Why sell your body to science when there are perfectly good necrophiliac societies around?
There’s a funny thought. And a funny word, too: Necrophiliac. Necrophilia.
From the Greek, of course: ‘Necros’, meaning ‘dead’, and ‘philia’ – the verb ‘to fill’.
Notice when I say that word, ‘necrophilia’, a lot of the younger people down the front visibly stiffen. A lot of the older people down the back there look a bit scared – and quite rightly so!
(c) The Doug Anthony Allstars, Dead & Alive
“Dead Man In Mortuary Impregnates Woman” ran the headline of one of the stories of the Dead Serious News yesterday. The article told of Felicity Marmaduke, 38-year-old employee of the Mourning Glory Mortuary in Lexington, Missouri who was bathing one the corpses and noticed an inherent post mortem stiffness about his nether limbs. Figuring ‘what the heck’, she climbed on to claim a little workplace fringe benefit. But who knew a horizontal dance of the dead could have a happy ending? Testing positive to a pregnancy during a routine medical examination some weeks later, Marmaduke related the bizarre circumstances that led to the conception, police were notified and she was charged with desecration of the dead and necrophilia. The final twist was that while she was fined for the crime, she was suing the dead man’s estate for child maintenance.
I was all set to write a blog post. This seemed the ideal forum within which to air a similar horror story of necrophilia – but one with far more pop cultural significance: some years ago, the UK gossip newsletter Popbitch ran a piece claiming “all the local undertakers” took the opportunity to get to know Marilyn Monroe’s corpse a little better after her death.
But before I did, I thought it wise to check the veracity of the Dead Serious News item. The fact that the piece was originally published in 2010 and was being republished more than a year later is a little bit suspicious. And the name of the undertakers – Mourning Glory Mortuary – seems too good to be true given the other meaning of ‘morning glory’. I suppose their motto is “We deal with stiffs!
When I was in high school, there was one year that I had a seemingly strict English teacher whose favourite admonition appeared to be, ‘stop that, it’s smutty!’ One day, when we were supposed to be working, I was having a chat somewhere up the back in my customary stage whisper. It involved my dropping the term ‘necrophilia’ in front of some other students, one of whom was the form’s stud (every year has one, it's written into every school’s charter).
‘What does that mean?’ the stud demanded.
‘It’s when you have sex with a dead person,’ I replied, relishing the fact that there was one thing sexual in the universe he didn’t have a complete handle on.
‘How do you get to know words like that?!’ was his next line of inquiry, his voice heavy with the tone of disbelief.
‘Well,’ I said, hamming it up, ‘the last time I was in a cemetery pretending to be dead…’
There was a roar of laughter from the front of the classroom. The teacher had been listening the whole time.
‘What, he hopped on top, did he?’ Mr ‘Stop-That-It’s-Smutty’ asked, the imagery he conjured out-smutting us all and leaving us utterly gob-smacked.
Why have a photographed a bunch of stickers on a wall?
Take a closer look: they’re not just any stickers. One, bearing the business letterhead of Veitch – manufacturer of ‘Quality stainless steel products’ – outlines the customer details of a a certain item known as a hinge grate urinal, sized at 1500 (I’m assuming centimetres), for an entity known as Tradelink St Kilda. So far, so what?
The sticker next to it seems to offer a water rating for – we can only assume – said hinge grate urinal. Its rating is 1.9, and as I am not a connoisseur of any aquatic devices, let alone urinals (hinge grate or otherwise) I cannot tell you what a 1.9 signifies in the greater scheme of things. However, it gets one out of a possible five stars, so it can’t be that good.
The sticker below actually names the model as a ‘hinge grate deluxe model’, and provides diagrams and perhaps details of how it should be installed and operated. Does the fact that it is the deluxe model suggest that the - ahem – bog-standard model receives an even lower, no-star water rating?
I saw these stickers in a room in a building during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. The building, for the duration of the festival, operates as ‘Tuxedo Cat’, one of the other artier, edgier, more interesting independent venues during MICF. The room – if you haven’t guessed – was in fact ‘the smallest room in the house’, and the stickers weren’t attached to a wall – they were stuck to said hinge grate urinal.
Why did I photograph the hinge grate urinal in the dunny of the Tuxedo Cat during the 2011 Melbourne International Comedy Festival?
A better question would be, Why would you install a urinal leaving these stickers still attached to it?
I assume it’s because of sticker number three, with the diagram and instructions of installation and operation. Most intelligent place to have them while the unit is being installed.
Best question of all: Why are those stickers still attached?
Do you really need an answer?
If you leave them on during installation and fail to remove them after installation and they are still on during operation and usage – well, they're definitely staying on. Who wants the job of taking them off?
Or perhaps it’s a test a manhood – to see how long they take to get pissed off. The added challenge being, they are attached with some kind of adhesive, and they’re above groin level. It’s not like pissing a sh*t stain off the bowl…
Of course, the other obvious reason would be the same reason most toilet cubicles in pubs have ads on the doors now. Captive audience. Place writing in front of them, they’re more than likely to read it. Although – if you were going to start renting urinals as billboard space, surely you’d want to advertise more than just other urinals. The urinal market’s got to be pretty limited. Surely the last people to need a urinal are the ones already using one. I think you'll find they have one at hand.
And what of those fine purveyors of quality stainless steel products?
I can’t help wondering if the Veitch behind the company is related to Michael Veitch. Remember him? Originally of D-Generationfame, followed by a long stint on Fast Forward, and now fronting the ABC arts program he used to take the piss out of back in his sketch comedy days. That'd be an awesome irony, if there was a connection between taking a piss in an arty, interesting comedy venue and an arty, former piss-taking comedian.
Which leads me to my last artful piss-taking photo.
You’ve no reason to recognise this, necessarily, but they are a pair of cubicles in the men’s loo at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. And I think you might have guessed that anyway if you’d thought about it: it had to be somewhere frequented by the sort of gentlemen with enough refinement that, should they suffer performance anxiety and be otherwise unable to line up at a urinal, they still have the decency to LIFT THE SEAT RATHER THAN PISS ALL OVER IT! Heck, they probably even did that other most rare of lavatory activities – wash their hands afterwards.
GENTLEMEN LIFT THE SEAT
What exactly does this mean? Is it a sociological description, a definition of a gentleman which I can either take or leave?
Elvis Presley’s birthday just passed, and it was a big deal – a significant birthday! – cos had he been alive today, he would have been about 1,765.
I admire Elvis like everyone should. Perhaps more than most, because I appreciate the fact that the Elvis we formerly considered ‘daggy’ – ’70s Elvis; Elvis when he was fat and forty instead of thin and thirty – deserves far more respect than he used get. We know now that musically speaking Elvis’s later oeuvre was far more sound. (Go. Get the CDs. Listen.)
But I was six when Elvis died. So I have no vital memory of how his life – or music; or death – affected me.
My most vital Elvis-related memory took place in a glorified pub. It was the Bank Hotel in Newtown, late one night in 1995. I was sat with a big group of friends when a guy dressed as Elvis wandered past our table.
By ‘dressed as Elvis’, I mean, clad in a body-hugging, rhinestone-encrusted, flared white jumpsuit. But that wasn’t all: he also had an elephant mask on.
Why was a man dressed as Elvis with an elephant mask? Perhaps it was a comment on white-jumpsuited Elvis’s size, perhaps. As the Doug Anthony Allstars’ Tim Ferguson used to say at the beginning of their song ‘Dead Elvis’: ‘he was big in the ’50s; he was bigger in the ’60s; he was bloody huuuuuge in the ’70s…”
Perhaps he was somebody’s birthday present: an elephantasy Elvis-a-gram.
Or seeing as we were in Newtown, perhaps it was just another colourful local going about his business.
It didn’t matter why – the important thing was, you can’t really catch sight of a guy dressed as jump-suited ’70s Elvis with an elephant mask and not make a comment. Not even in Newtown. But he was making his way past our table, so I only had about 30 seconds, tops. And nobody else seemed to be reacting. I was going to have to be the one to call it: to point out the elephant – dressed as Elvis – in the room.
But what do you say?
It has to be Elvis related, and yet, also elephantine.
So what’s it gonna be?
Time’s running out.
It’s now or never.
Could I make the call before he passed?
He’s got a trunk, a trunk o’ burnin’ love! Just a trunk, a trunk o’ burnin’ love!
