Another Saturday, another wedding. This one was scary: out the front were sunglassed and besuited ‘men in black’ types, handing out copies of the ‘Order of Service’; on the way upstairs a sign insisted that there be ‘No Paparazzi’. Dubbed (by its perpetrators) The Society Wedding of the Millennium™ this marriage involved a current batch of talented individuals and their extended network of friends – a bunch of people I have, for the most part, known for a decade, most of whom I haven’t seen for the better part of it. Indeed, many constitute my own unreliable memoir (for that must be the collective term) of expats, ever-so-briefly repatriated for the sake of this event. All the blokes scrubbed up well. It was the women – (sigh; as Allen Ginsberg never said, “I saw the best minds of my generation on Manning Bar balcony, in skimpy tops”) – who I hadn’t seen for ages that I most regret having to scarper from.
But scarper I had to: there was a dancefloor ticket to Radiohead with my name on it. Indeed, I even received a round of applause from my table when I got up to leave. One of the re-pats insisted that I must stay while another deeply regretted the fact that he couldn’t join me. And in fact, when I first received the invitation to this wedding, I confessed to the happy couple, Charles Firth and Amanda Tattersall that I’d be leaving early. “C’mon Charles,” I insisted, “I’d leave my own wedding for a Radiohead concert.” He laughed and said “I might want to go to the concert, too.” I had to offer the last word: “that’s quite ironic, because I might want to stay to consummate the…”
This vulgar attempt at humour was politely tolerated, and understandibly so. Charles Firth may not be a comic genius, but he is the sort of talented humorist who may well be described as one by future generations – as long as he doesn’t make the mistake of believing his own hype, such as pronouncements by people like me that while he is not exactly a comic genius, he may well be described as one some time in the future. So Amanda Tattersall, his then-wife-to-be, was used to such politically incorrect statements being made. The beauty is that Amanda works in politics; she is the Special Projects Officer of the Labor Council. She couldn’t possibly have a sense of humour that was well-informed and tolerant at the same time. And yet she’s marrying Charles Firth – so she must.
The ceremony itself was spectacular – a comedy extravaganza to which I will fail to do justice in attempting to describe. For starters, the Wedding March, composed by Elliott Wheeler, contained the requesite cadence point that said to the bride ‘wait here and be admired by everyone’, and then, ‘get ready to walk down the aisle’, at which point she tearily embraced her parents. Then, I swear, the music was composed so thoroughly and excellently that it ably communicated the message, ‘hang on, I know you're ready to go, but there’s just a bit more extemporising on this theme’. And then, ‘okay, ready? Well I’m not. A bit more fanfare and development.’ The dearly beloved that had gathered were laughing in all the right places. Finally, the music enabled the bride to take that walk. Who on earth understands music and comedy well enough to compose music soliciting perfectly timed laughter? Elliott Wheeler, evidently.
The wedding party consisted of two camps described, in the ‘Order of Service’, as ‘The Bride’s Supporting Cast’ and ‘The Groom’s Supporting Cast’. The former, listed ‘in no particular order’, included such personages as a Chief Whip/Patron Feminist, a Bridemaster, a Ring Master, an Eyewitness to Nuptials (apparently “The person legally required to declare, ‘Officer, I saw the whole thing’”) and a Reader of Engels. The latter, listed as ‘from Best to Worst’ included the Best Man, the WeddingCorp™ CEO, the Middle Man, the Lord of the Ring and the Worst Man. There was a Civil Celebrant, but more importantly, there was also an Uncivil Celebrant, played by Toma Dim.
The ceremony, commencing with the directive that “during the first part of the service, the Guests should mill awkwardly and not sit down”, began at 3:45 pm with The Panic of the Groom, followed twenty minutes later with The Sheepish Re-admission of the Groom. Then The Triumphant, Unflappable Arrival of the Non-Panicking Bride took place, to that fantastic Elliott Wheeler soundtrack. More entrances of pageboy and bridal party until The Bride’s Parents Bless Her Self-Propelled Decision to Wed, followed by ‘the first unscheduled piece of silliness’. The first unscheduled piece of silliness turned out to be the Ceremonial Signing of the Pre-Nuptual Agreement. (This was humorous; it had to be. Pre-nuptual agreements aren’t recognised in Australian law.)
The first, and only, reading was taken from the Book of Engels (Chapter 4, Verse 2), which spoke of the role of the woman in marriage, and is taken from the chapter entitled ‘Origins of the Family’. The marriage vows were especially funny; Charles vowing to agree with Amanda after a long argument, but only when he knows that she was right; Amanda promising to honour and respect Charles's media empire, trifling though it still may be (see here and here); and Charles, raising the biggest laugh, by acknowledging how important Amanda is to his life, even though he thought he was pretty damn cool before he met her; but I’m not going to do anyone justice paraphrasing and misquoting the gags. Suffice it to say that there were plenty of media-types and their loved ones looking at each other, absolutely cacking, agreeing that Charles and Amanda ‘had raised the bar’. I don’t know whether I should campaign for a DVD release with commentary, or just steal the tapes and bootleg it myself. I really regret having to leave before the speeches. But then again, I don’t, for the simple reason that I had a dancefloor ticket to Radiohead.
Unlike last week’s wedding, at which champagne flowed after the ceremony and not before, this time I stood in the wrong place, refused to put my glass down and failed to turn down refills, all the while snapping shots with my other hand. Thus, I don’t have many photos of the evening. Certainly, few that I am proud of.
Okay, just the one.
I was very pleased to catch up with an old friend, Gregor Stronach, whose partner I couldn’t help but inadvertantly assault. When we were having cigarettes on the balcony, I ashed in just the right spot where the wind could catch it and blow it straight into her eye. Later, as the first course was being served, I managed to splatter her with chicken gravy as I failed to hold the serving dish horizontally (too much champagne). It’s a good thing I got away when I did.
Googling Gregor a little later, I discovered Gregor’s Semi-Automatic Live Journal Updater™. Perfect for the lazy blogger.
Worlds Funniest Island II takes place soon (Oct 16-17). Tickets are being offered at a special price until October 4. Kath & Kim are hosting the Foxy Gala. Go on, you know you want to: buy some tickets. Now. www.worldsfunniestisland.com
While attempting to Google™ ‘Gina Riley’ for a suitable biography and ‘Kath & Kim’ for a suitable synopsis to link to from the introduction to my Julie Dawn Cole interview, I realised that virtually no examples of the former really exist online (although this bio is at least a good starting point for Riley, while Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope interview with Riley and Jane Turner provides quite a full picture), and few of the examples of the latter that do exist (again, apart from Denton’s work, of course) satisfy me as much as my own attempt of the same. So, despite its short-comings (no info whatsoever of Peter Rowsthorn’s contribution to the show; no mention of Marg Downey’s saucey cameo; certainly, no biographical details of the writer/stars) I include here my interview with Jane Turner and Gina Riley. It originally appeared in FilmInk to coincide with the 2002 DVD release of the first season of Kath & Kim .
A recent criticism from a regular visitor to this blog is that I have been ‘slipping’ – updates being posted a week apart. Thus, any excuse to raid the comedy archive is a good one, particularly when it gives repeat visitors something else to read.
In addition to more information on Riley and Turner as performers, and any information whatsoever on the likes of Rowsthorn and Downey, the other thing I’d want to add to this piece is the way in which the opening sequence of Kath & Kim seems to tip its hat to those first seasons of Absolutely Fabulous: the distinct typeface of the title and the white background are so stylised that it would seem deliberate. Was someone cleverly trying to coerce the same comedy audience who loved that particular mother/daughter comedy to give this one a go? Or is there another dimension of humour at work, perhaps a class-based one, whereby the newley ‘effluent’ Aussie middle class is, as ever, taking the mickey out of the upper-middle class English mickey-takers? If so, that’d be really noiyce and un-yews-ual – as far as sitcoms go, particularly as Kath & Kim is now being enjoyed in other territories around the world.
The first hint came during the highly stylised opening credits, when Jane Turner bent over to look back at us from between the legs of her ridiculously billowy harem pants, while Gina Riley belted out an aptly defiant rendition of the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse-penned comedy song ‘The Joker’. The exact moment followed soon after, in the very first scene of that very first episode. When Kath (Turner) turned to daughter Kim (Riley) to utter for the first time the words, “Look at moiye, Kim; look at moiye, look at moiye, look at mooooiiiiye!“ and a new catch phrase entered everyday speech, it was abundantly clear that, in addition to being a comedy lover’s wet dream, Kath & Kim would also prove to be that most elusive beast of Australian culture: the funny sitcom. Jane and Gina, creators, writers and stars of Kath & Kim, have much to be proud of.
