Podcasting Marty

Martycover

This is quite a long-winded introduction, but the point is the comedy that you can download as MP3 files, if you are so inclined, so stick with it.

For the last little while, Richard Fidler has been hosting radio shifts on ABC 702 during holiday time when regular hosts are on vacation. During these periods, he gets me in to talk comedy. In addition to having a general discussion about trends and developments, it’s an opportunity for me to raid my own comedy archives.

This time around, for example, I took the opportunity to play a bit of Bill Hicks, justifying it with not just the recent release of a performance DVD, Bill Hicks Live, but also because 2004 marked the tenth anniversary of Hicks’s passing. Carefully removing the cussing (“scumsucking fucks”, I believe, was the offending phrase, for the free-thinkers and free-speakers amongst you), I edited together two excellent little bits on the American Presidency. In addition to whichever albums they originally featured on, they may be found on the excellent compilation entitled Philosophy: The Best of Bill Hicks.

I also played yet another excerpt from the interview conducted with Graeme Garden in honour of the impending Goodies tour of Australia. This Goodies bit opens with the the show’s signature call-out, followed by discussion with Graeme of the perception of The Goodies as a ‘kids’ program’, and the censorship that resulted. It serves as a great reason to segue to a skit about censorship from I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, a radio show that featured, amongst its cast, The Goodies and John Cleese, prior to Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Goodies coming into existence.

My favourite artifact was a recording of the old Pete ’n’ Dud sketch ‘One Leg Too Few’, as performed by Kenneth Williams. This requires a bit of context: prior to Peter Cook graduating from Cambridge, and indeed, the university club that proved a training ground for many English comedians-to-be, the Cambridge Footlights, he was recognised as a talented writer and was commissioned to write some sketches for Kenneth Williams, already established by that stage as a comic performer. The ‘One Leg Too Few’ sketch went on to appear in Beyond the Fringe, the show commission for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, featuring OxBridge graduates Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, (Dr Sir) Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. Pete ’n’ Dud went on to perform the sketch as a duo. The interesting thing about Kenneth Williams’s version is the existence of a tag that was later dropped.

These older recordings are always a bit of a hit, as the following unsolicited e-mail shows:


Hello

I was listening to you the other night on Radio 702, so I thought (and would appreciate) if you may be able to answer this question:

I've been chasing for some years the classic Marty Feldman sketch in which he plays a ballet dancer being reprimanded by the theatre manager for a drunken performance of the Nutcracker ballet on the previous night, and it being re-counted the disgraceful things he did in performance.

Do you know of the sketch and what show it originated from (I thought it's maybe from At Last The 1948 Show)? And do you know if it is available in any current recorded medium?

Thanks for your time


I must admit that I have had trouble locating any sound recordings from At Last the 1948 Show, a program that featured John Cleese and Graham Chapman before Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Tim Brooke-Taylor before The Goodies and Marty Feldman before he emigrated to Hollywood and became a regular in Mel Brooks films. The only At Last the 1948 Show material I've found from that time is the stuff that the Pythons re-hashed either on record (the ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch comes to mind - the Secret Policeman’s Ball version is the only one I have a recording of – or ‘The Bookshop’ sketch that appears on the Monty Python Contractual Obligation album) or in print (John Cleese gave a couple of the sketches a run in his book entitled The Golden Sketches of Wing Commander Muriel Volestrangler – in which, I notice, the ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch is entitled ‘The Good Old Days’.)

I know that huge swathes of At Last the 1948 Show were wiped rather than retained; at that time it was believed that the cost of videotape was great and the chance of comedy being of interest decades down the track, minimal; a great book on the topic exists, called Missing, Presumed Wiped and covers comedy as well as drama and science fiction. Thus, not much of the mere thirteen episodes remains.

However, the ‘Ballet’ sketch comes from Marty Feldman’s follow-up show to At Last the 1948 Show. Entitled Marty, it featured Tim Brooke-Taylor as a regular contributor and performer and, significantly, Terry Gilliam provided animated opening credits. A record of this was released, also entitled Marty, a very scratchy copy of which resides in my record collection.

The ‘Ballet’ sketch is excellent, but I particularly like ‘Bishop’. “You what?!” Feldman’s cockney, workingclass Bishop of No Fixed Abode reacts to a train passenger (played by Brooke-Taylor) who has admitted to being agnostic. “You stupid git! You try telling Him that you’re agnostic when you get up there and He’ll smash your teeth in… in His infinite mercy.”

There are two other sketches I’ve decided to include. The first is entitled ‘Weather Forecast’, which is a bit unfortunate, as it gives away the punchline. (This sort of titular cock-up, when presenting comedy, should probably be defined as a ‘to get to the other side’ error!) It has a similar feel to the apocalyptic sketch, ‘The End of the World’, that first appeared in Beyond the Fringe and was featured in The Secret Policeman’s Ball.

The other is a cute little bit of nonsense entitled ‘Salome’.

In all, Marty is a great album, and, I assume, a great comedy series, if, indeed, it is still in existence in somebody’s archive.


Absolute Commitment: Lano & Woodley Revel in the Build-Up

Lanowoodleynos
Lano & Woodley must be on tour somewhere. The interview I did with them for their show Bruiser is getting heaps of googled hits at the moment. So I thought I should locate this article and post it. It’s long and indulgent, and first appeared in 1997 in issue four of my ill-fated and short-lived comedy zine, Stand & Deliver! (hmm, that title has a nice kind of ring to it, doesn’t it!). I’m not surprised by my seriousness in approaching the comedy, only that I sustained it throughout out the article. Furthermore, despite Colin making it plain and obvious by saying so, I never realised back then how much Lano & Woodley borrow and follow on from Laurel & Hardy: naive, innocent, child-like two-man slapstick. This is even more evident in a show like Bruiser, that sees the pair taking turns at playing each other’s girlfriend, as well as each other. The other great characteristic they share with Laurel & Hardy – apart from the fact that there are times when you feel they could afford to originate more material instead of forever drawing from their earlier work – is that they are hilarious.

Before I quit banging on, I must add that the caricature is the work of Nick O’Sullivan.


“That’s the first time anybody has referred to our work as ‘a body of work’,” announces Colin. He is extremely chuffed, but also slightly stunned – more at the concept of actually having an oeuvre than at the prospect of having it analysed. The Adventures of Lano & Woodley is about to begin on ABC as the Monday night comedy, a new series written and starring Colin ‘Lano’ Lane and Frank ‘Woodley’ Wood. I feel that the series builds upon themes and issues initiated by their book Housemeeting (1996). It demonstrates characteristics that are apparent throughout their work. “That’s good,” Frank says, beaming his approval.

Many commentators see Lano & Woodley as the classic slapstick duo – straight man and funny man, necessarily in that order. While their work obviously contains slapstick, the pair are more like two kids. Lano is the relatively straightforward one, an older, more practical, bullying leader to Woodley’s forgetful, dependent daydreamer. But both Lano and Woodley are the funny man, and they’re with me on this one:

“If you’re gonna latch onto someone, the clown and the straight man is the simplest way to look at it,” observes Frank. “We’ve never thought of it that way. We’ve always thought of it less like Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, and more like Laurel & Hardy, where there’s a status relationship, definitely, but they’re both funny. They’re both telling jokes.” The popular perception of Lano & Woodley arises because Col is the “‘straight’-looking” one but, according to Frank, that’s part of the duo’s ‘thing’.

As straight as Colin may appear to be, there are moments when a deranged alter ego bleeds through. When he laughs, for example, his amusement topples over into mania, his bottom jaw threatening to drop off its hinge at any moment prior to his explosion, as if he is part of an animated Terry Gilliam segue another sketch. I think it looks beautiful.

“Not to me it doesn’t, not when I look back,” Colin says. “I just find it frightening. Disturbing.”

Childlike characters have existed in the duo’s work as far back as when they were still a trio, with Scott Casley, known as The Found Objects. A favourite skit involved kids daring each other to jump into a body of water from an impressive height.

“I’ll go if you go,” was Lano’s promise.

“You’d better go, Colin,” Frank would warn. “If you don’t go…”

On the count of three, Frank would hurl himself into the ‘river’ below, only to find that Lano had piked. “Colin, you didn’t go!”

Memories and past experiences continue to be utilised in the duo’s new work. See in Housemeeting, for example, the urban myths that comprise Frank’s hard-luck stories regarding his sister. They include the burst pimple that disgorges baby spiders and the roll of film developed long after the robbery revealing the need for a new toothbrush – the sort of stories that, when heard as a kid, conjure vivid images that pretty much stay with you. Cleverly, Frank dismisses his sister’s apparently fabricated stories by ascribing her need to lie to the trauma she suffered as a teenager when a psychopath “jumped on the top of her car and banged a severed head on her roof”. “Those urban myths are definitely things that are kicking around in your head,” Frank agrees. The ‘psychopath’ urban myth also turns up in an episode of The Adventures of Lano & Woodley entitled ‘Tonight You Die’.

In the same episode, Lano and Woodley rent a scary video. While they are watching it, someone phones their house and announces, “Tonight, you die!”

“The prank call actually happened to a friend of mine,” Frank explains. “He got out the video Friday 13th and watched it. Just when the film finished, the phone rang. He picked it up and someone said, ‘tonight, you die!’ They never found out who it was.”

There are other items in Housemeeting that you will recognise, experiences that you never thought anyone else would share. One section has Frank and Colin locked in the bathroom. Frank, staring at the floor, notices shapes and figures in the lino:


He saw a flying goose and an old woman’s face. He saw a bison and a screwdriver. There was a blob that, with a bit of imagination, looked like the drummer from Culture Club.

I tell the pair that there is an old man in snow goggles on my bathroom floor.

“Yeah,” Lano agrees, “you’re just having showers for years and years and years, and you keep on looking at the same bit of floor saying, ‘That, that is a goose. That is a goose!’”