From one of Australia's most successful comedians, Tim Ferguson, comes The Cheeky Monkey, a practitioner's guide to the art of comedy writing. Both insightful and practical, The Cheeky Monkey explains the principles of sitcom writing and guides the reader in how to apply them. Seeded with exercises to aid the developing comedy writer, this book will help you to:
Create funny stories
Build comic characters
Develop a sitcom
Sell your sitcom to producers and TV networks
Tim Ferguson has released a brilliant book about writing narrative comedy calledThe Cheeky Monkey (published by Currency Press). It’s brilliant because it conveys a great deal of information simply, straightforwardly, and soundly. Every bit of ‘theory’ (often, it turns out, ‘common sense’) is illustrated by a great example of comedy that, if you’re into comedy, you’ll recognise. At the end of each section there is an opportunity to do writing exercises to put into practice what has just been taught. Each time I try, it seems impossible. Until you check some of the suggested answers at the back, and they seem so simple. But that’s the genius of good comedy writing: it is simple. That’s what makes it so hard.
Tim Ferguson is of course a former member of one of the most important comedy troupes to come out of Australia – The Doug Anthony Allstars. I first encountered them onThe Big Gig, a cabaret/variety/comedy show broadcast on the ABC in the late-80s that was re-launched more recently asThe Sideshow(with the role of the Doug Anthony Allstars played by Tripod. Just sayin’).
But I fell in love with the Dougs well and truly after seeing them play at the University of Technology one O-Week. That was relatively early in my Bachelor of Arts degree. By this stage they were already heading to the UK regularly, where they got massive! In time, they came back to Australia. And broke up.
Along the way I interviewed them. Repeatedly. To the point where they actually seemed to enjoy it. After they went their separate ways, I got to interview Paul McDermott in has capacity as the leader of a new musical comedy trio, Gud, and Tim Ferguson, as the author of the excellent political novel, Left, Right And Centre, and Richard Fidler as the host ofMouthing Off andRace Around The World. And Richard got to not quite interview me, as a frequent guest – the ‘Keeper of the Comedy Archive’ – on his radio shifts.
More recently (a couple of years ago now…) I got to catch up with them as a trio when they got together to promote the DVD release of a compilation of their Big Gig segments. I hope we can do it again for the DVD release ofDAAS Kapital. (C’mon, guys, release it.)
I was extremely chuffed to receive an email, out of the blue, from Kavita Bedford at Currency Press, announcing that “Tim Ferguson gave me your details claiming you were the first and last word in comedy”. Pretty chuffed. Of course I’d want to talk to him about his new book. And so I did. One day in April, during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. We had an excellent chat.
It was quite far-reaching, and even covered Tim’s illness - which at the time I’d agreed to keep ‘off the record’. Not because Tim had anything to hide, only that he wanted to go public with it when he was ready. He certainly didn’t want to the story to suddenly be about his battle with multiple sclerosis – or ‘MS’ – when it should be about his book. So I agreed not to say anything about it, taking the line he liked to use when people, spotting his cane, would ask about the gammy leg: ‘I fell off my race horse’. I’ve only added this bit here two months after initial publication of this interview, because Tim’s allowed another journalist to break the story, and since speaking of it himself on an episode of Good News Week, this interview keeps getting hits from people searching for 'Tim Ferguson MS’. So let’s move back on to the actual story.
Tim’s a massive talent; we had a good interview; it’s a great book. If you like comedy enough to do more than merely laugh at it occasionally on telly, buy the book. Heck, consider doing Tim’s comedy writing course.
Dom Romeo: Tim, why a book, and why now?
TIM FERGUSON: I spent a long time trying to put sitcoms together and it’s very hard to find people who know how to write them. And you can’t really do it by yourself; you need people who understand how to build 21 minutes of a complete story with characters doing what they do.
I thought, I know, and a couple of my mates know; I should put it in a book because nobody in Australia has every sat down and said, ‘this is how we do it’. There are a couple of American books out there, but I thought they were talking about things that weren’t covering the whole picture. So I tried to go in deep, in a simple way, mainly so I could give it to people I’m working with so I could say, ‘that’s what I’m talking about.
Dom Romeo: If only you and a few of your mates know, why don’t you corner the market? This way it feels like you’re making more competition for yourselves – and ruining it for the few people who think they can write and don’t need the competition.
TIM FERGUSON: For starters, I’m essentially, effectively, retired. I promised myself that I would stop at 40. So I grabbed the saddlebags and headed for the hills. So this is partly to help new people, it’s also partly to start an argument that I think has to be had in this country, and that is, that screenwriters – and you’ll find them at screenwriters’ conferences – have no respect and no idea about comedy. They haven’t got the first idea.
Part of my inspiration for this was to start the fight with them, which basically says, comedy is harder than anything drama has ever attempted. Yes, the script to Goodfellas is extraordinary, but if you wanted to do a comic Goodfellas would be even harder. Why? Because you can sit through Goodfellas completely silent. But if you sit completely silent through a comedy movie, it’s not working and it’s not funny.
Comedy demands an instant involuntary reaction, a physical reaction from the audience. That’s why it’s harder. And I got tired of seeing the Australian film industy going up like a Hindenburg every time someone said, ‘hey look, we found more suicidal smack mothers, and look, she’s going to have a suicidal smack baby live on camera, and we’ll stop halfway through’. I was sick of those people trying to tell me that was much harder and much more important and had more of a message than comedy did. Because comedy, when it comes to a delivering messages, beats drama with a stick!
Dom Romeo:Partly because comedy fools us into giving us what really shouldn’t be given; you get to say the un-sayable to people who don’t necessarily want to hear it, through comedy.
TIM FERGUSON: And you get to deliver the truth. Drama is all about pretty pictures. We get to believe that Keira Knightley is Elizabeth, that Pride and Prejudice takes place in a real place, that Mr Darcy is a real person. Whereas in fact, they’re bullshit; they’re made of candy floss; there’s no way Darcy could exist in the real world, he’d get the shit beaten out of him. Whereas in comedy, it’s all about just telling the truth.
If someone in Pride and Prejudice was wearing a wristwatch, the audience would go, ‘What? This is supposed to be 17th Century England. The same thing happened in Quo Vadis! This is ruined for me!’ because the fantasy of the drama is ruined. Whereas in comedy, if in Life of Brian Brian himself was wearing a wristwatch at the end, on the cross, nobody would have said anything because in comedy we’re not there to learn as we are in drama; we’re only there to laugh. If we get a thought afterwards, so much the better.
So it’s time for comedy to take its place and save the Australian film industry before the depressing smack films kill it!
Dom Romeo: But what about the last ten years of locally-made comedy films that weren’t saving the film industry?
TIM FERGUSON:Kenny didn’t hurt. And The Castle didn’t hurt. Australia: that film was basically a comedy where a lot of the gags didn’t work. Some of the films just didn’t catch on. But if you think of the highpoints, out of the top 20 Australian grossing films of all time, 14 are comedies, with the 15th being Gallipoli – which I regard a buddy movie until the end when it does become tragic and moving, but until then, it’s two guys going to Gallipoli and being two young Aussies abroad.
Dom Romeo: There are some great, funny moments in Gallipoli. I’d forgotten that.
TIM FERGUSON: Yeah, it’s a very funny film. Not every film’s going to work, but comedy’s got a far better batting average than anything that’s got needles, screaming babies, mothers saying ‘little fish, little fish’ – all of that junk has to go! It has to stop! It has no place receiving taxpayer funding at all. It has no place in the Australian culture. It is only important to people in the inner city, and there’s are only eight of those, and one of them – she doesn’t even go to the movies!
Dom Romeo: What I love though, is, we’ve had a discussion like this before. It wasn’t as long, and it was after you’d written your first novel, which was a great novel, Left, Right and Centre. I asked you why you hadn’t jumped on the dirty realism bandwagon with the dole-bludging smackies, and your response was, ‘what a load of rubbish; there are no dirty realists; if they were really dirty realists, they’d be out being dirty and real and wouldn’t have time to write. Real dirty realists don’t; these authors are just posers, essentially. I see a theme in your creativity.
TIM FERGUSON: Oh, yeah. There is nothing I hate more than wankers. I don’t mind people who masturbate, I think that’s great. But people who do that in there lives and their careers and – worst of all – with our government’s money, should be taken out, branded – with I don’t know, pick a word – and sent running. This has to stop. Because it’s ruined the Australian nation’s faith in its own film industry. All this smack drama, all this ‘oh my god, how depressing’, all this beautiful Kate, incest, precious eggs, my butt! Stick a precious egg here! It has to end, it has to stop! Comedy and light entertainment is what people want. Jesus, we’re in a recession!
Dom Romeo: I take all that on board, but when you say we don’t do that well… Look, there was a time when the colour supplement of every weekend paper used to bitch and moan that Australia can’t make funny sitcoms. They’d stop bitching and moaning come comedy festival time, when there was advertising dollars to be made promoting Australian comedy, but every other issue of the colour supplement would be fair game for the recurring ‘why can’t Australia make funny sitcoms?’ article. And now we’ve had a number of great ones, some that are doing very well overseas. What is it that has to happen for things like that to come about with comedy films in Australian cinema?