“That’s good to hear,” Jane acknowledges appreciatively. In the process of getting the show up, she says, “a lot of crap went down”. Criticisms included the apparent lack of “emotional arc”, ensuring characters “don’t learn” and “don’t change”. Gina concurs: “nobody thought that the show was going to work.” After eighteen months writing the series, it took a further two years to convince the ABC to start shooting it. But Jane and Gina stuck to their guns, concentrating on “what we think is funny and what we think is right.” With their keen eye for detail they got it absolutely right: the misadventures of the would-be “empty nester” and her “hornbag” daughter is a cack.
However, if the characters fail to show sufficient development throughout the course of Kath & Kim’s eight episodes, it is because their characterisations come to the show fully formed. Gina agrees that, in many ways, Kath & Kim is an extension of Dumb Street, the piss-take of Aussie soaps that she and Jane used to do on Fast Forward. Furthermore, Jane has a history of ditzy comedic blonde characters under her belt – or rather, in her handbag – since, Jane admits, virtually every one of her characters has had as a prop “the same sort of white, quilted handbag with gold chain.” The handbag has been passed onto Kath, the latest in a long line of “daggy housewives” Jane has been playing since her Fast Forward days. And Glenn Robbins, who plays Kim’s “hunk of spunk” boyfriend Kel Knight, often portrayed a similarly daggy bloke opposite her. “We’ve had each other’s numbers for a while as those characters,” Jane says. Indeed, it was on a sketch-comedy show that appeared in 1995, entitled Big Girl’s Blouse, that Kath and Kim were born – in a hen’s night scene, as it happens. “Jane naturally fell into the Kath character,” Gina reports, “and I naturally fell into the Kim character, and that was it; we were off and running.”
Initially, the mockumentary voice-overs and the housing estate setting of Kath & Kim – harking back to Sylvania Waters – clearly marked middle Australia as the butt of the joke. Hence a mixed response from the critics – ‘elitist’ Sydney Morning Herald gave it the thumbs up but ‘populist’ Daily Telegraph had to withhold approval until the realisation sunk in that it’s own readership also had a sense of humour. According to Gina, “the response was the opposite in Melbourne.” However, while journalists largely misinterpreted where exactly she and Jane were coming from, the audience “cottoned on” pretty quickly that they “were taking the mickey out of ourselves as much as anyone else”. Jane adds that, having no pride, she and Gina were shameless. “We pulled out our warts and our carbuncles and our monobrows and our love handles; we dredged up our own lives.”
Although the DVD release of Kath & Kim fails to include commentary or a ‘making of’, it does provide an additional hour of material. Takes in which the actors crack each other up (Jane mostly blames Magda Szubanski, who plays Kim’s “second-best friend” Sharon: “it was very hard to maintain order with naughty girls like her around”), more mockumentary sequences and ‘wine time’ ruminations and even Sharon’s handy cam footage of Kim’s own “connubials”, initially deemed superfluous to the finished product, were far too funny to lose outright. The real question, now that Jane and Gina have raised the bar so high, is “where to next?” Not giving anything away, Jane says, “because the relationships are set, we can take them anywhere and do anything with them. We just want to keep it as real as possible.”
A decade and some weeks ago, give-or-take, I was walking past the Flinders Street Station in Melbourne and noticed far too many dour-faced sullen youth gathering under the Flinders Street Station clocks. If I had looked close enough perhaps I would have noticed the various coarse materials in shades of brown, and maybe would have connected it to the grunge movement. Instead, it was the headlines of all the newspapers that informed me of the reason for their gathering: Kurt Cobain, front man of Nirvana, had committed suicide. The growing throng of weeping kids were keeping mournful vigil.
I happened to be the music editor of my university’s student newspaper at the time, but I could no more understand those kids’ pain than I could their coarse brown material aesthetic. Ultimately, I didn’t realise that Kurt Cobain was the jongluer of that generation because I just didn’t get grunge. Sure, enough slowly aging music enthusiasts kept telling me how rock re-invents itself every half generation – how every ten years or so the next bunch of spotty teenage kids gather up their electric guitars, distortion peddles and spotty teenage angst and combine them into rapid-fire three-chord rants. ‘Grunge’, they’d argue, was my version of their ‘punk’. I may have been complacent enough to buy this reductionist argument then, but that wasn’t the reason that Cobain failed to receive a fitting obituary in the year when both Frank Zappa and Richard Nixon did; Cobain’s tragic departure, like his musical achievements, went unappraised purely as a result of my ignorance.
Thus, required to provide a news story about Kurt Cobain for the tenth anniversary of his passing, and realising that a discourse on coarse brown material would not suffice, it was clearly time to defer to a higher authority on the subject. Although this could clearly be just about anyone, it turned out to be Simon Holmes, a straight-talking musician, producer and retailer I have known for a while. “I don’t profess to be an expert on any topic,” Simon warned me the morning I met him at his aptly-named record shop, ‘Enthusiasms’. I wasn’t fazed; his general knowledge is as impressive as his modesty.
It’s worth mentioning here that Simon was in the band The Hummingbirds, and that their debut album was entitled Love Buzz. Around the same time that the album came out, imports of an American single with the same title started appearing in cool, independent record shops. Nobody in the Hummingbirds camp was too fussed about it. It was a single from a little independent label in Seattle, the first single by some band nobody in Australia had ever really heard of before, called Nirvana.
This interview with Simon Holmes was broadcast on Saturday April 10 2004.
Music: ‘Lithium’ – Nirvana
I like it,
I’m not gonna crack.
I miss you,
I’m not gonna crack.
I love you,
I’m not gonna crack.
I killed you,
I’m not gonna craaaaaack.
Demetrius Romeo: Simon, tell me a bit about ‘grunge’. Where did it come from, and why did it take off?
SIMON HOLMES: It came from Seattle, is the traditional wisdom, which is probably true because it all revolved around the Sub Pop label, which was an indie label out of Seattle, and I think that it was active in an underground sense for a year or two before it crossed over, obviously, with ‘Nevermind’. I guess you could charactise it as ‘rock’ more than anything else: 70s rock but with irony added, which gave it a kind of a contemporary feel as well. But it was a re-action against prevailing styles. And I think it crossed over because Nirvana made an insanely great record which was very exciting to listen to, an record that a twelve year-old could play, but in the best possible sense, you know.
Music: ‘Come As You Are’
Come as you are,
As you were,
As I want you to be,
As a friend,
As a friend,
As an old enemy
Demetrius Romeo: People have said that ‘Nevermind’ wasn’t really what Nirvana sounded like live. How did it differ to what they actually did when they were performing?
SIMON HOLMES: Well I only saw them once live, but by the time I saw them they were very exciting and incredibly loud and all of that kind of thing, but the record ‘Nevermind’ itself is a very produced record and a very engineered record. It’s a huge sound that is actually harnessing a lot of technology in a very subtle way to make a very enormous, exciting kind of sound which they couldn’t exactly reproduce live, and which I think they probably resented by the time it was released. It was like a shining, perfect beast of a record, an ‘immaculate conception’, if you will.
Music: ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ - Nirvana
Load up your guns, bring your friends
Its fun to lose, and to pretend
She's over bored, and self assured
Oh no, I know a dirty word
Hello, hello,hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Demetrius Romeo: What was it that caused Nirvana to take off and be so huge so quickly?
SIMON HOLMES: Well, you know, amazing songs, incredible production, extraordinary performances and all that goes with it. And the most important thing of all, which is, of course, being in the right place at the right time, which noone can ever really engineer. But it’s a really exciting record, and it’s a very ‘pop’ record as well as being ‘none more rock’ at the same time. It kind of covers all the bases, so I think it’s truly exceptional in every respect, and it would have been very strange if it hadn’t gotten a lot of attention. But it just came at the right time, so it just went ‘over the edge’, if you will.
Music: ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ - Nirvana
With the lights out its less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
Demetrius Romeo: Would Nirvana have endured if Kurt Cobain had endured?
SIMON HOLMES: They certainly were returning to form in terms of making more abrasive records, which I think is what they probably would have wanted to do, and that’s obviously completely legitimate as well, but it’s never gonna appeal to as many people as a very, very accessible record. But bands, whenever they get successful, make records about how hard it is to be successful, so they were only following true-to-form in my opinion. But yes, probably if they wanted to they would have been completely valid now had they still been around.
Music: ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ - Nirvana
I gazed a gazely stare,
We walked a million hills --
I must have died alone,
A long, long time ago.
