part of Monty Pythong’s Flying Circus.)

At Last the 1948 Show contains many elements that would go on to be seen as prime Python characteristics. Inded, The Four Yorkshiremen Sketch, so beloved of Python fans, originated in At Last the 1948 Show and the fact that it is still identified as a Python sketch continues to irritate Tim Brooke-Taylor, who co-wrote it.

As opposed to parodying a popular song with a new set of lyrics, ‘The Rhubarb Tart Song’ specifically takes a pre-existing instrumental and marries it to foolish words. This is a motif to which John Cleese would return. The song ‘Oliver Cromwell’, for example, appearing on the 1989 album Monty Python Sings, began as Frederic Chopin’s ‘Polonaise No. 6 Opus S3 in A flat’. The borrowing of a Sousa march also becomes a motif: the Pythons borrowed Sousa’s ‘The Liberty Bell’ to serve, this time wordlessly, as the theme to their television show.

Find it: ‘The Rhubarb Tart Song’ lives on the original album tie-in of sketches and songs from the television program, At Last the 1948 Show.

 

10: Sugar Suger - The Archies

Pure bubblegum pop at its best, ‘Sugar Sugar’ is said to have been offered to the Monkees, who turned it down as being too cheesy just as they were maturing to a point of playing their own instruments on far more mature albums. Although there are rumours of Monkee Davy Jones having sung lead on an instrumental backing recorded by session musicians (as most of the earlier Monkees songs were constructed) and Mike Nesmith punching a hole through a wall in anger at being expected to record the song, nowadays both stories are considered myths. Indeed, it’s more likely the Monkees resisted recording an entirely different song entitled ‘Sugar Man’, but over the years their dummy spit at ‘Sugar Sugar’ has proven the more entertaining anecdote.

Irrespective, Don Kirshner, the producer behind the launch of manufactured band The Monkees was also behind the manufactured band The Archies, which he prefered more since, being cartoon characters, they were far more easy to control than The Monkees. The Archies were never gonna complain that they should be writing their own songs, and playing their own instruments on the recordings. Although the session musos behind The Archies might have wanted to ark up, especially after ‘Sugar Sugar’ proved a massive hit.

Although Ron Dante’s lead vocals melt in the mouth more like fairy floss, they live up to the sweetness promised by the song title. And as any chef worth his weight in… well, weight, really, will tell you: there is no substitute, in the end, for cooking with sugar. When the recipe calls for it, use it; none of that chemical substitute, thank you!

Find it: on the remastered compilation, Absolutely the Best of the Archies. Download it here.

 

11: Boiled Beef and Carrots - Lenny Henry

You most likely won’t remember him as Gareth Blackstock in the BBC show Chef! irrespective of how fitting it would be for our purposes here. And just as likely you don’t remember Lenworth George Henry – or ‘Lenny’, as he’s better known – for his daliance with the music hall standard ‘Boiled Beef And Carrots’.

Fact is, Lenny would also prefer you don’t remember it. But it shouldn’t be so surprising that he had a go with a novelty hit, given his rise to showbiz success began on a telly talent show (New Faces) and included regular appearances on kids show TISWAS. The synthesiser arrangement dates this recording but also adds to its charm.

It’s fitting that Lenny would make the cut of BastardChef given his former Missus, Dawn French, is currently appearing in ads for MasterChef sponsor Coles. Part of me is asking, does she really need the money so badly? Maybe. She couldn’t afford to get her hair cut evenly on both sides. Could it be terms of the divorce? Does Dawn need to pay Lenny off? What’s a Lenworth after all? Maybe he is back to living on boiled beef and carrots…

Find it: alongside far more novelty songs by British comedy and light entertainment types than you’ll ever consume in one sitting, entitled You Are Awful But We Like You.

 

12: Bread and Butter - The Newbeats

If food can be a tool of seduction, it can also be the cause of a break-up, as evidenced in the Newbeats’ hit single of 1964, ‘Bread and Butter’. It sounds like another bubblegum hit with its precise and economic instrumentation, but it predates that movement by a few years. Indeed, in 1964, all pop was bubblegum pop; there was no sophistication to it just yet, so rock’n’roll hadn’t given way to rock. And besides, unlike ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’ and ‘Chewy Chewy’, there’s a lot more going on in ‘Bread and Butter’.

The protagonist is a simple man, given to simple needs, which his “baby” provides perfectly: “bread and butter… toast and jam”. But one day he comes home to the ultimate betrayal: his baby “with some other man”. Not caught in flagrante delicto, as such. Or rather, yes, caught in the very act: if bread and butter and toast and jam are the proof of true love, then “chicken and dumplings” with the other guy is gross infidelity.

Lead vocalist Larry Henley (who would go on to serve as a co-writer of ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’) has a voice so thick you’d have to leave it out a while before you could spread it on a piece of bread; brothers Dean and Mark Mathis – if aliens attempted to replicate the Everly Brothers, this’d be them – provide the perfect bed for it.

Find it: on the compilation Bead And Butter: The Very Best of The Newbeats. Download it here.

 

Coming Soon 

BastardChef III: Just Desserts


Rebecca De Unamuno

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“With improv, I can just be myself,” says Rebecca De Unamuno. “It’s where I feel the most comfortable.”

For a fine actor like Rebecca – with a comic bent and a particular love of improvising – the beauty of impro is that it grants both her and her audience immedate suspension of diselief, making it easy for her to take on any character she chooses:

“I can be a southern belle, a hooker, grandmother, even a man, or an inanimate object” she says, roles she wouldn’t always land in other situations.

“I would not be cast as the tall blonde size 8, because that is not what I am. In improv, I can be whatever I want to be. That’s absolute freedom, as opposed to, ‘No, you can’t do that, you can’t be that, you’re too this, you’re too that…’”

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Rebecca De Unamuno with Daniel Cordeaux

 

As It’s near the end of Rebecca’s Sydney Comedy Festival run, where she’s fronting The Impro Late Show with Rebecca De Unamuno – “it just makes me laugh, that that’s the name of the show,” she says, with healthy self-deprecation – where she’s had the opportunity to showcase the talents of newer comics as well as bigger name stars like Frank Woodley as special guests.

But the reason I’m catching up with her – something I’ve been meaning to do for ages – is because I had the pleasure of seeing her improvising, once again, with a crack team of similarly talented individuals, as part of the Cale Bain- directed Full Body Contact No Love Tennis currently occupying the Tuesday night improv slot at the Roxbury Hotel in Glebe.

There was a particular moment – that I won’t be able to do justice in words – in a scene she shared with another player, where she was an ‘elderly mother’ receiving a ‘home made present’ from her ‘daughter’. At a certain point early in the scene, every other improviser had the exact same idea of what the parcel, yet to be handed over, must contain, as they all contributed to the scenario. Rebecca took it a step further by ‘calling back’ to an earlier scene. It was magical to watch.

“They’re very exciting moments,” Rebecca says, “when you have that ‘shared brain’ experience on stage and you go, ‘I knew you were going to do that!’ It’s just as exciting as the moments where you go, ‘I had no idea you were going to do that!’”

That is the beauty of improv: the opportunity to “work with other people who are having a very similar, shared experience as you. And performing without that net – the trust that you put in other people, experimenting on stage and seeing what will happen. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But what a ride; what a risk: to have nothing guaranteed.”