Woodley concurs: “The more you look at it, the more it looks like a goose.” He thinks for a moment. “No-one’s ever pointed that bit out from the book, have they Col?”

“No,” Colin admits. “In fact, I don’t even know what he’s talking about.”


My immediate misgiving, approaching The Adventures of Lano & Woodley, is the premise of the show: two out-of-work bachelors sharing a flat, engaging in the typical plotlines. Squabbling and desperate owing to a dearth of nookie, the holiday that goes awry, trouble with the neighbours, even the ‘Halloween night’ story, all correspond to episodes of Bottom. Is it merely coincidental that Lano and Woodley managed to acquire Bob Spiers – director of Bottom – to direct the first two episodes?

As it turns out, the production company Working Title declared an expression of interest in Lano & Woodley after they took out the ‘Perrier Award’ at the 1994 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Past successes like Four Weddings And A Funeral enabled Working Title to hire the best talent available. Woodley admits that he had no idea who Bob Spiers was at first, but his and Colin’s jaws “just hit the floor” when past credits like of Fawlty Towers, A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Absolutely Fabulous were listed on the man’s CV.

My misgivings are ill founded; since Lano and Woodley are who they are, familiar themes have been given suitably surreal twists. Like in the first episode, in which Col’s imaginary girlfriend ‘Jenny Window’ dumps him for Frank. (Is the similarity of Jenny’s surname to that of George Glass, Jan Brady’s imaginary boyfriend from an episode of The Brady Bunch, another early memory that has informed Lano and Woodley’s work?)

Lano and Woodley aren’t exactly strangers to television, frequently appearing on Hey Hey It’s Saturday. There have been other serious offers prior to Working Title’s approach for this new sitcom. “We could have made TV in Australia years ago,” Colin says, “but they would have wanted to make it at Australian levels of funding and quantity of shows. Like, twenty-six episodes with a budget of twenty bucks an episode. Whereas, if we were going to make a series, we wanted to make it properly.”

Possibly there was something to prove, since earlier television appearances have been relatively low-key. “We were on Big Gig maybe ten times,” says Frank, “but only about twelve people ever saw us.” Usually there was a State of Origin footy match, or Bangkok Hilton on another channel at the same time. So now Lano and Woodley have a series. And they’ve made it properly.

Actor/writer/talker Warren Coleman served as ‘director’s observer’ on The Adventures of Lano & Woodley and insists that Colin Lane and Frank Woodley, as executive producers, were “consulted on all major decisions, and things pretty much happened the way they wanted them to.” This is evident right down to the theme song, which they themselves wrote. Their friend Mal Webb, from the band the Oxo Cubans, arranged the song.

“Rather than finding someone who’d done a lot of TV and film stuff who was sitting at their synth in a little home studio, churning it out,” Frank explains, the decision was made to find someone “who is actually a brilliant multi-instrumentalist.”

A further delightful twist to the music, and a testament to Webb’s talent, is the closing theme: each episode ends with a different version of the opening theme song. Apart from the reggae version that ends the first show, each re-arrangement is of a musical genre somehow significant to the episode. Episode 2, for example, closes with a hard rock version of the song, tying in with the leather-bound punks that feature in the story.


There is a striking physicality to Lano and Woodley’s work, apparent in Woodley’s ‘wobbly’ tantrums and Lano’s grotesque laugh and self-assured swagger. The common slapstick fare of pratfalls and summersaults, resulting in ‘hurties’, are present and accounted for. It is almost surprising how entertaining all of this is, although Colin is again taken aback when I voice these sentiments.

“Have you had that experience in the past, finding slapstick not funny?” he asks.

The answer is yes. Nowadays slapstick is a dated comedic subgenre that seems to related more to the old, bald man getting his forehead slapped repeatedly amidst scantily clad women on The Benny Hill Show. Or B-grade black and white (or badly colourised) 1930s films that used to be broadcast on Saturday afternoons (always interspersed with that advertisement for Bex which sounded as though it was being spoken by Don Adams!) until about the mid-80s. Seeing such ‘comedy’ now always forces you to wonder how you could ever have found it funny in the first place. And yet, if Frank’s little hat conjures up vaguely remembered images of an old series entitled Mack and Myer for Hire, they are remembered fondly. The premise of Mack and Myer – two bachelors sharing an apartment, failing at every job they attempt – is again familiar, for that is the premise of Lano & Woodley. Each episodes opens with a sacking from another job.

Lano and Woodley have no idea who or what Mack and Myer are, but Colin comes out in defence of slapstick. He blames any of its failings on poor practitioners.

“There’s unfunny slapstick, there’s funny slapstick, there’s ill-conceived slapstick,” he says. “Because our whole show is based on the interaction of these two characters, it should really mean that whatever they do, if it’s in character and if it supports the whole concept of their relationship, it should be funny. So it shouldn’t really matter what we do or what sort of slapstick we use. If I hit Frank over the head or if he hits me after I’ve been niggling him for ten minutes, it’s going to be funny.”

Woodley has his own theory:

“I’ve got a suspicion that one of the differences between good slapstick and bad slapstick is the bit that come before it. If you watch Maxwell Smart or Clouseau, they put absolute commitment into the bit that comes before it. They don’t rush into the ‘getting hit on the head with the blunt instrument’ stage. They really revel in the build up.”

He illustrates his theory with an example from Peter Sellers:

“There’s a bit where Inspector Clouseau’s been put back on the beat – it was in Pink Panther XII or something – and he’s strolling down the street with his baton. He sees this spunky girl coming the other way and he very smoothly looks at her, gestures a little hello, and knocks himself in the eye with the baton. That’s the joke that a bad slapstick comedian might have done badly, but there’s something about how smooth he was, how much time he took before he hit himself in the eye. Good slapstick has something to do with the characters and not rushing it.”

Land and Woodley agree that it is ultimately the context in which the particular shtick appears that ells you whether it is funny or not. Is it rushed? Is the build-up plausible enough to lull you into a suitable willful suspension of disbelief? Because sometimes, even if you see the punch line coming, if it is still delivered correctly, if the lead and the feed lines create enough tension and expectation, the release that the punch line offers can still be a corker. In fact, it shouldn’t really matter if you can see the gag coming. It never used to, anyway: the genre takes its name from a device used in performances of bawdy French farce some centuries ago: to indicate to the audience the appearance of hilarity, a stagehand made a loud sound by striking a stick. It was the ‘slap stick’, providing the aural cues much as the sound-effects team matches the ‘boing’ (and the ‘crunch’ and the ‘slap’) sounds to Australia’s Funniest Home Video clips.

The pair cannot explain adequately how they hit upon slapstick as their mode of performance.

“It’s really hard for us to actually give you a concise answer about how it evolved,” says Lano. “It was just really lucky. I was at drama teacher’s college and Frank was selling sandwiches in the city to offices, and a friend recommended that I go along to this theatre called St Martin’s in Melbourne.”

It was at St Martin’s that Colin Lane met Scott Casley, and in no time, Colin, Frank and Scott were playing Theatresports and developing their own brand of comedy.

“We never ever sat down and had a conceptual discussion about what sort of comedy we would do. We just used to write down the stuff that would make each other laugh.”

Hailing from the same basic socio-economic demographic, each had a sense of history and humour similar enough to enable them to gel together easily.

“There was never any conscious planning of ‘you be the low status guy, I’ll be the high status guy and Scott will be the father figure’,” Colin explains. He confides that, even though it’s embarrassing to admit, (“maybe more of less for you, I don’t know,” he adds, looking at Woodley), the characters these men play are exaggerations based on their real characters. “I’m kind of a little bit egotistical and I fall over that every so often. Frank is a bit naïve about how the world operates, but in an endearing way. There was no conscious decision, but it evolved.”

Frank adds his firm belief that everyone has “a natural way of showing off or performing,” and these characters are obviously theirs. If someone wants to try to be funny there’s a “particular way that comes naturally” to the individual.


Humour definitely comes naturally to Lano and Woodley. One of my favourite performances took place on Hey Hey It’s Saturday. The routine involved squirting ‘juice’ from a hollowed ‘orange’. It was unfortunate that someone forgot to fill the orange before the show. But the improvising that took place trying to cope with the empty orange was so much fun that it looked almost as though that was how they had rehearsed it. Even now, I’m not sure whether I saw a mistake being coped with so well that it looked rehearsed, or a gag rehearsed so well that it looked like a genuine stuff-up.

Colin, however, will have no undue praise. “It was all just truthful panic,” he explains. There was no great wit or skill there as far as I could see. It was just honesty.”

Frank wants to try to explain to me that their ability to cope arises from their experience. But when he explains that they’ve “actually been working together for ten years”, Lano interjects:

“Help me! Help me!”

A courteous pause for laughter, and then Frank continues: “you’ve got that level of trust. A friend of mine once said, ‘when you guys do your act, it’s pretty good, but when you fuck up your act, it’s fantastic.”

Lano thinks that this is the basis for their success. People “are on the edge of their seats because we’re so on the edge of failing.”

According to Woodley, they’re “not really quite good” at what they do, and Lano agrees:

“We’re not quite good enough but we just manage to carry it off.”

I’d like to think this is false modesty, but once again, I can’t tell whether this is how they really rehearsed it and it’s all an act, or if they mean it. A motto in some comedy circles is Ars est celare artem: “The art is to conceal the art.” Lano and Woodley seem to do so with expertise.

Woodley confesses that about two thirds of their live show is rehearsed, and then most of what’s left may look like impro, but is mostly “stuff we’ve done before. We draw on ten years of material and it feels like impro to the audience.” There is also a smidgen of genuine, bona fide improvisation. But “when you’re swapping between new material, old material and improvised material all the time, the audience doesn’t know when you’re actually improvising, or when you’re doing material that you’ve rehearsed.”