Demetrius Romeo: What are the lasting effects of Kurt Cobain’s legacy?
SIMON HOLMES: A million kids in a million bedrooms playing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, and playing it with their mates in bands. And I think that’s obviously a good thing. Certainly, ‘rock’: the whole idea of ‘rock’ became more fashionable after Nirvana came along, and I think ‘rock’ is still fashionable now. Whether or not there would be such a 70s undertone to so many things – it’s interesting to speculate whether that would actually have happened. I do think that certainly Kurt wrote accessible songs and the band played them extremely well. Everyone loves a good tune at the end of the day, and if it’s an exciting performance as well you’ve got everything, really.
Music: ‘Immodium’ - Nirvana
SIMON HOLMES: (referring to track): It’s the most amazing drum performance of all time. No matter if it’s been ‘corrected’ with computers or not, and I don’t know if it has been, but I do know that when Kurt saw Dave [Grohl] for the first time, he said, ‘I’ve seen the greatest drummer in the world’ and you cannot underestimate the power of that drumming along with all the other musicianship that was going on. It was a very, very powerful performance musically. That’s something that can get overlooked in terms of the big picture: the actual quality of the performance of the musicians is quite exemplary as well. Even if you don’t like them, you can’t help but admire their accomplishment.
Music: ‘Immodium’ - Nirvana
“I don't even care, we could have a tree”
She said, she said, she said, she said
Demetrius Romeo: Simon Holmes, thank you very much.
SIMON HOLMES: My pleasure.
Music: ‘Immodium’ - Nirvana
She said, she said, she said, she said
I don't care, I don't care, I don't care,
Care, care, care, care
Still quite early in the course of the 2004 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, comedian Matthew Hardy’s show Willy Wonka Explained [The Veruca Salt Sessions] was proving very popular. Of the one hundred eighty-odd shows on during the festival, Willy Wonka Explained was one of eight or so that had sold out. Hardy had tapped into our collective unconscious.
Be that as it may, Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt in the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, whom Matthew Hardy has somehow coerced to be in his stage show, and with whom I had the pleasure of chatting to at one of the Sydney semi-finals of Raw Comedy, has been about the easiest person to interview. This is in part because Cole is an actress and voice-over queen, so she knows precisely how to communicate. There were no technical considerations to take into account – she spoke well, into the microphone, without ‘hissing’ or ‘popping’. The fact that we’d already chatted about much of this before the interview took place certainly helped. Julie Dawn Cole is a great story-teller. Most importantly, however, she is a sweetie – sincere and effusive in conversation.
Our chat was more extensive than the final edit would suggest; it dealt with the Festival show itself, and Cole’s involvement in it, and included her reminiscences of the other ‘kids’ from the film as well as the Oompa Loompas. However, the best edit was the one that dealt soley with Julie’s recollections of filming Willy Wonka, particularly when coupled with excerpts from the film’s soundtrack. Judiciously chosen to provide imagery and/or irony, the songs underline some of the key points beautifully. For that reason, I provide lyrics along with the dialogue below. The songs should be of some interest to the comedy lover because they are the work of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley who also wrote the song ‘The Joker’ (from their musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd) which Gina Riley sang as the theme to Kath and Kim.
With a little luck, Willy Wonka Explained will go on the road – not just in Australia, but also to Edinburgh for the next Fringe Festival.
With its talk of Easter eggs and chocolate, this interview was broadcast on Saturday 10 April 2004 – a fitting treat on the day before Easter.
Enjoy the print version below (at least until the transcript is moved to the Radio Ha Ha website), or, to hear the sound file, subscribe to the FREE podcast Radio Ha Ha by pasting this link into your podcatcher: http://podcasts.2gb.com/radiohaha.xml. The Julie Dawn Cole interview is now part of Episode 10.
Music: ‘I Want It Now’ - Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole) and Mr Henry Salt (Roy Kinnear)
Veruca Salt: Gooses! Geeses! I want my goose to lay gold eggs for Easter.
Mr Henry Salt: It will, sweetheart.
Veruca Salt: At least a hundred a day…
Mr Henry Salt: Anything you say.
Veruca Salt: …and by the way…
Mr Henry Salt: What?
Veruca Salt: I want a feast!
Mr Henry Salt: You ate before you came to the factory.
Veruca Salt: I want a bean feast.
Mr Henry Salt: One of those.
Veruca Salt: Cream buns and fruitcake with no nuts,
So good you could go nuts.
Mr Henry Salt: You can have all those things when you go home.
Veruca Salt: No, now. I want a ball…
Demetrius Romeo: Julie, how did you originally land the role of Veruca Salt?
JULIE DAWN COLE: I had just started at stage school in London – we have stage schools, where you do half a day’s vocational work and half a day, educational – and they had decided that the brat had to be played by an English girl, so they came to London to do the casting and I just went for a cattle-call audition. I’d only been at the school four months, so it was pretty well my first job, and I got re-called, and re-called, and re-called, and I found that I’d got the part.
Music: ‘Pure Imagination’ - Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder)
Come with me and you’ll be
In a world of pure imagination,
Take a look and you’ll see
Into your imagination…
JULIE DAWN COLE: The whole thing was magical. It was fantastic. It was filmed in Germany, Munich, for three months, so it was my first trip away from home, having this kind of weird experience, mucking around with the other kids. It was a bit like camp for us: we all hung out together. There was no TV so we played a lot together. And then being a part of this thing, which, little did I know, was going to be with me probably for the rest of my life.
Music: ‘I Want It Now’ - Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole)
I want a party with roomfuls of laughter
Ten thousand tons of ice cream
And if I don’t get the things I am after
I’m going to screeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaammmmmm.
Demetrius Romeo: You actually celebrated your thirteenth birthday during the production of the film.
JULIE DAWN COLE: That’s right. I had my thirteenth birthday when we were filming the scene where I went down the chute. I was sitting in another studio. I was a little bit frightened of the director, it was a bit intimidating and I was sitting there, I think with Denise, in another make-up room somewhere, and somebody came running in saying, ‘you better get down to the set, Mel Stuart’s going mad, you gotta get there, you gotta get there’. I was running, running, running, thinking, ‘oh my god, I’m in trouble now’. I ran into a completely darkened set, and there was a birthday cake there, and everybody was singing happy birthday. I blew the candles out and Mel said, ‘okay, right, now, on with the filming!’ and that was it, and they chucked me down the chute.
Music: ‘I Want It Now’ - Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole)
I want the world
I want the whole world.
I want lock it all up in my pocket,
It’s my bar of chocolate.
Give it to me now…
JULIE DAWN COLE: It was a chocolate cake, and the spooky and bizarre thing is that I don’t like chocolate. Can you believe that? I’ve worked on it since. I can now kind of eat some ‘chocolate’ chocolate – like Easter egg chocolate – but chocolate cake? No way!
Demetrius Romeo: So you were the one kid let loose in the chocolate factory…
JULIE DAWN COLE: …that didn’t eat the props! I was cheap – saved the budget thousands.
Music: ‘The Candy Man’ - Bill, the candy store owner (Aubrey Woods)
Willy Wonka makes everything he bakes
Satisfying and delicious.
Talk about your childhood wishes:
You can even eat the dishes!
Demetrius Romeo: Apart from not wanting to eat the walls of the factory, were there any other negative aspects to making the film?
JULIE DAWN COLE: Well mostly they were good, but there is a rather bizarre aspect. Bearing in mind I was twelve turning thirteen, and this is a very important time for a girl and things happen. You start sprouting in certain areas and you’re very proud of them even though they’re not bigger than a jellybean. I always remember this day when I had to stand in front of the direct and producer while they were scrutinising my chest, saying,
‘Well, no, I can’t see them.’
‘Yeah, I can see them. Look, if she turns this way you can see them.’
‘No, I don’t think…’
And I thought, ‘oh no, please…’
‘We’re gonna have to strap her down and put binders on…’
I was thinking, ‘strap her down and put binders on?’ And I was very proud of my little bumps. Anyway, I think my bumps were so frightened by the whole experience that they regressed.
Music: ‘Pure Imagination’ - Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder)
If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it,
Anything you want to, do it,
Want to change the world,
There’s nothing to it.
Demetrius Romeo: Have you had any contact with Gene Wilder?
