Some Kinda Wise Guy

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Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same; and furthermore, another cliché, about things ending where they began.

The first time I got my mug on the telly, I was a little tacker – well, a bigger little tacker – selected for my token woggishness, more or less.

Some months ago, Dan Ilic – the guy in the green shirt in the photo above, and one of the multitude of funny folk I’m Facebook friends with – posted a notice asking, more or less, for non-Anglo Australians to serve as extras in a sketch for a show he was a part of. I can’t remember how he worded it, but I replied enquiring if I was woggy enough for his purposes, and I was. Can you believe it? (Which one am I? I'm the wog in black... Okay. I’m the ‘fully sick fat wog, eh bro?’ And – omigod – note presence of Tahir Bilgic in the centre.)

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The sketch happened to be about how racial offense, like beauty, is mostly in the eye of the beholder. Sure, some people take offense no matter how it is intended, and some people can only acknowledge difference as grounds for fear and abuse, but the sketch was clever and was one I found myself agreeing with. It was also fun being in it.

Turned out the sketch was to be part of a show called Hungry Beast, devised by Andrew Denton’s company Zapruder’s Other Films, to help unearth and develop new, young talent. All good so far.

But who knew that prior to this particular sketch being aired in a show by new, young talent, a show teeming with older talent would be reprised, using humour that, depending on your age and enlightenment, is either still funny, no longer funny, was never funny, is possibly offensive, is a little bit offensive, is totally offensive or the fact that you would even take offense is a bit offensive? (Yes, I’m talking about the Jackson Jive sketch on Hey, Hey It’s Had Its Day. No, I’m not going to embed it here or link to it; not unless I had something significant to say about it. It’s everywhere else, being commented upon by clever people and stupid people alike.Some of them are reacting intellectually, others, emotionally. I still say that racism is often in the eye of the beholder.)

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Anyway, point is, Dan's sketch went to air and it worked a treat. It's not of the most solid intellectual content. It will still offend as many as it appeases, and be ignored by the same amount again who are indifferent. But that's because (whisper it) what constitutes racism is still subjective. Which is the point of the sketch. If it's said in fun, it's meant in fun. There's a difference between 'you can't say that!' and 'you really shouldn't say that!' and 'who cares if that's said!' - but even th difference between those depends on who is saying it and who it is being said to.

The shoot was a hoot. When I arrived  I was taken up to the costume department where two fellow Italians – on loan from the mail office – were changing out of jeans and t-shirts, into suits and collared shirts. The other member of our ‘wog possé’ – not Italian – was a smartly dressed professional. Who still needed to be ‘wogged up’. He and the others even got fake bling. And he got a hat!

Me? In black trousers, my ‘best’ pair of high tops, the ubiquitous ‘Stand & Deliver!’ t-shirt and a black coat, what did the costume department have for me to be more ‘plausible’ as a stereotypical wog? Apparently I dress myself that way more-or-less every day for all that was issued to me was a black jumper to wear over my t-shirt. (Hunched shoulders, arms bent at the elbows, palms upturned: “whaddayagonnado?”)

We were taken down to a studio, stood on our ‘mark’, and told what was going to happen. It took a number of takes. In between, we stayed in character by Italian-Americaning it up in Sopranos accents. The best moment was when another wog possé member appeared out of nowhere. His suit appeared to be shinier, newer and quite swish, just that much better than the other ones out of the costume department. What was really strange was that he was flanked by uniformed security guards. He had a walkie-talkie on his belt. I waved at him because he seemed intent to walk past without joining us. He didn’t actually notice us. Turned out he was in fact the Head of Security at the ABC and just happened to be passing through the studio. But he so would have fitted into our bit.

So did you see it? Never mind, there’s still time to see it on ABC iView. And failing that, I’ve embedded the YouTube clip of the sketch.



Onna televish



One afternoon in 1980, when I was in Year 3, my mother looked up from a school notice I’d just handed her and said, “Oh. Who else was given a note like this to take home?”

Unlike the weekly newsletter or an excursion consent form, which would have been distributed to every student in the class, this notice had come in an envelope and was given to only certain students. It explained that the school had been approached to provide kids for a spot of filming, to take place at a park after the day’s lessons had been completed, and inquired whether my parents would give permission for me to be involved. (It was long before the days of Bill Henson.) The body seeking to have the footage shot was SBS, the ‘Special Broadcasting Service’ that was about to launch a new television station that would cater to ‘multicultural Australia’ with multilingual programming (that is, shows that wogs would want to watch). Well – would cater to multicultural Sydney and Melbourne, initially.

Much as the ABC was ‘Channel 2’ for most people back then, we knew SBS as ‘Channel 0’. Although the nought was a numeral, it was always pronounced ‘oh’ rather than ‘zero’. On air, voice-overs would also refer to the station as ‘channel oh-twenty-eight’ (Channel 0/28). I have no idea how that worked – which parts of Australia could turn a channel dial (because it was the age of dials, and not buttons and remotes) to ‘28’ when they only seemed to go from zero (yeah, all right, ‘oh’) to only as far as ten. Although, anything was possible in the old days of analogue; old television sets had a setting on their channel dials for a station between 5 and 6. It was 5A. Why? What got broadcast on 5A? Who by? And to whom? (The answer, I discovered  while writing this, is Riverland Television Limited – a commercial station broadcasting in regional South Australia.)

Anyway, point is, SBS was about to launch Channel 0/28, and so Mama Romeo surmised there’d be a fair whack of other non-Anglo Australian parents reading a copy of the same letter that evening. And she was right. While token whiteys were also approached – they outnumbered us at the school – the closest of my mates who happened also to be second generation Australians were certainly invited to partake. Tony, whose family came from the same southern Italian village as mine, and Clement, who was – and still is – Chinese Malaysian.

So one sunny afternoon after school we were collected by a chartered bus and delivered to a park. I’ve no recollection which, nor of the teachers and possibly even parents who accompanied us, but I do remember Japanese kids playing cricket nearby, and being approached, with my best friend Clement, by one of the crew as we stepped off the bus. A tubby little Italian and a Chinese kid fitted the bill perfectly. We soon had our ankles bound in order to partake in a three-legged race. We were clearly ‘the compliant ones’ rather than The Defiant Ones.

We only feature for a few seconds, but I’m sticking with ‘feature’ over ‘appear’. I don’t know why they went for it – well I do, actually. We’re coming last in race, but I know I’m giving it my all.


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Despite the fuzziness of the screencaptured image (the videotape hasn’t dated well, and there’s not much call to digitally remaster a 30-year-old station ID) you can see me, the fat kid on the right, powering on. Look at the pair on the left having trouble holding onto each other, their legs going in opposite directions… despite the binding at their ankles, they’re clearly competing against each other.

I was lost in the moment. I must have been – I was too young to worry about making a dick of myself in public, and didn’t know enough to be conscious of the cameras. Neither did anyone else, I’m sure; we were just kids. But in the second take (there were at least two) they moved me ‘centrestage’, as it were. Although hidden by an audience cut-away, you know there’s a second take because there’s a continuity flaw: Clement and I change sides.

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That I’m getting right into it is evident even in this poor-quality image. Look at the expression on my face! And maybe there’s a subtext being conveyed: those foreigners – they may not be at the forefront of society, but gosh, they work hard! Although that’s not any more deliberate than the parallel I’ve already drawn, between the three-legged race consisting of foreigners and outlaw fugitives. More amusing are some of the broader signifiers that, 30 years on, come across as funny.

Why is it that the baby most keen to read a book happens to be Asian?

The Australian flag makes a dark-skinned child flinch – shouldn’t that be the effect of an American flag?

Does the fact that the tailor shop is called ‘Klein’s Clothes Clinic’ suggest the schmutter trade runs in the family, but there was a disappointed Jewish mother who really wanted a doctor for a son?

Were cops that polite to new Australians ever in the history of white occupation? (Possibly, back when cops, too, were new Australians; but I suspect they called themselves ‘English’ then, and were nice only to people they called ‘sir’.)

Is it wrong to note that it’s the less white-looking kid in the canoe who has the ‘Bankcard’ symbol on his shirt, and may well come from a family with a shop or restaurant so successful that they actually used Bankcard facilities often enough to warrant related merchandise such as clothing?

Do all Italian men in Australian television have to wear moustaches so that we know they’re Italian?

I’d like to point out how wrong such broad observations are, how ignorant you’d have to be to make them – but 30 years on, I’m an Italian with a moustache. So the only generalisation I can speak about authoritatively is the one that, for me, happens to be true. Of course, I don’t have a moustache in the ad; I was only nine when it was made and puberty was still a matter of – oh, I don’t know – months away. But I know the station drew an audience who saw the ad repeatedly because, by the mid-80s, well past puberty, I was still being almost recognised in the street: “Aw mate – you know who you look like? That guy on Channel Oh!”

I still get on television from time to time, either as a guy laughing (and hiding an edit) in the audience of a comedy performance, or as an extra in a comedy show sketch. Fittingly, my next appearance, in the background of a sketch, will again be as a token Italian, pretty much because, for all intents and purposes, I still look like someone on Channel 0.



“Don’t need a weatherman
to know which way the wind blows…”

There’s not much point in reporting old news, even less in recounting past weather reports, but this clip of Tim Bailey is so good, and I’m surprised that there are people who still haven’t seen it.

Here’s what happened: Ten evening news bulletin. Weather report. Anchor throws to weatherman:

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“And now, over to Tim Bailey, who has some very musical friends joining him this evening…”

Tim starts doing his thing:

“Aw, isn’t it lovely to come back to work after a holiday, and work with some of your favourite guests on this weather segment.…”


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I reckon he’s got the slightest look of nerves or fear at this point – he can see something’s about to happen – but he carries on regardless, trooper that he is.

“They’re about to take off not just through New South…”


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But it’s a bit hard to carry on when someone’s invaded your stage. Still, Timba tries to persevere:

“… through New South Wales…”


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He really is trying to carry on the segment despite the two boisterous bogans.

“And… Excuse me…”


The ‘and’ is an attempt to carry on the broadcast; the ‘excuse me’ is his admission that they’ve gotten the better of him. At least he doesn’t curse in front of the cute little girls in the choir who manage to maintain decorum. Some of them smile, but all resist the desire to squeal like the bogans, or join in, running amok.