TIM FERGUSON: It’s worth pointing out that while people were saying that, Hey Dad…! was one of the highest rating, longest running programs on air, in primetime, in Australia’s history. There are dramas that would have given their eye teeth to be on at the peachy slot of 7pm on a commercial network for eight-and-a-half years. So while those people were saying, ‘why can’t we make a good one?’ we were making a good one. And it had a huge audience, a regular audience and a family audience. The thing was, people who write for broadsheets tend to like little films about suicide. They should never be listened to, those people. The people who should be listened to live in a little place: it’s called ‘the western suburbs’ of each and every one of our major capitals. No other audience is important.
Dom Romeo: Okay, again, that’s interesting. Hey Dad…! was our longest running sitcom. Despite all its flaws – characters who came and went, look-alikes, act-alikes, the sechetary lasting longer than the arch-a-tect even though it was about the arch-a-tect dad and not his sechetary – it lasted. And yet, this is a hard one. If it’s so good, why is it so derided? Have you tried watching any episodes recently? But then again, the follow-up question is, have you tried watching any comedy a decade after it stopped being made?
TIM FERGUSON:Gary Reilly, when he was putting Hey Dad…! together, looked at history and he didn’t look just at recent history, he looked at ancient history. And each one of the characters in Hey Dad…! is based upon an ancient archetype that goes back to Roman times. Similar archetypes you will find in Arrested Development, in Seinfeld… and Gary Reilly just did them Australian style. There’s the idiot, that was played by Betty Wilson, and who is the classic ‘idiot with a capital ‘I’ archetype’ and this character has only so many kinds of jokes that she will use. One of the jokes that the idiot always uses is the taking literally of things that everybody knows shouldn’t be. So a euphemism will be taken literally.
If someone says to an idiot character, ‘it’s so sad, my dentist bit the bullet’, the idiot character will say, ‘he was a dentist; you’d think he’d know better’ whereas we know ‘bit the bullet’ is a euphemism for dying. That’s what the idiot character does and they do it in all the shows: they do it in Seinfeld, they do it in all the cool shows. That’s what Kenneth in 30 Rock does; it’s the same character. That’s what Rose in The Golden Girls does. It’s the same character.
Dom Romeo: So what makes 30 Rock a much better show than The Golden Girls?
TIM FERGUSON: I don’t think that it is. I think The Golden Girls is probably the best sitcom ever made: four middle-aged women on television. For starters, can you imagine trying to sell that concept? I mean, putting middle-aged women behind a news desk still seems beyond most networks. Four women living together, working – again, ancient archetypes. It was brilliant. It’s interesting that Mitch Hurwitz, who was one of the writers of The Golden Girls, said he used the same four archetypes as those four characters as the lead characters in Arrested Development.
Dom Romeo: Oh my goodness. That’s interesting.
TIM FERGUSON:Buster does all the joke-types that Rose did. He does not understand sarcasm. He takes it on face value. That’s because, for the last two-and-half thousand years, that’s been working, so why screw with it? And this is the producer of Arrested Development saying this. Americans are a lot less abashed about using archetypes because they understand an archetype’s role. In Australia people say, yeah, but that’s old. The fact is, it’s so old, it’s in your DNA. Don’t screw with it. Just follow it.
For example, why do you think poor Richard Fidler, who in real life, as you know, is a bloody genius – he’s got a bigger brain that I’ll ever have – played the idiot? One – he was busy with the guitar; and two – because that’s always worked. Why would you screw with it?
Dom Romeo: I must say, back when I was young and ignorant and interviewing you for guys for the first time, I was genuinely surprised to discover that he wasn’t the fool he played on stage in real life – in fact, he was quite a well-read intellectual, though he’d play that down.
TIM FERGUSON: Oh, he’s also a financial wizard. We’d all be driving taxis if Richard hadn’t sat down and said, ‘well, we’re gonna sell out, but this is how!’ The man is a machine. He was the one with the briefcase. Paul and I were just the ones holding flowers, kissing people, trying to make people feel better about themselves.
Dom Romeo: Signing the odd breast, too, I remember.
TIM FERGUSON: Yes! Never the nipple! Never sign a nipple unless you want to go to gaol.
Dom Romeo: Apart from the ‘nipple indemnity’, is all of this theory covered in your book?
TIM FERGUSON: Yeah. There’s no nipple-signing in the book. The book does talk about archetypes, I talk about how to structure a comic story, and break down the different schools of jokes, basically into two types.
One is the stand-alone joke – where you don’t need to know who’s in it or who’s telling it. ‘Three guys walk into a bar…’; that kind of joke. Or just plays on words.
The other kind of joke that I cover is what I call ‘narrative gags’: jokes with a story, jokes that are tied to a particular character. It’s funny not because of the way the language is used or played with, but because we know who is saying it.
There’s a very funny moment in Arrested Development where a pretty girl says to Michael Bluth, ‘so, can I meet your family?’ and he says, ‘no’. Now knowing Michael and knowing his family makes it funny. He just says it deadpan: ‘no’. Because, we know why: they’re monsters.
That’s a narrative gag. So the book’s about how to build those; how to build a comic character so that it’s reliably funny, so that it has the right flaws, so that it’s not so complex that it then becomes like a real person, in which case, it belongs in drama.
There’s a lot of stuff: just what comedy is, how it works, why we laugh.
Dom Romeo: Have you been working on these theories through life? Are these ideas that you’ve learnt by being on stage, writing for television, being on television?
TIM FERGUSON: Yes, but also, talking to professionals who actually know what they’re doing, helps. You learn stuff on stage. You learn what works pretty quickly, because silence teaches you what doesn’t and noise teaches you what does.
Some of the theories I have in the book won’t please some people, and will probably make them angry.
Dom Romeo: Give me an example. Try me on.
TIM FERGUSON: One of the things that I talk about is that the key to doing a good character, dramatic or comic, is simplicity. They are all puppets. It’s when you try to make a dramatic or comic character too complex, people lose the point. Characters should only ever be driven by a couple of things: what they want, what they emotionally need, what they’re scared of, and the way they see the world. That’s it. They’re the only things you have to worry about.
While that sounds easy, the real trick is deciding which quality to go for. Because if you can only pick one… what do they want? What, in the entire world? Yeah. Right now and always, what is the one thing they want? Once you nail that, you’ve got the character. But nailing it means you’ve got to throw out all the other little things you wanted to have in the show.
Dom Romeo: But that makes perfect sense: as in stand-up comedy, if something you say isn’t the punch line, or a feed to the punch line, or doesn’t serve the punch line, you’re wasting time.
TIM FERGUSON: Oh yeah, then it’s just a sentence. Anthony Morgan’s got that great line: ‘sometimes you say a joke, and when it’s over you realise it was just a sentence. It’s very true.
Dom Romeo: But – not even a sentence; if there are too many words in a routine what they’re doing is preventing an audience from laughing.
TIM FERGUSON: Absolutely.
Dom Romeo: So too many characteristics in a character stops you getting to… whatever.
TIM FERGUSON: Oh, yeah. If you look at The Golden Girls, you can pretty well boil down all of those four ladies down – Dorothy, Sofia, Blanche and Rose – to a couple of adjectives each. It was the biggest show of its time for a decade. Why was it brilliant? Because it was simple. Simplicity is genius.
“Yes,” says Albert, “zat’s it. I am happy wiz zat.”
“Anything else? You want to write books about it?”
“Zat is for you to write,” he said. “It is for you to write the books – but zat is all I haff to say.”
Paperclips. Bullclips. People look at things like that and say, “that’s genius”. Only writers say, “there must be more in this character! They should be like me, pulled in ten different directions…” What you end up with is some sort of half-pancake/half-maple syrup slop that nobody likes and nobody wants to watch.
Dom Romeo: Having had a lot of experience making people laugh, let me ask you this: why do people laugh?
TIM FERGUSON: A little over a million years ago, our brains took up about – oh what was it? – 600 square centimetres. They’ve doubled in size in a million years. What that means is that our brains are actually only a million years away from being monkeys’. We’ve grown the front part of our heads, so we’re very good at talking and very good at gymnastics and those kind of things, but essentially, we’re still monkeys. And of course there’s nothing new in saying, ‘we’re the naked apes, except we wear bow ties’, but thinking about this, and making people laugh, particularly in the Doug Anthony Allstars which was – if nothing else – apart from the very gentle, interpretive dance stuff that we did, was quite a confronting little trio of guys. Even Richard, who was supposed to be nice, would come on shouting.
There was a lot of attack. We smelt. We had a bad smell. People knew when the Allstars were in the room because we stank. We didn’t wash our costumes for ten years. Those costumes are in the Performing Arts Museum covering in white mould. We’ve given orders they’ve never to be washed. But anyway…
Dom Romeo: I hope they’re behind glass…
TIM FERGUSON: Oh, I think they’re being sat on by people in winter; they’re warm because of the activity going on within them.