JULIE DAWN COLE: I saw him when he came to London to do ‘Laughter on the 23rd Floor’, which is the Neil Simon play. I wrote him a letter saying, ‘Dear Gene, you may remember me, I was Veruca Salt. I used to sit on your lap and you used to tell me stories. I’m coming to see the show and would love to say hello’. I gave it to the stage doorman who said, ‘well, Mr Wilder never sees anybody, he’s gone before the audience are out’. I said, ‘fair enough, but give him the note anyway and I’ll come backstage after the show’. So I rushed around there and Mr Wilder’s dresser was waiting to show me down into the royal sanctum, and he was there and he said, ‘Ah, well, I guess Veruca wasn’t such a bad egg!’
Music: ‘I Want It Now’ - Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole)
I want the works.
I want the whole works.
Presents and prizes and sweets and surprises
Of all shapes and sizes
Don’t care how, I want it now!
Don’t care how, I want it nooooooooooooow
Demetrius Romeo: Julie Dawn Cole, thank you very much.
JULIE DAWN COLE: Thank you very much, Dom.
And as if that weren’t enough, here’s the yet-to-be-published FilmInk version:
One of the most popular shows at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival was Matthew Hardy’s Willy Wonka Explained [The Veruca Salt Sessions], not least of all because it featured Julie Dawn Cole, the actress who played Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory nearly thirty-five years ago. Julie says that appearing in Hardy’s show was a risk and a gamble, but one that paid off. Partaking in this non-reverential look at one of the most popular kids’ flicks ever made, she says, has been “one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
Julie Dawn Cole had been at drama school a mere four months when she attended the “cattle-call audition” to play “the brat” in ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. “Then I got re-called. And re-called. And re-called. And I found that I’d got the part.” One of her fondest memories of the production was of celebrating her thirteenth birthday – on the day they were filming the scene in which, desperate to snatch a golden egg, she is sent tumbling down a chute.
“I was a little bit frightened of the director and I was sitting in another studio somewhere, and somebody came running in saying, ‘you better get down to the set, Mel Stuart’s going mad’. I thought, ‘oh my god, I’m in trouble now’. I ran into a completely darkened set, and there was a birthday cake there, and everybody was singing happy birthday. I blew the candles out and Mel said, ‘okay, right, now, on with the filming!’ and that was it, they chucked me down the chute.”
Gene Wilder, a real sweetie who would tell the children stories, organised for a colour photographer to take a series of stills of the occasion. “It was my best birthday present,” Julie says. Better than the cake, it turns out. In the most bizarre stroke of irony, Julie Dawn Cole is one of those rare people who dislike chocolate, and it was a chocolate cake. “Can you believe it?” she says. Let loose in a chocolate factory, she was one of the kids who wouldn’t eat the props. “I was cheap – saved the budget thousands!”
Cole’s one negative experience was the day the director and producer scrutinised her chest, discussing whether or not it required strapping down. “I was twelve turning thirteen, and this is a very important time for a girl,” she explains. “You start sprouting in certain areas and you’re very proud of them even though they’re no bigger than a jellybean.” No action was taken in the end, her ‘sprouting areas’ so frightened by the attention that, she says, they regressed.
Speaking of ‘no bigger than’, what about those creepy Oompa Loompas? According to Julie, they used to have “wild parties” where they’d “drink the German beer.” It didn’t take much to fill them up. "Coupla pints," Julie says, "and they were up to the brim!”
When Julie recently caught up with Gene Wilder, he took a step back and surmised that “Veruca wasn’t such a bad egg” after all. This sweet memory is one souvenir amongst many that the actress has retained. They include a golden egg, two golden tickets and an everlasting gobstopper, not to mention a multitude of fans that share comedian Matthew Hardy’s obsession for the first character Julie Dawn Cole ever portrayed on screen.
Leo July 24 - Aug 23
Sun April 25, 2004
The Sun is in a positive aspect to Uranus now, and it's inspiring…
Well, it’s official: the sun does shine out my arse!
On Saturday 17 April I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of a dear friend, Kate Graham, to Stewart McCure. The marriage was celebrated on the Botany Lawn at the University of Sydney, with the reception held in the Holme Refectory. Which was all nice and nostalgic, because it was during our time as undergraduates and student media hacks at Sydney Uni that I met and got to know Kate.
For a bunch of photos that almost appear in chronological order, click here.
Using the [then-upcoming, he added some time in October 2004] season at the Sydney Opera House as an excuse, I present here an interview with Mick Moriarty, erstwhile plankspanker of both The Gadflys and Gud. Paul McDermott claims loftier etymology for the derivation of the name ‘Gud’, and who can blame him when, coincidentally, it happens to be an acronym for a medical condition. However, since McDermott was once a member of The Doug Anthony Allstars, it is a fair observation to make that phonetically, ‘Gud’ is in fact ‘Doug’ backwards. And Gud is going to have to live with comparisons to McDermott’s earlier comedy combo, whether he likes it or not. Longtime fans will note, and no doubt relish, the similarities between Gud and The Doug Anthony Allstars, particularly in songs that bear similar gag-structure. Case in point: ‘Peace Opus’, which works the same way as ‘What Is It You Can’t Face’. But if all you see are parallels between Gud and the Allstars, you’re missing out on a lot of fun. (And you clearly can’t have been enjoying Tripod very much, either, can you? What with the put-upon guitarist whose one chance at singing lead is drowned out by the gorgeous one and the funny-looking one singing the backing vocals way too loud, the inability to sufficiently distinguish between a boat and a girl, and… well, I’ll save it for another blog entry.)
Apart from a Parramatta Riverside Theatre season during the Big Laugh Festival a couple of years back, Gud was, for a time, under-appreciated in Sydney. There was one year that two gigs were scheduled in the same evening but as the earlier one undersold, it was cancelled, and as a result, elements of the band were more-or-less rat-arsed by the time the later one commenced. It was still funny, and not merely for the wrong reasons – sometimes the between-song-patter went nowhere, at other times it went where it shouldn’t and occasionally it seemed to go on forever, while the music remained as gorgeous as ever. It was a pity, though, that a larger Sydney audience just didn’t seem towant to know or appreciate a combo that can play brilliantly and have you cacking one minute and getting all misty-eyed and sentimental the next. And then laughing even harder again thereafter because of the presence of the seemingly nice, gooey bits.
A fine 2003 Melbourne International Comedy Festival run was followed by a fantastic sell-out season at the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe Festival which, upon their return to Australia, led to sell-out seasons in Melbourne and Sydney in the so-called ‘Famous Spiegeltent’. Back from another great Melbourne International Comedy Festival season, they hit Sydney tight and triumphant, so you should probably be booking tickets now. (The season opens April 23 – a Radiohead gig precludes my attendance on opening night.)
This interview with Mick Moriarty took place and was broadcast on ABC NewsRadio during The Gadflys’ Sydney residency at the Spiegeltent in December 2003, which, if not concurrent, must have been contiguous with Gud’s own. My inability – at that time – to structure directed interviews that dealt with one topic instead of rambling through many (a bad habit learnt through years of self-tutored print journalism, still being painfully un-learnt through tutelage in radio journalism) necessitated the use of narration to tie the edited bits together. But it hangs together pretty well, as the MP3 sound file will attest.
Music: ‘ Long Time Gone’ – The Gadflys (from the album Out of the Bag)
Narrative: The Gadflys began in the 1980s as a three-piece punk band founded by brothers Mick and Phil Moriarty. Normally, ‘punk’ means distorted guitars and loud drums playing as fast as possible. For The Gadflys, it meant a double bass, guitar and clarinet playing an eclectic mix of pop, rock, country and ballads.
The trio made its mark first as distinctive buskers, then as a popular pub band. Over the years the Gadflys have grown from the basic trio to a big band with horns, keyboards and backing vocalists. Now they’re touring again as a trio, each playing several instruments.
When I caught up with guitarist and vocalist Mick Moriarty, I wanted to know how having a double bass and a clarinet in your band affects the sort of songs you can play live.
MICK MORIARTY: Some songs over the years on Gadflys albums have just never really gone live because they’re probably a bit more rock. They’re hard to pin down with the sort of instrumentation that we have and the acoustic ethic that we use. But it’s really exciting, often, to ‘adjust’ a piece to that. It’s kind of fun for me, and hopefully, for the audience. Hopefully they’re not just going to go, “hang on, that’s not like it is on the record! Whaddaya mean? Whaddaya doing? I want five bucks back!”
Demetrius Romeo: It’s been a little while since the Gaddies released an album. Are you doing any studio work at the moment?
MICK MORIARTY: After the last album, that was a really tragic album as it turned out – not that it seemed that way while we were recording it – …
Demetrius Romeo: Why was that?
