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Got it covered!


My buddy Nick O’Sullivan perpetrated this excellent caricature for the cover of FilmInk, which I snapped as a lead sheet on display outside of a newsagent’s in Newtown.

Nick has certainly nailed the Michael Moore caricature as well as that of George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden. However, turning George Dubya and Osama into a composite by making them kiss is excellent. It reminds me of something a friend of mine once said over too many glasses of wine (and as there were too many glasses of wine, I will never remember the series of tangential leaps that could make a reminiscence such as the one that is to follow fit into a conversational context). She said that when she was a little girl, she used to insist on making her cat and dog ‘kiss’ by forcibly bringing their muzzles together. Her pets didn’t particularly like this, but she’d make ’em do it anyway. When she told me about it, she even followed through with a ‘didn’t you used to do that with your pets?’

No. Never.

But I like the fact that Moore seems to be forcing the same indignity upon a fairly deserving pair of performing monkeys.

I was reminded of this caricature over the weekend when I awoke to the news report that some terrorist blogger had named Australian soil as an imminent venue for his or her next religious hoedown.

Could this be an agent provocateur giving our Minister for Foreign Affairs and (Free) Trade, the Right Hon. Alexander Downer, an opportunity to actually publicly intercept a terrorist warning and act upon it openly, so that he can actually look as though he is doing his job before an election?

Or has Paul McCartney foolishly booked himself into another Australian tour that he’s going to want to pull out of because of lack of ticket sales, and then realised that, unless Ringo seriously gets back onto the sauce, there will be no memorial to a former colleague that he will have to use valuable Australian tour schedule time to rehearse in?

Neither, most likely.

I think it’s a reaction to Nick’s great artwork.

I’m just not sure if it’s Bush taking offence, Bin Laden taking offence, or Moore taking the opportunity to create some material for his next flick, given that he’s such a heavy-handed ‘documenter’ of events.


Sarah Kendall


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

War Veteran: Sarah Kendall dazzles them in the comic trenches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From 4 February 1998 Issue of Revolver:

Sarah Kendall: Vulgar, Fart-Lighting Sell-Out

“I’m vulgar?” Sarah Kendall demands.

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

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

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

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

Then, as her real self:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


No, that’s crap; this is cool!

If you have any sense of taste whatsoever and even the most minimal of intellectual faculties, here is a blog entry for you – some bright spark has logged onto Amazon, looked up some of the contemporary works of cinematic, literary and musical art widely considered to be ‘classics’ and logged the least favourable reviews that have been posted.

They’re hilarious!

Here is an example of a review of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds:

“This is not the Beach Boys. It can't be. Why? No beach songs! I thought it was some kind of joke. All 'Pet Sounds' offers is the opportunity to hear Brian Wilson whine for forty minutes, backed by elevator music.”

And for the film Casablanca:

“I’m pretty sure I will enjoy it a lot more when Warner Bros finally gets around to releasing the colorized version, the way this movie needs to be seen – the world is not black and white, why should our movies be?”

And finally, Norah Jones’s Come Away With ME:

“Puke, puke, puke. Can you hear me puke. This is 100% rectum. Her dull voice bodes poorly with the cheesy backing music. Sounds like a bad night club singer.”

Ready to read some more?

Strap yourself in for the Knee-Jerk Contrarian Game.

A bit of ‘Dombo’ Journalism


Nearly a decade ago now, I cut my teeth writing about music in the student paper at my university. A year later I was employed as staff editor of that university’s union. To allay boredom and balance out the less fun work (that is, the bits that weren’t about cinema, comedy, music or other forms of popular culture) I found myself writing the odd review or conducting the odd interview for that year’s editors of the student paper. The routine was usually as follows: dinner and a smoke late in the evening, a listen, and then a bit of ‘gonzo’ journalism (which I was in the process of re-naming ‘Dombo’ journalism; I even adapted the ‘gonzo’ dagger-cum-letter opener that would appear in the front pages of Hunter S. Thompson tomes… sick, huh! But it’s crazier than that – before I took to signing everything with the slightly tilted ‘Dombo’ logo, I used to use the pseudonym ‘[Secret] Nigel di Weird’. The explanation would take far too long so either lie awake at night if you have to or just forget about it.)

Morphine and silverchair were both hip, indie, three-piece bands. The former, from North America, were getting ever so slightly long-in-the-tooth as they were finally reaching the audiences they deserved. The latter were a bunch of school kids from Newcastle who were fulfilling most school boys’ dream of being in a rock band.

I read these now and don’t cringe as much as I thought I would, but I can’t help noticing how the recurring themes appear to be youth, rutting and alliteration. Life was so much simpler then!



Hold on.

Morphine is essentially a rhythm section, but more testosterone-laden than most, for the saxophone is not just a saxophone, it is a baritone sax. And the bass is no mere bass, but a two-stringed slide bass. Remember what Zappa had to say about bass and sax? “Bass is balls and a sax plays sleaze…”, so multiply that one to the power of however many you’d think John Laws must have to make his voice that low, and you have the basic essence of Morphine.