Colin’s best example of quick thinking – real improvisation saving a routine gone horribly wrong – is of an Adelaide Festival Show from a couple of years back. “I lost my voice completely in the first song and I was shitting myself because it was the opening night. Frank stood behind me and sang while I moved my mouth and people thought it was brilliant. They thought it was ‘genius’.” Colin won’t agree, but several thousand Lano and Woodley fans can’t be wrong: it was genius.

Still, Frank has another example that balances the accident ‘genius’: a sketch so brilliant that when performed correctly looks as though it’s gone wrong. It involves Frank atop a wardrobe with Colin trying to get him down by shaking it (a routine revived for the television series).

“Col pushes me and I say, ‘I wasn’t actually expecting that, that’s not how we did it in the rehearsal’. We do that every time, and I make it look like I wasn’t expecting it.”

Naturally, it looks as though Frank is coming out of character and halting the routine to berate Colin. But Frank telling Colin that that wasn’t how they rehearsed it, is exactly how they rehearsed it.

“The audience is never really sure,” Frank says. “Someone said to a friend of mine, ‘they stuffed up on Hey Hey the other day; Colin nearly knocked Frank off the wardrobe. My friend replied, ‘no, they do that every time.’ ‘No,’ the person insisted, ‘not in that way; this was real…’.”

When Woodley sums up with “We’re fluctuating between genuine and rehearsed fuck-ups…”, Lano becomes a little paranoid.

“You didn’t do it on purpose, did you?” he asks of the empty orange incident.

“No, not at all…” replies Woodley. “I couldn’t believe it when I squeezed it and nothing came out.”

Tom Jones was also guesting on Hey Hey that night, and Frank confides that “a very surreal moment was when I was walking backstage and Tom Jones was coming the other way, and I said to him, ‘If you ever do an act with an orange, make sure you fill it up, Tom’.” And that certainly wasn’t how he’d rehearsed it!


Warren Coleman’s Observations on The Adventures of Lano & Woodley

I was the director’s observer on The Adventures of Lano & Woodley, which meant I got to watch the director work. You don’t have any responsibility, and nobody’s really after you for anything, but you get to learn how to do stuff. I’ve been angling for some time to try and get some kind of ‘directing observation’ deal with the ABC because they’re hard to come by. The first thing that came up happened to be Lano & Woodley and it happened to be when Bob Spiers was coming out. So it was kind of ideal for me, because I finally got to see the great man at work, so to speak.

Bob Spiers is an interesting man. Very matter-of-fact and unpretentious. He rarely talked to Lano and Woodley about why he thought a joke was or wasn’t working; he always knew where the gag was coming from and was a very hands-on guy. He was very improvisational. He did little things, like put a camera up shooting through the kitchen window, as he often did in Absolutely Fabulous. He built floors on the set. Normally in studios, they build sets directly on the floor, and it feels like a set rather than a real place. But because he did it that way, it meant that they really had a sense of being in a real place. It meant that you could see a full-length show of the actor, because the floor can be included. For some gags, it’s really important.

Colin and Frank were very much involved in the putting together of the show; they were the executive producers. They were involved in it in every respect, right down to the editing of it. They were consulted on all major decisions, and things pretty much happened the way they wanted them to.


Tom Gleeson


Tom27042004_1


To anyone who has followed Tom Gleeson’s comedic career, the Australian Fast Bowler comes as no surprise; not just because he’s always professed a love of Aussie (as well as British) sketch comedy, including vintage Paul Hogan (after whose multitude of comic characters the Australia Fast Bowler seems to take), but also because – along with longtime comedy collaborator Subby Valentine, Gleeson has long indulged in filming hilarious sketches. So his skitHOUSE work really shouldn’t come as any surprise. Indeed, nowadays it is the stand-up that takes fans by surprise. Thankfully, it is something Tom continues to return to, and his Sydney Opera House Studio run of Ginger Ninja is an all-too-rare opportunity for Sydney-siders to catch him in his element. It also offers me an excuse to expunge the vaults once again. Here are a bunch of Tom Gleeson interviews from way back.


From the 12 March 2001 issue of
Revolver:

Stealin’ All the Best Bits

Tom Gleeson purloins all the good gags for his new show Pirate Copy.


“It’s an illegal and inferior copy of other people’s Festival shows,” comedian Tom Gleeson offers as the concise explanation of what his 2001 Melbourne Comedy Festival Show, Pirate Copy, is about. “Everything’s been pinched from somewhere,” he insists. When pressed, Tom does have another description: Pirate Copy consists of “all the funniest things” he has ever thought of that he can “do in an hour”.

Many of the ‘funniest things’ Tom Gleeson has ever thought of consist of hilarious short films and piss-funny sound gags conjured up with guitar effects pedals. The pedals are particularly special because the routines appear to be so simple. And yet they are so clever, so much so that other comics have expressed jealousy that they didn’t make the discovery first. “That’s one of the best things about comedy,” Tom admits, “when you can just spot the really obvious thought at the heart of everything else that no-one else can get.”

These ‘funniest things’ of Gleeson’s actually date back to Tom and Subby’s Video Sandwich, an ingenious show incorporating video, devised with longtime collaborator Subby Valentine, which premiered in Sydney last September. After a few Sydney performances, Tom and Subby took Video Sandwich to Melbourne’s Fringe Festival, always with an eye to getting it into that city’s Inernational Comedy Festival (and onto television if the right producer would come to his or her senses). By the end of its Fringe run, at which audiences “laughed from one end of the show to the other,” Tom and Subby had nipped and tucked Video Sandwich into a “pretty nifty show”. However, even though Tom is heading down, Video Sandwich will not be returning to Melbourne just yet… and neither will Subby. Valentine is currently a father-to-be and the estimated time of arrival of Bubby Subby is smack in the middle of the Comedy Festival. Although initially trying to work out a way that Subby could perform the show and maintain his parental duties, the comics soon realised that such a scenario was neither “very sensible” or “very responsible”. Thus, Gleeson is going it alone with his Pirate Copy of the show. Pirate Copy then is clearly “an inferior and illegal version” of Video Sandwich. “The show’s title is really a big disclaimer,” Tom confesses.

So what happens if a producer comes to his senses while Tom is doing Pirate Copy? Would it be a case of ‘Fuck Subby!’? “Yeah, essentially,” Tom laughs. He reckons that would be the scenario if he and Valentine were in each other’s place. “If he became a really successful father, would I get involved in any ‘bringing up the child’ sort of way? No.”

Truth is, the pair have been working closely for some time, their professional relationship beginning with collaborating on each other’s stand-up material. Some of the punchlines Subby delivers are in fact Tom’s, and vice-versa. Yet there is no jealousy over who gets the laugh for whose gag. “Whoever started the idea gets the finished product,” Tom says. More importantly, the understanding is that whoever is the first to become successful, the other will be his “‘Bob Franklin’… of ‘Francis Greenslade’… or whatever.”

Despite preparations for the Melbourne Comedy Festival, Tom’s going full-speed into his other solo work. He makes his ‘television stand-up debut’ on Rove [Live] this week. (Other television appearances don’t count, says Tom, because they were either performances of songs or sketches, or were performances taped in live venues. His spot on Recovery doesn’t count because “that was early in the morning” and the audience was crap as ever.)

Meanwhile, Tom and Subby continue to forge ahead. Last week they taped an appearance for the Comedy Channel’s Headliners, to be broadcast some time in the future. “It’s to let the industry at large know that we’re doing a double act; we haven’t really scratched the surface yet – we’ve only been exposed in a minor fashion.” Although it was Video Sandwich without the videos – “a bit tricky” according to Tom, because the videos afford a break in which to remember what bits of stand-up come next – it included the hilarious pedals. The pair are also currently pre-recording a series of Triple J Breakfast spots – one would hope in order to groom them for whatever ‘comedy duo’ vacancy may arise when the void left by Merrick and Rosso’s departure is filled. And they continue to bask in the recent TropFest success of their video Rewind, which was shortlisted in the top sixty out of 580. A gorgeously self-referential, surreal film, Rewind originated in Video Sandwich. “And it’s in Pirate Copy,” Tom adds, “because, again, it’s among some of the funniest things that I have ever done.”

Tom hopes to start making videos again later this year. But he has a Melbourne International Comedy Festival season to complete first.


From the 4 September 2000 issue of Revolver:

Tom & Subby’s Video Sandwich

(More than just another TV Dinner)


“I said to Subby, ‘I reckon I’m gonna do something really, really dumb soon, I just know it’,” Tom Gleeson offers. His friend and comedic collaborator, Subby Velentine, concurs: with a bit of time on their hands, Tom decided he’d purchase a video camera. “Two hours later, he rang me and said, ‘I got it!’”

Why is this significant? Well, the last time Tom found himself in the ‘doing something foolish’ mindset, he went and recorded a humorous single. So if Tom Gleeson is finding himself hatching schemes, this time armed with a video camera, it is safe to assume that something good will come of it. In fact, something has: a live show – yes, ‘live’ – that incorporates the fruits of Tom and Subby’s labour: pre-recorded sketches. Or ‘clips’, rather, as the pair corrects me: “These days, ‘sketch’ doesn’t really mean anything to anyone,” Tom explains. “When you say ‘sketch show’, people say, ‘so it’s going to be like Full Frontal, is it?’ And you go, ‘No!’” Subby jumps in, covering himself karmically: “Not that there’s anything wrong with Full Frontal…”

Tom and Subby have a comedy-clip pedigree behind them. In the recent past, they both wrote and performed in James O’Loghlin on Saturday Night (Subby admits that Tom wrote; he merely “mucked around” with and “ruined” the finished scripts). Earlier on, Subby and Tom were one half of the live, sketch-based entity that went by the name of The Sketchy Sketch Show. It was later re-titled Larfapalooza and, with one eye on its television potential, was touted as ‘Sydney’s best sketch-based comedy show’. That it was also pretty much Sydney’s only sketch-based comedy show prevented any challenges to the veracity of that statement. Realising that they had everything required to go on television apart from “a camera, a director and a cameraman” (and, of course, a contract) the pair set about rectifying the situation and started shooting “stuff that we found funny”.