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I’ve known Rebecca since her university days. You know her too. Even if your love of comedy is a passing dalliance, you know her better than you imagine. Because, even if you think you haven’t seen any of the short films she’s appeared in that have made the Tropfest finals (Muffled Love, finalist, 2001; Tragic Love, 2nd place, 2002; Garbage Man, finalist, 2005; The Code, finalist 2008). Tropfest Finalist, Winner of Best Short Film at the 2009 World Comedy Film Awards); if you haven’t seen any of the Theatresports finals she’s played, let alone hosted or directed; if you haven’t seen her guest in various Chaser projects; haven’t heard her on Thank God It’s Friday; haven’t seen any of the various shows she’s been in or fronted in the various festivals around the world; not seen an episode of Big Bite; not seen the Great Debate she was in at a Melbourne International Comedy Festival; not see any of the three brilliant tours with Jason Alexander and his Comedy Spectacular; not seen her in Dad & Dave Live or Spontaneous Broadway

Even then, you’ve been exposed to Rebecca’s work. You know her far better than you realise. Because you hear her voice regularly.

Between the “big acting jobs”, Rebecca does a lot of voiceover work. “I’m the one selling you products,” she says, citing current Pine-O-Clean and anti-smoking campaigns as the examples currently in high rotation. And it’s a good thing too – it’s those jobs that enable Rebecca to keep getting on the improv stage.

What I didn’t know is that initially, during Rebecca’s university days, she had her sights set on serious drama.

“I really enjoyed comedy and was into it, but I never really saw myself doing it,” she says. “I was going to be…” – adopts the voice – “… a serious actor. I auditioned for all the drama schools when I finished high school. I very much wanted to do theatre…”

It was in the pursuit of theatre – a major production by the Sydney University Dramatic Society (SUDS) of Danton’s Death – that Rebecca began hanging out with fellow student actors who were doing this thing called ‘Theatresports’, where they’d compete in teams, playing games that involved making stuff up on the spot. They’d play professionally, at the Belvoir St Theatre, as well as during lunchtimes on the stage of Sydney Uni’s Manning Bar, in a competition hosted by Adam Spencer.

“I used to go and watch, and think, ‘I could never do what they’re doing’, but over time I’d start to think of scenarios and things to say in response to scenes,” Bec recalls. Then one of her Danton’s Death mates “dragged” her onto the Manning Bar stage.

“I said, ‘but I don’t know what I’m doing’, and he said, ‘good!’” At the beginning of each round, he’d give her just enough information for her to get through the game. Adam would announce the next round as ‘Subtitles’, say, and Rebecca would ask, ‘What’s that?’ Her mate would reply, “just speak in a funny language and I’ll translate!” Thrown in at the deep end, Rebecca realised the comedic side of things were taking over!

In time Rebecca directed the Arts Revue on campus, after which, she was ‘discovered’; she was part of a troupe put together to create sketch comedy professionally. The show was called Larfapalooza. Actually, it was first and ever-so-briefly called The Sketchy Sketch Show. The cast consisted of stand-up comics Subby Valentine, Tom Gleeson and Sarah Kendall, the latter two, having just appeared in the Arts Revue, brought their friend and director onboard. The show played the Melbourne Fringe in 1998. “That was great,” Rebeccas recalls. “That was our first exposure to a festival, as such.

I remember interviewing Sarah Kendall at the time, and was surprised to discover how much Sarah loathed improvisation. Despite working so well with Rebecca, the stand-up comic in her couldn’t take the leap of faith without the safety net of a well-scripted routine.

“I would say the same thing about what Sarah did,” Rebecca explains. “There was no way that I could get together five minutes of material and work it and re-work it and re-work it again to make it right.”

It was, Rebecca reckons, through coming from those opposite ends and meeting in the middle, that the work was so good.

The second time Rebecca was cast in a sketch show, the cast was much bigger, and she knew only one other cast member. The show was Big Bite, which she appeared in with the likes of Andrew O’Keefe (another Sydney University improvising alumnus; now hosting Deal Or No Deal), Richard Pyros (now part of the STC enseble working under artistic directors Cate Blanchette and Andrew Upton), Jake Stone (lead singer of Blue Juice), Kate McCartney (an AFI-nominated animator), Melissa Madden-Gray (nowadays known as Meow Meow) and Chris Lilley…

“Apart from Andrew and I, none of us had met,” Rebecca recalls. “We were just this random collection of people they had put together and told, ‘be funny’.” Such beginnings could prove a disaster. Instead, good things happened.

“Andrew and I were the only improvisers, as such – apart from Chris Lilley, but he didn’t really see himself as an improviser,” Rebecca says. She and O’Keefe had the ideal working relationship with the writers: they’d be given a scenario, fall into character and start riffing – sketches would be created from that. This ‘Second City’ style of sketch creation worked a treat.

“We did one that was an elderly couple; we just started putting on the voices and the scenario evolved: we were doing an audition tape for Big Brother. It was just these two bickering oldies.”

By the end of the series, everyone got on well and worked together well – which of course means the show ended after a single season. “It’s a pity the second series never happened. We’d just gotten to know each other and hit out strides with each other and knew each other’s strengths and stuff.”

 

Knowing each other’s strengths is important. So is knowing your own. There had to be a point where Rebecca realised that she could trust herself, going out on stage without anything, and knowing that she’d be fine.

“It took me a couple of years to trust myself completely,” Rebecca says, but she can pinpoint a particular moment where “everything had aligned” and she’d need not worry. It was during a Theatresports game at the Belvoir St Theatre, in which she was playing a scene with Julia Zemiro. Because it was a bigger stage than the one in Manning Bar, there was more physicality, as opposed to the need of merely being ‘talking heads’. That mean the characters could enter in silence, establishing themselves physically rather than verbally.

“It was the first time I was aware of the silence that we had in a scene,” Rebecca explains. The scene was set in an art gallery, and both Julia and she came on ‘looking at paintings’.

“I had no idea how she was reacting to the paintings, but I was having a distinct reaction and expressing it physically, and the audience was reacting positively to that,” Rebecca remembers. “That’s when I completely trusted that what I was doing was working: I didn’t have to say anything in order to create a reality. It was a shared narrative with not one word spoken. There was just that element of ‘we get this now; this is complete trust. Neither of us has to break this in order to try and say something funny’.”

That, effectively, was the moment came where Rebecca realised she could go on stage with nothing, and, if need be, create something by continuing to fill the space with nothing. The confidence and ability to hold the audience with silence is massive. It was the point she trusted herself totally in improv.

While trusting the silence is important, trusting the other bits is important too.

“When I started, I realised I would do and say things that I had no intention of being funny, and yet people would laugh at them,” Rebecca says. “I was just being the character. That happened a lot when I was starting out: I was constantly surprised that people would find things funny.”

In time, Rebecca realised that she was funny because she wasn’t trying to be. “Sometimes you can try too hard, and you just shoot yourself in the foot. Whereas, if you just stick to the story and the character, the humour will come from that.”

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The humour is present and accounted for. Does Rebecca still take on the serious roles? Well, she auditions for them. But, she says, she“always ends up getting the comedy, be it sketch or a play”. Furthermore, even when she lands a serious role, it doesn’t stay serious. Last year she played the radio MC in the Q Theatre production of Dad & Dave Live. The show was presented from the original radio scripts, on stage (as though the stage were the radio studio of the 1930s).

“I got the opportunity to put on lots of different voices, so it used all of the strings to my bow,” Rebecca says, “but my role was comedy, even though I was working opposite some really straight actors.”

Rebecca’s role, as MC, meant she had to address and interact with the audience.

“I had to break out of character – from the scripts – and still be a character and improvise with them. It gave me a chance to do everything I do. It was so much fun!”

Not least of all because it meant there could be a different, improvised bit every night:

“The demands of doing the same thingcan get a little monotonous for me. I like to shake things up a bit, so I would find ways of doing something a bit differently. When I spoke to the audience I would do something new each time.”