“Excuse me… Can someone please…”


He’s repeated the polite ‘excuse me’ that once again is ignored. As is his request for “someone” to “please”. Instead he grabs hold of the toothy one in the crimson stripes. She doesn’t stop smiling or squealing, but tries to get free of his grasp by slapping Timba away. She only manages to brush his contact mic.

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My favourite sequence takes place as toothy bogan tries to run away. Timba’s holding tight and she’s kind of ‘cornered’ by TV execs or whoever the off-camera folk are. I say ‘cornered’ – ToBo (toothy bogan) runs straight for them, Timba still attached. When she gets there, ToBo is face-to-face with a power-dressed… I dunno… station executive? Segment producer? Timba groupie? Whatever. ToBo facepalms her (could be a pretty ‘him’; hard to tell…) out of shot with Timba still attached.

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At which point we cut back to the studio, so the anchor can say,

“Some problems obviously with Tim Bailey there with the weather. We’ll try and move forward…”

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I can only assume they couldn’t cut back to her sooner because she was laughing too much. Well, I wanna assume that. By the look of her, she didn’t find it funny at all, either because ‘sense of humour’ was never in the contract (someone at Ten has to be serious about something!) or because she was the one who hired the girls.

You really should see the whole clip – but before you watch it consider this: the Nine Network must be short of a bob – they’ve yet to get Timba’s bogons onto A Current Affair followed by a gig.

“What as?” you’re probably wondering.

The answer is, whatever’s going: ‘entertainment reporters’ (anyone can read a rumour on Twitter and repeat it on air); weather girls (anyone can entertain an audience for thirty  seconds before reading a bunch of places and temperatures off an autocue – as demonstrated by the clip in contention); assistants to Clare Werbeloff, helping her ‘do’ whatever it is she actually ‘does’; the list is virtually endless.

And the beauty of being at Nine means one day, not next week, not the week after, but within the next couple of financial years, say, as long as they don’t get ‘boned’, one of them could actually end up running the joint.

But I digress. Here’s the clip  


It all Boyles down to Dylan Moran

First, the performance.

Now here's the thing: I don't want to detract from the success of Susan Boyle, the 47-year-old who came second on Britain's Got Talent, who reminded people – that for some reason required reminding – you can actually be a successful singer if you sound like every woman-lover's wet dream when you vocalise, while still looking like – and I know it's harsh, but it's also true – the kind of witch that up until a generation ago owned and ran kindergartens and infants schools where they would still yell and even hit you when you deserved it because it was good for you.

On the other hand, there's Amanda Holden, the judge who actually physically resembles the wet dream. If she could sing even a fraction as well as Susan Boyle, she'd be out there gigging, rather than judging a talent contest. And as for the talent contest itself – the way it presents certain contestant in a certain light…  well, rather than my ranting for the next several paragraphs, I'd suggest you consult Ben Elton's Chart Throb. (I know, I'm citing a Ben Elton novel as a primary source, as if the compendium of one-liners that couldn't be wedged into a stand-up routine – because he rarely does stand-up nowadays – is of sociological importance; who would've seen that coming? But) Chart Throb sums up the methodology of these so-called 'talent', 'reality TV' shows that, when successful, may not be scripted but certainly are stage-managed within an inch of their lives.

So, anyway, my point should be, what a shallow bunch of morons modern society has become, doing a number over this woman because she's not marketably beautiful enough to have a career despite her phenomenal voice.  Acting genuinely surprised because they've judged, incorrectly, the book by its cover, and so have enabled this psychodrama to play out for the rest of the series. Should we be so surprised that someone can have a talent that consists of something other than being asthetically pleasing by accident and through no fault of their own? Yes, of course. It's the Western World. It's the 21st century. Damn ugly people. Should have been bred out by now. So unless you've got something else to offer, perhaps run an old-style kindergarten by fear for as long as you can, but otherwise get to the back of society's queue.

So rather, my point is, having seen clips and photos of Susan Boyle all year, I finally realised she reminds me of Dylan Moran, who could well play her in the biopic of her life. Well, what he really should have done was portray her in a running sketch on television for the last six months. Unfortunately, Moran is a brilliant stand-up comic who rose to fame winning a stand-up comedy competition. Not having had an education in boarding school followed by a stint in OxBridge university revue, he doesn't do a lot of satirical sketch work, particularly in drag as a 'pepperpot'.

Had I the time, the software and the motivation, I would have recut Boyle’s clip to feature Moran, before the  Britain's Got Talent audience and judges, with the original soundtrack, performing 'I Dreamed A Dream'. And maybe even Boyle, doing Moran's stand-up. Instead the best I can do is present Dylan Moran and Susan Boyle, respectively, side-by-side. "You'll laugh, you'll cry, it'll change your life!" – to quote a line from the first episode of Black Books.

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Dope on the Rope

I have had the pleasure of speaking to Andrew Denton a number of times and he remains one of my favourite interviewers for several reasons – including his humour, intelligence and ability to be both interesting and interested. However, when I first spoke to him regarding Enough Rope, I felt the need to take issue with some of what I perceived to be shortcomings of his work – like letting Rene Rivkin and Rachel Griffiths off the hook a little too easily when he interviewed them (I blogged about this at the time – not knowing I would subsequently interview Denton about the show, for FilmInk, in honour of the first Enough Rope DVD release). Surely calling a show Enough Rope was a reference to the phrase ‘give ’em enough rope to hang themselves’. Why did conversation always turn to child rearing? What happened to the angry young Denton? Did he have to mellow so annoyingly?

I’d first had the pleasure of interviewing Denton when he had nothing at all to promote. His time on breakfast radio was drawing to close – although I didn’t know it – when I happened to accost him in public. He was happy to be interviewed but the finished product unfortunately never saw the light of day. I was writing for the street press then and since there was no potential for advertising revenue, they had no particular desire to publish a profile of one of my heroes. As I wasn’t yet blogging and I hadn’t made the acquaintance of the right editor at some party, there didn’t seem to be another outlet for it.

One of the things that came up during that chat was Denton’s belief that documentary as a form of entertainment was going to take off. He likened it to non-fiction literature, that had overtaken fiction in the best-sellers lists. So when I got to speak to him about his new television show, I put it to him that Enough Rope was the televisual equivalent of ‘non-fiction’ entertainment. Although he didn’t quite agree, Denton has since made good on his instincts regarding documentary with God On My Side. (And since it was broadcast within the [More Than] Enough Rope slot, Enough Rope may not be television doco, but television doco can certainly be Enough Rope.)

In the course of the Enough Rope interview, Denton also pointed out that his show wasn’t about taking interview subjects to task – that his use of the title was about giving people the opportunity to do rope tricks, rather than hang themselves. He explained his take on all of the things I took issue with and allowed me to see another side (not necessarily ‘the other side’, note), pointing out that an interview is like taking a picture, and if I don’t like the interview, really, I’m only taking issue with his choice of camera angle. I liked the metaphor, but more importantly, I liked the point he was making. It gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate the work and what I thought I didn’t like about it. It’s not every day that someone invites you to voice a criticism of his work, to his face, and have him address your criticism, all in a rational manner.

One of the things that I wanted to know about Enough Rope – particularly when it came to the DVD release – was with regards to where edits had clearly been made in the interviews. What was it that didn’t make the final cut? And why couldn’t ‘extended versions’ of the original broadcasts – with some of the edited material re-instated – have been included on the DVD? After all, that’s pretty much what DVDs are for. “You know what?” Denton said, “there just isn’t the time, unfortunately.”

Thankfully, time has made itself available. I’m really enjoying More Than Enough Rope, the series of Enough Rope currently being broadcast that re-visits some of the best interviews, re-instating some of the bits that were originally cut. More than that, the interviews often pause in order to allow Denton to offer some commentary about the proceedings. Again, this is what DVD is supposed to provide. How cool is it that we’re getting it for free on the telly? No doubt one day all entertainment will have the ‘extended with commentary’ option – but we’ll have to pay a little bit extra each month to be able to download and enjoy it.

At this point, the logical thing for me to do is revisit that FilmInk interview, and present it in it’s original question-and-answer form. It serves as a follow up to my earlier blog about the show, since it addresses – as Denton did – my original criticisms. I promised at the time to follow up and present the other side of the story. It’s only taken me about three years!

I’d also like to add a bit of trivia I discovered a little while ago. The title Enough Rope originally graced a radio show hosted by Meshel Laurie and Josh Kinal on Melbourne’s Triple R. That program no longer existed by the time Andrew Denton wanted to use the title for his television show. There is no provision to copyright a title, and so anyone can use a pre-existing title if they want to, even if the other thing with that title still exists. However, Denton still made contact, to ensure that it was okay to name his show Enough Rope, despite having no obligation to do so. I love it when a powerful person makes an effort to behave honourably, even if he doesn’t have to.

After that rather long introduction, here is the long interview.

Dom Romeo: Andrew, is it okay if I start by hitting you with a quote from an interview we did some years ago?

ANDREW DENTON: Go ahead.

Dom Romeo: You said,

“Documentary is the great unexplored form of entertainment; ten years ago, non-fiction was the ugly cousin of publishing. Now non-fiction is the thing; that’s where the best-sellers are. I firmly believe the same of documentary. I believe that documentary could become the non-fiction of feature film, done right.”

Is Enough Rope the televisual equivalent?

ANDREW DENTON: No, not really. I don’t see it as documentary. It’s conversation. It’s a different thing. And it’s not something that would readily translate to cinema, I don’t think, although probably The Fog of War belies that.

Dom Romeo: Where did the concept of Enough Rope come from? It’s kind of like a chat show, but a chat show done the way ‘chat’ hasn’t been done for quite some time.

ANDREW DENTON: I quibble with the term ‘chat’; ‘chat’ is something that you do over the back fence when you’ve got five minutes. I sit down and talk to people for an hour or longer. I don’t mean to sound wanky, but it’s a conversation. I think ‘chat’ speaks of a whole different genre, which I’ve also done, which is usually a few anecdotes, a few laughs, a joke here and a product endorsement. I don’t think I’m doing that.

Where the idea came from was sitting out of television for a long time, and particularly watching the rise of reality television, feeling very strongly that there was too much chat and not enough conversation, and usually the chat happened to be about the same few subjects – a lot of them revolving around reality television. I felt, watching shows like Australian Story and listening to things on the radio like The Search for Meaning, that in fact, at a particularly stressful time in world history that we’re undeniably living through, that many people wanted to talk about matters much closer to their hearts, and that were bothering them, than simply what the latest evictee from Big Brother was like.