But the fact is, our brain’s very old, and when we laugh, we do something that’s involuntary, that can’t be stopped once it’s started. Laughing’s not something we can decide to do. You can’t say, “Mate, I’m just going outside; I need to relax. Going outside to have a bit of a laugh, and then I’ll come back in.” Once it’s started, it can’t be suppressed. So what’s going on?
When we laugh, of course, our bodies go to work; they give us a little kick of adrenalin. We also get a little trigger of endorphins. Small, but if we laugh for a long time, we usually walk out of the theatre feeling kind of heady and happy. People also say, “it was so funny, I pissed myself”. Or even worse: “it was a cack! It was so funny, I cacked myself at that show.” That’s because these things can occur if you laugh hard enough.
Why is this?
If you look at the fear flight response – when you see a snake and that snake comes slithering towards you at speed, hissing, your body does all those things: it involuntarily makes noise – ‘yah!’; your heart starts pumping because you have adrenalin; you have endorphins which are there as a sedative and to stop you feeling pain; your breathing becomes very low and shallow so that you can sprint for 30 or 40 metres. Fear flight is not about running a mile, it’s about getting out of somewhere very quickly and you only need the oxygen that is there in your system already to do that. You piss yourself so that you stink and the animal won’t want to eat you, and you crap yourself for the same reason.
If you look at the way we laugh and why we laugh, it’s got nothing to do with the fact that we find something witty. It’s got to do with the fact that the new part of our brain is seeing something or hearing something, has a concept in it’s head that it can’t deal with – two things that actually do have a surprising connection. In a jungle, that could be a bamboo tree and a tiger – they both have stripes. “Oh!”
Now the downstairs part of our brain is only designed for a couple of things: it’s designed to say ‘we’re okay’ and ‘we’re not okay’. And also ‘keep breathing’ and ‘keep the heart pumping. So when it gets these messages where suddenly there’s a comic reversal in a joke – I thought I was here, but now all of a sudden, in an instant, I’m somewhere else – where circumstances have instantly changed, the lower part of our brain is only trained to say, ‘when I hear that circumstances have changed: Panic! Fear! Flight! Involuntary noise!’ And away we go. That is laughter.
So if, as a comedy writer, you approach your scripts as thought you are trying to create chaos and fear within people, you will do well. You want things to be upside down. You want to say, ‘these two things that aren’t connected, actually are connected’. You want to make surprising connections, reversals, twists, turns, sudden reveals… All of these things, as Monty Python said, are ‘Fear. Surprise. These are our weapons.’
That’s why we laugh. And that’s all comedy does. Which again drives drama people made. And it’s why they think comedy is not as important or as valid an art form, or as potent a communication art form as drama. Because it’s dealing with our guts and not with the fluffy stuff upstairs that has no real import.
Tim Ferguson launches The Cheeky Monkey in Sydney at the Yalumba Wine Bar (the Enmore Theatre Café) Sunday May 9 at 4pm. If you can’t make it, you can still buy the book and learn how to devise, write and pitch your hit sitcom.
Hearing Mark Trevorrow on ABC 702 Sydney a couple of weeks ago made me want to dig out this old interview with him. I’d interviewed him previously, during one of his many University of Sydney performances as a stalwart of student entertainment. He was always appearing at beginning or end of term celebrations, it seemed, and one time or other, while working for the University of Sydney Union, I got to interview him for the Union Recorder (as opposed to just producing advertorial – or ‘Dombo Journalism’, as I used to call it – as I did for most Union events back then).
This inteview was pretty special, however. It really came together well. I finally worked out, in my head, who ‘Bob Downe’ was, even though I was interviewing Mark Trevorrow again. I found, in fact, interviewing Mark Trevorrow several times subsequently, that my image of Bob Downe became clearer and clearer, as Mark Trevorrow became more and more distinct as a personality apart from Bob. Indeed, I suspect Trevorrow was finding Bob Downe a more defined character as he continued to define himself more boldly as a separate but no less public, performing entity.
For some reason I found it helpful to compare and contrast, to a certain degree, Trevorrow’s Bob Downe with Barry Humphries’s characters. Interestingly, Humphries was my first real interview, ever, forHoni Soit, the newspaper of the University of Sydney, produced by the Student Representative Council. It was a breakthrough for me. The Bob Downe interview below was my first interview for Revolver, a free entertainment rag. I vividly recall trying not to talk too loudly in my office – the Publications Department (ie my cluttered office) of Cranbrook School (for that was my ‘real’ job, Publications Co-ordinator at Cranbrook School) – as I conducted the interview sans recording equipment or speakerphone, furtively scrawling barely legible notes on a legal pad. As soon as the school newspaper,The Cranbrook Chroniclewas being printed, I’d feverishly complete this interview, setting the standard: every week for the next five years (failing to meet the odd deadline here or there; that is to say, occasionally being so late that no piece ran; mostly being late but still in time for one to be published) I presented a different comedy-related interview. In addition to being a crash course in stand-up for me, I felt I was also educating an audience, and all the while, helping educate up-and-coming comics. If Sydney’s stand-up scene eventually got the jump on Melbourne, it was because, for a while there, there were people who had a clear idea what they were doing, why they were doing it, how it ought to be done, who for, and where it all fit in, in the greater scheme of things. Over five years, I pretty much found my voice and an ability to interview.
I have interviewed Trevorrow a number of times since this was written in 1998 (it was 1998, so forgive the dated political outlook; who was to know Kim Beazley’s best impression of a Statesman would be in conceding defeat in an election he should have had no trouble winning, and handing over leadership of his party, in 2001?). Trevorrow continues to be an interested and engaging interview subject – responsible for increasingly involved and ever-more-funny live shows. And for the record, I’ve watched him go from taking the piss out of the Tony Bartuccio Dancers, to working with Tony Bartuccio. I hope to eventually dig out later interviews where Trevorrow discusses all of this.
For more info on Bob Downe and Mark Trevorrow, in his own words, plus updates on tours and performances, and access to heaps and heaps of clips, check out his YouTube page. Meanwhile, here’s the interview.
Bob Downe for Revolver
“You’re talking to Mark Trevorrow rather than Bob Downe,” a jet-lagged voice announces. “Did my manager explain it to you? Bob Downe’s not a real person.”
“What?” I demand, worried. “I suppose you’re going to tell me Good Morning Murwillumbah, the breakfast show he hosts, isn’t a real television program either…?”
“Well,” the voice replies, “I don’t want to break your heart…”
My first conversation with Mark Trevorrow took place in 1995 when he was frequently dashing between England and Australia consolidating Bob Downe’s success. Having been effectively ‘on tour’ with Bob for seven years, 1995 was an important year; Bob Downe met the Queen at The Royal Variety Performance. ‘Yeh Yeh’, a cover of the old Georgie Fame number, had just been released as the lead single from Bob’s then-forthcoming album Jazzy. The album featured the track ‘Je T’Aime’, a duet with Julian Clary. If Jazzy failed to entice as wide an audience as it ought to have, it is only because it arrived too soon, the cocktail music revival failing to take hold for at least another six months. Not that Jazzy was a calculated attempt to exploit a trend; Bob Downe exists beyond genres. He always was and always will be and his kitsch appeal has no beginning or end.
Yet, speaking to Mark Trevorrow then, it was as though he didn’t know this. Bob would rarely speak for himself in interview, and apart from the broad facts as to when and how Bob was conceived, Mark didn’t have much to say about him. Not like — and I loathe the ‘critic’s way out’ that this comparison presents — Barry Humphries. The characters of Barry Humphries all seem to have lives of their own. Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson are frequently interviewed in character, and they make reference to the nebulous Humphries. And his creations have a thriving inner life that enables Humphries to talk at length about them. In performance, Bob Downe would tell us more about himself during between-song patter, but he only existed on that stage.
Within the few years that have passed, things have changed. All Bob Downe, Bob’s autobiography as written by Mark Trevorrow, has been published by Penguin. Bob’s universe has been fully fleshed out, so much so that the most recent Good Weekend’s ‘The two of us’ column featured Mark and Bob being interviewed about each other. Clearly then, when I rang Trevorrow out of the blue to request “an interview some time,” his response of “how about now” took me by surprise.
“Bob’s something I’ve been doing since I was a little kid to make everyone laugh,” says Mark Trevorrow of his alter ego. Influenced by the high-camp artifice that was day-to-day television programming in this country, as well as film and radio, young Mark had “a little fantasy show-biz empire” with his sister and the kids next door, putting shows on in the back yard. “I never dreamed that it would be something that I’d do professionally,” he says.