The she worked it was to establish a bit of a ‘crush’ on the character of the actor who plays ‘Dave’ in the radio show-within-the-play. She’d bring him forward during the ‘ad break’, when she’d engage with the audience, reading out his fanmail on stage. But the letter would always be from her, including a love poem – a different one improvised each night.

“It would always end up with me throwing myself at him, but he never knew how I would get there or what I would say.”

Being so adept at being funny while improvising, there is an essential question that has to be asked, given the success of British and American versions of Whose Line Is It Anyway. When are we gonna get an Aussie version on the box? I know Rebecca’s been involved in pilots to bring improv to the small screen.

“Absolutely,” she says. “I’ve done about four or five pilots.”

Rebecca reckons the closest we’ve come was last year, when someone local – she can’t remember who, but suspects it was Cordell Jigsaw – acquired the rights to “an Aussie Whose Line”:

“It was great: they got all these people together and they workshopped ideas, and a pilot was going to be made… but I haven’t heard anything about it.”

The difficulty of it, according to Rebecca, is the technical inexperience when it comes to capturing it for the screen. “Those in the industry haven’t seen enough improv to know how it works,” she says. The crew has to know how improv operates, and be prepared to follow the action. You can’t block out camera shots in a rehearsal; since it’s improvised, the performers may not be standing in the same place, doing the same thing. She reckons, the crews who film sporting events would be perfect for it, since they’re used to ‘following the ball’, the perfect metaphor for following improv action – and anticipating where it will go.

“It’s the immediacy of improv, when you’re in the live audience, that’s really felt. It’s quite tricky, trying to give the home audience that same feeling. That’s why, for Whose Line, they record for hours and broadcast the best bits.” They also have a formula, as Rebecca points out: “Wayne Brady will always be cast in the musical numbes, because that’s his strength; Ryan and Colin will always work together because that’s their strength. It’s not left to chance.”

I’m hoping it is Cordell Jigsaw who currently own the rights. Because they’re now Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder, the Zapruder bit being Denton’s company. I remember seeing Denton as a regular contestant in Theatresports on the telly back in the ’80s. Maybe it’ll happen…

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One of the other great live shows we need to talk about is Jason Alexander’s Comedy Spectacular, of which, Rebecca has been an essential part.

According to Rebecca, there are certain improvisors you just click with, and others, no matter how hard you try, you never really blend well with on stage. “It’s like a relationship: if it doesn’t work, you leave. If you find people you work well with, you want to stay in that relationship and you want to keep working with those people. Because you want to be inspired, and be inspiring to people.”

Jason Alexander and Rebecca De Unamuno have one of those ‘inspired and inspiring’ dynamics.

“He calls me his ‘sister from another mister’,” Rebecca says. “And I call him ‘my brother from another mother’. He started to introduce me as that on stage very early on. We’ve done three tours together now.”

Rebecca was approached to take part in the show because improv had been seen to be taking off in Australia, owing to Thank God You’re Here (although, fact is, there was very little improv in Thank God You’re Here; apart from the guest, the cast is very tightly drilled). The idea was to do something improv-based at the end of the show, that would involve all of Alexander’s guests.

The initial cast included Kitty Flanagan, Tom Gleeson and the Scared Weird Little Guys. “They were all enthusiastic, but it wasn’t what they all do, so it was a matter of trying to get something where we’d all ‘have a moment’. Jason was so supportive of that.”

By the third tour, Jason had brought his pianist with him, and wanted the big finale to be an improvised musical.

“My response was, ‘Um… are you kidding me? Do the things I love the most? With a Tony-Award winning Musical Theatre performer?’”

At the opening night, in the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, Rebecca says she had a little ‘out-of-body’ experience, where she saw herself and said, “look at what you’re doing right now!” To say it went well was an unerstatement. According to Alexander, it’s as though the pair “had been performing together for 15 years”.

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So back to Impro Late Show with Rebecca De Unamuno, the reason we’re having this little catch-up.

Rebecca was approached by Marko Mustac, the Creative Director of Impro Australia, who had put a submission in for a late-night impro show with guests, to the Sydney Comedy Festival, not knowing if the show would get up. When it did, he approached Rebecca to host it, figuring, she can, and besides, she knows a lot of comics who’d love to come on board as guests.

“I was given complete artistic freedom as to what it was”, she says. Her only misgiving is the name, which still makes her giggle. “It sounds like I’m so up myself’: ‘The Impro Late Show with Rebecca De Unamuno’. It’s quite funny!”

Since Rebecca’s career began, and has continued, being theatre-based, and she has a view to devising long-form improvised plays, she’s was quite keen to incorporate some of those elements in what is still a “good old, humour-based improv sketch show”. However, she pulls it off with smoother transitions – so it feels more like a show, than a bunch of improv bits. And she adapts it to suit the guests.

“When Frank Woodley guested, we played a scene that would normally have words in it, as a mime, because it’s his absolute forte,” she explains. “And I close the show every night with a song. I play a nightclub singer, coming to the end of the set, and I wrap up the show with a  totally improvised song.”

Bec will grab a stool and a mic and deliver a preamble over a vamping introduction, re-capping all the things the audience has seen in the show; since the show is improvised, so, too is the preamble. Then the reminiscence shifts from the night that’s unfolded, to the life lessons she’s been taught, including the advice she’ received over the years. She’ll casually ask an audience member to share some advice their mother gave them. That’s when it gets exciting. “Their answer becomes the title of the closing song, in which I deliver my parting thoughts. ‘Wear more make-up’ has been one of them. ‘Wash your face’ has been another.”

My parting thoughts? See Rebecca De Unamuno perform. Either in the Impro Late Show, or a round of Full Body Contact No Love Tennis. Or see the upcoming Theatresports grand final that she’s directing. You won’t just be amazed – you’ll be surprised at how amazed you’ll be.

 

Fine Print:

Impro Late Show with Bec De Unamuno May 11, May 12 - with special guests!

Tuesdays and Thursdays are Impro nights at the Roxbury Hotel in Glebe - Rebecca’s a regular

• Celebrity Theatresports, July - directed by Rebecca

 


BastardChef: MasterChef Music

 

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Here's the thing: after the initial success of Masterchef, they got Matt Preston to put his mug on the cover of a compilation CD.

It had a nice title with a pun in it: Music from Another Platter.

It had a varied line-up of artists old and new.

It claimed to be music for cooking and eating.

I think it was a missed opportunity, particularly given that Matt Preston set out as a music journo and ended up a food critic.

I reckon he should have compiled the best collection of songs about food.

But he didn't.

So I've done it for him: what with the premiere of the 2012 season of Masterchef, I present Bastard Chef.

It’s actually a boxed set.

This is the track listing of volume one:

  1. Yummy Yummy Yummy I Got Love In My Tummy - Ohio Express
  2. Watermelon Man - Herbie Hancock
  3. Vegetables - Beach Boys
  4. St Alfonso’s Pancake Breakfast/Father O’Blivion - Frank Zappa/Mothers
  5. Cook of the House - Linda McCartney & Wings
  6. Crawfish - Elvis Presley
  7. Cook Cook Blues - Rolling Stones
  8. The Raspberry Song - The Goons
  9. Popcorn - Hot Butter
  10. Beans & Cornbread - Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five
  11. Chewy Chewy - Ohio Express
  12. Agita - Nick Apollo Forte aka Lou Canova

If you want, you can listen to the album below. While you read through the track list in better detail. Go on, you know you want to. If you like them very much indeed to the point of wanting to own them, there are links to Amazon. You may prefer to keep your own local music store alive if you still have one; if you don’t, the Amazon purchase will aid the upkeep of this blog, which is nice.