Dom Romeo: Is that just symptomatic of the state of the world at the moment? Entertainment seems to be the ‘opiate of the masses’.

ANDREW DENTON: No, I think sport is the opiate of the masses. And I’m a willing partaker of it on occasion. I think entertainment is a distraction, not an opiate.

Dom Romeo: You referred to the things that we hold dear to us: how does that manifest itself on Enough Rope?

ANDREW DENTON: The simplest way to put that is you will see a lot of times when I talk to people, we talk about their own parents or their own children, the fundamental things of society. It’s not to do with what you’ve earned or who you’ve met; it’s not what you’ve earned, it’s what you’ve learned. I think that’s one of the strong senses I’ve had, and discerned in the people I’ve had around me – we feel like our society is fracturing; we feel like it’s fracturing under the weight of trivia and under the weight of so many distractions – going back to the point about entertainment; and we feel like it’s under threat from a very dark force, which is fundamentalism. And the very spiritual strength of fundamentalism underlines in some ways our spiritual weakness and our weakness as a society, as a group of people who care for each other. So when I talk about parenting or children, that’s talking about the fundamentals of society: how we deal with other human beings.

Dom Romeo: There were times when I felt that, because you have a young child, you always seem to bring up the ‘young child’ topic in the interview if your interview subject also has a young child. Although it seemed more pertinent for your ‘Australian of Year’ interview with Professor Fiona Stanley in which you discussed the growing incidence of drug addicted parents and depressed children. How important is it that we address procreation and children as issues central to where we’re going as a society?

ANDREW DENTON: Well, it’s about as important as the future. They’re the next generation. Whatever we do now will shape the next twenty years. And whatever our kids do will shape the twenty years after that. As we all know, the way we’re parented has a profound influence on how we deal with the world. So it couldn’t be more important.

Dom Romeo: Did you have any idea when you were younger, before you started a family, how important the family was? Were you always aware of that?

ANDREW DENTON: Look, I come from a very strong family, as does Jennifer [Byrne, Denton’s partner], and one of the reasons we get on so well is that we’re great believers in ‘family’. Family takes care of family. But that’s on a personal level. On a societal level, no, I think you begin to understand it more when you become a parent and when you talk to other parents and start seeing the school community. You begin to see how many problems are shared and how many problems are different.

All this is important to the show, but the mission statement for the show is ‘where entertainment and ideas meet’. It’s okay to be entertaining, it’s okay to have ideas; they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Dom Romeo: What about the title of the show, ‘Enough Rope’? I’m familiar with the phrase ‘enough rope to hang himself with’. You don’t often seem to let ’em hang. You don’t let ’em dangle…

ANDREW DENTON: No, and for a very good reason. I think a good title is good for a show, and I based the title of the show on this very simple guide: if I just arrived from overseas and knew nothing about what was on TV and only had the guide to go by, I’d pick the show with a neat title. So, for instance, I would have watched The Money or the Gun, even if I didn’t know anything about it. So I think Enough Rope is a really good title. But having said that, yes, the saying is ‘enough rope and they’ll hang themselves’, but my view is always, ‘enough rope, and if you’re good, you’ll do rope tricks’.

The whole purpose of the show is not set up to trap people or to trick them. The whole purpose of the show is to let people shine and that’s one of the things we’ve found. As we talk to people and give them a chance to talk about things away from the normal publicity rounds, most of the people I speak to, they’re where they’re at because they’re intelligent, they work really hard, they’ve got a world view.

Dom Romeo: Well that puts the Rene Rivkin interview into perspective. The first time I watched it I thought you went a little easy on him. You didn’t take him to task on his alleged wrong-doing. Watching it again, I realise that none of that has anything to do with you letting him tell his story.

ANDREW DENTON: No, and with very good reason. The chronology of this – and we should get it very clear – first of all, we asked him to come on the show well before the legal stuff happened… in public, anyway. I asked him to come on the show because I’d seen him on Clive Robertson a decade earlier and never forgotten him; he was so interesting. And the night in fact he came on the show was before he’d been found guilty of anything. We knew he was before the court, but there was no point in discussing something that a) was before the court; and b) something that hadn’t been decided. And indeed, what we saw and found there was the marvelously flamboyant and eccentric individual that Rene Rivkin is. The second interview, which was in fact after he was found guilty, was a different interview all together. One that Rene left extremely unhappy from, because he was asked a great deal about his business dealings, and about the fact that he’s been found guilty. He was extremely unhappy.

So it’s very easy for people – and I think people have – to take that first interview and say, ‘you were just giving a criminal a free ride’. He wasn’t a criminal at the time, and he was and still is a fascinating man that I hate to think we’ll kick to death regardless of what he’s done wrong.

Dom Romeo: What are the criteria for the selection of guests for the show?

ANDREW DENTON: People who we feel have led enough of a life to be interesting – or who have enough of a view of life to be interesting. And they can be different categories. There have been actors and famous people that we’ve said no to, not because they’re not famous enough, but because they perhaps haven’t been around for long enough to have really formed a view on life. And then there are other people we choose who aren’t famous at all, but whose attitude towards life, or what they’ve done with their life, is really instructive and extraordinary. It’s pretty simple but they’re interesting enough to sustain a longer conversation, as opposed to a ‘chat’.

Dom Romeo: Tell me about the ‘non-celebrity’ guests. It’s an interesting and vital angle that no other conversation show or chat show has dealt with.

ANDREW DENTON: It was actually the starting point for the show. Some years ago I remember watching Parkinson, and wondering what the same show would be like – with the band and all of that – but if you just spoke to people that no one had ever heard of. When I first was putting together the outline of Enough Rope in fact I envisaged a show with no celebrities at all. Now that was a fairly ‘Stalinist’ view, which was wrong for two reasons: one, because it assumed that people who are celebrities hadn’t led interesting lives, which is manifestly untrue, as Mel Brooks showed early this year; and two, because part of the secret to the show’s success is that any given week, when you tune in, you don’t know what you’re going to get. If we had completely excluded entertainers and performers, it would have limited our palette greatly.

So it comes from all the TV shows I’ve done; whenever I’ve had a break in taping I’ve gone and spoken to members of the audience, and I have been, almost without exception, astonished by what people have to say. You just never know who is going to amaze you with something they have to say, be it an opinion or something from their lives. I’ve often walked up the street and thought, ‘I could walk into any house here and with the right questions, I could unlock one thing in this person’s life, be it a relative or something they’ve done, which is astonishing’.

So it comes from that and the thought that we have spent so much time in the last ten years elevating celebrity to a religion that again, getting back to that idea of ‘society’ and ‘values’, I think we’ve actually forgotten that the far more interesting, or the equally interesting people are next to us on the bus or the train. I’m not a great believer in religions of any sort and I think the religion of celebrity is a particularly stupid one, and I just wanted to remind all of us, I suppose – myself included – that the so-called ‘ordinary’ is more extraordinary than those things that are promoted as extraordinary.

Dom Romeo: So what you’re doing, when you do interview celebrities, is trying to provide enough comfort and freedom for them to reveal something about themselves.

ANDREW DENTON: That’s something that we’re all aiming for. We research a lot, and really, there are two schools of thought on this – some people think that the approach is too soft, but my view is, there’s a lot of adversarial television around, that’s not really what I’m interested in doing. I think if you sit there with a searing list of questions, trying to tear someone apart, often those questions are about the interviewer, not about the guest.

Let me just say, I think there are places where that’s really appropriate, particularly in day-to-day current affairs. But in the stuff that we’re doing – if I attack a guest, what am I likely to get out of them? All heat, no light. I’d much rather try to open somebody up by being empathetic, by actually being interested in what they have to say, and why they might have reached a certain point in their lives, and within the course of that, throw in challenging questions so it’s not assuming that this person isn’t to be challenged.

I think most of my guests walk away feeling challenged by the experience, but it’s not that old fashioned adversarial way of, ‘right, I’m taking a position on you and I’m now going to go in hard’.

Dom Romeo: After that, and as good as that is, to suddenly meet someone in the audience who is a – I’m trying not to use the word ‘nobody’…

ANDREW DENTON: We call them “so-called ‘ordinary’ Australians” because that’s how they’re viewed.

Dom Romeo: Excellent. Then you talk to “so-called ‘ordinary’ Australians” and again, I’m astounded by their stories.

ANDREW DENTON: Yeah. And that’s always the case. And all we’ve done is put on camera what I’ve been finding for years. One of the interesting points is the lie, the commonly held belief that Australians can’t talk. I’m constantly astonished by the eloquence, let alone the honesty, with which people explain things that are very, very difficult in their lives.

When the show started and we started doing that part of the show, the response to it was very negative: ‘why are you talking to those people? We’ve never heard of them before’. And by the end of last year, for many people, that was their favourite part of the show.

Dom Romeo: Early on you featured three nurses – it was an amazing interview because of the stuff that it revealed, that we – non-nurses – just wouldn’t be aware of.

ANDREW DENTON: That’s the hardest thing to get together, because there is no starting point for those interviews. Literally, researchers have to go to the phone book, and if we’re doing truckies, we have to go to ‘t’ for trucks. There’s no registry of ‘truckies ready to talk on television’. They take a lot of lead time to find three people of sufficiently different experiences who are sufficiently confident to talk about their experiences on television but every time we do it, it’s very rewarding.

Dom Romeo: One of the nurses spoke of ‘FLKs’ – ‘funny-lookin’ kids’. That was a challenge to the way you’d think. Of course nurses are going to have to discuss their work in that way with each other, to let off steam, to cope with the job…

ANDREW DENTON: That’s right. We got some complaints about that, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t respect those kids. In the way that we all do, we all apply humour to our workplace, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t do our jobs sincerely. Something you just said there – ‘it made me think differently’ – that’s my definition of the sort of television that I’m interested in, both as a viewer and as a practitioner of it, which is, I would like to think – though it’s not always possible – that, with Enough Rope, in any given episode, if you sit down and watch it, you’re going to walk away with one thing that made you think differently about something.

Dom Romeo: Congratulations on the Kennett interview, then! In my book, he was always a bastard! I’d never seen a caring, human side to him, and you almost got him to reveal it, reluctant though he was.