MICK MORIARTY: Because Andy Lewis, our bass player, killed himself shortly after recording was finished and before we’d even mixed it. And as it turned out, the engineer killed himself. It was appalling. It was so sad to lose friends, but just to contemplate these poor buggers so sad that they can’t see a place for themselves in the world. It was last year in Edinburgh that we got back to this three piece and found the enjoyment again. Since that time, I’ve been writing a lot, Phil’s been writing a lot, and now we’re talking about a new album.
Demetrius Romeo: When Andy Lewis died, he was your original double bass player. You’re now playing double bass. Was it hard to make the transition from guitar?
MICK MORIARTY: After Andy died, we had another guy, an old friend of mine called Elmo who’d played with us in years past, play double bass. Then we were going to Edinburgh and he couldn’t come because he had family commitments. So Pete Kelly and I decided that we would learn to play double bass. When I picked it up I just went, “hang on, why have I left this alone so long?” I really loved playing it and so I started playing with the Gadflys and by the end of that Edinburgh season I was going, “this is fantastic!”
Narrative: The Gadflys became well-known when they started appearing on the television show Good News Week in the late 90s. Paul McDermott, who hosted Good News Week, had been a member of the comedy troupe the Doug Anthony Allstars. Like the Gadflys, the Doug Anthony Allstars began as a punk group in Canberra in the 80s. Mick Moriarty and Paul McDermott began writing comedy songs together, which they then performed in their new band, Gud.
Music: ‘Wrong Number’ – Gud (from the mini-album Gud – Official Bootleg)
Narrative: Mick Moriarty says that playing in Gud came as a welcome change from playing in the Gadflys.
MICK MORIARTY: It was great fun because it was just so away from everything I had been doing and writing comedy songs is such a different kettle of fish to trying to say what you think about yet another broken relationship or something. It was just a really enjoyable chance to apply myself to the things that I could do and learn about the things I hadn’t done.
Demetrius Romeo: There was material earlier in your career that did lend itself to a bit of a comic edge. For example, very early on you were doing a cover of ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway’.
MICK MORIARTY: I was quite fond of Petula Clark, and ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway’ I think is a fantastic song. It was not so much ‘looking for the comedic edge’ as not taking yourself too seriously, and taking the piss, but not ‘here’s the laugh bit’ or ‘this is a funny song’ but ‘this is a novel approach to a song’. I still think it’s a great song. Tony and Jackie, if you’re listening, congratulations on your early work.
Music: ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway’ – The Gadflys (from an ever-so-slightly crackly 7" single!)
And just in case you need to know more, here is a Gud interview with Paul McDermott, from a few years back, that first appeared in an issue of Revolver. Can’t remember the title, and can’t be bothered digging out the yellowing, dog-eared hard copy. Oh, I know what I’ll substitute it with…
“One of the best things about working with people is gaining that awareness of how someone else is thinking: knowing what they’re about to do,” Paul McDermott explains. “Sometimes that doesn’t happen for a long time, people gaining that understanding and knowledge of each other.”
In the case of ‘Gud’, the band and show consisting of Paul McDermott, Cameron Bruce and Mick Moriarty, the trio seems to have gained that awareness in no time at all, and the proof is in the way they each take it in turn to lead and follow the often improvised shenanigans that punctuate and interrupt songs ranging from silly to satirical to sweet. By the last night of a very short preview season at Parramatta, Gud was slick, and the Melbourne run has garnered full houses and rave reviews. Paul concurs that the three “seem to have clicked straight away”. However, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Mick Moriarty, looking – and sometimes sounding – like the resultant offspring of a union between Keith Richards and Jeff Beck, is a member of The Gadflys, who served as the house band on Good News Week. He and Paul both hail from Canberra, where, during his Doug Anthony Allstars days, McDermott “more or less knew” of Mick. Paul had seen The Gadflys in all of their incarnations, and recalls “sharing pints” with them at past Edinburgh Festivals. Gud developed out of Paul and Mick hanging out and writing songs, initially with Paul Mac. After Good News Week ended, McDermott spent the ensuing year trying to devise a show for the Festival, and Mick suggested they take their songs on the road.
Prior to joining Karma County, his most recent gig before Gud, Cameron Bruce was no stranger to the world of musical comedy. He played with the feel-good fun band ‘The Fantastic Leslie’ and his keyboard stylings have accompanied many a Theatresports stoush. McDermott got to see Cameron a couple of times in his capacity as the Club Luna house band’s keyboardist on Sunday nights at the Basement. Bruce’d tickle the ivories on outré, funked up covers of songs like ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ and ‘Islands in the Stream’, looking like some hatless cross between the Muppets’ Dr Teeth and the musician he was based on, Dr John.
The title ‘Gud’ was derived from McDermott’s realisation, while watching the Grammy Awards ceremony, that “every single person who came up on stage was going, ‘…and Ah’d lahk t’ thank Gud…’”. Thus, he decided, he’d better put a band together called ‘Gud’.
There is a point in the show where McDermott invites requests from the audience, and without fail, an Allstars fan will request a DAAS song. “I don’t really mind,” Paul says. “They can request whatever they want. We won’t do any of the old songs, but I don’t mind them requesting them.” Paul can’t blame them, really: there are some songs that bear an unmistakable similarity to Allstars’ material, particularly in gag structure, so those inclined towards sentimentality are more than likely to want to reminisce.
“Gud’s the same sort of thing as the Allstars,” Paul acknowledges. “It’s musical comedy, and it’s quite aggressive musical comedy. I like that form of expression. I feel comfortable doing it. But there are also massive differences.” Rather than closely analyse the differences and similarities, it’s probably better to note that, at least from McDermott’s point of view, Gud is as much fun as the Allstars and Good News Week were to do. “I loved working with Tim and Rich, and I loved working with Julie and Mikey, and I really am enjoying working with the boys,” he says. However, Gud seems to have covered more ground in a shorter time than its comedic predecessors. “It’s exceeded my expectations,” Paul says. “It’s gone extraordinarily well on its first outing, so I’m really, really happy. Gud is a great outfit and great fun to work with. The combination of the three is greater than the individuals and what we’re doing now is growing at an exponential rate. It’s like a Nimbin crop, out of control.”
And like that Nimbin crop, Gud will make you laugh uncontrollably for hours on end. See for yourself when Gud performs.
The Sydney heats of the 2004 Melbourne International Comedy Festival Raw Comedy Competition came to an end March 31, and while I feel I should provide some kind of ‘review’ of the final (or at least, a review of what of the final stood out enough that I may remember it nearly a week down the track) I would much rather convey the joy that was the first semi, which took place two days earlier. I can’t for the life of me remember much about the contestants (apart from the ones who made it through to the final – and only then because I got to see them again so soon afterwards), but the evening’s jollity began with a call from Andrew Taylor of Access Entertainment, the company that in addition to managing many great acts, runs the Sydney competition.
“Guess who the guest judge is for tonight,” Andrew began. I couldn’t, so he told me. “Julie Dawn Cole.” I suppose this was a kind of test, and I failed. I couldn’t get excited until I was told that Julie Dawn Cole had appeared in the cinematic classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in the role of Veruca Salt. Then boy, did I get excited.
“She doesn’t mind talking about the film,” Andrew continued, “but she hates being referred to as ‘Veruca Salt’.” He advised that I should probably behave myself and not say anything stupid.
“Can I do my Roy Kinnear impression?” I asked, demonstrating it for him with the kind of expertise that, I dare say, would have fooled Kinnear himself, were he still alive to hear me do it: “Ve-RU-ca!”
“No, you can’t do your Roy Kinnear impression.”
“What about my Veruca Salt impression?” In perfect ‘Veruca Salt’ voice: “I want it now, Daddy!”
“No, don’t do your Veruca Salt impression.”
It turns out that Julie Dawn Cole is out here to appear in stand-up comic Matthew Hardy’s live show Willy Wonka Explained [The Veruca Salt Sessions]. It’s about his lifelong infatuation with Veruca Salt and the actress who played her. He approached Cole out of the blue and, amazingly, Cole said yes. If she has a history being contacted by weird guys who grew up infatuated with that saucy pouting princess (a kind of Hayley Mills gone bad), I’d love to know the vetting process she uses that enabled her to realise that Hardy was the safer, saner variety of the archtype.
The show apparently opens with both Hardy and Cole on their respective analyst’s couches. Hardy is in therapy because he never got over his infatuation with Veruca Salt. Cole is in therapy because she never got over playing the character.
Although I convinced myself that I would behave throughout the evening, by the first interval Julie had her script out and was telling us about what a lovely time she was having after accepting a questionable job offer on a whim. But it was all kind of fitting: Cole landed the role in Willy Wonka – her first acting job – after a mere few weeks at drama school. She had plenty of fantastic stories and shared them with little prompting.