By the way, the cover artwork is by Alex E. Clark. (If you can only see an expanse of white immediately below, check this out on a computer rather than your phone or tablet.)

 

Bastard Chef from standanddeliver on 8tracks.

 

 

1: Yummy Yummy Yummy - Ohio Express

Bubble gum’ is a genre of pop that came into being in the late ’60s when the kid brothers and - more importantly - sisters of the swingin’ youth were getting to a record buying age. So it mostly consists of producer- and session-musician driven, sickly sweet ditties designed for tweens and teens buying singles. ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’ is a prime example – but don’t dismiss it. Fundamental truths are often communicated in the simplist aphorisms.

Even if ‘Yummy yummy yummy/I got love in my tummy’ doesn’t resonate with the authority of a quote from Shakespeare or Dylan – the ‘Love, you're such a sweet thing/Good enough to eat thing’ might get us into Rochester territory – often the truest food of love is, in fact, food. And there’s no denying that the love of food is one of the truest loves there is. (Just ask Matt Preston and his fellow judges.)


Find it: on the compilation Yummy Yummy Yummy: Best of the Ohio Express. Download it here.

 

2: Watermelon Man - Herbie Hancock

If there’s one thing you learn from MasterChef, it’s the importance of fresh ingredients and the value of establishing relationships with providores: going to growers markets when you can’t grow your own. Of course, back in the day, they used to come to you – hence the 16-bar blues of ‘Watermelon Man’: inspired, according to composer Herbie Hancock, by the memory of the watermelon man who made his way through the backstreets and alleys of Hancock's neighbourhood in Chicago. He distinctly recalls the rhythm of the wheels on the cobblestones, apparent in the groove of the piece.

Recorded for Hancock's first album, the 1962 Blue Note album Takin’ Off, ‘Watermelon Man’ proved a modest hit before Mongo Santamaria turned it into a massive Latin pop hit the following year. It soon became a jazz standard. Hancock reworked it into an altogether funkier tune for his early ’70s album Headhunters. There is a vocal version that makes obvious use of the unmistakeable ‘watermelon man’ cadence.

Find it: on the remastered Takin’ Off. Download it here.

 

3: Vegetables - The Beach Boys

‘Vegetables’ – not only delicious, but good for you too. The hippies knew it. Hence this paean to the edible parts of plants. Originally intended for Smile, the long, lost Beach Boys masterpiece that was meant to be a follow-up to Pet Sounds. But Smile was shelved with much drama, intrigue and subsequent denials and recriminations, thought never to see the light of day again. Until Brian Wilson released a solo version of it earlier this millennium. And then the original Smile sessions were excavated for a mammoth boxed set that included a reconstruction of the lost masterpiece in 2011.

However, back in the day, when for whatever reason the original was shelved (Wilson’s paranoia, stoked by summer of love chemical refreshments; the rest of the band’s disinterest; the record label balking at the mounting costs of hippies frittering away their money…), the song was salvaged for the less spectacular album that was eventually released:  Smiley Smile.

Apparently the ‘tuned percussion’ of munched vegetables include the chomping talents of Paul McCartney, who happened to pop in to the studio during the Smile sessions.

Find it: On the remastered 2-albums-on-1-CD collection Smiley Smile/Wild Honey. Download it here .


4: St Alphonso’s Pancake Breakfast/Father O’Blivion - Frank Zappa/Mothers

In the early-to-mid-’70s Frank Zappa led his most jazzy line-up of the Mothers of Invention. They were (like all of Zappa’s bandmembers) musicially brilliant, irrespective of the silly lyrics they were called upon to underscore – and I say that as someone who digs the silly lyrics!

To give you some idea of how well-rehearsed the band was, it’s been told (by a local muso who hung out with Zappa’s trumpeter, Sal Marquez, on the 1973 Aussie tour) that at any time, Frank could call upon a bandmember, naming a song and a bar. The musician was then expected to hum their corresponding part.

‘St Alphonso’s Pancake Breakfast’ and ‘Father O’Blivion’ are two songs that make up the four-song suite that opens the album Apostrophe (’) (it begins with ‘Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow’, followed by ‘Nanook Rubs It’). Another track, ’MAH-JUH-RENE’, was recorded, but edited out of the final master before it was released; it may have fitted between ‘St Alphonso’s Pancake Breakfast’ and ‘Father O’Blivion’ but it’s hard to ascertain – a live recording from Sydney 1973 puts it after ‘St Alphonso’, but that rendition opens with ‘Father O’Blivion’ before proceeding to ‘Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow’ and ‘Nanook Rubs It’.

I’ll leave it up to you to find the deeper meaning; I just love listening to that band play - Ruth Underwood's percussion especially - with Frank up front, singing lead.

Find it: on the CD Apostrophe (’). Not available for download.

 

5: Cook of the House - Linda McCartney and Wings

This song, essentially a low-fi blues jam, was written in Australia during – or perhaps just after – the Wings tour of 1975. It was recorded in early 1976 for the album Wings at the Speed of Sound. The album came out in March, giving the band an album to tour behind when they went back on the road (their ‘Wings over the World’ tour culminated in the US in 1976).

The story goes that Paul and Linda were staying in a house whose kitchen had everything they could possibly need, laid out around them pretty much as described in the song. The white noise of frying oil that opens and closes the song is a nice touch.

Wings at the Speed of Sound has always stood out as a particularly ‘group’ album - with everyone getting a go on lead: Denny Laine sings lead on ‘Note You Never Wrote’ and ‘Time To Hide’; Jimmy McCulloch sings lead on ‘Wino Junko’; Joe English sings lead on ‘Must Do Something About It’.

‘Cook of the House’ was Linda's contribution. It also appeared on the flipside of the 1976 single ‘Silly Love Songs’. And hardcore fans of Linda McCartney will know ‘Cook of the House’ also appears on Wide Prairie, a posthumous compilation widower Paul put together in 1998.

Irrespective of your thoughts on Macca's missus, ‘Cook of the House’ has a certain charm. Matt Preston please note: it is the most cooking of cooking songs.

Find it: on Wings at the Speed of Sound and Wide Prairie. Meanwhile, download it here.

 

6: Crawfish - Elvis Presley

In January 1958 Elvis Presley was able to defer his entry into the United States Army to March of that year, in order to make one of his few critically and commercially successful films: King Creole.

It’s a bout a 19-year-old Danny Fisher whose mother died, and now finds himself having to help support his family after his dad dropped his bundle and the family was forced to moved to the impoverished area of New Orleans. Despite being well-meaning and diligent, Danny finds himself entangled with gangsters and two different women.

The film opens with ‘Crawfish’, a duet with jazz vocalist Kitty White on what sounds like the classic work song – the work song sung, say, by the fishmonger who’d push his icecart through the back alleys of neighbourhoods selling his latest catch. Those days are long gone, not so much because of the lack of pavement-bashing fish mongers, but because BP went and destroyed the fishing industry for good in that part of the world.

Find it: on the King Creole soundtrack.

 

7: Cook Cook Blues - Rolling Stones

As with all of the workhorse blues workouts the Stones are wont to record during album sessions, this is essentially an extended warm-up jam kept for a single flip-side. The lyrics are the customary underdeveloped sketches about sex, the music, an opportunity for the band to stretch out and have fun.

This one was committed to tape between 1982 and 1989 – meaning it could date from the sessions for Undercover (released 1983), Dirty Work (1986) or Steel Wheels (1989). Or perhaps all three, since the Stones still like to pull out an old song and finish it for a new album (or a new deluxe re-release of an old album, as the bonus discs of Exile on Main Streetand Some Girls demonstrate).