After completing his schooling at Murrumbeena High in 1976, Trevorrow pursued (or perhaps ‘fell into’) a career in journalism. Beginning his cadetship as a 17 year-old copy boy at Sun News Pictorial in January 1977, by its end in 1981 Mark had served as a daily pop columnist. However, broader interests were already drawing him in other directions. His years of avid television viewing may have prepared him for his production post on Channel 10’s Together Tonight (a magazine-style show than ran nightly for six months).
Irrespective, Mark was already developing a cabaret act within the comedy group Gloria and the Go Gos. Featuring Wendy de Waal in the role of Gloria, the act was largely “thrown together” as a party turn.
Renamed ‘The Globos’, the band had its first hit in 1982 with the song ‘Tintarella Di Luna’. Pre-empted back into existence by Joe Dolce’s pontificating ‘Shaddup You Face’, the sub-genre of wog novelty discs fell into (or perhaps ‘pursued’) its late-80s nadir courtesy of Con the Fruiterer’s ‘Cuppla Days’. The genre’s zenith was definitely ‘Tintarella…’, which made it into the top twenty charts. When you listen to the song (the high-camp artifice that is contemporary advertising has led to its recent use on a television commercial, but I can’t for the life of me remember what was being flogged) you will hear Wendy and the band give their all. As with Bob Downe’s Jazzy, there are times when you are not entirely convinced that The Globos know whether they’re taking the piss or not.
A second single, ‘The Beat Goes On’, made it into the Top 40 in 1983 and was followed by a national tour with the Total and Utter King of Rock and Roll, Cliff Richard (who, like Bob Downe, is a ‘committed bachelor’). When The Globos broke up in 1984, Trevorrow resumed his career in journalism. Joining Vogue Australia as a staff writer, Mark eventually rose to the position of freelance Arts Editor. However, it wasn’t long before he was once again writing and performing, this time in a double act with Cathy Armstrong. Consisting of sketch comedy, the duo devised a show, A Nice Young Couple, which they performed in 1985. They also went on to write and perform for ABC Radio’s comedy unit. It was from this work that Bob Downe was created, initially as a parody of Entertainment Tonight. Bob Downe went solo in 1987, launching his career at Sydney’s self-proclaimed nursery of comedy, the Harold Park Hotel. A brief internship at Melbourne’s Last Laugh — “it was sort of ‘Comedy Central’ in those days,” Mark explains — gave way to Bob’s foray into Britain in 1988.
I must admit that my first real introduction to Bob was via his work with the Doug Anthony Allstars, particularly in the series Daas Kapital. “I think I started working with the Dougs in ’87, at the Last Laugh” Mark recalls. “They showed me the festival ropes, how to go about doing the Edinburgh Festival. Then we did a lot of touring. I used to support them a lot whenever they were playing in London.” Bob, of course, remembers the proceedings so much more vividly than Mark. In an episode of Daas Kapital, a mermaid (played by Khym Lam, partner of Dougs’ guitarist Richard Fidler) sums the group up thus: “Paul [McDermott]’s the one you want to do it to, Tim [Ferguson]’s the one you think of while you’re doing it, but Richard’s the one you want to marry.” Bob takes us a step further in All Bob Downe: “Tim — like all the pretty ones — just lay there, vaguely sort of indicating. Richard? We just talked all night. And Paul… like a stinky little jackrabbit. In the end I let him hump my leg while I read TV Week.”
All Bob Downe marks a coming of age. Bob Downe has always exploited television. On stage, his Tony Bartuccio Dancer-moves (running directly at the camera and peeling off to the side at the last moment) are exactly how they were done on The Don Lane Show. His version of The Theme from ‘Fame’ bore the garbled lyrics as learnt from the crappy monaural television that you and I used to watch it on in the 70s. Daas Kapital contained the brilliant TV-advertised album commercial — “Jesus loves me, and you will too when you hear Bob Downe for Jesus”. All Bob Downe brings this acute level of parody to the print medium. Bearing the bold and flamboyant typefaces and colour scheme (beige and parrot shit green) of a 70s annual, the chapters of All Bob Downe open with fraudulent newspaper headlines taken from archival issues of the Murwillumbah Irrigator. It also contains all the name-dropping references and photos of Bob’s brilliant career thus far.
Mark Trevorrow recognises the position Bob is now in as the beginning of a new phase. “It’s gotten to the point where Bob is someone you can always depend on to get up and do a silly song. But after 15 years, Bob is ready to host a show, rather than just make spot appearances.” Indeed. Bob’s hosting of the Mardi Gras telecast is testament to his ability and suitability. But that is the very least we should expect from Bob Downe. I put it to Mark that perhaps Bob Downe ought to be the first President of the Australian Republic.
“Bob would leave that to the Ray Martins and the John Farnhams,” Trevorrow advises. “Bob’s civic duty is strictly limited to shopping centre appearances and cutting ribbons at the openings of fetes.” Fair enough. Bob is already acquainted with public office, what with his having been presented to the Queen. Which leads me back to that loathsome comparison again. Edna Everage had reached about the same point in her career as Bob is at now when Gough Whitlam bid her ‘Arise, Dame Edna’. Don’t be surprised if, at some point in the near future, Prime Minister Kim Beazley utters a similar dictum: “Arise, Bob Downe.” That’s if Kim heeds the advice of his physicians to ‘arise, bob down, arise, bob down, arise…”
In fact, this won’t be the first time Ferguson and Manning shared a stage: way back in 1994, my favourite media eccentric Maynard F# Crabbes (it’s a play on the name of the character ‘Maynard G. Krebs’, from a show I’ve never seen calledThe Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which featured Bob ‘Gilligan’s Island’ Denver as the beatnik or hippie or something called Maynard) hosted a live variety show at a club called Kinselas. The show was called – wait for it – Fist Me TV (“because,” Maynard explained to me in an interview at the time, “everybody fucks but not everybody fists”) and it was being filmed as a pilot with some idea of trying to sell it to television. “Yeah, right,” you’re thinking, “who honestly believes that they could market a live variety show on television and call it Fist Me TV?” Well it never did get to television, but don’t gloat so knowingly just yet – shortly thereafter the rampaging Roy Slaven and HG Nelson (Roy & HG) got their own live variety show on television. It was calledClub Buggery. Some other philosopher can tease out the ramifications of the differences between fisting and buggery, particularly as they may pertain to humour (or a lack thereof) as this has been a distracting enough tangent as it is.
At one of the performances of Fist Me TV, the Doug Anthony Allstars shared the bill with Katy Manning and Barry Crocker. Although Crocker has been Manning’s partner since 1989, he also has a history with the Allstars: he sang lead on their rendition of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (one of several featured on the Andrew Denton-hosted showMoney or the Gun– but that really is a whole other story).
So, anyway, after all of these inter-related bits of trivia made themselves apparent in my brain, I decided I wanted to interview someone about this, and thought that it would be as good an excuse as any to catch up with Tim Ferguson. I gather that his role is largely that of a ‘Dorothy Dix’ – setting up the questions like a parliamentary stooge, in order to let the Right Honourable Minister for Whatever to shine in giving the rehearsed answer. Not that this is a bad thing: that’s how the recent Goodies tour was structured, right down to the clips and the radio play, and it worked a treat!
Here’s a transcript of the interview. Why not listen to the recording of it, underscored with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s original Doctor Who theme? You can find an MP3 here. A shorter version went to air on ABC NewsRadio on the morning of the first performance. If you are interested, here are the tour dates.
Demetrius Romeo: Hi Tim, how are ya?
TIM FERGUSON: Oh, good!
Demetrius Romeo: I wanna talk to you about this Doctor Who thing that’s going on.
TIM FERGUSON: Well the Doctors are here. We’ve been rehearsing the last couple of days. They are, as you know, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, and we’ve just been putting this little puppy together.
Demetrius Romeo: How did you come to be involved in this project?
TIM FERGUSON: Well I think I was outed as a science fiction fan long ago and so I guess the guys who came up with the idea thought that they could call me and I wouldn’t hang up. In fact I would begin stalking the cast. Already I have eight autographs from each of them. Whenever I see a Doctor with nothing to do I grab something and make him sign it. I figure a guy has to make a buck out of this.
Demetrius Romeo: What have you had them autograph?
TIM FERGUSON: Well, there was a plunger, of course, t-shirts, underpants, baseball caps – you know, the usual.
Demetrius Romeo: Uh-huh. Good, good. Now, Katy Manning’s involved in this as well.
TIM FERGUSON: You bet! Lively, vivacious Katy Manning is one of our three guests. She’s going to be telling the stories of what it was like to be a plucky companion to Jon Pertwee.
Demetrius Romeo: In addition to telling stories, there are also clips being shown…
TIM FERGUSON: Yeah! We’ve got all sorts of clips from right across the series. All the monstors and creatures and evil doers… The Master, of course, who really picked a good name for himself. I mean, if you are going to dominate the universe, you don’t want to just be called ‘Basil’. “I am Basil…” You want to be able to say, “I am the Master” so that right off the bat, once people have met you, they have an idea of basically what your role is going to be in the universe.