Opening track ‘Honey White’ is frantic and urgent, beginning with saxophone trills and then a relentless sax riff, often with squealing overtones squeezed out to accentuate the frenetic nature of this track. The sort of urban American fables with a moral,, the likes of which Dylan, Petty or Springsteen could only construct with a lot more words. Morphine create the mise-en-scene with minimal arrangement and laconic lyrics. The understatement works to excellent effect.

The tension in the opening motif ‘Whisper’ is produced by sliding very close intervals on the two-string bass. The sax breathes unlaboured passion throughout. The only problem encountered, really, is the lack of melodic invention; some tracks are too minimalist for their own good. ‘Yes’ the song, for example, invokes a resounding ‘no’. Not enough words, or enough good ones, at any rate (and let’s face it, ‘rate’ is what this is all about) to counter monotony in the melody. That’s not to say there aren’t some real gems. ‘Jury’, with its breathy narration, a la Robbie Robertson’s ‘Somewhere Down the Crazy River’. ‘Sharks’ with the saxophonic squawking and rapid bass twanging, and ‘Super Sex’, with its stream of consciousness lyrics building and building until its release, are ones that you’ll need a cigarette after.

But if you want to grab the metaphor by the short ’n’ curlies, ‘Free Love’ is the act; the baritone sax has never been more Laws-like, the bass squeals its glissandos not caring that it is caught in flagrante delicto. And the cigarette after is ‘Gone For Good’. Its theme is departure and resilience after the fact. The only ‘ballad’ on the album, it features an acoustic guitar.

Sexy? Yeah, in that depraved, musk-scented moose-rutting-until-there-ain’t-no-energy-left sort of way. A ‘beer ’n’ mull before foreplay and keepin’ yer boots on while yer doin’ it’ sort of album if ever there was one.


A Froggy would a-wooing go…

Silverchair are at that difficult age: too old to be cute and too young to be sexy. Decked out in big dacks and backwards caps, image is everything; isn’t that why an amphibian gazes out at us from the cover of Frogstomp? The frog: cute, in the traditional sense of ‘ugly but interesting’, is that testosterone-laden deep-voiced creature so symbolic of adolescence.

And fittingly, from the first fabulously fulsome flatulence of the distorted ‘ugg-ugg’ ugly bass guitar riff that launches opening track ‘Israeli’s Son’, the listener is thrust headlong into the throng of surging, lunging grunge. The tightness of this trio belies their short time together; Daniel Johns’s voice is mature beyond its age. What gives the band away as pit-faced precocious pretenders whose pitiful posturings are the equivalent of perpetrating pub-entry under false pretenses with pilfered proof-of-age is the lyrically lacking songs such as ‘Suicidal Dream’ and ‘Mad Men’. Pure juvenilia.

‘Pure Massacre’ lives up to its name, though: an aural assault whose lyric-to-noise ratio favours the less listener-friendly side of the equation. The use of devices such as a false ending on ‘Leave Me Out’, like the tempo change on ‘Faultline’, are false sophistication, but the band pulls it off. On the other hand, ‘Shade’ painfully consists of barely more than one note. Johns’s habit of ‘mooing’ suspended fourths and ninths from previous or subsequent chords enables all the songs to be liked or disliked virtually as one. After all, every frog looks pretty much like any other.

And yet, the frog as metaphor is priceless: silverchair embody that place in adolescence where going down to the stream to gather tadpoles with boys abruptly gives way to going down to the stream to disseminate tadpoles with girls. This album is one that many adolescents will try to ‘lose it’ to, and many post-adolescents will attempt to recapture it with.

Have fun.

The Micallef Program Pogram Programme

The extended version of an interview conducted with Shaun Micallef for FilmInk in honour of the DVD release of The Micallef Programme (the second season; the first season was entitled The Micallef Program and the third, The Micallef Pogram ). Can’t wait to own that one – and the other two when they are released. The interview was for theIn Da House column, which involves discussion of DVD consumption, as well as a new release DVD for which the interview subject is either responsible or involved with. If you like Shaun Micallef’s work and want to know more about him, you’d be hardpressed to find a more comprehensive source of information than the unofficial but highly informed Online World Around Him.

Demetrius Romeo: Are you an avid DVD consumer?

SHAUN MICALLEF: I have purchased for myself three DVDs. They are: Some Like It Hot, Citizen Cane and the other isn’t really one DVD, it’s The Pink Panther Collection less one. They brought the Pink Panther films out and they seem to have left out The Return of the Pink Panther. It’s quite strange: you end up watching Shot in the Dark which was made in about 1965 or something, and suddenly you leap ahead to 1977. Very strange. I was talking to Tony Martin – he’s got about a billion DVDs – and he was telling me that he thought there might be some problem with MGM not owning the rights to the comeback film.

Demetrius Romeo: Are you a fan of DVD bonuses and extra features?

SHAUN MICALLEF: I haven’t really got into them, I must say. I’m a great reader of film books and over the years I’ve amassed quite a number of those sorts of books, so I sort of know all the stories. Also, I’ve got three young children, so whenever I hire a DVD, I don’t really have time to sit through it again listening to the commentary tracks.