‘Cook Cook Blues’ saw the light of day as the flipside of the 1989 single ‘Rock and a Hard Place’ (from Steel Wheels), but features both the original Stones ivory tickler Ian Stewart, who passed away in 1985, and former Allman Brothers Bandmember Chuck Leavell, responsible for much ’80s Stones ivory ticklage, suggesting an early=’80s recording that was possibly polished and edited for late-’80s release.

I love the way it begins mid-song – as though what took place before the fade-up wasn't quite worth keeping. Or, perhaps, there was no initial plan to tape the jam, but it suddenly got good, so the person in charge of pressing ‘record’ suddenly did.

Find it: with difficulty! Completists will locate it on the 45-disc boxed set The Complete Singles (1971-2006), worth it for so many other hard-to-get gems!

 

8: The Raspberry Song - The Goons

In the late-’70s, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe – collectively known as The Goons thanks to their long-running radio program The Goon Show – had a reunion of sorts: they recorded a couple of tracks that were issued as a single, and then compiled on an album called Unchained Melodies. One of those songs was The ‘Raspberry Song’.

 

You know how important it is to health and diet to stick to the seasonal fruits and veges! ‘The Raspberry Song’ is about nothing, if not seasonal fruits. (That is, it’s about nothing!) Thus, just like the raspberry, that trademark sound effect so beloved of Spike Milligan, the song pretty much speaks for itself.

Find it: on the recently remastered and reissued Unchained Melodies: Complete Recordings 1955-1978.

 

9: Popcorn - Hot Butter

Popcorn is everyone’s favourite treat! And – apart from, perhaps, Lolly Gobble Bliss Bombs – something that exists only in and of itself. What else can you ‘cook’ or ‘prepare’ with popcorn? Only other forms of candy, apparently. Fittingly, ‘Popcorn’ it’s also everyone's favourite instrumental – you know it, you've always known it, even if you never knew its name.

This legendary piece was originally written and recorded in the late ’60s by Moog maestro Gershon Kingsley for his 1969 album Music to Moog By . Hot Butter, an instrumental covers band who gave everything the Moog treatment, recorded it – along with other hits of the day like ‘Day By Day’ from the Jesus musical Godspell, Neil Diamond’s ‘Song Sung Blue’, the Tornadoes’ ‘Telstar’ and the Shadows’ ‘Apache’ – for their self-titled album in 1972.

It was a worlwide chart-topper, doing amazing business in unlikely countries. It was France’s fastest-selling number one single, for example. It was also number one in Australia for ten weeks. Which is why it seems to be etched into everybody’s psyche in Australia, irrespective of age.

Find it: as the title track on the album Popcorn. Download it here.

 

10: Beans and Corn Bread - Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five

Beans and corn bread sounds like everyman’s food – traditionally ‘poor people food’. The stuff MasterChef celebrates, as long as it has some sophisticated twist, or is plated up nicely. Fittingly, ‘Beans and Cornbread’ was everyman’s music, the distinctive tenor saxophone opening typifying the ‘jump blues’ genre of the 1940s: big bands have given away to smaller, tighter combos that play a faster and more furious groove. It was very popular inded, hence Louis Jordan making a name for himself as ‘The King of the Jukebox’.

‘Beans and Corn Bread’ sounds like there’s a message being imparted about friendship and getting along, but it’s all threat and bluster until they realise they belong together. Seems like there’s not enough substance to read anything into. The song proved a highlight in the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X. And, it turns out, there was a tradition where the Space Shuttle launch crew were fed beans and corn bread following a successful launch.

Find it: on the compilation Best of Louis Jordan. Download it here.

 

11: Chewy Chewy - Ohio Express

Really? Two songs by the same group on this compilation? What was I thinking? But ‘Chewy Chewy’ is the companion piece to ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’. In fact, I’d argue it’s the better song – ‘a mouthful of cute things to say’ is far more erudite than ‘having love’ in one’s ‘tummy’. (The other song that is easy to lump with those is the far superior ‘Bread and Butter’ by the Newbeats – look out for it on a future compilation, I promise.)

Find it: on the compilation Yummy Yummy Yummy: Best of the Ohio Express. Download it here.

 

12: Agita - Nick Apollo Forte, aka Lou Canova

This is where the collection should have begun – the ultimate song for people who are prone to fall madly in love. With food. (Matt, this should have been on your compilation!)

‘Agita’ opens the Woody Allen classic Broadway Danny Rose, about the biggest loser of a showbiz manager there is – the title character, portrayed by Woody himself. How can he make a living when his books include a one-armed juggler, a one-legged tap-dancer, and a ventriloquist with a stutter? His one chance at the big time is the lounge singer Lou Canova – except Lou’s got a thing for extra-marital affairs, and his latest mistress is a gangster moll (played by Mia Farrow).

Lou’s signature song, the theme to the film, is this ballad inspired by over-eating and woman trouble. Both lead to the heartburn known, in Italian dialect, as ‘agita’.

Find it: on the album Legacy, available from Nick Apollo Forte’s homepage. But do yourself a favour: enjoy the song in context, and watch the film Broadway Danny Rose. Best value is the The Woody Allen Collection boxed set.

 

Check Out:

Soup to Nuts: BastardChef Too



A Brief History of Tommy Dean

 

Tommy_Dean_Red_Shirt

“Oh, where do you even begin?” Tommy Dean asks.

Where indeed? It’s as good a point of departure as any for an interview on the eve of his one and only 2012 Sydney Comedy Festival show.

I’ve known the long-haired American for a decade-and-a-half as a true comic genius: a man who seemingly can take anything you give him and fashion it into hilarious material. And when he watches other comedians – or, more to the point, wanna-be comedians and newbies – Tommy can point out weaknesses and suggest ways to make stronger the stuff they come up with by adhering to things like ‘truth in comedy’ and ‘answering comedy with comedy’. He's also as decent a guy as you’ll get to meet.

But Tommy’s questions are in fact answers to one of my own that comes much later, and more important ones that should come first are ones such as, why is such a brilliant comic comparatively so little known in Australia? Other brilliant comics – like Fred Lang, for instance – will describe him as ‘Australia’s best kept comedy secret’. But then, there are people who claim to love comedy who have never had the supreme pleasure of seeing Fred Lang in action either, so perhaps we should start somewhere else again.

Okay, how about this one: why is it that Tommy Dean only doing one Sydney Comedy Festival show?

“I guess I’m supposed to say, ‘I’ve been very busy, I’m obligated to a lot of other things, the schedule didn’t really come together, I’d love to do more but it didn’t really work out…’” Tommy offers.

All of which is true, as this interview will demonstrate.

What is patently not true, though, is that Tommy Dean's sole one-night-only performance is in fact his only show of the Festival. He’s already appeared in that brilliant Troy Conrad and Paul Provenza-produced Set List, in which an array of comics is given topics virtually on the way to the microphone, from which to construct their ten minute set pretty much as they’re delivering it. And he’s got a few Thank God It’s Friday obligations in the live Thank God It’s On Stage: the first, in Wollongong, has already taken place, but there’s still Saturday’s Seymour Centre show, and one at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre a week later. And Tommy’s also appeared in one of the [“lesser”] galas that have taken place.

So really, Tommy Dean is all over the Sydney Comedy Festival; but even if he weren’t, his ‘cover story’ sounds pretty convincing. And that’s because it’s pretty much true: Tommy does seem to be busier than ever. And, to be fair, there was a time when Tommy seemed less gung-ho about pursuing opportunities. If anything, he is a less well-kept secret, surely.

