What with the Scared Weird Little Guys having just released a new CD called Bits and Pieces, my interview with them in the can and awaiting editing and broadcast, and numerous people who have googled the Scaredies reaching this website to discover that until now they only appeared in passing in my interview with Adam Hills, I thought it was high time to raid the comedy archive for these old pieces. The up-to-date interview promoting the new CD will appear here soon.
The following interview appeared in Revolver shortly after the Scared Weird Little Guys released their album Live at 42 Walnut Crescent in early 2000.
Rusty Berther and John Fleming â the Scared Weird Little Guys to all and sundry â come bounding towards me in the foyer of the ABCâs Ultimo studios at 4:35 pm on a Friday afternoon. They have just been on Merrick and Rossoâs show to promote their brand-spanking-new album and they are both beaming.
âThe new albumâs called Live at 42 Walnut Crescent and we just got to see it for the first time,â Rusty tells me.
âWe hadnât seen a finished copy of it yet, but Merrick and Rosso had a copy of it,â John adds.
âYou guys donât even have a copy?â I demand in disbelief.
âNo,â Rusty assures me. âNo, we donât have a copy yet, but weâre familiar with most of the material.â
The first thing about the Scared Weird Little Guys that strikes the casual observer, apart from Johnâs more recently acquired blond hair, is the fact that while they are still (one assumes) scared and weird, and definitely guys, they are both significantly littler. John especially.
âWeâve both been on diets,â John explains. âIâve shed almost ten kilos.â
Thus, the littlerfication is not due to the rigours of touring, or the demands of releasing and promoting a new album, rather, John says, âitâs me deciding that Iâd been carrying enough weight for too long and doing something about it. Iâm pretty pleased with being a little slimmer these days.â
While I naturally assume that this must lead to pulling more groupies, I ask Rusty to set the record straight.
âIâm married now, and Johnâs just gotten engaged. So the answer is âyesââ¦â Rusty says.
ââ¦ with the long-term groupies,â John adds, completing his colleagueâs comment and no doubt averting a night on the couch in the process.
Rusty and Johnâs lines always segue smoothly, as though one mind acts through the pair of them. This is probably because they have been working together for some thirteen years now. John, who wanted to be a singer, auditioned for and joined a group that Rusty was in. After âabout three years muddling around in different a capella groupsâ like âThe Phonesâ and âFour Chairs, No Waitingâ (a barbershop quartet?) the pair opted for the âScared Weird Little Guysâ partnership in July 1990. John claims to have noticed the difference straight away when the group scaled down to the duo:
âWe only had to split the money two ways. We also noticed that there were a lot less arguments and fewer relationships to look after.â
Live at 42 Walnut Crescent was recorded at gigs in Edinburgh, Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne âover the yearsâ (the bonus, unlisted âMcDonaldsâ song dates from 1991) and put together through December and January. Released on the eve of the Scarediesâ tenth anniversary, John considers it âan opus of our work to this timeâ. Rusty agrees that it does constitute a timely retrospective â a âgreatest hits liveâ. âIf you have heard a Scared Weird Little Guys song before and liked it,â he says, âitâs probably on this album. Because there are twenty-five songs on it.â
Significant absences in the set include the Scardiesâ unique cover of âYesterdayâ and the song which started it all, the Kennett-inspired âBloody Jeffâ. However, this is a pedantic quibble considering that âVolvo Manâ, âShopping and Parkingâ, â30 Secondsâ, âMacadamiaâ and even the generically modified covers of Princeâs âKissâ are present and accounted for. Further, there are two all-new topical songs, designed to âgive a leg up to the rest of the album through airplayâ. The first is a cute parody of the early Dylan political ballad, a talking-blues entitled âGSTâ. The second is a stirring anti-anthem called âOlympicsâ, resplendent with strings, harmonies and corrupted lines from âAdvance Australia Fairâ.
The Scarediesâ most recent show âRockâ, designed to âexplore rock music in its facetsâ, premiered at the Adelaide Fringe Festival earlier this year before playing at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. Unfortunately, Sydney is not going to get to see âRockâ in the immediate future. After a two-week regional tour of South Australia, the duo will most likely be âdusting off some of the old stuffâ for the three weeks they will spend in North America thereafter. The Scaredies have long enjoyed success in the North Americas, having been named Canadaâs âBest Variety Actâ in 1994 and 1995 as well as the âBest Comedy Actâ in the US in â95. That same year, they were also nominated as âEntertainers of the yearâ in the States. Thus, they are aware of âcertain little pocketsâ of popularity in that part of the world:
âWeâre big in Nova Scotia and in Minnesotaâ¦â Rusty begins.