They began with O’Loghlin left-overs – sketches that, for whatever reason, had been rejected. Learning as they went along, they themselves ended up ultimately rejecting all but one of these early attempts; subsequent clips were better executed, the writing, more multi-layered. “We would shoot one thirty-second clip a week and probably spend half a day to one day filming,” Tom says, “working really slowly – literally relaxed – so that we could get it all right.”

Having acquired good footage, they then turned to someone who could “put it together nicely”. That someone was Michael Castleman, an editor who currently works for Channel Seven and Channel Ten and who is himself no stranger to the world of stand-up comedy. While this project has ‘television pilot’ written all over it, Subby admits that the idea to link the clips in a live show came pretty early on, when the pair realised that no matter how good the finished material was, immediate television sale was unlikely. Tom recalls that the best bits of their Larfapalooza work was when they’d use pre-recorded footage on stage. It enabled breaks in pace and an opportunity for the audience and performers to catch their breath. He explains that this format is a major selling point of Video Sandwich: “Two guys on stage, riffing; cut to a clip; come back… There’s no dead points to the show. There’s no costume change, there’s no putting on a moustache and…” – adopts a Homer Simpson–type ‘disguised voice’ – “…‘Hello! I’m someone else!’” Interestingly, Subby adds that “there’s very little character work going on” in the clips, as well. “We sort of vaguely take on different characters but we’re still ‘Tom & Subby’.”

In order to tie all the material together, the pair aim to maintain a ‘visual’ mode of performance, forever asking themselves, “what can we do live that’s interesting to look at?” As Subby notes, “If we want to talk, we can do stand-up. So it’s not just talking…” They are currently rehearsing vigorously in order to ensure that Video Sandwich runs smoothly. “In Larfapalooza, there were always big shit-fights about learning the lines,” Tom admits. But Tom and Subby agree: once they get on stage, “all bets are off!”

“That’s the whole point of having the live stuff,” Tom insists. “The clips are tight enough to enable us to just improvise in between and there’d be a really nice balance because there’d be spontaneity as well.”

By this stage, Video Sandwich not only has ‘television pilot’ written all over it, but the words are underlined in red as well. What if someone – one of Mr Packer’s lackeys, maybe – says ‘here’s a large sum of money; give me thirty-three episodes’?

“We pour the money into writers, essentially,” says Tom, sure that the weakest link of any television comedy is the amount of material that has to be produced in a limited time.

And if Aunty says ‘here’s a moderate sum of money; give me six episodes’?

“Then,” Tom says, “we’re ready to go; we’ve got some friends who can help with the writing.”


From the 5 June 2000 issue of Revolver :

Comic Changes

Tom Gleeson talks a day in the life of a comedian.

A really scary moment took place when Tom Gleeson opened for James O’Loghlin at the Valhalla Theatre a couple of weeks ago. The audience were lapping Tom up, loving every minute of it, until he did his ‘changing lives’ gag, in which he switches with Amanda Keller: “I’d get to find out what it’s like to be a high-paid television personality, and she’d get to find out what it’s like to be funny,” he joked. There was a painful, palpable beat of silence, as though Gleeson had crossed the line… until everyone, obviously concluding that, fuck it, it’s a joke, it’s funny, burst out laughing.

“It began as a pretty average ‘Changing Rooms’ sketch for James O’Loghlin on Saturday Night Gleeson explains. “The idea was changing rooms with the host and she fixes up your house while you fuck up hers. Then I tried to turn it into stand-up.” When Switching Lives began, the punchline was obvious. “I don’t hate Amanda Keller,” Tom assures me, “but I wish everyone else did a little bit because that would make the joke heaps funnier.”

Tom Gleeson’s first stab at stand-up took place at Sydney University. Beginning a pharmacy degree, Tom realised a couple of years into it that he wasn’t having fun and transferred to science. “Consequently,” he explains, “I had no friends at uni because they’d all graduated. I was open to new experiences”. At this stage, the still largely undiscovered Adam Spencer was hosting a stand-up comedy competition on campus every Thursday during lunchtime. Gleeson, who had been in a “weird experimental band”, had “a little bit of a reputation for being quite funny between songs”. He decided to have a go. It was back then, long-time Gleeson watchers might be interested to know, that Tom’s original stage persona, ‘Malcolm’, was born. However, when I bring this up, Tom insists that I “forget ‘Malcolm’; let ‘Malcolm’ go.”

Gleeson’s justification for the character was that it acted as an escape clause. “If the whole thing sucks, it’s the character that sucks. So then I’ll do another character, and if that sucks, do another, and keep going until I find my ‘Con the Fruiterer’. And then I’ll have hit paydirt!” A little further down the track, Tom came to his senses. “I thought, ‘who do I like? I like The Goodies. What are their names? ‘Graham’, ‘Tim’, ‘Bill’. I’m ‘Tom’. We’ll give that a go. We’ll exaggerate the best bits of me and run with that. It’s easier to be consistent about your own character.’"

Although Tom’s first attempt at stand-up didn’t get him into the final, it did allow him to develop a taste for laughs and applause. Gleeson subsequently ‘trained’ for the next Sydney Uni comedy competition at various open mic venues around Sydney. “I was a bit sneaky,” he admits. “There was a heat, and then there was a final. I realised that the first person to have two killer five-minute routines was going to win. So I worked out two separate five-minute routines.”

Using the second-best routine for the heat, Tom easily made the final cut, and in the week leading up to the final, performed his best routine every night. Of course he won. During the subsequent year he honed his talent with more open mic nights and, interestingly, some work at the Comedy Channel. “They got a bit excited and gave me stuff to do straight away,” he says.

Despite an obvious calling to stand-up, Tom has pursued other comedic opportunities. As well as putting together the quirky, feel-good band ‘The Fantastic Leslie’, for which he drums and chooses essential repertoire like ‘Moving Right Along’ (Kermit and Fozzie’s duet from The Muppet Movie), Tom has written and performed sketch comedy for the stage and screen. “I’ve always been one to jump at opportunities with both feet,” he explains, and when O’Loghlin asked him to submit some material, he was more than happy. And happier still when it was accepted. A defining moment was Gleeson’s parody ‘DemTel’ ad: “Hi, my name’s Tom and I’ve got absolutely nothing to sell. That’s right: zip, zero, zilch.” Using a thesaurus, he explains, he devised a “neat little ‘Eric Idle’ sketch” that he was certain would be selected for that week’s show. When it was rejected owing to time constraints, Tom demanded a cameraman and half an hour, and the resulting sketch made the cut. It led to regular appearances in parody ads.

Well then, where to next?

“TV comedy is what I love,” says Tom, who has already referenced The Goodies and Monty Python. “I know a lot comics who think that stand-up is it, and all these other things are just distractions. To me, stand-up is kind of necessary evil to get out there. If I had my way I’d be making television shows.” And the good news is, Gleeson’s bought a digital camera and is “having fun filming stuff” with fellow comic and collaborator Subby Valentine. Watch out Tom, you may be changing lives with Amanda Keller yet!


Tom_gleeson


Bill Bailey’s Back!

Yay! Bill Bailey’s back downunder. Prior to Black Books – a fantastically silly Britcom – and cameos in Spaced – another fantastic Britcom – Bailey actually made it to Australia as part of the 1998 Sydney Comedy Festival. The following piece was written for that. I apologise for the silliness of its narrative structure  At the time, I had a creative editor who encouraged experimentation. So every Sydney Comedy Festival 1998 article I wrote – apart from the review of the gala (therefore, it’d be more accurate to say ‘both of the Sydney Comedy Festival 1998 articles I wrote…) – was part of a continuing film noir saga loosely based on Chandler’s The Big Sleep. The first piece was called The Big Laugh, but I don’t recall if I was that clever with a title for the Bill Bailey piece. Truth be told, the only Chandler I’ve ever read is The Big Sleep, so my parody is clearly superficial . Also built into it is a psychodrama parodying some of my perceived journalistic peers at the time. There really was a guy from another free weekly advertising compedium-cum-entertainment rag hogging the talent, who blamed the talent-hogger before him, and who saw me smuggle Bailey into the pub across the road. There really was an allotted three quarters of an hour per interview. Them were the days – before you had to join the queue of interviewers, each filing into the room for an allotted seven minutes in which to hopefully trigger the star’s ‘key anecdotes’ without boring them rigid with the same old questions.

But what, you may be wondering, ever happened to the Sydney Comedy Festivals? Well, they've continued, more or less, in a slightly different incarnation, centred around the Parramatta Riverside Theatre. Funnily enough, they are now known as The Big Laugh Comedy Festivals (!) and have no spiritual or corporate relationship to those initial festivals of the late 90s. None of this has anything to do with Bill Bailey’s current visit, however. Nor does the interview that follows, but read and enjoy nonetheless.

“I shoulda known it’d be you hoggin’ the comic” I say as Bernie, my long-time rival from another publication, throws open the doors of the conference room of the inner city hotel in which visiting English comic Bill Bailey is subjecting himself to interviews. I’ve been waiting in the lobby for over half hour, meaning that the forty five minutes I was allotted for the interview will be up in about ten.

“Me?” Bernie says, making some pretence to an excuse that amounts to blaming the guy before him. We eye each other, each awaiting the other to make the first move, not sure if this round will remain a verbal bout or escalate to a physical one. I know which I’m in favour of as I put my briefcase down and start rolling up my sleeves. Bernie tries to do the same but he’s wearing a t-shirt. Schmuck!

“I take it you’re here to interview me,” a voice brings me back to earth.