“I think that’s probably still fair,” Tommy says. “I mean, one night in the Sydney Comedy Festival is just another night in Sydney. I’m around all the time, so why should people come to this one night in Sydney when then can find me on any given night in Sydney?”

Good point. Of course, being part of something like the Sydney Comedy Festival does at least bring Tommy to the attention of the ‘special event’ comedy audience – the people who don’t go and see comedy every night of the week all year round. People, let’s face it, who may not even know you can see comedy regularly in venues around Sydney.

And the other point worth raising is, can you actually still see Tommy Dean in a comedy club any time you want to? Not as regularly as you used to, surely. I mean, nowadays, I see Tommy more often as the hilarious warm-up guy at the taping of a television show – (and note, not all warm-up guys are hilarious) – than I do as the killer headline act in a comedy room.

“Yes,” Tommy concurs, “that has become my main source of grocery buying at the moment. It takes precedence over club work. That ate up the front part of the year, this year.”

Some of the shows at which you’d have been warmed by Tommy Dean, had you been in the audience, include the Andrew Denton-produced  Gruen Planet and Randling.

“I love doing warm-up for Denton’s shows because the nature of the shows he produces makes it easy,” Tommy explains, although he prefers the term ‘focused’ to ‘warmed up’. “Most audiences come to a show wanting to have fun; Andrew Denton’s shows are fun, so I feel good about the product behind me. I’m not saying ‘Whoo, let’s be all excited about this’ knowing full well I’m about to hand them over to a pile of crap that I can’t justify.” For Tommy, it’s a matter of principal: he doesn’t want to be the entertainment equivalent of the snake-oil seller.

He also doesn’t want to be the guy desperate to ‘get laughs’; see – or hear – him as a guest on a panel show, and you won't see him hog the limelight or talk over people. “The nature of what I do, comedically, is share what I think is funny. It’s always about ‘sharing the laugh’, rather than ‘getting the laugh’.”

Having a Denton-produced program as the reason to focus an audience makes that sharing so much easier: able to remain relaxed and confident, Tommy essentially treats his sessions with audiences – getting them primed for the show, filling in the gaps if there are technical issues that halt proceedings – as ‘improv’. He’s playing games with them, talking to them, bouncing off them rather than delivering prepared material. “I like to share the show along with them, as though I’m just the audience member who talks more.”

Though not always much more – Randling, for example, has Denton up front and comedians and similarly quick-witted guests. If something did go wrong, there was always sufficient banter to ensure Tommy's presence out front was not required. “In fact," he says, "I can remember no moment during the entire time I was doing it where, once I said ‘here’s the show’, I had to come back out!” Watch any episode – Wednesday nights, 8:30pm, until some time in October – and you'll see why: hilarious television!

Thank God It's Live
Thank God It’s Backstage - Wollongong

 

Prophet margin

Tommy has a theory that comedians are like prophets: they’re loved more in lands other than those they were raised. “I still believe it, and therein lies the rub of why I’m not doing a full run in the Sydney Comedy Festival,” Tommy says with a chuckle. “I am of Sydney Town, so Sydney takes me for granted; there is no rush to go and see me. If I were playing Perth’s Wild West Festival, it’d be a case of, ‘this is the only time he here this year’ and there’d be a rush to go and see me.”

Yet, according to Tommy, even if a comedian is better loved away from home, the cruel irony is that the comic is also funniest in his or her own hometown, since they know it so intimately. “You should be at your most perceptive at that to which you have the most knowledge,” he insists. But he illustrates it with an example of the other extreme: 

“I was recently in Malaysia, where the entire audience was Malay, and I’ve never been more ‘not funny’. We just didn’t have a common ground.”

I’m a bit surprised by this – what about the whole ‘innocent abroad’ thing – where the outsider sees the place for what it really is, noticing stuff the locals don’t because they take it for granted?

“I would argue that that’s the case if you’re ‘of the background’,” Tommy says, essentially explaining that there has to be some common ground. There wasn’t any for him and his Malay audience. “I’ve never been to England, but I would expect to do well there, being more-or-less of the English ethos and presenting a view that would be easily understood to the English.”

None of that holds true when he visits Malaysia, and furthermore, Tommy says, Malaysia is a “very interesting case in point” because it feels as if it’s “very new” to comedy: “There’s a very interesting dynamic there, in the old guard of the oppressive government holding out, while the new internet-trained, westernised youth coming up through the system starting to rebel against it.” Stand-up, and having touchy subjects discussed out load, seems very new to them, so when an outsider starts “having a go”, the locals have trouble dealing with it. "It feels like a very fresh wound; they’re not sure if they can accept that.”

Really, it’s not unlike initial reactions to Tommy Dean when he first hit the stand-up scene in Australia. Some audiences resented the ‘Seppo’ telling them how things were. “In Malaysia, if you made any reference to corrupt police as an outsider, they were very, ‘oh, let’s be a little bit cool now, you’re judging Malaysia!’ But the locals could talk about corrupt cops and the audience would be all, ‘oh yeah, they’re corrupt!’ Generally speaking, the locals were better prepared to service the comedy needs of Malaysia than I was. And fair enough, too!”

In conclusion, however, Tommy still maintains: “You must go abroad to be at your funniest. Or at least, to be seen as being at your funniest.”

Tommy_red_rabbit

 

Pick a card/perception of doors

Another thing I recall Tommy mentioning in the past, is his process of delivering comedy. He likens it to constantly shuffling a deck of cards, knowing at any one time only the card he’s currently playing, and the one he’ll play next, but otherwise he is constantly going through the deck.

“That is so true,” Tommy insists: “Comedy is a game tactical manoeuvres, not strategy.” Because you can plan an entire set, but if something unexpected happens, you should be prepared to address the unexpected thing and veer ‘of piste’ as necessary, rather than stick to the script. It’s much funnier that way.

‘That’s exactly right,” Tommy says. “And I like the metaphor more now, because I’m thinking I probably only have about 52 cards. It’s not an endless deck.”

There was also a metaphor of ‘going through doors’: you’re constantly faced with options on stage – choices between different doors.

“It’s simply a re-visualisation of the cards metaphor, isn’t it?” Tommy reasons. “Same idea: you walk through a door, now you’re in this room; this room only has so many doors out of it.”

Perhaps, but at least with the doors, you can go back the way you came if you hit a dead end or a situation where you don’t want to go through any of the doors currently on offer…

“Yeah, I suppose, in a pure metaphorical sense, the door philosophy is probably better,” Tommy agrees. “But you could backtrack on the card play. I see no reason not too. Maybe you’d take the card metaphor kind of like a game of solitaire: you play the card, they only allow certain options, but eventually, because of card play on the right hand side, you suddenly now have access to move that shift back to the left side… ‘oh, finally, a red 8! Right, 9 – and we’re back in business on the left side!’”

Collectors_Tommy_Fred
Dom, Tommy and Fred Lang playing games for Collectors

 

Tommy’s game

The card metaphor is most telling; the best door to open when it comes to Tommy Dean, is the one that leads to the games room. See, Tommy loves games. Board games in particular. His collection of games has featured on the ABC show Collectors. Indeed, Tommy is a member of Board Games Australia, a body that exists to “promote gaming as a fun and educational tool”. Board Games Australia awards annual ‘best game’ in various categories, with Tommy on the panel for ‘Best International Game’.

Again, there’s nowhere to start with this one apart from the most basic and obvious place:

“Tell me about your love of games, Tommy.”

“Oh, where to begin? Where do you even begin?” Tommy replies. “This is my true, true passion. I absolutely adore it at so many levels.”