ANDREW DENTON: Our website has lots of different opinions on the Kennett interview, ranging from he was a bastard to I was a bastard, and I think they might both be legitimate. He was tricky, and I just felt… the peculiar moment for me was where he couldn’t find it within himself to say something good about his wife. I was surprised because before the interview he was funny and charming and interesting, and then he came on determined to be none of those things. And I know he was there because he wanted to push the ‘Beyond Blue’ cause, which is admirable, and he did it very well. But I think if you want to speak to human beings about a really deep problem, you have to be human yourself. And to deny one in order to promote the other, I’m not sure that that works in the long run.

Dom Romeo: But he did get his message across, and you did reveal a side to him that we don’t often see.

ANDREW DENTON: Again, I think that has a lot to do with time. We do take the time to have a conversation, because it takes a while for people to relax into stuff. I’ve done the other sort: I’ve done ‘chat’. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing this. When I was at Channel Seven, doing a show that I loved and that I’m very proud of, I used to come away from interviewing extraordinary people for maybe ten minutes if we had a long time, and thinking ‘we only just got started’!

Dom Romeo: You said that it takes you a while to let them settle in and they’re longer interviews. Obviously they have to be edited in some way for television, but there are times when edits are apparent, that suggest sizeable chunks are missing… you make Sir David Attenbourgh laugh, for example, and we cut to you, we cut back to him no longer laughing and clearly a huge edit has taken place…

ANDREW DENTON: As with everything, there are always things that we could go back and do better.

Dom Romeo: Sure, but all I was going to say is, did you feel tempted to go back and reinstate bits that had to be edited out, to give us ‘extended versions’ for DVD?

ANDREW DENTON: You know what? There just isn’t the time, unfortunately. One of the astonishing things about this show is how ‘all-consuming’ it is. We just did Bill Clinton last week and I was just thinking about it the other day: in our terms, he’s already in the waste paper basket now. One of the interviews that, for years, I’ve wanted to do, and it’s just gone. You’ve got to turn around to the next thing. There wasn’t time to be tempted, though it would have been nice.

Dom Romeo: How did you decide what would be released on the DVD?

ANDREW DENTON: That was the ABC. They nominated what they thought would be good, and I said ‘no’ to a couple and said ‘yes’ to those ones.

Dom Romeo: Can you let me know what didn’t make the cut?

ANDREW DENTON: Oh god, I couldn’t even remember. I just thought this was the better range. I really wanted to have Fiona Stanley in, for instance, and I think that wasn’t one that they originally nominated. I wanted, like the show, to have a range of guests.

Dom Romeo: I quite enjoyed the Kath & Kim interview.

ANDREW DENTON: That was an interview almost entirely for entertainment. You weren’t going to get a great deal of enlightenment, but it was great fun. And the fact that they wrote the whole series as school mums – that’s pretty damn impressive. There’s an enormous discipline required in writing this stuff, and the fact that they were able to do that around their parenting lives is really quite something. There it is again: parenting.

Dom Romeo: When I’ve watched an interview that didn’t sit so well because I took issue with something that you didn’t take issue with…

ANDREW DENTON: I think there are many criticisms you can make of any given interview and I view it this way: there’s no such thing as a right interview. It’s just me taking a snapshot with my camera, and you don’t have to like the camera angle, and you might have wanted a completely different picture or you might of wanted it from further away or closer up – but it’s just a conversation. If a criticism is made out of ignorance or out of prejudice, well I’m happy to counter that. But if it’s an opinion – ‘you should have asked that’ – or the criticism ‘you didn’t even think to ask about this’ – well, the fact of the matter is often we do think about stuff that people wished we asked about, but we decided that’s not where we wanted to go with that interview.

Clinton is a case in point. People said to me, ‘why did you call him “Mr President”? You were just fawning all over him’. Well, the fact is that’s what he’s known as, that’s what ex-Presidents are addressed as – ‘Mr president’ – and I could have chosen to call him ‘Bill’ or ‘Prez’, but I was only there for half an hour. Why would I put an unnecessary obstacle between me and trying to talk to him about more important stuff? Of course I addressed him by the term with which he is generally addressed. Which is a long-winded way of saying, there are many criticisms, and whatever take we decide to make on an interview may not be yours, in which case, you probably have a right to be frustrated, but as I say, it’s just a snapshot.

Dom Romeo: How do you feel about the series?

ANDREW DENTON: Really happy. In a good place, in that we’re all still working our butts off – we’re really working hard – and that’s the best place to be: it’s going well, but you’re not thinking, ‘gee, this is easy’. Every interview and every guest, we’re working to keep ourselves challenged. I know that may sound very Presbyterian or very wanky, but we’re up to show 21, we’ve got 34 to do this year, and I look around the office and everyone’s ‘head down, bum up’ and I think they’re the great times in your career, when you look back and it’s a bit of a blur, and then with some perspective you can look back and say, ‘gee, we did that, and that was pretty good’. The show is where it should be, but it’s still a battle to keep it fresh for the audience and for ourselves.

Dom Romeo: You do manage to get people to feel comfortable and be themselves. I’m thinking of both Paul Hogan and Steve Irwin. I don’t know what I was expecting from either of them, but I found myself smiling – grinning with joy – throughout both those interviews.

ANDREW DENTON: I got to say, with Hoges, that was the rarest of things: he agreed to come on and he had absolutely nothing he was trying to flog. He came on because he just enjoyed the show and he wanted to come on. He was such a pleasure to talk to. I’d never met him. I’d spoken to him once on the phone. I’m nervous before every interview, so it’s not just the guest that needs to get relaxed, it’s me too. And when a guest settles into it and it becomes a good conversation – that word again – it really is fun. Sorry I keep referring to Clinton, but that’s the most recent. I found myself ten minutes into that, in the back of my mind thinking, ‘this is really cool; this is a guy I really wanted to talk to’.

Dom Romeo: Was there any moment in that when you thought to yourself, ‘I know the other side to this story’?

ANDREW DENTON: Oh look, I reckon I’m one of the few people in the world who has that bookend: signed books by both of them. And yes, the mischievous part of me was thinking, ‘I could really drop a few things here’. I did raise Monica in the interview, but in a really limited fashion, because I just think there are far more interesting things to talk to the former President about. But yes, I was struck by the weird shape careers can take sometimes.

I must say, the day I packed to go to LA to interview Monica Lewinsky, I remember thinking ‘this could be the single weirdest moment of a career that has had some pretty weird moments’, because I was heading off to interview Monica Lewinsky for New Idea, and I was packing into my bag a Gold Logie because that was also the first year I was hosting the Logies. If anyone had said to me, at any point in my life that those three things would come together – ‘Lewinsky, Logie, New Idea’ – and me, I would have said, ‘what drugs are you on?’ It was one of those moments that was so absurd, it was delightful.

Dom Romeo: Andrew, thank you, I’ve taken up half an hour of your time. You’re a busy man…

ANDREW DENTON: That’s okay. Now, before you go, are there any other things you want to take issue with that I can respond to or are you happy to leave it as it is?

Dom Romeo: I’ll leave it as it is; although, I am a blogger and I did feel the need to blog about the episode with Rachel Griffiths – particularly on her comments about the Free Trade agreement leading to everyone on Australian television having an American accent. She appears on Australian television in the show Six Feet Under, for which she uses an American accent.

ANDREW DENTON: You weren’t the only person who made that remark. That may have been you on our website, and it was a fair call. The only thing I can say is that, in looking at Rachel’s career, I didn’t really want to talk about Six Feet Under because most Australians hadn’t seen it and that’s why it was under my radar when she was talking about Free Trade. It was just not something at very front of mind. But it was a good call.

Dom Romeo: Well, thanks for letting me take it up with you; it’s not often I get to blog about something and have a reply to add to it, so I can actually be balanced, which I like to be, too.

ANDREW DENTON: That’s a rare quality.

Dom Romeo: One other thing. Zapruder’s Other Films [Denton’s production company]. I love the name.

ANDREW DENTON: Thank you. Most people don’t get that. You’re one of the half dozen people anywhere in the world that have ever got that joke.

Dom Romeo: Do you want to talk about it or is it better not to explain the joke?

ANDREW DENTON: I’m happy to talk about it. It actually comes from an idea that I’ve never actually made. I’d like to. It was an idea for a documentary called Zapruder’s Other Films. To explain the Zapruder film – it was by Abraham Zapruder – the hand-held home movie of Kennedy’s assassination that we see every year, which was taken by the Warren Commission and referred to thereafter as ‘the Zapruder Film’.

My concept of ‘Zapruder’s Other Films’ was this mock documentary where you’re interviewing his kids, talking about his father’s career after this film, and how disappointing it had been for him that he’d had this one huge hit film and he went around the world trying to film other assassinations, hoping to relive the glory of the Kennedy one, and he never quite got there. Indira Ghandi was blown up an hour before he got there – the frustration of never quite being able to match the original Zapruder film.

Dom Romeo: That’s such a naughty idea; I like it.

ANDREW DENTON: It’s very black. But it’s lovely to me. I remember the first time anyone ever got it. I went up to Bond University on the Gold Coast to talk about the media, and the people who organised it, afterwards were going to give me my cheque. They said, ‘who will we make it out to?’ and I said, ‘Zapruder’s Other Films’ and both of them just stopped and said, ‘Aw, that is soooo cool.’ I thought, at last, I’ve found somebody that gets it.

Dom Romeo: I’ve got to commend you on some of Zapruder’s Other Films’ other films… like the Chaser stuff you’ve produced.

ANDREW DENTON: Thank you.

Dom Romeo: I look forward to the day that I can chat to you again about some of the other comedy series being released on DVD.

ANDREW DENTON: Good. I think that’s fairly soon.


Whaddayagonnado?

“Ah, well, I wanted to get into Program Planning, but unfortunately, I have a degree.” - John Cleese, in Monty Python’s Flying Circus


Tony_hell_1


My mate Simon Coates (Coatsie) sent me this excellent caricature out of the blue, at the beginning of the week that Channel 9 decided, unannounced, to piss its loyal viewers off yet again by playing ‘hide the decent program’. Bastards.

Here’s a letter I didn’t write about it (I don’t quite agree with Guy Fawkes’s opinion of Comedy Inc The Late Shift;, and I certainly have more respect for Albert Watson Newton than either Channel Nine or Guy Fawkes):

Channel Nine Complaints
C/o The Programming Department
Channel Nine
PO Box 27
Willoughby, NSW 2068


Well, congratulations Channel Nine programmers!

You have done it again. Duped us all. Like an Orwellian plot device you have had us sit up to all-hours to view the only decent American drama series currently first-time-screening on Australian free-to-air television.

