The Scared Weird Little Guys have a special position in the pantheon of musical comedy outfits. Tripod have garnered a popular following through their presence initially on Triple J (with their ‘song in an hour’ challenge and subsequent CD releases) and then on SkitHOUSE. Yet they have to contend with comparisons to other pre-existing trio-and-guitar combos – the Three Canadians, Corky and the Juice Pigs and the Doug Anthony Allstars to name but several. Then there’s the Dodge, who began as Freefall but had to change their name for copyright reasons. I recall accosting members of the Dodge, while they were still Freefall, at a Melbourne Comedy Festival some years back. “I know you must get this all the time, but you know who you guys remind me of?” I began. “Yeah, yeah, we know,” they said. “Tripod.” Which was cute. They reminded me of early Allstars. But it was nice that everyone else who would have once been comparing Tripod to the Allstars was now comparing Freefall to Tripod. Then, of course, there’s Gud – the band that are most like the Allstars, having, like the Allstars, Paul McDermott as their central character.
The Scared Weird Little Guys are the ones who get compared to others least of all, mostly because they are a duo (and partly because I can’t be bothered bringing Lano & Woodley into this introduction, even though they began as a trio, became a duo, and also dabble in music).
Beginning as half of a barbershop quartet, the Scaredies have made much of being able to utilise many musical genres. Of late, they have taken to doing their own version of a musical challenge. Whereas Tripod are given a topic and an hour to turn it into a song, the Scared Weird Little Guys take a leaf out of Andrew Denton’s book – since the ‘musical challenge’ dates back not to Denton’s Channel Seven tonight show of 1994, for which musical guests would have to render standards in their own style, but to an earlier show, The Money or the Gun, which featured ‘Stairway to Heaven’ performed in various ways by a multitude of artists. The Scared Weird Little Guys invite musical challenges of that nature: in addition writing satirical songs, sometimes to the tune of familiar songs, the Scaredies like to perform familiar songs in vary unusual genres, and invite fans to submit suggestions for such songs in a prcess referred to as ‘Stump the Scaredies’.
Thus, the Scared Weird Little Guys' new album Bits and Pieces – the excuse upon which this interview is hung – contains a bunch of satirical ditties and a sampling of Scaredy-stumpings.
Having previously interviewed the Scared Weird Little Guys, I already knew the answers to a few of the questions. But they were worth hearing again in the context of the story, rather than trying to bung ’em into an introduction – look how cumbersome this one is without them! Besides which, the answers sound even better when illustrated with soundbites.
The Scaredies have a clutch of shows coming up over the next little while, and they’re a lot of fun live. Check ’em out.
The interview went to air Saturday 15 May, an MP3 of which may be heard here.
Music: ‘Rock n Roll All Night’ in the style of a barbershop quartet – The Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Bits and Pieces
Demetrius Romeo: Before you became the Scared Weird Little Guys, you were both in a number of a cappella quartets. What led you both to comedy and to being in a duo? Rusty?
RUSTY BERTHER: We did start out, when we first met, in a barbershop quartet. In fact I was in this barbershop quartet for a year. It was called Four Chairs No Waiting and I was in that group for a year in Melbourne and then John auditioned and joined that group. That’s how we met. It was a bit of a ‘wacky, zany’ kind of a group, which was a lot of fun and a good thing to be doing at that time. Then we were in another five-part a cappella group called the Phones, which was a little more serious on the music side, with heavy doses of comedy, but we’d decided when we started the Scared Weird Little Guys, ‘let’s write original comedy songs’. So we kind of fell into it that way.
JOHN FLEMING: When Rusty and I met each other there was a bit of a bond that happened there, I guess. It was a business relationship but we were both into similar sort of stuff, so by the time three years had gone past, it seemed logical that we might go on to write some songs and I was playing guitar, we were both singing so we went for it.
Music: ’30 Seconds’ – Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Live at 42 Walnut Crescent
There’s only thirty seconds left in this song.
If you got a stopwatch and tried to work it out
Then you’d find around now that the time remaining
Would equal twenty seconds, yeah.
Now it’s down to eighteen.
Seventeen seconds: no time to rest.
If this was an ad you’d be impressed.
If you’re in a hurry you won’t be late,
’Cause if for the end of this song you wait
There’s only four seconds left.