Tommy reckons he “spotted very early” the “glory” in sitting around the table with friends and family playing games. It was his favourite adolescent pastime: “While cooler kids were sneaking into keg parties and getting interested in drugs and alcohol, I found it much more satisfying to gather with a few friends and play cards all night.”

The father of one of those friends was “a high-rated chess master whose mental processes went to all things games” so the interest spread from card games to board games:

“It was hilarious fun, just at a social level,” Tommy explains, “and then at a tactical thought level, it became energizing and engaging, being able to deal with thought processes and results that you never had a chance to experience in real life. There’s something about playing for survival in a game where, on the board, you lose and the world is destroyed, but in real life, the world is fine.”

It sounds to me like Tommy’s describing ‘Risk’, a game that has come up time and again in his stand-up over the years. But suggesting as much makes me sound ignorant: “There are many, many other games that put the entire world at stake,” Tommy says. His favourite at the moment is ‘Twilight Struggle’, a two-player game based on the cold war; one player is the US, the other Russia, and game play is card-driven.

“You attempt to influence the various continents such that you score more points and prevent nuclear war. If things go wrong, the world gets lit up!”

It's not too much of a stretch to consider the decision-making and strategic – or rather, tactical manoeuvring – as good training for a leadership role. We seem to be a at somewhat of a loss with regards to the top job in this country right now. Any chance, Tommy?

“It’s not bad training,” Tommy says, but he’s a bit reticent to commit to that kind of responsibility, pointing out that winning the cold war by avoiding a nuclear apocalypse is not the same on the game board as it is in real life. “It’s the difference between playing poker for chips and playing poker for cash,” he says, explaining that “it’s one thing to go all in on a bluff when the only thing you lose is your pile of plastic. It’s a different thing when your house is there in the middle.”

After the briefest of pauses, Tommy adds: “By the way, I hate poker. Just so we’re clear on that. I like board games. Gambling games, not so much, for that reason right there: I like the stakes to be fantastical, as opposed to real.”

For Tommy, it's all about the tactical thought and the games themselves.

“I love the themes that come out of the games, I love tactically manoeuvring against the mechanics of a game – the concepts the game’s designer has given you to play with – manipulating those concepts to make happen whatever needs to happen in the game. And I do love pushing against the other players. There’s something amazingly telling about what you can learn about the other players over a board game.”

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Games Mormons play

I’m vaguely aware of Tommy’s Mormon upbringing, and I’m wondering how formative it was of the young Tommy Dean. Was it particularly strict? Is that what led to his love of games over other adolescent pursuits? Is that what gave rise to his love of Coca-Cola, something that would have been denied a child in a strict Mormon household? And how did his love of comedy develop?

“We were a very religiously aware family, but I wouldn’t use the word ‘strict’,” Tommy advises. He was initially raised a Southern Baptist – in fact, had an uncle who was a preacher – which meant not just Sunday School, but also “Wednesday night pot luck”, entailing midweek “casserole and preaching”.

From 13 to 15 years of age, Tommy was indeed “embroiled in the Mormon faith”, which, he says, involved “playing a lot of games”. But even if the Mormon faith is “even more dedicated to itself” than other denominations, for Tommy and his family, it wasn't really a change at all. “Church is just what you did,” he says. “We just joined different churches. It wasn’t until much later that I even recognised a difference between religions. It was just ‘church’.”

Yeah, but still – Mormons are the ‘no caffeine’ denomination, aren’t they? It’s only an issue – potentially – because I notice Coke is Tommy’s tipple of choice, and the biggest sin is putting lemon in it…

“Absolutely,” Tommy says of his Coke imbibing. But as to Mormons eschewing caffeine, it’s “all down to how hard-line they take it”.

Turns out there is a major split in the Mormon faith, and it has something to do with The Doctrine and Covenants, the book upon which, along with The King James Holy Bible and The Book of Mormon, the Mormon faith is based. The Doctrine and Covenants is the Word of God as transcribed by the prophets to whom God spoke. “Those are where the basic rules of Mormonism are given and taken away,” Tommy explains, “and one of them, referred to as ‘The Word of Wisdom’, has a sort of health plan for Mormons. The key phrase is, ‘No hot drinks’.”

‘Hot drinks’ of the time were coffee and tea. “Now that we know what caffeine is, that’s probably what God was getting at,” Tommy says. “Because God, who also at the time should have known what caffeine was, wanted to be obscure.”

There was a backlash later on, when it was discovered that the Mormon Church held a lot of stock in the Pepsi company, apparently. It was seen by many to be hypocritical. Of course there is the stricter Reformed Church of Jesus Christ And Latter Day Saints branch of Mormonism who take a harder line still, according to Tommy: “I don’t think they even eat soup!” Well, he adds, not until it cools down. But then, the point at which ‘hot’ becomes ‘tepid’ becomes a point of issue. And ‘Jesus loves iced coffee!’ becomes a major heresy.

Tommy prays

 

The community that prays together…

“The reason we got into the Mormon Church,” Tommy says,“is the same reason we got into most churches: the neighbourhood responded in kind to our arrival.”

Tommy’s family moved around a lot, dictated mostly by his father’s work. Both parents were born to Maryland farmers, but Tommy’s dad chose not to live ‘off the land’, opting instead for “IT, before they called it IT”.

A project manager for various projects that  involved computers, he happened to be be managing a project for “the bank of Disney World, Sun Bank” that took the family to Florida for a couple of years. Later he worked for a company that sold mailing lists, as a kind of precursor to spam email. "That took us to Michigan. Then my mum had asthma and the Michigan climate didn’t suit her, so he took a job in Arizona and off we went to the Asthma State.”

Tommy’s family arrived in Arizona when he was 12 and the new neighbours “came around with casseroles and hellos and invited us to come to church with them.” Taken with the very social nature of the neighbours – who happened to be Mormons – Tommy’s mum decided to take up their offer.

“The reality is, the Mormon Church, for all of its odd philosophies and theologies, is – take away the religion – one of the greatest social co-ops,” Tommy says. “They do more to support their members than any other church I’ve ever been involved in. They’re very much community based, neighbourhood based”.

He also points out that churches in places of “heavy population” such as Arizona are like schools: “you don’t choose what church you go to; you live here, so you go to that church during that time period. And everyone you go to church with lives in your neighbourhood, the idea being to build giant community ties so when your parents are sick, your neighbourhood rallies to take care of you.”

In fact, he says, “every Sunday one of the meetings was the women’s group, and the main thing they discussed was who was on the casserole list that week. Almost everything the Mormon Church does is designed to keep Mormons hanging out with Mormons, helping Mormons, espousing Mormonism. That was also part of it: I played a lot of board games with those guys – softball leagues, basketball leagues and Wednesday night dances to keep the youth together.” That was until Tommy was 15. “Then I fell in with a group called ‘Concerned Christians’, which was really sort of ‘We Hate Mormons’.”

That must have just been a phase; Tommy doesn’t really seem to hate anyone, and unlike a lot of comics, isn’t hell-bent on pointing out – humorously – the logical flaws in belief systems. Not specifically. He loves pointing out logical flaws generally.

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Barréd from school

It was neither the religion nor the travel that was to inform the young Tommy Dean, wandering prophet of comedy. Rather, he says, his “main line of formation” resulted from childhood illness: Tommy contracted Gillain-Barré Syndrome at age 8. “I was paralysed for two years from the waste down and spent all that time out of school. There’s something about spending all that time out of the system at a time when you’re at your most malleable.”