Again I sat, like thousands of other viewers, ready for bed but eager the see the latest episode of The Sopranos. It was difficult enough having to endure the tail-end of your previous program eating into the advertised timeslot, with it’s boorish, greedy, conniving Americans sitting around a fire on a beach like de-humanised, slack-jawed Pavlov’s Dogs. Who was voted off? The suspense was killing me! Such an important decision: should I go to the toilet, or make a cup of tea.

Fortunately enough, the tissue-thin-tension was drawn out like a victim of the Spanish Inquisition’s entrails. Long enough for me to perform both evening tasks, and in terms of being entertaining, as equally revolting as said torture. What’s more, I had adequate time to go about my business AND pack the dishwasher.

There I was, preparing a nice hot cup of tea; only to hear a station identification with the crisp timbre of your announcer’s voice telling me The Sopranos had been moved to Monday night.

Well, from here on in my hatred of you for your airing of Quizzmania has become a mere triviality. I felt like howling obscenities at the top of my lungs into the cavernous much-seen-but-rarely-enjoyed cleavage of Catriona Rowntree.

What a low act. In terms of programming, not since the stunt you pulled in late 2002, when you realised The Sopranos would rate too well for the non-ratings period timeslot, and, unadvertised, you screened the previous season’s first episode instead, have you dragged your ethics as low as a snake’s cloaca. On that occasion you had the gall to attempt to pass that off as an ‘encore presentation’. On this instance you have perpetrated such an act of disrespect towards your viewers there is no other way to interpret this as anything more than an insult to our collective intelligence.

Instead, in its place, we the viewing public were treated to an episode of The Late Shift (surely a silent ‘F’ in there applies), dumbed-down sketch ‘comedy’ unworthy of the likes of your Channel’s previous triumphs: Who Wants to Be A Human Clay Pigeon, Funniest RPA Proctological Home Insertions and 20 to 01 Reason’s Why Bert Left Ten To Host a Rubbish Game Show. [1]

(Or something. I tend to vague-out with this tripe, and it all bleeds together after a while).


There are few television shows which make the likes of Summer Bay’s sun-stroked mental pygmies, Toady and his suburbanite gastropods, or the even your very-own animated, glossy R.M. Williams brochure McClowns Daughters look good. However you manage to maintain just such a level of mediocrity with every screening of this ‘fecal-gem’. If it’s a matter of maintaining your quota of Australian content, why not fill a house with the dregs of Australia’s pick-up-joints and suburban night clubs and hope they’re naïve, vulgar and oafish enough to engage in sexual congress under the lights of the night vision cameras?

Oh, wait, of course.

Channel Nine has in the past excelled at being the worst example of commercial television professionally appealing to the lowest common denominator in Australia. Without you good people (cough) raising the bar (or in this case the toilet seat) we probably wouldn’t have the likes of Big Brother gracing our TV screens and titillating our great unwashed.

Even Kerry Packer’s pulling Doug Mulray, halfway through his Naughtiest Home Videos was justifiable. It was typically (of Mulray) off-colour, it drew a young demographic after its parent program, and well, frankly, Packer was the boss. He owned the station. He could play Wings 24-7 if the mood struck him so.

As your morning program TODAY flounders in the ratings-race, beaten (nay, bludgeoned) by a show hosted by a gravel voiced pontificating bald geek with the charisma of a parking station attendant, and a doltish tuckshop lady-esque female presenter, (the hapless fall-gal of his fatigued japes), doubtless tomorrow morning your ‘Entertainment’ presenter Richard Wilkins (nee ‘Wilde’) will smugly give us through his surgically enhanced face (no doubt made up of the left-over pieces of Tracy Grimshaw’s after she had an airline inflatable raft inserted into her lips) the spurious news that your channel has again won the ratings in this timeslot.

What pap. Who does this research? The North Korean Government? I don’t know who the “Nielsen”, of the “Nielsen” ratings is. Leslie Nielsen, perhaps? Or the same trained budgerigar that picks tomorrow’s star signs in the Daily Telegraph?

A plague on your house, and a pox on your genitals. May the McGuire era be as conversely short-lived as the ability of this vile and pernicious man’s capacity to network his way to the top of this country’s wealthiest and most influential people’s rectums.

Forget The Footy Show; surely Let’s Go Caving is his calling.

There may well be nothing on the other side, but I feel fairly confident in saying The Goanna is rolling in his grave like a rotisserie chicken with Parkinson’s Disease, vacillating in distress whilst the flagship of his media empire is piloted towards the rocky coast of the public opinion by pink be-shirted yuppies (with matching tie combos), asleep at the wheel as to how the public views their service, unless we of course are talking about the legions of self medicating bogans adhered to their stained couches, remotes in hands, Orchy-bottles-with-nylex-hoses to their lips and mullets plastered to their napes.

Again, thanks Channel Nine; you have plumbed the depths of disrespect not seen since somebody attached a microphone to Ray Martin and released his 12-watt intellect into the televisual landscape. Only Kerry-Anne’s flat double-A’s can eclipse that feat, and I’m not talking about her cup size.

How depressing that these people typify your organisation. A man with a hairstyle like a lacquered croissant, labouring under the misconception he’s “making a difference”, but in reality is as transparently dense as a butcher’s stool on Boxing Day. Therefore appropriately a meat puppet whose ‘groundbreaking exposés’ have all the intellectual and cultural-nutritional value of air. And similarly, whilst on the subject, with KAK; you can feel your IQ diminish as you view her inane, banal and ultimately frustrating-to-the-point-of-distressing dip-shittery and ‘info-tainment-ercial’ programming.

Frankly, it’s like eating a farted-on meringue: sugary, awful, and indistinct – save for the distinct flavour of crap.

Yes, I may well be a crack-pot and a bored vulgarian, and there is patently too much time on my hands. But I’d hate to see the day where I don’t rail against the likes of organisations like yours who take their patrons for granted and imagine they can tell everyone what to think and what to enjoy without some reaction. I feel confident this letter will either line the bottom of the Security Guard Dog’s shit-box, be unceremoniously filed under “B” for “Bin”, or may even manage to make the prestigious “Kook of the Week” feature spot on the lunchroom corkboard.

It will doubtless fall on deaf ears and serve only to vent my spleen and amuse my friends, those of whom take the time to read it. But hopefully someone will take some little glimmer of thought enough away from it, and switch off the television to pop on a good record, or perhaps open a good book, or maybe, just maybe, talk to their wife, husband, or child.

Or even, at a long-shot, just enjoy the silence.

Shhh!

Wait! Did you hear that?

Listen…

IS that the sound of the late Mr Packer’s chagrin on the wind..?

No, I’m sorry. It’s merely the sweet sound of Jessica Rowe laughing like a hyena with its testes caught in the Channel Nine Cafeteria insinkerator. I can hear it all the fucking way from Willoughby.

At least someone’s getting a kick out of it.

Regards,

The Viewer’s Guy Fawkes [2]

(NB: My apologies for using the terms “entertainment” and “Richard Wilkins” in the same sentence. I might be pretty angry but there’s really no excuse for sinking that low.)

  1. (The answer is of course gambling debts)

  2. Please don’t interpret this as a threat to blow up your television station. In this post 9-11, Bali and London Tube world, bombs are no joke, but I would never waste good fertilizer on the likes of your organization. The chooks’ arses would never forgive me.

Pictures of Lilley

Lilleys_1

What do a sixteen year-old school girl , an ex-cop, a Ph D physics student, a middle-aged woman who intends to roll from Perth to Uluru and a country kid who wants to donate his ear-drum to his deaf twin brother all have in common?

Well, they’re all appearing in a new show called We Can Be Heroes: Finding the Australian of the Year.

More importantly, they're all played by the one person, comedian Chris Lilley, who wrote and stars in the series.

Here's a short version of my interview with Chris, which is going to be (or was, depending on when you read this) broadcast on ABC NewsRadio Breakfast, Wednesday 27 July. (Listen to it here if you like!)

Demetrius Romeo: Chris, where did We Can Be Heroes come from?

CHRIS LILLEY: It came mostly from me just wanting to play a whole bunch of different characters. I just wanted the challenge of being able to play male and female characters, Asian, young, old… I wanted to do five different people who were ‘hero’ types – you know, the sporting hero, the inventor, the medical miracle – and eventually have them meet and interact and that was the basis of it. And the format of ‘Australian of the Year’ awards was just a device to be able to do that, to have them all heading towards something.

Demetrius Romeo: Some of the comedy you come up with is kind of ‘wrong’ comedy, and I’m thinking the whole Ricky Wong being the Chinese physics student who’s involved in the musical about Aborigines called Indigeridoo. A lot of the time we’d give that sort of humour a wide berth without exploring it, whereas you’ve taken it head on.

CHRIS LILLEY: Well that was the idea; I thought, they’re the taboo things: you’re not allowed to impersonate an Asian person if you’re not Asian and you’re not allowed to… you’re barely allowed to mention Aboriginal people, certainly not impersonate them. And so I combined that to have a Chinese student dressing up as an Aboriginal person. So I’m just exaggerating it to try and be funny.

Demetrius Romeo: Chris, you do disturbingly accurate women. When you ‘frock up’, it’s scary.

CHRIS LILLEY: Well, I wanted to do it all accurately, and I think you have to just give over to it and just try to nail it and not be perceived as being anything ‘weird’. I think you just have to get into it and I tried to do that. I was surprised at how real it was. One of the executives at the ABC found Pat Mullins, the middle aged woman – she said, “that was your most real performance out of all the characters”. So, I don’t know, it’s a bit weird.

Demetrius Romeo: Chris Lilley, thank you very much.

CHRIS LILLEY: Thank you!


Tim Lords It With Time Lords

Drwho

WARNING: the introduction to this interview contains some adult concepts.

Okay, so I’m reading, in that bastion of parochial gossip, council in-fighting and mediocre arts reportage known as The Manly Daily, that there is a Doctor Who-related show coming to Sydney called Doctor Who Inside the TARDIS. It will feature
Colin Baker, the sixth Doctor
and Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor, as well as Katy Manning, who was Jo Grant, the assistant to the third Doctor Jon Pertwee and who, I believe, has lived in Manly for the last few decades, give or take. But what really grabs me is that the show is being MC’d by Tim Ferguson, who used to be part of my favourite musical comedy trio, the Doug Anthony Allstars.