Demetrius Romeo: Now, speaking of ‘roles in the universe’, in a way, you’re the Master – of ceremonies.
TIM FERGUSON: Yes, ‘The Master’… of ceremonies.
Demetrius Romeo: Not ‘The Basil’ of ceremonies.
TIM FERGUSON: No, unfortunately, he’s much funnier than me. It’s my job just to ask the Doctors questions, keep things moving. I’ve been co-writing a radio play; an original premiere performance of a radio play will be happening starring both Doctors, Katy Manning and myself. That’s part of our second act. We’ve just completed writing the thing and I think it’s very dramatic. It’s terrifying; it’s scary.
Demetrius Romeo: Excellent! Now, Sylvester McCoy, to me, always struck me as a very different Doctor because he had that other career before he became a Doctor that was kind of more cabaret and vaudeville.
TIM FERGUSON: Yes, he did study to become a priest. And I think he started from a young age, studying that. I think he said he began at eleven and finally gave that away. Oh, you’re talking about the vaudeville stuff! Of course! After the priesthood he became very much a clown on vaudeville stages of London, the West End… He can play the spoons. He did an act where he stuffed ferrets down his trousers.
Demetrius Romeo: I remember an act where someone got a nail nailed into their nasal cavity…
TIM FERGUSON: That was him! In the Secret Policeman’s Ball.
Demetrius Romeo: That’s right.
TIM FERGUSON: A guy has to have a hobby, and when you’re not being a Timelord you have to think of ways to pass the time, I guess.
Demetrius Romeo: Now, I’ve got to ask you, Tim, being a science fiction nut and all, what do you thing of Doctor number nine that’s currently on our screens?
TIM FERGUSON: I love Christopher Eccleston. I think he’s doing a great job. He’s a bit kooky, he’s a bit groovy, he’s a little bit nerdy… and Rose, his plucky companion, is terrific! She’s enthusiastic, asks a lot of questions: just what you want from a plucky sidekick.
Demetrius Romeo: Now is there anything you’ve learnt from this that you didn’t know before, being a science fiction buff yourself?
TIM FERGUSON: I didn’t know that Colin Baker had a different pussycat badge on his jacket every episode.
Demetrius Romeo: I didn’t even know he had a pussycat badge! I’m just a day-tripper.
TIM FERGUSON: That’s right, it’s been quite a revelation. I have to go back over the tapes.
Demetrius Romeo: Tim, thanks very much.
TIM FERGUSON: Okay. And no ferrets were killed in the making of this interview.
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.
What with the Scared Weird Little Guys having just released a new CD called Bits and Pieces, my interview with them in the can and awaiting editing and broadcast, and numerous people who have googled the Scaredies reaching this website to discover that until now they only appeared in passing in my interview with Adam Hills, I thought it was high time to raid the comedy archive for these old pieces. The up-to-date interview promoting the new CD will appear here soon.
The following interview appeared in Revolver shortly after the Scared Weird Little Guys released their album Live at 42 Walnut Crescent in early 2000.
In a Nutshell: The Scared Weird Little Guys on Walnuts, Wax and Weight Loss
Rusty Berther and John Fleming – the Scared Weird Little Guys to all and sundry – come bounding towards me in the foyer of the ABC’s Ultimo studios at 4:35 pm on a Friday afternoon. They have just been on Merrick and Rosso’s show to promote their brand-spanking-new album and they are both beaming.
“The new album’s called Live at 42 Walnut Crescent and we just got to see it for the first time,” Rusty tells me.
“We hadn’t seen a finished copy of it yet, but Merrick and Rosso had a copy of it,” John adds.
“You guys don’t even have a copy?” I demand in disbelief.
“No,” Rusty assures me. “No, we don’t have a copy yet, but we’re familiar with most of the material.”
The first thing about the Scared Weird Little Guys that strikes the casual observer, apart from John’s more recently acquired blond hair, is the fact that while they are still (one assumes) scared and weird, and definitely guys, they are both significantly littler. John especially.
“We’ve both been on diets,” John explains. “I’ve shed almost ten kilos.”
Thus, the littlerfication is not due to the rigours of touring, or the demands of releasing and promoting a new album, rather, John says, “it’s me deciding that I’d been carrying enough weight for too long and doing something about it. I’m pretty pleased with being a little slimmer these days.”
While I naturally assume that this must lead to pulling more groupies, I ask Rusty to set the record straight.
“I’m married now, and John’s just gotten engaged. So the answer is ‘yes’…” Rusty says.
“… with the long-term groupies,” John adds, completing his colleague’s comment and no doubt averting a night on the couch in the process.
Rusty and John’s lines always segue smoothly, as though one mind acts through the pair of them. This is probably because they have been working together for some thirteen years now. John, who wanted to be a singer, auditioned for and joined a group that Rusty was in. After “about three years muddling around in different a capella groups” like ‘The Phones’ and ‘Four Chairs, No Waiting’ (a barbershop quartet?) the pair opted for the ‘Scared Weird Little Guys’ partnership in July 1990. John claims to have noticed the difference straight away when the group scaled down to the duo:
“We only had to split the money two ways. We also noticed that there were a lot less arguments and fewer relationships to look after.”
Live at 42 Walnut Crescent was recorded at gigs in Edinburgh, Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne “over the years” (the bonus, unlisted ‘McDonalds’ song dates from 1991) and put together through December and January. Released on the eve of the Scaredies’ tenth anniversary, John considers it “an opus of our work to this time”. Rusty agrees that it does constitute a timely retrospective – a ‘greatest hits live’. “If you have heard a Scared Weird Little Guys song before and liked it,” he says, “it’s probably on this album. Because there are twenty-five songs on it.”
Significant absences in the set include the Scardies’ unique cover of ‘Yesterday’ and the song which started it all, the Kennett-inspired ‘Bloody Jeff’. However, this is a pedantic quibble considering that ‘Volvo Man’, ‘Shopping and Parking’, ’30 Seconds’, ‘Macadamia’ and even the generically modified covers of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ are present and accounted for. Further, there are two all-new topical songs, designed to “give a leg up to the rest of the album through airplay”. The first is a cute parody of the early Dylan political ballad, a talking-blues entitled ‘GST’. The second is a stirring anti-anthem called ‘Olympics’, resplendent with strings, harmonies and corrupted lines from ‘Advance Australia Fair’.
The Scaredies’ most recent show ‘Rock’, designed to “explore rock music in its facets”, premiered at the Adelaide Fringe Festival earlier this year before playing at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. Unfortunately, Sydney is not going to get to see ‘Rock’ in the immediate future. After a two-week regional tour of South Australia, the duo will most likely be “dusting off some of the old stuff” for the three weeks they will spend in North America thereafter. The Scaredies have long enjoyed success in the North Americas, having been named Canada’s ‘Best Variety Act’ in 1994 and 1995 as well as the ‘Best Comedy Act’ in the US in ’95. That same year, they were also nominated as ‘Entertainers of the year’ in the States. Thus, they are aware of “certain little pockets” of popularity in that part of the world:
“We’re big in Nova Scotia and in Minnesota…” Rusty begins.
“… and in Alberta” John carries on as smoothly as ever.
When I point out a patterned rhythm in the placenames, the potential for a song, the Scared Weird Little Guys utter an approving “Aaaaaaah” in unison. “Now you’re thinkin’ like we think,” John assures me.
The excellent Live at 42 Walnut Crescent is released on Streetwise Records’ dedicated comedy label ‘Belly Laugh’.
The following article appeared in the 15 June 1998 issue of Revolver.
Scared Weird Little Guys
“We’ve got red pants – long ones!” explains Rusty Berther, the scared, weird, littler of the two men collectively known as the Scared Weird Little Guys. “We’ve gone to long pants now that we’ve grown up.” Rusty is describing the brand-spanking-new stage costumes that he and John Fleming, the other Scared Weird Little Guy, wore in their recent Melbourne Comedy Festival Shows. “We also had black shirts with bones down the sleeves.”
Trivial, you might think, this discussion of apparel. Well, it’s not exactly earth-shattering, but it is significant. See, the sartorial metamorphosis comes with many other developments in the Scared Weird Little Guys’ act. Not only have they progressed to long pants, but the Scaredies have also moved on to varying their song arrangements and modes of performance. The Comedy Festival Shows, for example, featuring “a whole swag of new stuff” that Rusty and John wrote over the summer, was performed with an orchestra. This is a startling new approach for a mainly acoustic duo whose showbiz career began in a cappella groups.
Rusty and partner John have just finished recorded recording an album’s worth of new material which should appear in mid-July. Once again, this work shows a developing sophistication as the duo augmented their usual sound with additional instruments. “We recorded five songs with a drummer, and I played bass,” Rusty reports. “Two of them were done ‘live-in-the-studio’ with guitar and mandolin, and the others are recorded as a three-piece. We’re pretty happy with the results.”