Like the time she was told she wouldn’t be needed for the next little while, and encouraged to sit on her own on another set, away from the cast and crew. Suddenly a production manager-type flew in telling her that director Mel Stuart needed her immediately and was furious that she wasn’t on-hand. It’s been said that Stuart could be a bit frightening on set – so much so that Peter Ostrum, starring as principal character Charlie Bucket, allegedly turned down a subsequent five film deal as a result of his experience (although, now a practicing vet, Ostrum claims the experience was fun, but not what he wanted to do for a living). Swallowing whatever fear she had of facing the director, Cole hurried to join the rest of the cast before him, where she discovered a birthday cake. Julie had just turned thirteen.
“It was a chocolate cake, and I don’t like chocolate,” Julie confessed. “Imagine being a kid in a film that’s set in a chocolate factory, and not liking chocolate.” She has fond memories of her birthday, and fantastic photos: although it was customary for stills to be taken in black and white at the time, Gene Wilder, who played the lead role of Willy Wonka, organised colour photographs to be taken of that occasion.
Not all of Julie’s memories are as pleasant. There was the meeting during which she was scrutinised intently and spoken of in third person while the powers-that-be decided whether or not her newly developing bust required taping down for the sake of continuity.
Julie’s sweetest story is of her reunion with Gene Wilder a few years ago. He was appearing on stage in England and Cole left Wilder a message requesting a catch-up after a performance. Assured that Wilder never met people backstage after a show – “He has left the theatre before the patrons have begun filing out,” a stage manager assured her – Julie was pleased to discover that Gene Wilder would receive her backstage. Recalling her character’s exit from the film – trying to intercept the golden egg that she wants “now, Daddy!” Veruca lands on the apparatus that determines the value of the eggs, receives a poor rating and is duly disposed of – Wilder took a step back and acknowledged that Julie “hadn’t turned out to be a bad egg” after all.
Hopefully Willy Wonka Explained [The Veruca Salt Sessions] will do so well that Matthew Hardy and Julie Dawn Cole can take the show on the road. In the meantime, I’m trying to land some interview time with Julie for ABC NewsRadio and FilmInk.
However, before moving on from this topic, I want to briefly consider the name ‘Willy Wonker’. As a character name in English children’s literature, Roald Dahl’s creation is up there with Dick and Fanny, who appeared in Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree. It is only one vowel away from being the sort of a character in a Carry On film that would well and truly have Kenneth Williams ‘oooo-errrring’. However, I assume the name was derived from the slang term ‘wonk’ which means about the same thing as ‘swot’ – a boring person who studies too hard and is too caught up with facts and figures to have a life or a personality. Willy Wonka, embodying the traditional eccentric English boffin archetype, is imbued with some of the ‘wonk’ characteristics: a genius who knows all there is to know about his work and more besides. When he first meets Veruca, for instance, he absent-mindedly asks himself if she doesn’t share her name with a kind of wart that grows on the sole of the foot [a ‘verruca’ is in fact “ a firm abnormal elevated blemish on the skin caused by a virus”].
I recall a time during the earlier stages of the Clinton administration (actually, during his 1992 presidential campaign) when Bill Clinton was described as a ‘policy wonk’ because he was a politician who could “spout data and statistics nonstop, a man with a quick answer for every question.” Isn’t it a pity that nobody had the brainwave to write a piece on this and name the article, and the presidential candidate, ‘Willy Wonker’, or, at the very least, ‘Billy Wonker’. Then his political campaign could have involved voters holding the ‘Bill Clinton How To Vote’ pamphlet, with the box next to Billy Wonker ticked, singing, ‘I’ve got golden ticket…’ Clinton could have done a television spot likening the USA under the Republicans as a paddle steamer that had lost its way, insanely intoning the words, “there’s no earthly way of knowing… which way the river’s flowing…” Of course, this would have proven damaging in the long run: it wouldn’t have taken the Republicans long to liken Clinton to ‘The Candy Man’, even if he never did inhale.
Amongst her souvenirs, Julie Dawn Cole has retained a golden egg, two golden tickets and an everlasting gobstopper, not to mention a multitude of fans that share comedian Matthew Hardy’s obsession for the first character she ever portrayed on screen.
Oh woe is me! Having had the utter joy of blowing all my savings (and a fair whack of those of other family members) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year, I’m kind of distraught that I can’t be at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. Despite this, it’s still nice to do the odd interview. However, as my only outlet is ABC NewsRadio at the moment, it’s a matter of choosing someone who’ll appeal to a demographic of adult professionals, who is available – while the studio’s being refurbished – for a face-to-face chat, with (until I can do this fulltime for money) flexibility. The choice came down to Charlie Pickering, late of Triple J, and Adam Hills, an ex-pat Aussie who tends to return from the UK come Festival time. Hillsy, who is presenting his new show Go You Big Red Fire Engine II, was the perfect choice.
Adam came and met me at Egg Records on a Saturday, and was as happy as a kid in a toyshop: marveling at the badges, the Japanese pressings of Kiss CDs in miniature album-replica sleeves, the other various collectible knick-knacks. Before we got down to business, I put on James Taylor’s first and self-titled album (released by Apple Records all those years ago), preceding it with a suitable lecture – (“note the song ‘Something in the Way She Moves’, the inspiration, as well as the first line, to George Harrison’s ‘Something’”) – to whet the man’s cultural appetite. Then I left him to listen, and browse, while I went about my business closing the shop.
We still couldn’t get down to the business of doing an interview until I’d played Adam a bit of the Grey Album (a remix of the Beatles’ so-called White Album and Jay-Z’s Black Album, perpetrated by one ‘Danger Mouse’) and a couple of tracks from Dsico that No-Talent Hack’s album of mash-ups, Booty of Choice. The interview itself flowed easily.
I’ve been accused of ‘liking’ the comic Adam Hills – by someone who has never actually gotten around to seeing him live, of course. See Adam Hills and tell me whether or not you also like him: Hills has a broad appeal without pandering to the lowest common denominator; he entertains whole families without being innocuous. His observations are mostly spot-on, and when they aren’t the generalisations lead to such good laughs that you don’t nitpick. That’s the most important thing, of course: Adam Hills is funny. This is not merely the best, but the only reason, really, to ‘like’ any comic.
This interview was broadcast on ABC NewsRadio on Saturday 27 March 2004 (the first weekend of the 2004 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, at which Adam Hills is performing his latest show, Go You Big Red Fire Engine II) and is podcast right here.
Soundbite: ‘Feed the World’ – Adam Hills (from the CD single Working Class Anthem)
I grew up in the 80s. I grew up in an era when you could take a positive message to the world. I grew up in Australia wearing a shirt that said, ‘Relax’. ‘Choose life’. ‘Don't worry, be happy’. I grew up in an era when you were told that you could not only ‘feed the world’, but you could ‘let them know it’s Christmas time’. And I have a slight theory as to why there's such a high percentage of obesity in America as compared to the rest of the world. I think it’s because in 1985, a group of English musicians got together and put out a song that told us to ‘feed the world’. And then a year later, a group of American singers told us, ‘we are the world!’
C Adam Hills
Demetrius Romeo: Adam, you’re one of several Australian comics who base their careers in the UK. Why is this?
ADAM HILLS: There’s just so much work over there. There are at least 120 different comedy nights in London alone and I’ve done four or five gigs a night in London. You turn up at the first venue, you go on stage, and as you walk on, the club owner calls a taxi. It arrives as you walk offstage, you get in the taxi, you go to your next venue, you arrive and the MC sees you and says, “right, I'm gonna do five minutes and put you straight on”.
Demetrius Romeo: So how does that compare to Australia?
ADAM HILLS: There isn’t really a comedy club circuit here. For someone who loves doing stand-up, which I do, to be able to work five or six nights a week and in those five or six nights, maybe do up to ten gigs... that’s why I’m there. I mean, you can spend two weeks doing club gigs in Sydney. You can actually spend three weeks now, and pretty much gig every night, but then you don’t do those clubs for another six months or something because the audiences see you doing the same gear. So basically, I come back now to do the Adelaide Fringe, the Melbourne Comedy Festival and then maybe three or four weeks of the year, touring around Australia.
Demetrius Romeo: Surely when you come back, you notice differences in the comedy industry. For example, at the moment there are more comedians and locally produced comedy shows on television than there have been for possibly a decade-and-a-half. Do you ever feel that you should have been here to get one of those gigs?