In fact, this won’t be the first time Ferguson and Manning shared a stage: way back in 1994, my favourite media eccentric Maynard F# Crabbes (it’s a play on the name of the character ‘Maynard G. Krebs’, from a show I’ve never seen called The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which featured BobGilligan’s IslandDenver as the beatnik or hippie or something called Maynard) hosted a live variety show at a club called Kinselas. The show was called – wait for it – Fist Me TV (“because,” Maynard explained to me in an interview at the time, “everybody fucks but not everybody fists”) and it was being filmed as a pilot with some idea of trying to sell it to television. “Yeah, right,” you’re thinking, “who honestly believes that they could market a live variety show on television and call it Fist Me TV?” Well it never did get to television, but don’t gloat so knowingly just yet – shortly thereafter the rampaging Roy Slaven and HG Nelson (Roy & HG) got their own live variety show on television. It was called Club Buggery. Some other philosopher can tease out the ramifications of the differences between fisting and buggery, particularly as they may pertain to humour (or a lack thereof) as this has been a distracting enough tangent as it is.

Anyway.

At one of the performances of Fist Me TV, the Doug Anthony Allstars shared the bill with Katy Manning and Barry Crocker. Although Crocker has been Manning’s partner since 1989, he also has a history with the Allstars: he sang lead on their rendition of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (one of several featured on the Andrew Denton-hosted show Money or the Gun – but that really is a whole other story).

So, anyway, after all of these inter-related bits of trivia made themselves apparent in my brain, I decided I wanted to interview someone about this, and thought that it would be as good an excuse as any to catch up with Tim Ferguson. I gather that his role is largely that of a ‘Dorothy Dix’ – setting up the questions like a parliamentary stooge, in order to let the Right Honourable Minister for Whatever to shine in giving the rehearsed answer. Not that this is a bad thing: that’s how the recent Goodies tour was structured, right down to the clips and the radio play, and it worked a treat!

Here’s a transcript of the interview. Why not listen to the recording of it, underscored with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s original Doctor Who theme? You can find an MP3 here. A shorter version went to air on ABC NewsRadio on the morning of the first performance. If you are interested, here are the tour dates.


Demetrius Romeo: Hi Tim, how are ya?

TIM FERGUSON: Oh, good!

Demetrius Romeo: I wanna talk to you about this Doctor Who thing that’s going on.

TIM FERGUSON: Well the Doctors are here. We’ve been rehearsing the last couple of days. They are, as you know, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, and we’ve just been putting this little puppy together.

Demetrius Romeo: How did you come to be involved in this project?

TIM FERGUSON: Well I think I was outed as a science fiction fan long ago and so I guess the guys who came up with the idea thought that they could call me and I wouldn’t hang up. In fact I would begin stalking the cast. Already I have eight autographs from each of them. Whenever I see a Doctor with nothing to do I grab something and make him sign it. I figure a guy has to make a buck out of this.

Demetrius Romeo: What have you had them autograph?

TIM FERGUSON: Well, there was a plunger, of course, t-shirts, underpants, baseball caps – you know, the usual.

Demetrius Romeo: Uh-huh. Good, good. Now, Katy Manning’s involved in this as well.

TIM FERGUSON: You bet! Lively, vivacious Katy Manning is one of our three guests. She’s going to be telling the stories of what it was like to be a plucky companion to Jon Pertwee.

Demetrius Romeo: In addition to telling stories, there are also clips being shown…

TIM FERGUSON: Yeah! We’ve got all sorts of clips from right across the series. All the monstors and creatures and evil doers… The Master, of course, who really picked a good name for himself. I mean, if you are going to dominate the universe, you don’t want to just be called ‘Basil’. “I am Basil…” You want to be able to say, “I am the Master” so that right off the bat, once people have met you, they have an idea of basically what your role is going to be in the universe.

Demetrius Romeo: Now, speaking of ‘roles in the universe’, in a way, you’re the Master – of ceremonies.

TIM FERGUSON: Yes, ‘The Master’… of ceremonies.

Demetrius Romeo: Not ‘The Basil’ of ceremonies.

TIM FERGUSON: No, unfortunately, he’s much funnier than me. It’s my job just to ask the Doctors questions, keep things moving. I’ve been co-writing a radio play; an original premiere performance of a radio play will be happening starring both Doctors, Katy Manning and myself. That’s part of our second act. We’ve just completed writing the thing and I think it’s very dramatic. It’s terrifying; it’s scary.

Demetrius Romeo: Excellent! Now, Sylvester McCoy, to me, always struck me as a very different Doctor because he had that other career before he became a Doctor that was kind of more cabaret and vaudeville.

TIM FERGUSON: Yes, he did study to become a priest. And I think he started from a young age, studying that. I think he said he began at eleven and finally gave that away. Oh, you’re talking about the vaudeville stuff! Of course! After the priesthood he became very much a clown on vaudeville stages of London, the West End… He can play the spoons. He did an act where he stuffed ferrets down his trousers.

Demetrius Romeo: I remember an act where someone got a nail nailed into their nasal cavity…

TIM FERGUSON: That was him! In the Secret Policeman’s Ball.

Demetrius Romeo: That’s right.

TIM FERGUSON: A guy has to have a hobby, and when you’re not being a Timelord you have to think of ways to pass the time, I guess.

Demetrius Romeo: Now, I’ve got to ask you, Tim, being a science fiction nut and all, what do you thing of Doctor number nine that’s currently on our screens?

TIM FERGUSON: I love Christopher Eccleston. I think he’s doing a great job. He’s a bit kooky, he’s a bit groovy, he’s a little bit nerdy… and Rose, his plucky companion, is terrific! She’s enthusiastic, asks a lot of questions: just what you want from a plucky sidekick.

Demetrius Romeo: Now is there anything you’ve learnt from this that you didn’t know before, being a science fiction buff yourself?

TIM FERGUSON: I didn’t know that Colin Baker had a different pussycat badge on his jacket every episode.

Demetrius Romeo: I didn’t even know he had a pussycat badge! I’m just a day-tripper.

TIM FERGUSON: That’s right, it’s been quite a revelation. I have to go back over the tapes.

Demetrius Romeo: Tim, thanks very much.

TIM FERGUSON: Okay. And no ferrets were killed in the making of this interview.

Demetrius Romeo: Excellent.

TIM FERGUSON: Thanks Dom.

Demetrius Romeo: See you, mate.


I Put A Spell On You…
Fiona Horne In Da House


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I never was a big Def FX fan, despite having a friend who was obsessed with them, mainly because I had repeated run-ins with one of their members on the 138 bus home from school most afternoons. That wasn’t the stunning Fiona Horne, of course, but a different bandmember. If Fiona wanted to terrorise me as part of her pre-fame daily high school routine, I would have let her!

Having an obsessive friend into Def FX and having been firmly entrenched in student media at a time when Def FX were recording and releasing popular music meant that I have had a bit to do with them interview-wise; I published a couple of interviews that I didn’t conduct in 1994, and one that I did conduct in 1995. This latest opportunity to interview Fiona comes couresy of FilmInk, hence the run of film- and television-related questions at the end. I hope to have another chat with Fiona when she’s out here, for radio, when I can bung in a few Def FX recordings as well.


Demetrius Romeo: When you were a musician, had you discovered ‘wicca’ as yet?

FIONA HORNE: I’d had an interest in it since I was seventeen years old. I never talked about it openly while I was in the band, but the song lyrics I wrote definitely reflected my esoteric interests.

Demetrius Romeo: Can you give me an example of a song?

FIONA HORNE: ‘Spiral Dance’ was one of the songs on the very first EP, the Water EP. ‘Spiral Dance’ – “The wise witch wove her dream, spinning cold ropes of silver that wound round the trees” – that song was about a dream that I had after doing a very long mediation to do with my witchcraft. The lyrics, if you read them – and I actually published them in my first book in Australia, Witch — A Personal Journey – went “in the room at the back of the house, the walls are soft and pulsing, wet and cool, magic wells up inside of me until it overflows, cascading down my cheeks. Starry-eyed, I’m spinning slowly a spiral dance.”

At the time when I wrote that song, I didn’t know that the term ‘spiral dance’ was a very magical term that’s used by initiated witches to describe the dance of spirits through the heavens and the energy that conjured during spell-casting when we create a cone of power to fuel our spells. It’s like an energy vortex, I guess, which we’d create using our mind’s eye, our will and our intent to fuel our goals into fruition magically. It’s called the ‘spiral dance’, and I didn’t realise that. So I was tapping into some kind of universal collective consciousness – or unconscious – to be able to write that song.

If you look through the lyrics of Def FX you’ll see that often there are esoteric references to tehm and there’s also a profound love and appreciation for nature expressed through the lyrics that I wrote, like ‘Under the Blue’, many others. But really, the most overt that I ever was about it in my songwriting was when Def FX did the Majick album which was our last one, where I was very open with songs like ‘Spell On You’, ‘I’ll Be Your Majick’ and so on.

Demetrius Romeo: From what you’re saying, it sounds as if the power was reaching out to you before you reached out for it.

FIONA HORNE: I was open to it, but I was tapping into some kind of resonance, I guess.

Demetrius Romeo: To the uninitiated — like me, for example, because I had a very religious up-bringing — my response would be, ‘don’t mess with what you don’t understand’. There might be something out there, but it’s got to be evil. Apart from that sort response, there’d be people who didn’t want to know about it, or could only relate to fictional accounts as presented by popular culture. So what’s it like for you, working with witchcraft?

FIONA HORNE: Well, I was brought up Catholic, and I think that one of the greatest fictional works ever written is The Bible, so I’m very used to being brought up to find great meaning and profound truths in fiction, or in other people’s interpretations of events, which is what The Bible is; it’s been re-edited and re-constructed so many times over the thousand or so years it’s existed.

I always think that what appealed to me in witchcraft are some of the most profoundly spiritual experiences I had as a young child being brought up Catholic, were when I was alone growing up in the Australian bush. I live in Illawong, which was a suburb of Sydney. Now it’s full of houses and shopping centres and things, but in my day there were two houses on the whole peninsula of land and it was a very remote suburb and very beautiful, and I used to go out and play in the bush. We didn’t have Nintendo then, and we weren’t allowed to watch television, and it was really in the bush that I found a great sense of ‘magic’ in the world, so to speak. And so when I looked into witchcraft in my teens and realised that at its core it was pagan – ‘pagan’ meaning ‘to honour nature is sacred’ – and also that it places great reverence and respect for the goddess, the feminine principle of divinity, that was something that appealed to me a lot, because I’d been interested in Eastern religions like the Hindu religion which has a lot of goddess figures in it. And so for me, embarking upon this path of learning of my spirituality was very much a spiritual pursuit as much as it was researching spiritualities and expressions of spirituality from other cultures, as much as the practical experience of being outside and realizing that heaven is right here on this beautiful earth. It’s not up in the sky, out of our reach, and it’s not ruled by a man on a throne, or whatever, which is what my image of God was as a child.