I’m curious as to how the songs will sound; in the past, the Scared Weird Little Guys have derived much humour by being able to make up for the lack of instruments. For example, their various renditions of Prince’s song ‘Kiss’, a favourite of live perfomrances, is performed in various genres despite the fact that the pair are armed only with a guitar and their voices. They begin with one of the finest country and western rootin’, tootin’, high-fallutin’ hoe-down send-ups you could ever imagine. Then they go on to invite the audience to request various musical genres in which they will then attempt to render the song.
“I can only assume that this segment is pre-rehearsed,” I insist. “One time the guy next to me yelled out ‘indie’ and you guys pretended that he said ‘Hindi’ in order to do a Bollywood version, the guitar being plucked like a sitar, the pair of you singing with Indian accents.”
But Rusty is quick with an explanation:
“I must say, to defend ourselves, when we first started doing the bit, which was quite a few years ago, we didn’t rehearse any. But because we’ve done it so many times, we’ve had to do bits like opera, heavy metal, most thing, and we’ve genuinely learnt how to do all those styles.”
“Yeah,” I say, “but that’s not my beef; this is: one time at the Belvoir Street Theatre, I know that I clearly got in first and loudest with the request of ‘mariachi’, because you guys do such good mouth-trumpet work, but you guys ignored me and pretended to pick another genre out of the crowd.”
“Ooh yeah,” Rusty says, contemplating the challenge of the ‘mariachi’ version. He starts to simulate the cheesy Mexican brass section mariachi fanfare: “Bap bap badadp bap bap” (listen to the trumpets in the Dick Dale song which serves as the theme to Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction if you are unfamiliar with the genre).
“I’m sure we would have tried it…” Rusty insists, and then gives up with that avenue of defence. “We’re allowed to take artistic license there,” he says instead. “No matter what the crowd had shouted out, we can selectively hear whatever we need to hear. It’s a skill that develops over the years and many gigs.” Then he returns to his early tack: “But I tell you, mariachi… I reckon we’ve definitely done that before so if you’re lucky enough to call it out again, we’ll definitely give it a shot.”
God bless you, Rusty.
Rusty met John “about ten years ago”, some twelve months after he had left his native Queensland for Melbourne. “I was singing in a four-part a cappella group in 1987 and basically one guy left and John joined.” Rusty suggests that the fact that he and john were not friends or workmates prior to becoming bandmates is one of the reasons why the Scared Weird Little Guys ‘works’ as a partnership, and why they “haven’t killed each other”.
“So how did you lose the other two members to become the Scared Weird Little Guys’? I demand. “Did you have to kill them?”
“We were in that group for about a year,” Rusty explains, “and then John and I both joined another group called ‘The Phones’.” After The Phones disbanded a couple of years later, the pair decided that they may as well “do something” together because they new each other well and enjoyed working with each other.
I want to know if, like other musical comedy acts such as Billy Connolly (as he once was) and the Doug Anthony Allstars, the comedy began as between-song banter and developed from there. In the case of Billy Connolly, who started out as a folky in the group ‘The Humblebums’ the patter just kept extending and the songs came fewer and far-between. As for the Allstars, who began as the punk group ‘Forbidden Mule’ and went on to be shopping mall buskers, they needed to jump in and out of flaming garbage bins and the like in order to retain the audience’s attention.
“We were mostly musical,” Rusty says, “but there were bits of comedy creeping in, and a few of the songs and the actions we did touched on comedy. But we definitely always considered ourselves musicians before comedians. And we still do. When we started the Scared Weird Little Guys, we definitely said, ‘sure, the main aim here is to write some funny stuff’. But then, because we’ve got the musical background and we love singing harmony and we love writing songs, the music has come through as well. It’s turned out that we feature the music as much as the comedy.”
I can lay claim to being aware of the Scaredies from very early on – at least from the release of their first EP, ‘Bloody Geoff!’ which was inspired by the Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett. Rusty explains that he and John were overseas at the time of Kennett’s election.
“We came home and noticed that everyone was going, ‘Oh, Kennett’s in! Bloody Jeff!’ So we decided, quite innocently at the time, to write a song that blames Jeff for everything.”
I stubbed my toe so hard I cried,
The Beatles broke up and Elvis died.
Rusty claims that while ‘Bloody Geoff!’ has become a bit of an anthem for people who hate Kennett, it’s pretty light-weight from a political point of view. “It’s pretty apolitical,” he says.
In 1995, the Scared Weird Little Guys released a mini-album called Scared, which is not at all bad. My only criticism of it is, as with so many musical/comedy albums, that when you become familiar with a live act, you can sometimes be let down by their studio albums. This is because, unless it is a live recording (which often presents an entirely different set of difficulties) the audio artifact is a different art form entirely to the live performance, therefore making different demands with different issues at stake.
“Absolutely!” Rusty acknowledges. “We realised that we were asking ourselves the wrong question. The question wasn’t ‘how can we best capture what we do live on a record?’ but ‘what is the best that we can do, on a record?’”
The answer, Rusty assures me, is the new Scared Weird Little Guys album, Mousetrap, which boasts amongst its contents, songs about dead food in the fridge, setting the table, and death metal lyrics set to a lounge backing.
“That’s the one we’re happiest with,” Rusty says of the latter, “because we’ve gone totally in the style of Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66, with a full-on loungey, latin feel.
Before I can call it a day with Rusty, I need to ask two musical questions, having dealt mostly with the comic content of the Scared Weird Little Guys’ work. I apologise for the first one, which is the standard “where did you get your name?”
Rusty takes it in his stride:
“We usually say that when we were looking for a name, ‘The Village People’ was already taken, so we thought, obviously, ‘The Scared Weird Little Guys’. But the truth is, we were watching this Al Pacino movie called Cruisin’, a full-on undercover cop film set in the New York underground gay scene. At one point this guy says, ‘there are a lot of scared, weird, little guys out there who don’t know why they do what they do.’ We stopped the tape and laughed – ‘what was that? ‘Scared, weird, little guys’? That’s it!’ And it sort of stuck.”
And finally, “as vocalists, who are you inspired by?”
“Ah, jeepers,” Rusty balks. Then: “I’m a huge country/bluegrass fan, and I never really trained – I’ve had a few lessons at high school, but otherwise – I’ve just sung along to a lot of country stuff I love, especially the alternative sort of country music coming out of America. And John was a choirboy for ten years at St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne. So he’s got a different sort of background. But definitely not one singer; I couldn’t say ‘Michael Bolton’, or anything like that.”
Heaven forbid, Rusty, that you would ever say anything like that.
It’s probably worth noting, just so that I don’t confuse the hardcore fan, that the album referred to as Mousetrap in the interview was subsequently released as a five-track EP entitled Death Lounge.
Using the [then-upcoming, he added some time in October 2004] season at the Sydney Opera House as an excuse, I present here an interview with Mick Moriarty, erstwhile plankspanker of both The Gadflys and Gud. Paul McDermott claims loftier etymology for the derivation of the name ‘Gud’, and who can blame him when, coincidentally, it happens to be an acronym for a medical condition. However, since McDermott was once a member of The Doug Anthony Allstars, it is a fair observation to make that phonetically, ‘Gud’ is in fact ‘Doug’ backwards. And Gud is going to have to live with comparisons to McDermott’s earlier comedy combo, whether he likes it or not. Longtime fans will note, and no doubt relish, the similarities between Gud and The Doug Anthony Allstars, particularly in songs that bear similar gag-structure. Case in point: ‘Peace Opus’, which works the same way as ‘What Is It You Can’t Face’. But if all you see are parallels between Gud and the Allstars, you’re missing out on a lot of fun. (And you clearly can’t have been enjoying Tripod very much, either, can you? What with the put-upon guitarist whose one chance at singing lead is drowned out by the gorgeous one and the funny-looking one singing the backing vocals way too loud, the inability to sufficiently distinguish between a boat and a girl, and… well, I’ll save it for another blog entry.)
Apart from a Parramatta Riverside Theatre season during the Big Laugh Festival a couple of years back, Gud was, for a time, under-appreciated in Sydney. There was one year that two gigs were scheduled in the same evening but as the earlier one undersold, it was cancelled, and as a result, elements of the band were more-or-less rat-arsed by the time the later one commenced. It was still funny, and not merely for the wrong reasons – sometimes the between-song-patter went nowhere, at other times it went where it shouldn’t and occasionally it seemed to go on forever, while the music remained as gorgeous as ever. It was a pity, though, that a larger Sydney audience just didn’t seem towant to know or appreciate a combo that can play brilliantly and have you cacking one minute and getting all misty-eyed and sentimental the next. And then laughing even harder again thereafter because of the presence of the seemingly nice, gooey bits.