There’s only one second le…
Demetrius Romeo: Rusty, the name ‘The Scared Weird Little Guys’ was indirectly bestowed upon you by Al Pacino; is that correct?
RUSTY BERTHER: That is correct. It’s a line from Al Pacino’s movie called Cruisin’. He’s an undercover cop in the serious, gay world of New York at the time, and there’s murders going on. Anyway, regardless of what the film’s about, the line ‘scared, weird, little guys’ was in it, and we thought, “scared, weird, little guys; that’s a weird grouping of adjectives – with ‘guys’ at the end – let’s call our group that!” We were searching for a name at that point.
JOHN FLEMING: Yeah, that’s right. And we have a fear that maybe in New York ‘scared, weird, little guys’ means something different, so we haven’t played in New York ever.
Music: ‘Staying Alive’ in the style of a Welsh Male Choir – the Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Bits and Pieces.
Demetrius Romeo: Your new album Bits and Pieces is album number three. John, tell me where the title comes from.
JOHN FLEMING: Well it’s pretty simple, really. It’s a whole collection of things from different places, all chopped up and not really contiguous, so Rusty suggested that we might call it Bits and Pieces because that’s the kind of thing that it is, so that’s what we did.
Demetrius Romeo: One of the highpoints of your live routine is where you’d do a version of Prince’s song ‘Kiss’…
Music: ‘Kiss’ done in reggae style – the Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Live at 42 Walnut Crescent
Demetrius Romeo: …You did it even more distinctively by inviting various different genres…
Music: ‘Kiss’ done in Indian style– the Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Live at 42 Walnut Crescent
RUSTY BERTHER: We don’t really do the ‘Kiss’ routine anymore, but we’ve kind of morphed that idea into a thing called ‘Stump the Scaredies’: people write in and ask for a certain song to be performed in a very different style than it’s originally performed in, or even in the style of another song.
Music: ‘Born in the USA’ in the style of Austrian Tyroler music – Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Bits and Pieces
Demetrius Romeo: I notice one of the tracks on the CD, ‘Cleaning Out My Tucker Bag’, seems to tip its backward cap at Eminem. Tell me a bit about that song.
JOHN FLEMING: Well that was a kind of ‘Stump the Scaredies’ thing again – the song ‘Waltzing Matilda’, what can we do with it? We said, “let’s do it in an ‘Eminem’ style”.
Music: ‘Cleaning Out My Tucker Bag’– Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Bits and Pieces
She came from St Kilda,
Her middle name was Hilda
And her dad was a builder.
When he could see the steam on his tea
He said, “You’ll come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me!”
Yo, come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me!
Down came a jumbuck (baaa!)
And he was dumbstruck
He jumped up…
Demetrius Romeo: There are a number of musical comedy acts on the scene at the moment. Do you see a reason for the rise of the musical comedy act?
JOHN FLEMING: Well I guess, in the most narcissistic way it’s because we’ve been around for so long, we’ve spawned a lot of acts. But seriously, we’ve observed a rise of variety act over the stand-up comic for a while, and while there’s always going to be more stand-ups than variety acts that are successful and successfully performing, there seem to be more variety acts coming up now.
Music: ‘World Leaders’ – Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Bits and Pieces
I beg your pardon, have you forgotten
One Osama Bin Laden?
Oh behave! He didn’t shave –
He’s been hiding in a cave
The US Army couldn’t find that man
So they bombed the crap out of Afghanistan,
That crazy al-Keida Kookball
Demetrius Romeo: What’s the secret of being a musical comedy act, and successful?
RUSTY BERTHER: I think, don’t take yourself too serious, number one; enjoy what you do; and I think, personally, we just try and be really good at what we’re doing.
Music: ‘Whistle Pops’ – Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Bits and Pieces
John: Tonight we’re going to use some of the most rare and difficult of the hand-crafted instruments: ladies and gentlemen…
John & Rusty [in unison]: The whistle-pop!
Demetrius Romeo: Scared Weird Little Guys, that you very much!
JOHN FLEMING: Thanks Dom.
RUSTY BERTHER: Thank you Dom.
Music: ‘Whistle Pops’ – Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Bits and Pieces
I played out on the street.
From far around they came.
The crowd, they clapped and cheered.
I won fortune and fame.