“Oh shit, sorry. You must be Bill Bailey. How are you?” As Bernie takes the opportunity to skulk off, I proffer an open hand to a tall, solid man with long hair, dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt. He looks as though he has just stepped out of a heavy metal band, and from the accent - which pronounces the word ‘exactly’ as ‘za’-ly’ - my guess would be Spinal Tap. “Nice shirt,” I say, admiring the logo emblazoned on the chest. It is a send-up of the Warner Brothers crest but instead of ‘WB’ it bears the initials ‘BB’. For ‘Bill Bailey’, no doubt.

“This actually stands for a comic-strip in a music magazine, called Bastard Bunny,” Bill explains, “a cute, lovable rabbit: he’s an underground dj with a speed problem. When I met the guy who does the comic strip he seemed quite cool about me wearing the shirt because it’s free advertising for him.”

“You’re not selling them after gigs or anything are you?” I politely enquire, a prelude to, “may I have one?”

But Bailey claims that he’s not into the “big merchandise scene, man”.

“I’m not into bread,” he says. “In fact, I accidentally left them at Heathrow. Actually, I had fifty t-shirts but I sold them in Nottingham before I came.”

This, obviously, is going to be fun. But I’m going to have to think fast. We’re likely to be interrupted in no time at all.

“Do you mind if we adjourn to a more conducive venue, do this over a beer maybe?” I offer. I’d noticed a pub across the road while I was awaiting my turn with the comic.

As we cross the road I notice Bernie getting into his car. I give him a facetious little wave.

We grab a couple of pints and I ask Bill Bailey how he got into comedy. “It’s lost in the mists of time,” he says, taking a pensive sip. “I was  in a band, in the West Country , in Bath. And it was going nowhere. They were taking themselves very seriously and I just thought, ‘I can’t handle this; too serious’.”

Bailey, whose stage routine has included Richard Claydermanesque renditions of ‘Three Blind Mice’,  a Eurotrash jazz version of the Doctor Who theme and musings on the life of  a professional xylophone player, began his own career playing keyboards in a prog rock band Behind Closed Doors.

“Behind Closed Doors is where we should have been,” he says, “and that’s the way we remained to this day.” Bailey admits to having been in a few other pop bands, all of them consisting of “pretty low-grade pop”. From there, Bailey and a buddy took to comparing gigs for other local groups, eventually developing into an act known as The Rubber Bishops.

“We just started expanding the comparings themselves, beyond the usual ‘and next is… whoever’. We started shoving in the odd gags and managed to create a bit of a titter. The basic tone of the act was to get people away from the bar so it wasn’t that subtle. It was quite crude. We fashioned the act into a blunt instrument. We would beat the audience over the head with it until they came around to our way of thinking. Obviously, over time, it’s become refined”

Bailey claims the process of developing into a full-time comic was gradual: “You just did it because you loved doing it. And you’d think, ‘people are going to pay then? Wa-hey, they’re going to pay me for doing this. That’s great.’ Normally I’d be doing three or four different things: I would do a gig every two weeks, then I’d do another job, then I might have an acting job, then I’d do something else. Suddenly I realised that the whole week was filled doing comedy. And that was it: I’m a comedian now.” For Bailey, the realisation that his gags had “some sort of currency somewhere else, not just in front of a few mates,” gave him the encouragement to continue. “When you realise that it makes you laugh, and your mates laugh, and other people laugh as well, then you’re on your way.”

Prior to full time comedy, Bailey’s acting jobs consisted mostly of touring in musicals with small-scale companies. “I did a lot of comedy acting before I got into stand-up, and I’d like to do more of that,” Bill says. He has written a musical called Insect Nation, about insects taking over the world. “It’s got a green theme to it,” Bailey says. “The destruction of the planet is imminent so the insects take over and rule the earth. But then they’re just as corrupt as the humans.” Bailey will no doubt play the hero, “either a dancing ant or a human who falls in love with a female ant but whose love could never be fulfilled because of the difference between the ant and human cultures”. That, according to Bailey, basically sums up Insect Nation. “It’s a farce,” he says.

Time for more beer.

I come back to find Bill writing furiously. A gag has revealed itself to him and he is committing it to paper while it is fresh. “I write down little odd things as they occur to me. I try to keep it working all the time, develop and chuck new stuff in all the time otherwise it gets boring.” Although Bailey has been an international-calibre comic for quite a few years now, he claims that coming up with locally-inspired gags is “quite a new thing” for him.

“When I started out I’d write the act down at home, like a school essay, and then memorise it: ‘this is my act, right, there it is, thank you, good night.’ But as I got a bit  more confidence and more control over the performance I’d absorb a bit more and roll a bit more with what was happening.”

Influenced by Bailey’s earlier career, his comedy is full of musical jokes and observations. “I pick out lots of bits of music that we hear in daily life, stuff that you hear but are not aware of.” He gives the example of ‘hold’ music, which is almost always classical, in order to give the impression that the firm that has put you on hold is an high class establishment. “If you really want to be ‘out there’, Bill offers, “it should be John Cage’s two minutes of silence. People’d go, ‘there’s nobody here!’ and you’d come back on and go, ‘did you enjoy that? That’s John Cage. I’m sure you’re aware of that.’”

More importantly, Bailey needs to put the boot into the people he really hates, like Chris De Burgh. “I reserve a special sort of loathing for people like Chris De Burgh. Any sort of pompous musical style that takes itself too seriously.”

“Well then,” I offer, “how about Peter Gabriel?” He ought to be fair game, being based in Bath and having pretentious prog rock origins as a founder member of Genesis.

“Yeah,” Bill takes the baton. “He left Genesis and obviously thought, ‘that’s it, Genesis is nothing without me’. And suddenly the drummer’s singing now. Suddenly the drummer is a massive star. If Peter Gabriel hadn’t left Genesis, Phil Collins would still be the drummer. He’d know his place. None of this ‘my wife’s left me’. ‘Oh really, who cares, Phil? Nobody’s interested about your tawdry private life. Or your acting career for that matter. You’re a drummer, that’s it’. No offence to drummers.”

I ask Bill to take me through the aesthetics of English beer, which he begins to explain from basics: ‘lager’ is a light colour, imbibed cold. ‘Bitter’ is a darker beer, usually served from a pump. “But ale,” he says, “real ale, has got a cache amongst connoisseurs.” Ales, according to Bailey, are strong and usually served straight from the barrel. “They normally keep these barrels in the cellar so that they stay cool but  it does not go through a chiller or a pump. There are no additives. It’s usually a sort of opaque, aromatic, strong liquid.” With the twigs still in, we both joke.

In order to finish his explanation, Bill wants to know how we designate alcoholic strength in this country, “by percentage or by gravity?” Which cracks me up, because I’ve had a few by now, so I want to know how you measure strength of a beer by gravity. “Is it a measure of how fast you hit the ground?” I ask. Like, if you have a six pack and hit the ground, it can’t be as strong as if you have one and hit the ground.

But before I can find out, a voice says, “so here you are!” It’s Bill’s minder. She says, “you’re keeping Tony Squires waiting,” but I refrain from saying “stiff shit, I was kept waiting” ’cause I like Tony - or at least, I might want to interview him some day. As Bill disappears he calls over his shoulder, “ale is something that you have with a ploughman’s lunch, which consists of pickles, cheese and bigotry. With the twigs still in.”

But I’m not listening because I’m trying to work out how on earth they found us here. And then I realise: Bernie!

Bizarrely, this interview kind of continues, ten years later


Sarah Kendall


SarahKendall


What with Sarah Kendall’s up-coming (in December) season at the Sydney Opera House Studio, I think it’s time to dip into the comedy archive and publish some old interviews with the criminally talented gorgeous and hilarious Sarah Kendall. Time flies: It’s been three years since I’ve interviewed this comic, but I caught up with her in Edinburgh last year, and look forward to seeing her live again. Even the most stern punter who has difficulty conceding that women can actually be funny always sets up a subset of women who are hilarious, and in addition to Kitty Flanagan, the list always includes Sarah Kendall. This first piece appeared in the 26 February 2001 issue of Revolver.


War Veteran: Sarah Kendall dazzles them in the comic trenches

The fact that it’s been a while since we’ve seen her – possibly too long – no longer matters once she takes the stage. Her svelte and spunky form is unlaboured hip and unpretentious cool in flared jeans and a Rolling Stones logo’d t-shirt as she strides towards the microphone. Surveying, from the centre of the now expansive stage, Sydney University’s renovated Manning Bar, she reminds the audience of the “shoebox full of vomit” that it used to be when, as an undergraduate, she decided to try out for the lunchtime activity being run there, stand-up comedy.

Turned out she was a natural. A lot of time has passed since then, but she is so polished now that she looks, as always, natural. Her comedy, like her incredible, incandescent mane (which, she admits, has caused many an inhabitant of LA to mistake the back of her head for Nicole Kidman’s) dazzles ever more brilliantly than the last time she allowed it to shimmer before us. She’s got the goods. That much is clear from her ad lib’d opening gambit through the tight routines that are peppered with loose observations and associations, until the final killer line, a clever ‘call back’ to an earlier gag that appeared deceptively disarming as she cracked it. The comic’s name is Sarah Kendall, and she’s fucken funny.

“I’m based in London now,” the comic says when I catch up with her later. “If you want to do stand-up as a living, London is the place to live.” A much bigger population than Australia has, in a much smaller space than New South Wales means, according to Sarah, that “statistically, there are more rooms and more people going to see comedy.”

This means more gigs and more experience. It’s no wonder this woman is doing so well. She recently made her debut at the Montreal Comedy Festival – the traditional ‘foot in’ to the US, on account of the producers, directors and writers who swoop down upon the cream of each year’s crop – and she went down an absolute treat. The necessary courtship by the American entertainment industry naturally followed. Which left Sarah unfazed, only because the American comedy scene is ultimately no different to the Australian one. “When people like CBS say ‘we want to meet with you’, your first reaction is ‘fucking hell, it’s CBS!’” Kendall explains. “But then you realise that it is just a huge television station. It’s like Channel Ten with another fifty billion dollars on top of it. I think that once you put that into perspective you go, ‘okay, let’s talk business’.”