ADAM HILLS: [Laughs] Well, yeah, but to be fair, I’ve been offered a lot of those gigs as well. I’ve had a fair few offers to do various bits and pieces in Australia, one of which was, the host of a re-vamped version of Sale of the Century. Oh yes, I could have been the new Glenn Ridge. But also, with a lot of the other TV shows that are on at the moment, I was approached to be on a fair few, and I kind of went, “well, no, because then that just ties me to Australia”, and at that stage I was starting to get a bit of a career going in the UK. Now I just want global domination, basically.
Demetrius Romeo: Now, you do very well in the UK: for the last three years, you’ve been nominated for a Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival, which is for the best show of the Festival. Unfortunately, you haven’t quite cracked it – ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’. How do you feel about it?
ADAM HILLS: You know what, after being nominated twice, a lot of people in interviews said, “do you think you’ll be nominated for the third time?” and each time, my stock answer was, “You know what? I’d love to be nominated for the third time and still not win it ’cause I reckon that would be really funny”. And then when it actually happened, I thought, “you know what, I really shouldn’t have said that!”
The thing about being nominated for an award in something like the Edinburgh Festival is that suddenly there’s a lot of pressure on you; every night that I’ve been nominated, I’ve had a terrible show, just through nerves, and through the audience being weird but mainly through me. I’ve just panicked and walked out on stage and gone, “um, I’m supposed to be really funny… and now… I don’t know… ahhh” and just completely capitulated. I’ve since found out that every comic goes through that. It’s all par for the course. And to be nominated for anything three times is a pretty big compliment.
Demetrius Romeo: Okay. The hard question: would you prefer to be nominated a fourth time, or would you prefer that they just leave you alone next time?
ADAM HILLS: Oooh, that’s the big question, and I don’t know the answer to it. It’s a weird one.
Soundbite: ‘Oh Yeah’ [excerpt] – Adam Hills (from the album Go You Big Red Fire Engine)
You go anywhere in Australia and you ask an Aussie to do something, and he’ll do it. Doesn’t matter where you are. You go,
“Mate, you wanna go backpacking through Europe?”
“Oh yeah. Yeah, I’ll give it a shot.”
“Do you want to bungee jump off a bridge in New Zealand?”
“Yeah, that sounds all right.”
“Do you wanna fly a paraglider into Buckingham Palace?”
“Yeah! Come on! Let’s go!”
In fact, I reckon the Australian motto on the coat of arms should just say, “Australia – Oh Yeah!”
I think this positivity came about because we were sent there as convicts. White Australians were sent there as convicts. On the worst ships you could find. The whole way, there must have been blokes in manacles going [with English accent] “It’s gonna be horrible. It’s gonna be awful. I’m gonna hate it.” And then the boats docked at Bondi Beach. Every convict looked up and went, [in Aussie accent] “Oh yeah!” And a nation was born!
C Adam Hills
Demetrius Romeo: ‘Go you big red fire engine’ has been a catchphrase for you for a few years now. How did that all begin?
ADAM HILLS: I was doing this thing where I would get an audience member up on stage and turn them into a rock star, and get them to yell their name to the audience. The audience would yell it back and they’d get a big round of applause. I was playing a thirty-seat venue, so I was trying to get some energy into the room. And this guy, instead of yelling his name, told me that he was a fireman. And I said, “come up here and we’ll do the whole thing”, and when I said, “right, yell you're name”, for no reason he yelled, “Go, you big red fire engine!” And then the crowd yelled it back, and he kept going for five minutes and I just said, “that’s the most up-lifting and pointless thing I’ve seen in my whole life”. There's no reason for it, it’s completely stupid, and yet everyone in the room had a smile on their face. And I said, “that’s it; I’m gonna name my next show Go, You Big Red Fire Engine”, partly because in Edinburgh in 2000 I was long listed for the Perrier Award and I was getting really stressed out. I decided then that I was gonna call the next show Go, You Big Red Fire Engine because there’s no way that I could get that stressed about a show with a name that stupid. And then what happened was it was nominated for a Perrier Award. But then it became a catch-phrase. Natasha Stott Despoja yelled it in Parliament at one point when she was Leader of the Democrats, as my crowning achievement. And I was gonna leave it at that, but audience members kept coming up to me after the show saying, “we were hoping you were gonna say, ‘go, you big red fire engine!’ again. We really like it when you yell that”. And I just thought, I really have to reprise it because people seem to want me to say it. And being that it came about from a mad audience member, I figured that if audience members want me to say it again, I’ll say it again.
Demetrius Romeo: Now, that title also appears on a CD!
ADAM HILLS: Yes, yes, I released a CD version of the original show, Go You Big Red Fire Engine.
Demetrius Romeo: You’ve also had another CD, which was a fundraiser for the fire brigade. It was the Australian National Anthem done in a very particular way. Tell us a bit about that single.
ADAM HILLS: When I went to Edinburgh I had an idea to play around with the Australian National Anthem and I had seen a band in Sydney do… I think it was the music of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and the lyrics of ‘Gilligan’s Island’. They combined the two, and that really stuck in my head. ‘Gilligan’s Island’ was playing around in my head and then I went, “what if you put ‘Advance Australia Fair’ in there?” And then came up with [sings ‘Advance Australia Fair’ to tune of the theme to Gilligan’s Island]
Australian’s all, let us rejoice
For we are young and free,
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea.
Our home is girt by sea.
And then I kind of played around with more. ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ worked as well. [sings ‘Advance Australia Fair’ to the tune of the theme to Beverly Hillbillies]. All of these started coming together and then they just rattled around in my head. I was actually in a shopping centre one day, listening to ‘Working Class Man’. As it was playing, over the top of the music I was just going [sings ‘Advance Australia Fair’ to the tune of ‘Working Class Man’] and started going, “Oh my God, it works for ‘Working Class Man’!”
Music: ‘Working Class Anthem’ (‘Advance Australia Fair’ to the tune of ‘Working Class Man’) - Adam Hills and the Comedy Brig-Aid (from the CD single)
ADAM HILLS: So then I got permission and put this single out with myself, the Scared Weird Little Guys, Mark Trevorrow, Paul McDermott, Libbi Gore, Tripod and then a whole chorus of people including Greg Fleet and Steady Eddie bangin’ it out like a ‘Band Aid’-type thing.
Music: ‘Working Class Anthem’
Demetrius Romeo: Adam, what can I say but ‘Go, you big red fire engine!’
ADAM HILLS: ‘Go, you big red fire engine!’ indeed.
Demetrius Romeo: Thanks very much.
ADAM HILLS: Pleasure.
Music: ‘Working Class Anthem’
Like to know a bit more about Adam Hills? Here's a bunch of other interviews – although, in hindsight, they really are three variations of the same story, more-or-less.
The following article originally appeared in the May 6 2002 issue of Revolver.
Some time in the late ’60s, the Beach Boys’ in-house acid casualty and resident genius, Brian Wilson, chose to abandon the now legendary concept album Smile. Ever the perfectionist, Wilson had been ensconced in the studio recording infinite takes of various parts of songs, with the ‘Fire’ section of the so-called ‘Elements Suite’ proving particularly elusive. It was this section that broke him: a particularly intense recording session happened to coincide with a devastating blaze that destroyed a fair chunk of (depending which myth you choose to believe) either California, or his studio. Convinced that the Fire sessions had been responsible for invoking the flames, Wilson apparently aborted the album and binned the mastertapes, the odd song from sessions cropping up in simpler form on subsequent Beach Boys releases.
Aussie comic Adam Hills may be able to identify somewhat with Brian Wilson. On the night that he first unveiled his show Go You Big Red Fire Engine, Hills and his mates decided to adjourn for a couple of post-show bevies at a local watering hole known as Q Bar. They got there just in time to see it go up in flames. In fact, it was Adam and his mates who first spotted the fire. “We grabbed as many people as we could and went straight out the door,” he explains. “The whole place was evacuated and three people were taken to hospital with smoke inhalation. The building was completely gutted.”
Watching those big, red fire engines come and go was all too much of a coincidence, and Adam’s agent agreed. It turned out that Adam’s next gig, at the Fringe Bar, would most likely also be cancelled because that venue caught fire on the same night. “Two different clubs in one night,” Adam acknowledges, laughing off my suggestion of a ‘curse’. “It was only two; I don’t think it’s technically a ‘curse’ until there’s three.”
Ah, but there was a third. Well, almost. When Sydney’s Comedy Store relocated to Fox Studios, Adam Hills was acting as MC at its gala opening. He happened to be on stage when the smoke alarm went off. Thankfully, that time at least, it was a false alarm: a combination of too many cigarette smokers in the audience and not enough ventilation in the venue had set off the smoke alarms. So it doesn’t really count.