ââ¦ and in Albertaâ John carries on as smoothly as ever.
When I point out a patterned rhythm in the placenames, the potential for a song, the Scared Weird Little Guys utter an approving âAaaaaaahâ in unison. âNow youâre thinkinâ like we think,â John assures me.
The excellent Live at 42 Walnut Crescent is released on Streetwise Recordsâ dedicated comedy label âBelly Laughâ.
The following article appeared in the 15 June 1998 issue of Revolver.
âWeâve got red pants â long ones!â explains Rusty Berther, the scared, weird, littler of the two men collectively known as the Scared Weird Little Guys. âWeâve gone to long pants now that weâve grown up.â Rusty is describing the brand-spanking-new stage costumes that he and John Fleming, the other Scared Weird Little Guy, wore in their recent Melbourne Comedy Festival Shows. âWe also had black shirts with bones down the sleeves.â
Trivial, you might think, this discussion of apparel. Well, itâs not exactly earth-shattering, but it is significant. See, the sartorial metamorphosis comes with many other developments in the Scared Weird Little Guysâ act. Not only have they progressed to long pants, but the Scaredies have also moved on to varying their song arrangements and modes of performance. The Comedy Festival Shows, for example, featuring âa whole swag of new stuffâ that Rusty and John wrote over the summer, was performed with an orchestra. This is a startling new approach for a mainly acoustic duo whose showbiz career began in a cappella groups.
Rusty and partner John have just finished recorded recording an albumâs worth of new material which should appear in mid-July. Once again, this work shows a developing sophistication as the duo augmented their usual sound with additional instruments. âWe recorded five songs with a drummer, and I played bass,â Rusty reports. âTwo of them were done âlive-in-the-studioâ with guitar and mandolin, and the others are recorded as a three-piece. Weâre pretty happy with the results.â
Iâm curious as to how the songs will sound; in the past, the Scared Weird Little Guys have derived much humour by being able to make up for the lack of instruments. For example, their various renditions of Princeâs song âKissâ, a favourite of live perfomrances, is performed in various genres despite the fact that the pair are armed only with a guitar and their voices. They begin with one of the finest country and western rootinâ, tootinâ, high-fallutinâ hoe-down send-ups you could ever imagine. Then they go on to invite the audience to request various musical genres in which they will then attempt to render the song.
âI can only assume that this segment is pre-rehearsed,â I insist. âOne time the guy next to me yelled out âindieâ and you guys pretended that he said âHindiâ in order to do a Bollywood version, the guitar being plucked like a sitar, the pair of you singing with Indian accents.â
But Rusty is quick with an explanation:
âI must say, to defend ourselves, when we first started doing the bit, which was quite a few years ago, we didnât rehearse any. But because weâve done it so many times, weâve had to do bits like opera, heavy metal, most thing, and weâve genuinely learnt how to do all those styles.â
âYeah,â I say, âbut thatâs not my beef; this is: one time at the Belvoir Street Theatre, I know that I clearly got in first and loudest with the request of âmariachiâ, because you guys do such good mouth-trumpet work, but you guys ignored me and pretended to pick another genre out of the crowd.â
âOoh yeah,â Rusty says, contemplating the challenge of the âmariachiâ version. He starts to simulate the cheesy Mexican brass section mariachi fanfare: âBap bap badadp bap bapâ (listen to the trumpets in the Dick Dale song which serves as the theme to Quentin Tarantinoâs film Pulp Fiction if you are unfamiliar with the genre).
âIâm sure we would have tried itâ¦â Rusty insists, and then gives up with that avenue of defence. âWeâre allowed to take artistic license there,â he says instead. âNo matter what the crowd had shouted out, we can selectively hear whatever we need to hear. Itâs a skill that develops over the years and many gigs.â Then he returns to his early tack: âBut I tell you, mariachiâ¦ I reckon weâve definitely done that before so if youâre lucky enough to call it out again, weâll definitely give it a shot.â
God bless you, Rusty.
Rusty met John âabout ten years agoâ, some twelve months after he had left his native Queensland for Melbourne. âI was singing in a four-part a cappella group in 1987 and basically one guy left and John joined.â Rusty suggests that the fact that he and john were not friends or workmates prior to becoming bandmates is one of the reasons why the Scared Weird Little Guys âworksâ as a partnership, and why they âhavenât killed each otherâ.