Sarah Kendall did talk business, but didn’t actually entere into any. “A lot of stuff that I was being offered wasn’t right for me,” she concedes, pointing out that a bigger industry must also have a bigger dose of mediocrity. She asks the rhetorical question: “Do I really want to play the crazy foreigner living upstairs who pops in occasionally to say nutty stuff?”

If someone came up with a suitable, interesting project, Kendall would approach it with an open mind. Unfortunately, nothing pitched at her seemed to fit within those parameters. “It sounds really trite,” the comic concludes, “but ‘all that glitters is not gold’. I think that’s true.” According to Kendall, evidence suggests that each of the best sitcoms has at its helm “ a comedian who had been doing stand-up for over ten years – Seinfeld, The Larry Sanders Show, Roseanne.”

Thus, she concludes, successful sitcoms are the work of consummate professionals who have “honed their craft for over a decade”, who “know exactly what they want” and who “retain ultimate creative control”. Thus, her time on telly will only come, she says, “when I’m really on top of my shit”.

So what’s Sarah gonna do for the next ten years? Funnily enough, the answer is ‘stand-up’. “A lot of people think that stand-up has to be a means to an end,” she observes, “but that’s incredibly dismissive of the craft.” Sarah Kendall will be content spending nine out of every twelve months of the year in England, returning to an Australian summer in time to prepare shows for the Melbourne Comedy Festival. In fact, she is currently working on her second Festival show now. Entitled War, the show was inspired by her father’s reaching that “certain age” at which men decide to do family trees. “It turned out that about six of my family members died in World War I and II”, Kendall explains, and so a kind of long-term interest in war was revived. She considers the topic to be “really difficult” but insists that she has reached that point where she wants to attempt something challenging. So although she fears “falling off the horse”, she knows that she’ll be climbing right back on it – and maybe even leading the charge of the light brigade thereafter.

What does this mean for you, the punter? If you don’t know if you can wait ten years to see Sarah Kendall in a sitcom, and if you can’t wait to see her at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, you can see her in a preview season at the Roxbury Hotel. Max Sharam’s Mad’moselle Max, Tom Gleeson’s Pirate Copy and Sarah Kendall’s War will play over three nights from Thursday March 15th to Saturday March 17th, and you can buy one ticket for all three shows. If you don’t, it could be another year before you get the chance to wallow in Sarah Kendall’s brilliance.


From 4 February 1998 Issue of Revolver:

Sarah Kendall: Vulgar, Fart-Lighting Sell-Out

“I’m vulgar?” Sarah Kendall demands.

It’s as though you can’t spit over your shoulder without hitting Sarah Kendall square in the head at the moment. Barely a month ago she was plying her stand-up trade in the Comedy Hotel’s annual showcase of fresh talent, The Night of Nights. She supported Judith Lucy days later. Now she appears, several nights a week, on stage in the sketch-based Larfapalooza and on the telly presenting the ‘humorous’ story for Today Tonight. Her rise, apparently from nowhere, seems almost unfair in its rapidity. Which may explain the criticisms that I have heard leveled at her in the last couple of days. One person dismissed her stand-up as ‘vulgar’. Another, her television work as a ‘sell-out’.

Sarah’s stand-up routine makes clever reference to the Barbie Doll’s aberrant genitalia. It includes vivid reminiscence of the olfactory ecstasy derived from whiffing the inside of your recorder at school. But the corker is Sarah’s enactment of ‘the secret to landing a man’, as contained within a teenage glossy mag. The article posits ‘unpredictability’ as the key. Sarah embodies the same by letting rip with a mighty burp. The audience loves it.

Sarah, who cheerily burps on demand for me, has never considered her act to be vulgar. “I don’t know whether to be offended!” she says. Her initial look of bewilderment gives way briefly to hurt before steeling itself into resolve. “Next time I’ll light my fart,” she announces. “That’ll get my point across.”

The allegation of ‘selling out’ appears to strike to deeper chord. Assuming the melodramatic persona of a ‘wounded diva’, La Kendall exclaims, “Oh god, my public’s turning on me. Now I know how Evita felt!”

Then, as her real self:

“It’s hard to get high and mighty about your career moves when you’re at this stage. It’s a matter of, you do stand-up, you take the opportunities when they come. You don’t really know where your next job’s coming from. So for someone to go ‘that’s a sell-out’, I think – they’ve sort of got their head up their arse.”

Fair comment. And it’s not even as if Sarah is doing the bland ‘panda that can’t get an erection after the weather’ story that news always gives you, either. The news has to end with that fluff because prime-time entertainment is to follow and viewers are better advertising targets if they are not still ill-at-ease from the evening’s harrowing headlines full of fatal tragedies, horrific sports results and the likelihood of continued rain.

The task of injecting a bit of humour into a tightly timed innocuous advertorial is not easy, but Sarah rises to the occasion. Consider the ‘best café’ segment that ends with her ordering an extra strong espresso, “hold the sugar, hold the milk, hold the water”. In the final shot, Sarah shovels coffee beans into her gob and actually eats them. Readily acknowledging that the ‘human interest’ story “traditionally is not about humans, or interesting,” Sarah holds far nobler sentiments about her television work: “basically, it’s just an opportunity for some fart-arsing about.”

Sarah’s rise hasn’t really been that rapid. She’s been fart-arsing about since day one. “In every class there is a kid who will do anything,” she has said. “Someone for whom nothing is too embarrassing or undignified.” Sarah was that kid, always prepared to entertain “just as long as there were at least three people watching.”

The fart-arsing came to the fore at the University of Sydney, a campus responsibility for the likes of Adam Spencer and those wags who featured in the Uni documentary. “I’ve had a go at just about every activity that can be done on campus except maybe go to the library,” Sarah says, having covered extra-curricular majors such as stand-up, faculty revue and Theatresports.

Sarah took to stand-up immediately, landing impressive gigs like Amnesty International’s ‘Take No Prisoners’ fundraiser last year. Some of her routine found its way on FM programming courtesy of Radiowise. Theatresports, she found more daunting. “I’m shit at Theatresports,” she admits. And then elaborates. “I don’t know if I’m shit, but Theatresports terrifies me. Scares the bejeesus out of me.” The problem lies in the very nature of the game, which seeks to let improvisation take the performance into uncharted territory. It calls for a lot of faith in your own ability, which is usually at odds with the stand-up’s natural disposition of insecurity and the fear of failure. The comic walks the tightrope in the hope of landing in the safety net of good punchlines. Theatresports forces you to jump and trust that, should there be no punchlines to catch you, something else will. It is a leap of faith.

“I’m always looking for the gags in Theatresports,” Sarah admits. “I’ll still have about ten ideas flying through my head thirty seconds into the scene, and by that stage, you should have committed to one of the other team member’s offers.”

Even though Sarah finds Theatresports more difficult, the audience is much more compassionate. “Doing stand-up is like…” She begins to mime driving a heavy vehicle. “No,” she coerces it, hands glued firmly to an imaginary steering wheel, knuckles glaring white. “With me,” she insists, “with me.” Then she takes on the mindset of the punter: “Oh, you think you’re funny? You’ve got a microphone? You deserve it more than I do? I cracked a joke at work today, and I’m pretty funny.”

With a fear of the unknown and a stand-up audience to placate, it comes as no surprise to note that Sarah doesn’t leave much room for improvisation in her routine. She won’t stray from the set text “unless there is a great offer from someone in the audience.”

With Larfapalooza, Sarah gets the best of both worlds: sketch comedy is performed as part of an ensemble, and so like Theatresports depends heavily on group dynamics. Yet it is scripted, and so provides the safety of a ‘routine’, from which risks may be taken only as desired to suit the individual audience and performance. “I really enjoy writing sketch,” Sarah says. “I love the whole idea of taking a notion and hammering it out; starting with some sort of idea, and taking it tangentially. I just love the set-up.”

Talk about hammering out a notion: the ‘Mabel and Tamsen’ sketch is a scream. Sarah and Rebecca De Unamuno feature as two “ridiculously bad actors who were really into it,” like the avantgarde performers who’d subject classes of school kids time and again to that bizarre sort of theatre of the abject that only visiting thespians can create. They warm up with grotesque body stretches, they recite vocal exercises like “red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather…”

“We used to have the Hunter Valley Theatre Company come and put shows on at my school, and the shows were so fucked up,” Sarah offers as an explanation. “They were so weird. You’d see teachers up the back thinking, ‘Fuck, why did we have to book these people?’” Sarah delightfully relates memories of one such entourage whose self-penned play “about heroin, AIDS and rape” featured an actress screaming “I was just a dirty piece of cunt!”

“It just flattened Year 9 one rainy day when P.E. was called off,” she recalls.

The other two members of Larfapalooza are ‘Malcolm’ (a stage name, perhaps inspired by one of the more popular human hosts on Here’s Humphrey during the 1970s; his real name is ‘Tom’, but that is all you – or I – are privy to) and Subby Valentine, both of whom are established stand-up comedians. The four were brought together by Simon Morgan, owner of the Comedy Hotel and a long-time patron of the Sydney comedy scene. (It was in fact Simon who pitched Sarah for the Today Tonight position.)

“As a team,” Sarah says, the members of Larfapalooza “all write together well and get along well. We’re all just one big, happy family.” I’m wondering if, like all microcosms of society forced into such tight working relationships, the necessary and inevitable couplings have, well, coupled. “Yep,” Sarah reports, matter-of-factly, slightly tilting her head so as not to have to meet my gaze. “Tom and I have been sleeping together for about two weeks and we included Bec, and then there was this whole sexual jealousy thing, and… uhm… she kind of ran into Subby’s arms, because she’d never had a threesome before. That fucked her up a bit. I think she and Subby are seeing each other now.”

I try hard not to flinch, willing neither to believe (because I don’t want to look foolish) or disbelieve (you don’t get scoops like that every day, and this is the comedy industry, after all) but Sarah cracks before I do, bursting out laughing.