A fine 2003 Melbourne International Comedy Festival run was followed by a fantastic sell-out season at the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe Festival which, upon their return to Australia, led to sell-out seasons in Melbourne and Sydney in the so-called ‘Famous Spiegeltent’. Back from another great Melbourne International Comedy Festival season, they hit Sydney tight and triumphant, so you should probably be booking tickets now. (The season opens April 23 – a Radiohead gig precludes my attendance on opening night.)
This interview with Mick Moriarty took place and was broadcast on ABC NewsRadio during The Gadflys’ Sydney residency at the Spiegeltent in December 2003, which, if not concurrent, must have been contiguous with Gud’s own. My inability – at that time – to structure directed interviews that dealt with one topic instead of rambling through many (a bad habit learnt through years of self-tutored print journalism, still being painfully un-learnt through tutelage in radio journalism) necessitated the use of narration to tie the edited bits together. But it hangs together pretty well, as the MP3 sound file will attest.
Music: ‘ Long Time Gone’ – The Gadflys (from the album Out of the Bag)
Narrative: The Gadflys began in the 1980s as a three-piece punk band founded by brothers Mick and Phil Moriarty. Normally, ‘punk’ means distorted guitars and loud drums playing as fast as possible. For The Gadflys, it meant a double bass, guitar and clarinet playing an eclectic mix of pop, rock, country and ballads.
The trio made its mark first as distinctive buskers, then as a popular pub band. Over the years the Gadflys have grown from the basic trio to a big band with horns, keyboards and backing vocalists. Now they’re touring again as a trio, each playing several instruments.
When I caught up with guitarist and vocalist Mick Moriarty, I wanted to know how having a double bass and a clarinet in your band affects the sort of songs you can play live.
MICK MORIARTY: Some songs over the years on Gadflys albums have just never really gone live because they’re probably a bit more rock. They’re hard to pin down with the sort of instrumentation that we have and the acoustic ethic that we use. But it’s really exciting, often, to ‘adjust’ a piece to that. It’s kind of fun for me, and hopefully, for the audience. Hopefully they’re not just going to go, “hang on, that’s not like it is on the record! Whaddaya mean? Whaddaya doing? I want five bucks back!”
Demetrius Romeo: It’s been a little while since the Gaddies released an album. Are you doing any studio work at the moment?
MICK MORIARTY: After the last album, that was a really tragic album as it turned out – not that it seemed that way while we were recording it – …
Demetrius Romeo: Why was that?
MICK MORIARTY: Because Andy Lewis, our bass player, killed himself shortly after recording was finished and before we’d even mixed it. And as it turned out, the engineer killed himself. It was appalling. It was so sad to lose friends, but just to contemplate these poor buggers so sad that they can’t see a place for themselves in the world. It was last year in Edinburgh that we got back to this three piece and found the enjoyment again. Since that time, I’ve been writing a lot, Phil’s been writing a lot, and now we’re talking about a new album.
Demetrius Romeo: When Andy Lewis died, he was your original double bass player. You’re now playing double bass. Was it hard to make the transition from guitar?
MICK MORIARTY: After Andy died, we had another guy, an old friend of mine called Elmo who’d played with us in years past, play double bass. Then we were going to Edinburgh and he couldn’t come because he had family commitments. So Pete Kelly and I decided that we would learn to play double bass. When I picked it up I just went, “hang on, why have I left this alone so long?” I really loved playing it and so I started playing with the Gadflys and by the end of that Edinburgh season I was going, “this is fantastic!”
Narrative: The Gadflys became well-known when they started appearing on the television show Good News Week in the late 90s. Paul McDermott, who hosted Good News Week, had been a member of the comedy troupe the Doug Anthony Allstars. Like the Gadflys, the Doug Anthony Allstars began as a punk group in Canberra in the 80s. Mick Moriarty and Paul McDermott began writing comedy songs together, which they then performed in their new band, Gud.
Music: ‘Wrong Number’ – Gud (from the mini-album Gud – Official Bootleg)
Narrative: Mick Moriarty says that playing in Gud came as a welcome change from playing in the Gadflys.
MICK MORIARTY: It was great fun because it was just so away from everything I had been doing and writing comedy songs is such a different kettle of fish to trying to say what you think about yet another broken relationship or something. It was just a really enjoyable chance to apply myself to the things that I could do and learn about the things I hadn’t done.
Demetrius Romeo: There was material earlier in your career that did lend itself to a bit of a comic edge. For example, very early on you were doing a cover of ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway’.
MICK MORIARTY: I was quite fond of Petula Clark, and ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway’ I think is a fantastic song. It was not so much ‘looking for the comedic edge’ as not taking yourself too seriously, and taking the piss, but not ‘here’s the laugh bit’ or ‘this is a funny song’ but ‘this is a novel approach to a song’. I still think it’s a great song. Tony and Jackie, if you’re listening, congratulations on your early work.
Music: ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway’ – The Gadflys (from an ever-so-slightly crackly 7" single!)
And just in case you need to know more, here is a Gud interview with Paul McDermott, from a few years back, that first appeared in an issue of Revolver. Can’t remember the title, and can’t be bothered digging out the yellowing, dog-eared hard copy. Oh, I know what I’ll substitute it with…
Egad, It’s Gud!
“One of the best things about working with people is gaining that awareness of how someone else is thinking: knowing what they’re about to do,” Paul McDermott explains. “Sometimes that doesn’t happen for a long time, people gaining that understanding and knowledge of each other.”
In the case of ‘Gud’, the band and show consisting of Paul McDermott, Cameron Bruce and Mick Moriarty, the trio seems to have gained that awareness in no time at all, and the proof is in the way they each take it in turn to lead and follow the often improvised shenanigans that punctuate and interrupt songs ranging from silly to satirical to sweet. By the last night of a very short preview season at Parramatta, Gud was slick, and the Melbourne run has garnered full houses and rave reviews. Paul concurs that the three “seem to have clicked straight away”. However, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Mick Moriarty, looking – and sometimes sounding – like the resultant offspring of a union between Keith Richards and Jeff Beck, is a member of The Gadflys, who served as the house band on Good News Week. He and Paul both hail from Canberra, where, during his Doug Anthony Allstars days, McDermott “more or less knew” of Mick. Paul had seen The Gadflys in all of their incarnations, and recalls “sharing pints” with them at past Edinburgh Festivals. Gud developed out of Paul and Mick hanging out and writing songs, initially with Paul Mac. After Good News Week ended, McDermott spent the ensuing year trying to devise a show for the Festival, and Mick suggested they take their songs on the road.
Prior to joining Karma County, his most recent gig before Gud, Cameron Bruce was no stranger to the world of musical comedy. He played with the feel-good fun band ‘The Fantastic Leslie’ and his keyboard stylings have accompanied many a Theatresports stoush. McDermott got to see Cameron a couple of times in his capacity as the Club Luna house band’s keyboardist on Sunday nights at the Basement. Bruce’d tickle the ivories on outré, funked up covers of songs like ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ and ‘Islands in the Stream’, looking like some hatless cross between the Muppets’ Dr Teeth and the musician he was based on, Dr John.
The title ‘Gud’ was derived from McDermott’s realisation, while watching the Grammy Awards ceremony, that “every single person who came up on stage was going, ‘…and Ah’d lahk t’ thank Gud…’”. Thus, he decided, he’d better put a band together called ‘Gud’.
There is a point in the show where McDermott invites requests from the audience, and without fail, an Allstars fan will request a DAAS song. “I don’t really mind,” Paul says. “They can request whatever they want. We won’t do any of the old songs, but I don’t mind them requesting them.” Paul can’t blame them, really: there are some songs that bear an unmistakable similarity to Allstars’ material, particularly in gag structure, so those inclined towards sentimentality are more than likely to want to reminisce.
“Gud’s the same sort of thing as the Allstars,” Paul acknowledges. “It’s musical comedy, and it’s quite aggressive musical comedy. I like that form of expression. I feel comfortable doing it. But there are also massive differences.” Rather than closely analyse the differences and similarities, it’s probably better to note that, at least from McDermott’s point of view, Gud is as much fun as the Allstars and Good News Week were to do. “I loved working with Tim and Rich, and I loved working with Julie and Mikey, and I really am enjoying working with the boys,” he says. However, Gud seems to have covered more ground in a shorter time than its comedic predecessors. “It’s exceeded my expectations,” Paul says. “It’s gone extraordinarily well on its first outing, so I’m really, really happy. Gud is a great outfit and great fun to work with. The combination of the three is greater than the individuals and what we’re doing now is growing at an exponential rate. It’s like a Nimbin crop, out of control.”
And like that Nimbin crop, Gud will make you laugh uncontrollably for hours on end. See for yourself when Gud performs.