I think one of the most profound privileges that people so often overlook in life is life itself, and that really is what my witchcraft is for me – it’s a way of exploring, through ritual and mythology and practical experience, the profound privilege it is to be alive.

Demetrius Romeo: Now when you put it that way, it just sounds like a commonsense philosophy.

FIONA HORNE: It is! It is very ‘common sense’; it makes a lot more sense than my Catholic upbringing! A lot!

Demetrius Romeo: What I mean is there are those overtones of… you know, casting spells, having control over people, being able to change things…

FIONA HORNE: Well there are three laws of witchcraft, which are:

Do what you want, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else;

Do what you want, as long as you don’t interfere with another’s free will;

– so, as you can see, you don’t control people – and

As you send out, so returns threefold.

So you have to be aware, as Jesus said, that as you sow, so shall you reap.
The modern witchcraft, when we talk about casting spells, we talk about creating change in our will – deciding that there’s something special that we want to do, and taking steps – both magical and practical - to achieve that goal. Tying it back in with the Catholic upbringing, I guess I used to have a bit of a giggle, and wrote about it in my book, about how I’d love to ask Jesus what the spell was for walking on water, and that one for turning two loaves and two fishes into enough to feed thousands… So often when we read these stories about these great, powerful figures in modern religion and spirituality, they were all doing something like spell-casting which was creating changes with their wills to benefit others. As a witch, you’re allowed to experience that divinity and that power. You’re encouraged to experience it by your own hand, to go, “well, this is my own life and it’s okay for me to have my dreams and to achieve them”.

Demetrius Romeo: How does it make itself apparent in your everyday life?

FIONA HORNE: Different witches practice differently. Having now practiced consciously with a degree of discipline for at least the last thirteen or fourteen years – or, at least being out of the broom closet for the last seven or eight years since I published my book – in my own personal time, the ritual and work that I do could be as simple as lighting a candle and meditating in the morning; taking the time as I did last night to watch the full moon rise; saying a prayer of gratitude and thanks to the goddess, to life itself, to this amazing wonderful world; to reading Tarot cards for a girlfriend who’s maybe having trouble making decisions regarding a guy she’s dating, whether she should date him or not — I’ll do a reading for her. After a while the craft permeates every facet of your life. It becomes who you are, not what you do. That’s what’s so lovely about it as well, because it really affects the individual. The individual expression of the craft is essential. There’s no one book written; there are basic laws as I described earlier and there is some structure, but you’re really encouraged to express your craft yourself, so it becomes really meaningful to the individual or to the coven or group that works together. I think it’s quite lovely, because I know, when I was growing up, that I felt quite powerless, in a sense, or very cut off and shut off from spirituality a lot in that you were told when to sit, when to stand, when to kneel, what to say. Somebody else made it all up. Whereas, in witchcraft, you’re encouraged to put your own stamp on it.

Demetrius Romeo: Where in the US are you at the moment?

FIONA HORNE: I live in Los Angeles.

Demetrius Romeo: Is it hard to stay in touch with nature when you’re in LA?

FIONA HORNE: No, nature’s everywhere. In my garden I have five birds; they’re all friends of mine. I have my two doves, my two mocking birds, my two blue jays. That’s six! Gosh, that’s right. And there was one squirrel, but now there’s five running around the house like crazy. There’s nature everywhere here. I mean, honestly, my other apartment, I was up above the Hollywood Bowl area; there was a deer in my street! The funny thing about LA is that everyone who hasn’t lived here thinks that it’s this sprawling mass of cement, but there is a lot of beauty and nature here. Sometimes it’s even more lovely and beautiful for the fact that it’s in the middle of this big city.

Demetrius Romeo: That’s amazing, because I always read that you can’t get around LA without a car, so in my head it was just a series of concrete overpasses… but then, when I think about it, the big ‘Hollywood’ sign is on the side of a mountain with woods.

FIONA HORNE: You know, you can drive for five minutes at the top of Beechwood Canyon and just disappear into the wilderness and you can’t even hear the city below, and there are signs saying ‘watch out for rattlesnakes and mountain lions’. I think that LA, because it’s the home of Hollywood, it has this great kind of myth around it. And it is a tough city – gosh, it makes you pay your dues when you first come here; it tests you over and over and over again! But if you just stay focused… You know, you do have to take that time. I think the great thing about Los Angeleans is that they go hiking; they go to the beach; they search out nature and they search out ways to commune with it. We’re very spoilt in Australia because we’re kind of just surrounded by it. Here, you do have to hunt it out a bit. But there’s some of the loveliest land and energy that I’ve experienced anywhere in the world here.

Demetrius Romeo: What took you to LA in the first place?

FIONA HORNE: Well, my first two books that were released in Australia, Witch – A Personal Journey and Witch – A Magical Year were edited together and published by Harper Collins in 2001 and that book did very well for me here. I was able to do quite an elaborate tour with book signings and guest appearances on television and radio. My band Def FX had toured here in the mid-90s and I’d always wanted to come back to America, so I decided to move over here and try my luck and test my skills as a television presenter and actor in this town and things are going well. Really well. And my books are still doing very well. I just did a huge new book deal with Simon & Schuster out of New York, which I’m really excited about because the publishing industry’s really tough at the moment. But I’ve just done a brand new deal – probably the best deal I’ve ever done, eight years into my publishing career, which is very exciting. We’re just signing the contracts now. It’ll be published next year.

I’m coming to Australia just to be there. I get so many e-mails and so many hits on my website from Australia and I still consider Australia as a very important part of my life, even though I’m a full-time resident of America now. It was just a wonderful opportunity to come back for a lecture tour.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you still do any music at all?

FIONA HORNE: Not really. Just for fun, not for work.

Demetrius Romeo: And you have a couple of films in post-production.

FIONA HORNE: I completed a film this year, and a film last year. Last year’s film is called Unbeatable Harold, and I had a featured cameo, I guess, playing Henry Winkler’s girlfriend. It’s quite extraordinary. It’s kind of fantasy love story. The main character is a guy, Harold played by the actor Gordon Michaels and it’s adapted from a stage play that he did in New York. Henry has a kind of featured cameo in it as his boss, and I’m one of his floozies. It’s all a kind of fantastical, exaggerated love story/romantic comedy. My first day on set, I was doing a dance routine with the Fonze! That totally spun me out.

Demetrius Romeo: Did you have a crush on the Fonze when you were a kid?

FIONA HORNE: Well, I think every girl did, yeah! Obviously, he’s older now, but Henry’s so charming and loving. His wife made cake and he brought it on the set. He put out cake, he brought lollies, for everyone. He’s very lovely and really accommodating for inexperienced actors like myself. He’s really encouraging and lovely. It was a wonderful experience.

We wrapped that in September/October of last year and it’s coming out later this year, quite possibly early next year.

And then I did, at the start of this year, I was asked to play pretty much a lead role in the film Cult. I play Professor Dianne Estabrook. It’s a horror film, and horror films are huge at the moment. It’s a massive genre. They’re rushing that for release this year. It also stars Taryn Manning and Rachel Miner.

Demetrius Romeo: What was it like, having a major role in a big film?

FIONA HORNE: It’s a bit unnerving, actually, because on the second day of filming, I get attacked. I had to be stabbed in the back and then in the eye. I had the special effects and stunt guy showing me how to collapse after an attack. It was really quite confronting because the blood looked really real and you’re in character, and you’re supposed to be on the verge of dying. You really internalise that.

There were other funny moments, like when I was lying wounded on the floor, and it’s three in the morning and I’d been lying there for a while, and there are other dead bodies around me and this and that, and I’m incredibly tired because there’s been some really long nights of shooting, and I hear off in the distance, “FIONA! FIONA!” And I open my eyes and… I’d actually fallen asleep! They all thought I was acting really well, lying there as if I was dead, and I was fast asleep. That was really funny: three o’clock in the morning on the floor of a Chinese restaurant, asleep.

One thing I enjoy about acting is that you get to live vicariously through your characters – there are things that Diane would do that I would never do, and I got to do them as her. I really like that about acting. You have this excuse to do whatever your character would do, whatever the script tells you to do, and I really enjoy that a lot. I enjoy acting very much.

And I also did a SCUBA movie. I work a lot for PADI, the Professional Academy of Diving Instructors. I’ve been a SCUBA diver for fourteen years now and I make a lot of appearances in their instructional videos for teaching SCUBA around the world, as well as voice-overs for those videos and radio ads for them, and I’ve just done an ‘introduction to SCUBA diving’ film which is just being edited. So I’ve been acting topside and below the water.

Demetrius Romeo: And so you’re experiencing your witchcraft – your appreciation of nature – on land and in the sea.

FIONA HORNE: It’s a big part of my spirituality, my SCUBA diving. Some of my most spiritual and magical moments are definitely underwater.

Demetrius Romeo: When you sit down to enjoy television or film, what do you sit down to?

FIONA HORNE: I recently got Vera Drake; that was amazing. I like things that are either nature documentaries or things that are intellectually stimulating. I’d sooner get those than fantasy or sci-fi, funnily enough. I don’t draw the line too much… for me, if I’m having a night at home and I want to get a couple of movies just for myself to watch, I’ll get ones that no one else will sit with me and watch, like Vera Drake, or maybe something about the great whites off the coast of Africa – a National Geographic documentary or something.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you go out to the movies much?

FIONA HORNE: I do sometimes. It’s fun to go out to the movies here, everyone makes such a big deal about it. And I tend to see… well I went and saw Saw the horror film my friend Leigh [Whannell] – whom I knew years ago when he did movie reports on ‘Recovery’ – and his friend James [Wan] made last year, that created a huge splash here. I was one of the first people to go and see it, that was very exciting. I was on a book tour in New York and I went to a cinema on Forty-Third Street because I had spoken to Leigh during the day and he’d said, “it’s premiering today and I’m really nervous,” and I said, “I’ll go and see it”. Forty-Third Street was around the corner from the hotel I was at. But even though I’d bought a ticket at four o’clock in the afternoon for the nine o’clock session, I still had to sit on the stairs to watch the bloody movie — they were turning people away. It just exploded here. It was so cool that James and Leigh, two blokes from Melbourne, had this massive hit on their hands

I really like taking myself off to the movies. I take myself out on dates. I’ll take myself to dinner and a movie and then shopping at Borders Books afterwards.