âSo how did you lose the other two members to become the Scared Weird Little Guysâ? I demand. âDid you have to kill them?â
âWe were in that group for about a year,â Rusty explains, âand then John and I both joined another group called âThe Phonesâ.â After The Phones disbanded a couple of years later, the pair decided that they may as well âdo somethingâ together because they new each other well and enjoyed working with each other.
I want to know if, like other musical comedy acts such as Billy Connolly (as he once was) and the Doug Anthony Allstars, the comedy began as between-song banter and developed from there. In the case of Billy Connolly, who started out as a folky in the group âThe Humblebumsâ the patter just kept extending and the songs came fewer and far-between. As for the Allstars, who began as the punk group âForbidden Muleâ and went on to be shopping mall buskers, they needed to jump in and out of flaming garbage bins and the like in order to retain the audienceâs attention.
âWe were mostly musical,â Rusty says, âbut there were bits of comedy creeping in, and a few of the songs and the actions we did touched on comedy. But we definitely always considered ourselves musicians before comedians. And we still do. When we started the Scared Weird Little Guys, we definitely said, âsure, the main aim here is to write some funny stuffâ. But then, because weâve got the musical background and we love singing harmony and we love writing songs, the music has come through as well. Itâs turned out that we feature the music as much as the comedy.â
I can lay claim to being aware of the Scaredies from very early on â at least from the release of their first EP, âBloody Geoff!â which was inspired by the Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett. Rusty explains that he and John were overseas at the time of Kennettâs election.
âWe came home and noticed that everyone was going, âOh, Kennettâs in! Bloody Jeff!â So we decided, quite innocently at the time, to write a song that blames Jeff for everything.â
I stubbed my toe so hard I cried,
The Beatles broke up and Elvis died.
Rusty claims that while âBloody Geoff!â has become a bit of an anthem for people who hate Kennett, itâs pretty light-weight from a political point of view. âItâs pretty apolitical,â he says.
In 1995, the Scared Weird Little Guys released a mini-album called Scared, which is not at all bad. My only criticism of it is, as with so many musical/comedy albums, that when you become familiar with a live act, you can sometimes be let down by their studio albums. This is because, unless it is a live recording (which often presents an entirely different set of difficulties) the audio artifact is a different art form entirely to the live performance, therefore making different demands with different issues at stake.
âAbsolutely!â Rusty acknowledges. âWe realised that we were asking ourselves the wrong question. The question wasnât âhow can we best capture what we do live on a record?â but âwhat is the best that we can do, on a record?ââ
The answer, Rusty assures me, is the new Scared Weird Little Guys album, Mousetrap, which boasts amongst its contents, songs about dead food in the fridge, setting the table, and death metal lyrics set to a lounge backing.
âThatâs the one weâre happiest with,â Rusty says of the latter, âbecause weâve gone totally in the style of Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66, with a full-on loungey, latin feel.
Before I can call it a day with Rusty, I need to ask two musical questions, having dealt mostly with the comic content of the Scared Weird Little Guysâ work. I apologise for the first one, which is the standard âwhere did you get your name?â
Rusty takes it in his stride:
âWe usually say that when we were looking for a name, âThe Village Peopleâ was already taken, so we thought, obviously, âThe Scared Weird Little Guysâ. But the truth is, we were watching this Al Pacino movie called Cruisinâ, a full-on undercover cop film set in the New York underground gay scene. At one point this guy says, âthere are a lot of scared, weird, little guys out there who donât know why they do what they do.â We stopped the tape and laughed â âwhat was that? âScared, weird, little guysâ? Thatâs it!â And it sort of stuck.â
And finally, âas vocalists, who are you inspired by?â
âAh, jeepers,â Rusty balks. Then: âIâm a huge country/bluegrass fan, and I never really trained â Iâve had a few lessons at high school, but otherwise â Iâve just sung along to a lot of country stuff I love, especially the alternative sort of country music coming out of America. And John was a choirboy for ten years at St Paulâs Cathedral in Melbourne. So heâs got a different sort of background. But definitely not one singer; I couldnât say âMichael Boltonâ, or anything like that.â
Heaven forbid, Rusty, that you would ever say anything like that.
Itâs probably worth noting, just so that I donât confuse the hardcore fan, that the album referred to as Mousetrap in the interview was subsequently released as a five-track EP entitled Death Lounge.