Despite the freakish coincidence of two fires, the show certainly went on for ‘Go You Big Red Fire Engine’: in addition to being recorded and released as a comedy CD, the show earned a Perrier Nomination for Adam at the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. As is the custom, nominated shows get to play at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London.
“That was about mid-October,” Adam explains, “so I decided to donate all funds from that performance to the New York Fire Department.” That should have dissipated any remnants of a curse.
But if it didn’t, Adam’s next project will. He has just recorded ‘Working Class Anthem’, a song consisting of the words of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ sung to the tune of Jimmy Barnes’s ‘Working Class Man’. It has been in Hills’s repertoire for a while and Adam has wanted to release it for almost as long, but has been unable to obtain permission to do so until now.
“When I got back to Australia this year, Triple M asked me to sing ‘Working Class Anthem’ at the Fire Fighters concert and I thought it’d be great if we could release the single for them. Without a word of a lie, that day I got the call saying, ‘guess what, we’ve got permission!’”
Joining Adam on the song is the Comedy Brig-Aid – a horde of comedians featuring, amongst its ranks, the likes of the Scared Weird Little Guys, Bob Downe, Paul McDermott and Tripod. In addition to the single being very funny, all proceeds will be donated to the Australian Fire Authority Council. “On a selfish note,” Adam admits, “I’d love a number one song. But on an altruistic note, I’d like it to raise lots of money.”
The following interview originally appeared in Revolver in the first week of February 2002.
“At the risk of sounding cheesy, September 11 made me question what I do for a living and whether I really help people,” explains comedian Adam Hills. “Three days after the attacks I was gigging in Paris, and there was an American guy in the audience. I started to do some material about how Americans are an optimistic people, and that if any country could get through this it would be America. He laughed harder than anyone in the room and I realised that he really needed to laugh about America again. Since then I’ve been doing a lot of material about the ‘War on Terror’ and how it affects us all, especially ’cos I’ve been spending time in the UK. I was on a flight five weeks ago when someone stood up and yelled that there was a bomb on board and we were all going to die. He was bluffing, and was eventually offloaded, but it was very scary. The more I talk about that flight, and laugh about it, the less scary it becomes.”
Although he should be packing for his flight back to Australia, Adam has taken time out for an e-mail interview to discuss what, at this stage, will be his next show, tentatively entitled Happy Feet. It takes its name from a song that was popular during the Great Depression. “It was a very tough time, and yet some really up-lifting songs were written to buoy the spirits,” Adam explains. “In fact, entertainment was about the only business that improved during the ’30s. When people are down or scared, they want to laugh, and that’s where I come in.”
Adam Hills is not only one of the most optimistic, happy people you will ever meet, he is also quite possibly the ‘nicest’ comic this side of Michael Palin “I love comedy, and I love comics,” he insists when pressed. “We are a breed apart, and I think we should support each other whenever we can, ’cos it can be a harsh industry. But I’ve met so many brilliant and supportive people along the way that I don’t really know why I’m supposedly the ‘nice guy’ of comedy. I don’t mind it, as long as I’m also considered to be one of the funniest.”
Hills is one of the funniest. He is utterly and irrefutably hilarious, as his 2001 Edinburgh Festival show Go You Big Red Fire Engine proved: it received a Perrier nomination for ‘most outstanding up-and-coming stand-up comedy or comedy cabaret’. Not that this has changed Adam: such an accolade “does more for your self-belief” than anything else, he says. “You’re still only as good as your next gig, and an audience will heckle you regardless of what you’ve been nominated for.”
Despite a bunch of television offers that came after the nomination, Hills is adamantly dedicated to developing his stand-up rather than using it as a stepping-stone to other show-biz gigs. “I believe that stand-up is a legitimate art form,” he says. “Television can’t really capture it; there is something magical about the live experience”
A live CD, however, is not out of the question. For those who missed last year’s Australian run of Go You Big Red Fire Engine the show was recorded for posterity. “The idea of Go You Big Red Fire Engine is to take the phrase as far as I can, so if it makes it onto the charts I’ve achieved another goal. Plus, I grew up listening to Bill Cosby, Billy Connolly and Robin Williams albums, and I love the idea of being in the same category of the record store as them.”
Although, like everyone, Hills does have “a few ideas” for film and television, and even a book, kicking around in the back of his mind, he can’t “give away too many secrets” just yet. The next big project is a “major world tour” for later this year. After that, Adam is “very keen” to break into the US circuit. In short, he sums up his plan as “world domination, my friend, and nothing less!”
The following interview originally appeared in the 2 October 2000 issue of Revolver.
“I wanted to be doing something in Sydney during the Olympics,” nice-guy comic Adam Hills offers as the reason for his current spate of appearances on the Sydney comedy circuit. He claims that the week of Comedy Store gigs he recently completed was “partly an excuse to be here for the Olympics, and partly to enable me to do my little bit for Sydney.” That, of course, is only partly true. Following his success at the Edinburgh Festival last month, Adam is breaking out of his standard Sydney mode – serving as MC or the twenty-minute feature act – by road-testing an hour-long show he calls My Own Little World. If ever a successful Edinburgh act would go down a treat it would be this one; providing, as it does, a kind of international humour, it can’t help but appeal to a multicultural metropolis undergoing ‘welcome, valued guest’ mode as Sydney is at present. And if ever a traveled comic felt happy to be back home, it is Adam. After four months of international success, he returned triumphant to play his first gig – in a beer garden in Bundaberg – and was chuffed. Looking skyward from the stage of the partially covered garden and being able to see the Southern Cross, he says, forced “pangs of Australian nationalism” to flood over Hills. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! And furthermore, oi, oi, oi!
Adam Hills has been dedicated to comedy for most of his life. As a kid, he listened to Bill Cosby and Billy Connolly albums while his mates were listening to music. A high school career as a debater, public speaker and valedictorian taught him that being able to make a speech that “purely existed just to be funny” constituted just about “the best feeling ever”. After beginning a journalism degree, Hills got wise to his true vocation after a mate dragged him down to the Comedy Store’s open mic night. “As soon as I saw that,” Adam confesses, “I thought, ‘oh yeah, I have to do this for the rest of my life’.” It wasn’t very long at all before he found himself writing gags for 2Day FM’s then-breakfast shift hosts, Wendy Harmer and Agro. A year and a bit later, Adam found himself heading interstate to host the breakfast shift on Adelaide’s equivalent of 2Day.
“I did that for four years,” Adam says, “until I decided I was sick of getting up at four o’clock in the morning and wanted to do stand-up again.” Adam is grateful to have made the discovery this early in his career that he doesn’t enjoy broadcasting as much as he does live stand-up. Adam thus differs from many other comics, for whom stand-up is merely the first step towards television or radio. “All I have to worry about,” he says, “is how to make a better show on stage, rather than ‘How am I gonna be more famous?’” As far as he’s concerned, the audience can tell when comics are doing stand-up “just as a step along the way” as opposed to doing it “for the art of stand-up”.
Does the fact that Hills has just returned from the Edinburgh Festival prove that he is interested in perfecting the art of stand-up? “My bank balance would reflect that,” Adam offers, laughing. “I’m certainly not doing it for the money.” The first time you go to Edinburgh, Adam claims, “you know that you’re going to lose a lot of money”. You look upon it as a business investment that “may pay off” some time down the track. It wasn’t until his third Edinburgh Festival that Adam broke even – which meant that, through contacts made and the work that followed thereafter, he finished that year ahead of the game. This recent visit, Adam’s fourth, was the best. Adam received five-star reviews and sell-out crowds, as well as the best comic training. “I ended up doing something like fifty-six shows in twenty-three days,” he says. “I learnt what you’d normally learn in a year of doing stand-up comedy.”
It’s not hard to see why Adam was so successful in Edinburgh. Not merely because of the universal appeal of My Own Little World, incorporating, as it does, national anthems and recognisable caricatures. Hills offers a distinctly happier world view than many fellow comics on the world stage. “A lot of comics are very cynical and very world-weary,” he observes. “If you’re watching that for an hour at the end of the day, it can be quite draining.” Adam’s own attitude is to have fun and to “play” with the audience. Besides, he says, when you’re doing shows in places like the Gold Coast, it’s hard to be grumpy on stage. “Everyone’s spent the day on the beach; imagine me walking out and going, ‘well, isn’t life shit!’ It just doesn’t sit right.” In Adam’s Own Little World, life is frequently filled with joyous song – each one a loving piss-take, of course.