When the phone suddenly rings, Sarah is summoned to it and I take that as the signal that the interview is over. But as I get to the door, Sarah looks up from the phone and says,

“I just told Tom that someone’s called me a sell-out, and he said, ‘that’s fantastic! That’s really exciting! Someone’s noticed!’”

Tom’s advice to Sarah is to “tell them you didn’t sell out for nothing, you sold out for CASH!” Sarah brightens.

“I take it all back,” she says. “When I said that person can stick their head up their arse, I take it all back.”


The following piece constitutes the first time I spoke to Sarah Kendall in a professional capacity, and the last time I let The Sydney CityHub hoodwink me into handing over copy with the promise of payment that never came, sometime around late ’97.

“In every class there is a kid who will do anything,” says Sarah Kendall, “for whom nothing is too embarrassing or undignified.” The young, precocious red-headed Sarah was such a kid, always prepared to perform “just as long as there were at least three people watching.” It was this schoolgirl experience that led to the realisation that she had the potential to be funny.

Sarah honed her talent at university, through faculty revue and Theatresports. Despite her friends telling her how funny she was, it took a “kick up the bum” from established comic Adam Spencer before Sarah was ready to give stand-up a go.

When asked to cite her “numerous” inspirations, Sarah necessarily names big guns like Robyn Williams and ‘her boy’ Billy Crystal. But it was the camaraderie amongst the local Sydney circuit that proved most important. “Peter Berner, Anthony Mir, Tommy Dean, Adam Couper,” she lists. “I love their material; I think they’re brilliant. They’re also nice people.” When you’re starting out, you’re really scared and in need of support, Sarah explains; the encouragement of peers-to-be is important.

The sort of routine that seems to work best is the personal reminiscence. “Kids’ stories get the best responses because the audience can identify with you. As soon as you begin, people seem to relax and get ready to laugh.” One of her popular bits involve a barbie doll. I ask her how it goes. “I’m not going to do it for you now; it will spoil it for people who want to come and see it.”

Sarah loves stand-up because “there’s something appealing” about the autonomy of being the “writer/performer/producer”. Despite having to wear it all yourself when you “fuck up”, the success is far more rewarding. Not that she’s turned her back on ensemble work. “I still love the teamwork of theatresports,” Sarah is quick to reassure, and she’s currently appearing in the Sketchy Sketch Show at the Comedy Hotel. But “stand up,” she says, “is something that I’ll always come back to.”


sarahkendallb


Fiona O’Loughlin:
‘What’d I Say About My Mother?’


fiona


Having heard a whisper that Fiona O’Loughlin will be up to something a little later this year, I post this as-yet unpublished interview in anticipation of hyperlinking back to it somewhere down the track. Though unpublished until now, an edit of this was broadcast on ABC NewsRadio late last year, in time for her Sydney Opera House Studio season. You can download an MP3 version of the interview here.

The beauty of Fiona’s comedy is that it is finely observed from her everyday experience, and communicated perfectly for everyone to understand and appreciate. At the moment my favourite Fiona O’Loughlin line is her truism, that ‘if your mother tells you that she doesn’t have a favourite child, then you aren’t her favourite child’. Great stuff.


It’s December and Fiona O’Loughlin is about to open with her show Me of the Never Never at the Sydney Opera House. “It’s exhausting to think I’m forty now,” she says, when I catch up with her for an interview. “Most people at my age would be winding up. I don’t know how much longer I have to keep it up.”

Fiona O’Loughlin is a strange case study of comedy. She’s only really been around for a few years, yet amongst the rookie comics who ‘graduated’ in 2000, Fiona O’Loughlin was the annoying mature-age student who topped the class. Despite (or perhaps, because of) her being a half-generation older than most of her peers, and a mother-of-five to boot, she seemed to have a fully-formed comedic persona when for all intents and purposes she should have been sounding like everyone she’d listened to so far. More importantly, she was very funny. According to Fiona, there’s a reason why. “I’ve had two starts at this,” she confesses. “I started fifteen years ago and I gave it away. This is ‘take two’, really.”

Growing up in a “really small” country town in South Australia, Fiona relocated to Alice Springs as a newlywed. Her “hobby”, she says, was “working in town as a local MC.” It was here that she inadvertently developed her skills. “Someone said to me, ‘you’re actually doing stand-up.’ I was like, ‘oh, really?’”

There were no comedy venues in Alice Springs, so someone suggested to Fiona that she apply for an arts grant in order to go to Melbourne to see some stand-up comedians. She did. “I got a six hundred dollar grant and I caught a McCaffertys bus to Melbourne. When I first saw a stand-up I thought, ‘that’s it! That’s what I want to do’”. Then “housework and having babies” ensued. “I really didn’t understand the industry. I didn’t understand how it worked. I was busy with kids so I’d just kind of nick down to Melbourne and play clubs if I could manage it. I was sometimes only working three times a year.” Ultimately, Fiona “let everything go” in order to get on with life.

However, in 2000 she decided to give stand-up one last shot. Rather than cobbling five minutes together and slowly trying to build it through endless open mic nights, Fiona decided to recruit her actress sister Emily for a full-length show. Combining forty minutes of stand-up with twenty minutes of sketch comedy, Fiona O’Loughlin made her debut at the Adelaide Fringe Festival with a show entitled Fiona And Her Sister (And Some Weird Guy). Although the safety net afforded by the presence of sister Emily allowed Fiona “a really easy way” to ease herself into comedy, her early success is still impressive. When she took the show to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival the following year, it earned her a Barry Award as ‘Best Newcomer’.

“I’ve whinged about it in the past,” Fiona reflects, “Alice Springs being so isolated from Melbourne, where all the action of comedy is. But I think I was luckier, in a way. Not being amongst it, I developed a style that was all my own. I think that that can be really tricky for young, urban comics. If they’re watching too much of one person, they inadvertently start to sound like that person.” Despite being isolated from comedy-rich towns, Fiona exercised her humour muscles with activities like Theatresports. “I call stuff like that ‘netball practice’ for comedy,” she says.

Although Fiona no longer shares a stage with her sister, her comedy is still a family affair: most of her children appear in her material. “They don’t mind because some of the stories are quite appealing,” she says, “quite cute”. However, her eldest son has “drawn a line in the sand” and said enough’s enough. “He’s seventeen and won’t be spoken of on stage. He’s told me that, in no uncertain terms.” And there’s no chance of Fiona cutting a deal with him that makes it worth her while not talking about him. “Go clean up your room or I’ll tell everyone at the Melbourne Comedy Festival” just doesn’t strike fear into the heart of teenagers; if it did, everyone’s mum would be a stand-up comic.

Apart from the O’Loughlins’ living room, there still aren’t many comedy venues in Alice Springs. Even if there were, you’d be lucky to catch Fiona performing in one. “I’m terrified of working locally,” she confesses. “With stand-up, you’re taking a hell of a risk every time you walk onto a stage. I only do a couple of gigs here a year and I’m in a foetal position ten minutes before I begin. What if I stuff it up? My kids’ teachers are in the audience; so is the lady from the shop…”

Such performance anxiety in front of the home crowd is a hurdle all successful comics leap. Fiona has another performance-related problem, however. She is forever running out of time. “I’m not telling jokes, I’m telling stories,” she explains. “It’s like being at a dinner party with the audience. I think, ‘oh, I really want to tell you this one.’ But I usually have an hour on stage, so I’ve got to delete as I go.” It’s difficult to know when the material’s been truncated: you’re usually laughing too hard to be aware that something may be missing. Fiona’s long-term solution is to commit her best stories, in their glorious entirety, to posterity, in the form of a book. “It’s just a memoir,” she says, “but what I’m loving about it is that I have all the time in the world. I can tell every story that I want to tell.” As the kids are all at school, Fiona spends her mornings “typing away” at her leisure.

As for her stage work, each show consists of bits of paper upon which she’s scribbled down ideas during the preceding year. “This sounds so shocking,” she admits, “or lazy! But I can’t work without the pressure of it being last minute. I get all those bits of paper, generally the night before I open, and string it all together.” A strange way to work, but, surprisingly, not a lot of restructuring has to take place after opening night. Mostly, Fiona just has to “tweak it a little bit”, because her stories have already been road-tested on friends and family. “They don’t know that I’m trying stuff out,” she says, “it’s just me telling stories over a beer.”

That Fiona goes out knowing everything works is a good thing, particularly in December in Sydney, when most shows are a dry run for the Adelaide Fringe Festival, where everything is gotten absolutely right in time for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. However, Fiona insists that we’ve nothing to fear – she’s doing it “the opposite way around” this time. “I wrote this show for the last Melbourne Comedy Festival, even though it’s got a different title. This is putting it to bed, really; it’s its last hurrah. Then I’ve got to write another one for the Adelaide Fringe next year.”


“Why you, I orta…” – an old interview with Lano & Woodley regarding their show Bruiser

Cleaning out an old hotmail folder, I discovered the text of an old interview conducted with Colin Lane and Frank Wood, those Clowned Princes of Physical Comedy more popularly known as Lano & Woodley in 2002, for their Sydney Opera House Studio season of Bruiser. I daresay that this was their last Sydney run of shows. They ought to perform here again, dammit.

The article appeared in Revolver in March 2002.


“I don’t want to undermine what we’re doing, because we’re trying to get people to come and see our shows by doing these interviews. But there’s no great skill involved.” This disingenuous self-deprecation comes from Colin Lane, as a response to my observation of a seminal aspect of his stage character. Colin has a tendency to laugh like a maniac while his bottom jaw shudders, like some evil robot from a Saturday morning cartoon. He claims it’s “a complete lack of self-respect” that leads him, in an apparent absence of the ability to write anything, to instead laugh loudly and do the jaw thing. That people continue to pay attention to him because (or maybe even despite) it means that he’s “gonna keep doing it”.