Home-schooled for grades 2 and 3, Tommy Dean “spent two years out of the system, developing my own way of thinking” before returning to school for grade 4. At which point, after two years of paralysis, Tommy was “barely starting to walk again, in a very obvious and bully-drawing way.” He’s quick to point out, however, that “bullying” is a “big term”; in this instance, he means that people made fun of the way he walked at school. “So I think my sense of humour first develops around the defense of that. I was getting heckled for the way I walked, and I was quick to recognise that ‘yes, I do walk funny, but you guys have got your problems too, I notice…’”

Some of the ways in which people have reacted to Tommy’s distinct walk were quite amusing. He recalls a time at college when his gait mistaken for cockiness. “Somebody said to my best friend, ‘Hey, I see you’re friends with that guy Tommy – he sure seems to strut a lot! What’s his deal?’ ‘No, no, that’s just the way he stays upright’.”

The permanent effect of Guillain-Barré Syndrome on Tommy is a lack of muscle tissue in his legs. “I have about 85% muscle activity in my upper thighs, down to about 10-12% in my ankles. Normally people walk ‘heel to toe’, whereas, very much like an artificial limb, I swing my foot through and land it flat.”

That’s why Tommy’s classic stance on stage is to keep hold of the mic in the stand “in a classic left foot forward, right foot back pose”: he’s using the stand to help balance. “I have a really hard time standing up straight and still. If I take the mic off the stand, you’ll notice I’ll walk left to right a little more often than is necessitated by the dialogue, and that’s just me self balancing.” The worst scenario, of course, is when Tommy’s doing a corporate gig: wearing ‘corporate’ shoes – “which I’m completely uncomfortable in” – and they haven’t given him a mic stand.

“I’ve seen photos where I’ve ended up in this hilarious half-squat as I try desperately to stay upright in dress shoes! I’ve lost my balance and I’ve ended up in a half-kneeling position, but I’m halfway through a joke so I’m adjusting my posture, trying to stay upright and not lose the timing on the riff.”

I think about it, and yes, I’ve noticed Tommy’s tendency to balance with the mic stand, and pace. But it’s only now that he’s told me – I’m usually too interested in the comedy to notice the physicality. But I know that Tommy plays baseball. Doesn’t he?

“Yeah. Poorly. I play in an old man’s league, so even though I’m quite slow, compared to the other 50- and 60-year-old guys I run around with, I can keep up for a base or two.” Even as a kid, playing, Tommy says, the big joke was that he “had to hit the ball to the fence just to get to first base”. Back then, though, he played better, so he could hit it all the way to the fence in order to get to first. “The other big joke in baseball was to flash me the signal to steel second. That wasn’t gonna happen either!”

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Game, Set List and match

If the first stage of Tommy’s comedic development as a comic was his homeschooling at a formative age, forcing him to devise his own world view, the second stage was his discovery of drama.

“The Mormon Church do a lot of ‘church plays’, and somebody said, ‘you seem to have a thing for this ‘church play’ business; when you get to high school, you ought to investigate the drama club’”

That’s exactly what Tommy did, and “that’s where stagecraft became the game.” Four years of drama at high school involved “the competitive element” known as Speech and Debate – the ‘Speech’ aspect of which consisted of monologues rather than public speaking. “They judged you on your ability to interpret 8 minutes of drama or poetry or comedy.” There was also a ‘two-hander’ option, known as ‘dual acting’. Tommy was State Champion in Dual Acting and State Finalist in Poetry Interpretation.

“The reason I got that was because I did a piece from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales that was quite funny,” Tommy says. I don’t doubt it. Tommy is hilarious. The night he did Set List – which, unfortunately, I missed – I bet he ‘hit it all the way to the fence’.

 “I don’t want to sound all braggy, but I pretty much did. I played the game exactly the way it was meant to be played, which I truly enjoyed.” Again, the game metaphor: seeing the rules and playing by them is clearly important to Tommy. So, with Set List, rather than see each topic and improvise free-standing bits, or throw the rules away in mock indignation of the ridiculousness of it – which can also be hilarious – Tommy went with the rules, justifying why each note existed on his set list and delivering a spontaneous set that carried the logical links, structure and – I’m guessing this last bit – call-backs that a polished set would carry. 

Tommy on his dad, on Thank God It's On Stage

 

Game plan

Given the ‘warm-up’ – sorry, ‘focusing’ – work, Thank God It’s Friday and appearances on [“lesser”] galas and things like Set List, even if it’s taking its time, Australia’s best-kept comedy secret is still getting out, slowly but surely.

“My schedule would suggest that’s the case,” Tommy agrees. I still think that I’m still the person with whom nobody can figure out what to do.”

Yes, there has always been that aspect to Tommy’s career. Clearly, he can do stuff. But what stuff should they get him to do? When his contemporaries were getting stabs at non-ratings period seasons of stuff, or being asked to audition for present jobs on game shows, it seemed like Tommy was still too much ‘the foreigner’ to be offered those gigs. I mean, how on earth could an American front a game show in Australia? I’d ask Bob Dyer if he were still alive…

“There does still seems to be a weird reticence,” Tommy acknowledges, describing his career so far as having been “defined by benevolent champions” such as “Richard Glover”. However, he is also aware that he himself would have a hard time finding the ideal category to place himself in:

“If someone said to me, ‘you could do any of these things, you choose,’ I’m not quite sure what show I would host. I’d like to think that I could do it.”

Again, Tommy turns to his gaming metaphor: “I define myself by the game I’m asked to play. I don’t know which game I want to play but I can play the game you ask.”

And, he says, it’s interesting to see “just how many games” he’s currently involved in: “there’s radio panelist guy” (Thank God It’s Friday); “warm-up guy” (Q & A and Andrew Denton’s shows); “corporate work” (either as the guest who “injects a bit of irreverence to your corporate setting” or the MC who “plays it straight but provides just enough irreverence to add a point of interest to your corporate gathering”).

But television’s the weirdest one. I watch Tommy focusing the audiences for shows he could easily be guesting on – be it Q & A or Randling. “It’s interesting that Spicks & Specks found me useful, but Good News Week didn’t,” Tommy says. “They strike me as the same game”.

And there, I think, is the way for it for the comic guided by game theory: he should be playing it far more obviously, and be writing his own rules. Rather than seeking the role of panelist or guest on a game show, he should be hosting a show. Perhaps about games. Or perhaps hosting the next television presentation of the Paralympic Games. Television would love that perfect fit. Point is, since he’s brilliant at ‘sharing the laugh’, Tommy would be a brilliant host, and one who’d be able to step in the moment anything comes off the rails.

Well. Tommy Dean fans live in hope.

For now, take the opportunity to see his festival show – the one that actually appears under his own name, for which he’s appearing up front rather than as an integral team member. It’s called Drop Off and Pick Up – most likely about him being a dedicated dad. But titles are almost irrelevant to Tommy’s festival shows – it’s always gonna be a bunch of his funniest stand-up, each routine hilarious and relevant to that very moment it’s being delivered.

 

Fine Print:

Tommy Dean’s sole Sydney Festival show Drop Off and Pick Up is on 7:30pm, 4 May at the Factory Theatre.

• He’s appearing in Thank God It’s On Stage 8pm, 5 May at the Seymour Centre.

• He’s also in Thank God It’s On Stage 8pm, 12 May Parramatta Riverside Theatre.

Board Games Australia’s Best Game Awards will be announced at the 2012 Sydney Toy and Game Expo taking place in Homebush June 9-11.

• Tommy’s appearing with Josh Earl, Kate McLennan, Kevin Kropinyeri and MC Dave Thornton at the Manning Entertainment Centre, Mid North Coast, as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow 15 July.