Demetrius Romeo: I find it hard to believe there wouldn’t be any number of people willing to do that for you.

FIONA HORNE: Oh, no, LA’s really bad for stuff like that. My girlfriends and I are all resolutely single and guys are really sleazy and awful over here, pretty much. I’m so busy and my work involves dealing with so many people whether it’s here or in Australia or wherever, that I like to spend some time on my own. There’s a great area here called The Grove and it has a great cinema complex and it has great boutique shops, a great Borders Books and really nice restaurants. It’s hard in LA to find somewhere where you can just walk around, and at this place you can just walk around so it’s a great afternoon where you can just relax.

Demetrius Romeo: It sounds like a little King Street, Newtown in LA.

FIONA HORNE: It’s more like an Italian Piazza – there’s even a singing fountain in there.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you buy many DVDs?

FIONA HORNE: The last DVDs that I bought were Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects and Sideways. Sideways is one of my all-time favourite movies.

Demetrius Romeo: When you watch them are you just into the film or do you get into all the bonus features?

FIONA HORNE: I watch the ‘process’ as well as the film. I watch all the extra stuff and the interviews. I got the Reservoir Dogs special edition with interviews with Quentin Tarantino and everything because, as I’ve been acting more, I like learning about the process. I also did a two-day guerilla filmmaking course just to get an insight into the process of filmmaking so that as an actor, I can understand everyone’s roles better. I think that it’s really worthwhile doing that because you realise how worthwhile the grips are, how the director of cinematography is probably more important, in some regards, than the director himself. You just understand the roles and how everyone pitches in. There are so many unsung heroes in the process of filmmaking; there are people whose roles are so essential but the audience doesn’t even know.

Demetrius Romeo: Television doesn’t seem to play a big role in your life at the moment.

FIONA HORNE: I’ve had more work on television than anything else. I hosted a show here last year and I was on billboards all over the country. Work-wise, I do a lot of TV. But I’m not the kind of person who comes home and switches on the telly unless there’s a particular show or movie I want to watch.

Demetrius Romeo: Is there no series that you’re addicted to?

FIONA HORNE: Well, Lost is one that I like. But often, my schedule is so hectic so I don’t watch those things because I don’t want to be tied to the TV screen. But if there’s a good special on National Geographic or Discovery, I’ll watch it. I’ve enjoyed watching Medium over here, that’s been pretty big. I enjoy watching Charmed sometimes.

Demetrius Romeo: How do you feel about shows like Charmed and Buffy?

FIONA HORNE: I’ve never watched either of them that much, but particularly with Charmed, people say, “what do you think of it? Do you find it offensive?” or something silly, and I say, “well, it’s not a documentary on witchcraft, it’s entertainment!” So it’s great. The girls look hot, the story lines are hilarious and it’s a great piece of TV. It’s a Spelling television show, you know. It’s great mindless entertainment.


The Return of Rove
(Will the Real Rove McManus
Please Stand Up!)


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I was pretty excited that Rove McManus was planning to do stand-up again. It’s been about five years since the last time, I’m guessing; Rove was about twenty-six then. Is the return to stand-up a reality-check brought about by the big three-oh? Well, I’m not likely to find out first hand, because I’m not likely to get an interview with Rove this time round. Not that he needs to do press to guarantee bums on seats.

So instead I’ve dug out this old interview, conducted for Revolver a few years back when Rove took the cast of Rove [Live] on the road for a show they called Rove [Live] Live.

At the time, Rove was the antidote for the sorry state of Australian television, at least as far as comedy was concerned. Little did we know that before long, without having a Daryl Somers to compare him to, people would start referring to Rove as the new Daryl Somers. Bastards. It’s just not true. Although, truth be told, Somers himself provided an important show. For a while. It’s just that Channel Nine never knows when to let go of a show (only when it’s doing good, evidently.) Anyway, when Graham Kennedy died, Rove went on the record proclaiming the King of Television’s greatness. I have no trouble putting my reputation (such as it is; and you can stop laughing) on the line and stating that subsequent to Kennedy, Rove is the one of this current television generation that comes close to being able to lay a claim to that crown. I said as much four years ago — much to Rove’s evident disdain — and I’m saying it again now.

And just for the record — whatever Rove’s show in its current prime time slot is perceived to lack that it may have had in its earlier incarnation in a later timeslot on another channel — like sketches and other silly shenanigans — is made up for by the fact that Roving Enterprises makes the show skitHouse. The sketches and other silly shenanigans have merely been bundled together in a stronger, separate package. Anyway, enough ranting. Read an old interview.

Oh, I guess I’d better link to some tour dates.


Everything’s Coming Up Rove
First published in Revolver December 4, 2000, according to this bastard website that has posted it without crediting me or linking to my blog.


Bert Newton, Daryl Somers and Andrew Denton now have something in common that goes beyond the fact that each has, at one time, been the funniest television personality ever to entertain Australian prime time audiences. It is this: they have all bantered with Rove McManus on his show, Rove [Live]. Of all the comics taken for a test-run by Channel Nine last year, McManus was the one able to go the distance. He was also part of the team that took Good News Week around for a final victory lap. Thus, it would appear that these people who once were the funniest television personalities are happily accepting Rove as their rightful heir and successor. When Andrew Denton was on the show, you could practically see the torch change hands. It was as though the former were ‘anointing’ the latter. “Is that a fact?” Rove asks when I put the theory to him. “Was he ‘anointing’?” It happened when Rove asked Denton if he’d consider hosting the Logies ceremony again. Denton thought that twice was quite sufficient, but suggested that Rove might well want a go instead. He was very much ‘anointing’.

That Rove is where he is and is only twenty-six may be impressive, but McManus himself acknowledges that he had an early start, even if he couldn’t quite accept it at the time. Growing up in Western Australia, friends and relatives of the adolescent Rove would insist that he “should be a comedian”. Rove, however, was “definitely afraid” of even the thought of “having to get up on stage and try to be funny in front of a group of strangers”. However, he didn’t mind acting. “If someone else had written the lines and they weren’t funny,” he explains, “you could always just go, ‘blame the playwright, don’t blame me.’” By the time he’d left school, Rove himself was writing the lines with his mates. When they had trouble getting other people to perform their material, they decided, “stuff it, we’ll just do it ourselves!” and got themselves onto the local community radio station. Before long, Rove built up the confidence to be funny on stage in front of strangers as he began to work the “not very big but certainly healthy and thriving” Perth stand-up scene. “It was a great place to start because it was so small,” Rove says. “You were doing a gig every three weeks, as opposed to one every three months in Melbourne or Sydney”

Soon getting to a point where he felt he “couldn’t go any further”, Rove decided to move to Melbourne. He likens his arrival on the Melbourne scene to a ‘fireworks display’ that “exploded very quickly”. As the new kid in town, McManus was usually lumped with other equally unfamiliar comics, but the difference between them was that whereas the others had never performed before Rove had two years experience and two years of material to his advantage. Therefore, he was noticed from the start. Despite this, however, it wasn’t long before he found himself in the same boat as his peers: “I soon hit a brick wall; I was fighting for gigs at all the regular comedy clubs, like everyone else.” Rove recalls that period of his life and career as “enjoyable times” but admits that he certainly was not living comfortably: “I soon saw how far a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter can actually stretch,” he says. The lesson this experience taught him: “Never get too complacent; you’re never one hundred percent safe” – as he was reminded again last year, he says, when his season at Channel Nine came to an end.

The point at which Rove was well and truly thrust into our comedic consciousness was when he was one of a bunch of ‘up-and-comers’ profiled in a special comedy issue of Juice a little while back. Also present and accounted for were Merrick & Rosso, Peter Helliar and Adam Spencer, who we all knew from Triple J, as well as the familiar Wil Anderson and the somewhat less so (at that stage in Sydney) Corinne Grant. But this Rove McManus guy who was featured had many a non-Melbournian scratching his noggin. Rove agrees that at that stage of his ascendancy, he was “behind most of the others”. Although he’d been on Good News Week like Wil and Corinne, he was not quite “in the regular loop” yet. However, successful annual appearances at the Melbourne Comedy Festival had brought him to the forefront of that town’s comedy scene and a hosting gig on community television station Channel 31’s The Loft Live kept him there. Live community television was the perfect proving ground for the primetime personality-to-be. When important guests were not turning up late (“one time the guest was so late, it ended up being a brief two-minute interview at the end of the show”) or failing to arrive altogether (“on our very first show, the guest had just forgotten to turn up”) there was always the possibility of equipment malfunction to keep Rove on his toes: “Our audio box blew up. No-one at home could hear us so we had to go off air.”

Such strong grounding in live television coupled with the stand-up experience made McManus a natural for prime time commercial television. It shows, not just in his ability to host so well, to be able to work with such a good team and to make it look so easy, but also in the way he appeals to so wide a demographic. McManus himself likens the job to being a bus driver, who is trusted by all the passengers. “The essence of it is that I’m having fun,” he says. “It reflects to the viewing audience that I’m having fun, and they can’t help but have fun themselves because I don’t look like I’m uncomfortable. I absolutely love it.”

Rove reckons that if, two years ago, you’d asked him where he wanted to be in five or ten years time, his answer would literally be what he is actually doing now. “So I’ve been very blessed in that I’ve been given a lot and achieved it in a relatively short amount of time,” he says. I reckon there’s more to it than that. When shows like Hey Hey It’s Saturday and Good News Week had to call it a day, they left a gaping hole that Rove himself claims he’s only “paved over slightly” or “put a couple of sticks and leaves across” to make it look fixed. Now’s the time, Rove McManus. If visitations from the Three Wise Kings of Comedy is not enough and you need some sort of ‘John the Baptist’ figure as well, then Graham Kennedy must be that man. When he finally returns from the wilderness to give McManus his blessing then we’ll know for sure that Rove is the chosen one, sent to save our miserable television-watching lives from eternal damnation… Meanwhile, thank Christ he still loves to stand-up. For, with all his long-term goals satisfied in the short term, the answer to ‘what do you most look forward to’ is ‘coming to Sydney to do live stand-up in a “back-to-basics” outrageous comedy revue’.

Amen, brother.