Colin’s comedy partner Frank Woodley has a similarly character-defining physical idiosyncrasy, which Colin sums up as Frank’s ability to “run on stage and wiggle his hands a bit to demonstrate how much of a goof-ball he is.” According to Frank, this hand-wiggling activity “doesn’t come easy”; he has to practice “six or seven hours a day” to perfect it. Colin reckons Frank mastered this talent with the completion of a “ten-year course in Being a Dickwit” at France’s “Le Coque-Up” college.

Ladies and gentlemen, just in case you hadn’t worked it out for yourselves, may I present to you that delightfully juvenile pair of clowns known as Lano and Woodley.

It’s been some three years since Lano and Woodley last performed in Sydney. They played the Seymour Centre then, and Woodley remembers David Suzuki delivering a lecture in one of the other theatres. “I snuck in to hear him talking about the end of planet earth as we know it,” he says, “and had to rush out to do our show. For the first ten minutes, I was trying to be Mr Funny Silly Clown Man, just thinking, ‘we’re all doomed!’”

That the pair are playing the Opera House this time around is kind of funny in its incongruity – particularly when you realise that their show is called ‘Bruiser’. Set in a gym, the action sees Lano and Woodley take turns at playing a muscle-bound oaf and the oaf’s spunky girlfriend – with whom Woodley falls in love – in addition to playing each other. ‘Bruiser’ had its premier at last year’s Melbourne Comedy Festival in an equally incongruous venue – a rather gorgeous sandstone church hall with stained glass windows. “It’s part of the Uniting Church” Colin explains. “There have been letters of warning as to the type of material they allow in their building.” Does Lano and Woodley in drag, beating each other up in a boxing ring, fall within the proscribed guidelines? Yes, says Frank: “They felt that it conveyed the teachings of our Lord Jesus adequately.”

Keeping with the theme of the show, I choose not to pull punches, and point out that ‘Bruiser’ features many older Lano and Woodley routines. “Well,” says Woodley, “we believe in recycling. That was the David Suzuki influence. Ever since that performance, we’ve been really dedicated to energy efficiency.” Lano, on the other hand, reckons it’s only the hardcore train spotters who quibble about the presence of old routines in their contemporary material. “A lot of the people come and enjoy it no matter what vintage,” he says. “It’s like a vintage car: it gets funnier as it gets older.”

‘Bruiser’ certainly gets funnier as it gets older: having done the show “about a hundred times” since last year’s Melbourne premiere, it’s become “a lot more refined”. “We’ve read the script now,” Colin Lane says. “Basically, we write the script, then put it on, then figure out what works and chuck out the things that don’t.” Some of the stuff that hasn’t been chucked out includes a very funny photomontage, and some shadow puppetry. However, according to Lano, the shadow puppetry remains only because it has improved. “Last year in Melbourne, it was really, really shit shadow puppetry, and now it’s just pretty shit shadow puppetry,” he says.

“By the time it gets to Sydney, it might even just be shit,” Woodley adds.

While the hardcore trainspotters remember fondly Lano and Woodley’s book ‘Housemeeting’, and their television show ‘The Adventures of Lano and Woodley’, more projects of this nature are unlikely. As far as the book is concerned, Lano says they’re “a bit pissed off that the Education Department didn’t include it on the HSC reading list; we’ve taken that as a literary snub.” And rather than more television, the pair currently have a film script in development. However, they have also made a bunch of short films that will feature in their Melbourne Comedy Festival offering this year – and maybe on their website. Ultimately, though, it is the live work that they enjoy the most. “It seems to be going quite well,” says Lano. “We’re happy and chuffed to still be able to be able to do this. After thirteen years of mucking around together, it’s not a bad way to be making a living and I thank the Lord to be able to do it.”


A couple of old interviews with the Scared Weird Little Guys

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,
“Bloody Jeff”!
The Beatles broke up and Elvis died.
“Bloody Jeff”!

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.


Kath & Kim

Addendum, 2010:
Worlds Funniest Island II takes place soon (Oct 16-17). Tickets are being offered at a special price until October 4. Kath & Kim are hosting the Foxy Gala. Go on, you know you want to: buy some tickets. Now. www.worldsfunniestisland.com

KathnKimWFI

While attempting to Google™ ‘Gina Riley’ for a suitable biography and ‘Kath & Kim’ for a suitable synopsis to link to from the introduction to my Julie Dawn Cole interview, I realised that virtually no examples of the former really exist online (although this bio is at least a good starting point for Riley, while Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope interview with Riley and Jane Turner provides quite a full picture), and few of the examples of the latter that do exist (again, apart from Denton’s work, of course) satisfy me as much as my own attempt of the same. So, despite its short-comings (no info whatsoever of Peter Rowsthorn’s contribution to the show; no mention of Marg Downey’s saucey cameo; certainly, no biographical details of the writer/stars) I include here my interview with Jane Turner and Gina Riley. It originally appeared in FilmInk to coincide with the 2002 DVD release of the first season of Kath & Kim .

A recent criticism from a regular visitor to this blog is that I have been ‘slipping’ – updates being posted a week apart. Thus, any excuse to raid the comedy archive is a good one, particularly when it gives repeat visitors something else to read.

In addition to more information on Riley and Turner as performers, and any information whatsoever on the likes of Rowsthorn and Downey, the other thing I’d want to add to this piece is the way in which the opening sequence of Kath & Kim seems to tip its hat to those first seasons of Absolutely Fabulous: the distinct typeface of the title and the white background are so stylised that it would seem deliberate. Was someone cleverly trying to coerce the same comedy audience who loved that particular mother/daughter comedy to give this one a go? Or is there another dimension of humour at work, perhaps a class-based one, whereby the newley ‘effluent’ Aussie middle class is, as ever, taking the mickey out of the upper-middle class English mickey-takers? If so, that’d be really noiyce and un-yews-ual – as far as sitcoms go, particularly as Kath & Kim is now being enjoyed in other territories around the world.


Jane Turner and Gina Riley on Kath & Kim


The first hint came during the highly stylised opening credits, when Jane Turner bent over to look back at us from between the legs of her ridiculously billowy harem pants, while Gina Riley belted out an aptly defiant rendition of the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse-penned comedy song ‘The Joker’. The exact moment followed soon after, in the very first scene of that very first episode. When Kath (Turner) turned to daughter Kim (Riley) to utter for the first time the words, “Look at moiye, Kim; look at moiye, look at moiye, look at mooooiiiiye!“ and a new catch phrase entered everyday speech, it was abundantly clear that, in addition to being a comedy lover’s wet dream, Kath & Kim would also prove to be that most elusive beast of Australian culture: the funny sitcom. Jane and Gina, creators, writers and stars of Kath & Kim, have much to be proud of.

“That’s good to hear,” Jane acknowledges appreciatively. In the process of getting the show up, she says, “a lot of crap went down”. Criticisms included the apparent lack of “emotional arc”, ensuring characters “don’t learn” and “don’t change”. Gina concurs: “nobody thought that the show was going to work.” After eighteen months writing the series, it took a further two years to convince the ABC to start shooting it. But Jane and Gina stuck to their guns, concentrating on “what we think is funny and what we think is right.” With their keen eye for detail they got it absolutely right: the misadventures of the would-be “empty nester” and her “hornbag” daughter is a cack.

However, if the characters fail to show sufficient development throughout the course of Kath & Kim’s eight episodes, it is because their characterisations come to the show fully formed. Gina agrees that, in many ways, Kath & Kim is an extension of Dumb Street, the piss-take of Aussie soaps that she and Jane used to do on Fast Forward. Furthermore, Jane has a history of ditzy comedic blonde characters under her belt – or rather, in her handbag – since, Jane admits, virtually every one of her characters has had as a prop “the same sort of white, quilted handbag with gold chain.” The handbag has been passed onto Kath, the latest in a long line of “daggy housewives” Jane has been playing since her Fast Forward days. And Glenn Robbins, who plays Kim’s “hunk of spunk” boyfriend Kel Knight, often portrayed a similarly daggy bloke opposite her. “We’ve had each other’s numbers for a while as those characters,” Jane says. Indeed, it was on a sketch-comedy show that appeared in 1995, entitled Big Girl’s Blouse, that Kath and Kim were born – in a hen’s night scene, as it happens. “Jane naturally fell into the Kath character,” Gina reports, “and I naturally fell into the Kim character, and that was it; we were off and running.”

Initially, the mockumentary voice-overs and the housing estate setting of Kath & Kim – harking back to Sylvania Waters – clearly marked middle Australia as the butt of the joke. Hence a mixed response from the critics – ‘elitist’ Sydney Morning Herald gave it the thumbs up but ‘populist’ Daily Telegraph had to withhold approval until the realisation sunk in that it’s own readership also had a sense of humour. According to Gina, “the response was the opposite in Melbourne.” However, while journalists largely misinterpreted where exactly she and Jane were coming from, the audience “cottoned on” pretty quickly that they “were taking the mickey out of ourselves as much as anyone else”. Jane adds that, having no pride, she and Gina were shameless. “We pulled out our warts and our carbuncles and our monobrows and our love handles; we dredged up our own lives.”

Although the DVD release of Kath & Kim fails to include commentary or a ‘making of’, it does provide an additional hour of material. Takes in which the actors crack each other up (Jane mostly blames Magda Szubanski, who plays Kim’s “second-best friend” Sharon: “it was very hard to maintain order with naughty girls like her around”), more mockumentary sequences and ‘wine time’ ruminations and even Sharon’s handy cam footage of Kim’s own “connubials”, initially deemed superfluous to the finished product, were far too funny to lose outright. The real question, now that Jane and Gina have raised the bar so high, is “where to next?” Not giving anything away, Jane says, “because the relationships are set, we can take them anywhere and do anything with them. We just want to keep it as real as possible.”

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Good God, It’s Gud!


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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!)

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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.