Demetrius Romeo: So most of the DVDs you watch are kids flicks that you watch with your children?

SHAUN MICALLEF: Yeah. But they’re movies I enjoy too, like Shrek and Toy Story. I’ve actually bought the Christopher Reeve Superman series for the kids, as well.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you get much time to watch DVDs that you like?

SHAUN MICALLEF: No I don’t. I still haven’t watched Citizen Kane, even though I’ve had it for about a month. I don’t really get the time, unfortunately, to really watch them and enjoy them. When Tony Martin gave me a copy of the Bad Eggs DVD, which had like a billion hours of extras on it, it took me a good two weeks to get around to watching everything on it. But that’s probably an exception. That’s probably a very unusual example of cramming as much as you can onto a DVD. But I did like the effort he went to.

Demetrius Romeo: Of course, there will be a time when your kids are able to sit down with you and appreciate the films that you like.

SHAUN MICALLEF: I’ve been introducing them to my videos, anyway. They’re watching Laurel & Hardy and Laurel & Hardy and Chaplin, so I think that’s a good start.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you have an extensive video collection?

SHAUN MICALLEF: Yeah, massive. I started collecting that when I was able to – when they started coming out when I was sixteen or something. There’s about seven boxes of old, classic comedies which, in time, I guess I’ll replace with DVDs.

Demetrius Romeo: Which of them stand out for you?

SHAUN MICALLEF: The Marx Brothers’ A Night At The Opera, I think, is a perfect comedy film, and the Chaplin stuff. And Buster Keaton’s The General. I love The General. The kids haven’t quite gotten into the features, but I’m just introducing them to the shorts. It’s a very mercurial process that we’re going through.

Demetrius Romeo: I hope the fact that you don’t often get to enjoy DVD extras won’t preclude you from including them on your own DVD that’s about to be released.

SHAUN MICALLEF: Oh, no, no, I’m quite happy to give the DVD bonuses. There’ll be a commentary track and extras and things like that. Far too much time will be wasted experiencing the DVD that we’re releasing. Maybe just watching the episodes will be enough of a waste of time, perhaps. A pleasant kind of waste of time, I hope.

Demetrius Romeo: What sort of extras will you have? Are there many outtakes?

SHAUN MICALLEF: Look, I’ve got a thing about bloopers, I don’t really like them all that much. What we’ve included instead is about an hour’s worth complete sketches that we really liked. Gary [McCaffrie, co-writer and co-producer] and I went back and watched all the stuff we didn’t use for the second series, some of which we ended up putting in the third series, but there was still an hour’s worth of material that we left out because we’re pretty black in our sense of humour, and there were lots of sketches about death, and we felt that we couldn’t use them all in every episode because it would just be a little bit unrelenting. We don’t have that worry if we just use them as extras – they’re there to be seen. In their raw state, unmixed, some of the stuff’s in front of an audience, some of it is beautifully recorded. For example, we did a sketch that was set in the trenches of World War I which was beautifully shot. We dug out some turf, went down there, got covered in mud. We recorded three quickie sketches down there, but we only used one in the series because we thought that it had more value if we didn’t have too many of them. But we thought they were still pretty funny, so we’ve added them on as extras.

In terms of bloopers and things, if I work with people, I’d rather that they feel free to experiment rather than have in the back of their minds, ‘oh, whatever I’m doing now might end up on a blooper reel’. They used to do that on Full Frontal: they used to run a blooper reel over the closing credits and it just gave me the heebee geebies.

Demetrius Romeo: Why are you releasing the second season of your comedy show first?

SHAUN MICALLEF: The reason we picked that one is because we’re a bit more sure-footed in that second season than we were in the first season, and it’s probably a bit more accessible than the third season, which was getting a bit strange by that stage.

Demetrius Romeo: With most comedy shows it’s the case that the second season is more consistently funny; by the third season it will be funnier, but will go places that the broader audience may not necessarily be able to follow. This is true of shows like D-Generation and Monty Python.

SHAUN MICALLEF: I think that’s right. You’ve got a better chance of enjoying the first series of ours, if you have already seen the second series. I think it would have been an error to release the first series. When they released the Python videos, they completely ignored the first season until the very end; they released the second and third series, and then they released the first and fourth series. I think they were in turn-around in the first series: I think they were still making at least the studio component of the first series while it was going to air; it has a certain rushed quality to it, but the second series was packaged and sewn-up before it went to air, which is actually true of our series as well – not that I’m comparing us to Python. In the first season we were in turn-around, so it was a bit hectic but we had the second series in the can for a couple of months before it went to air.

Demetrius Romeo: Let me make the comparison to Python: what you share, as do and the D-Gen, with Python – and it shows in your television work – is the training ground of university revue.

SHAUN MICALLEF: I would agree. There is a collegiate atmosphere in the manner in which the troupe plays together.

Demetrius Romeo: Was doing a law degree just an excuse to get to do university comedy?

SHAUN MICALLEF: It certainly was for Gary McCaffrie who is the co-writer and co-producer of the series. I actually went in foolishly assuming I’d earn a living as a lawyer and I treated the degree with a bit more seriousness than he did. But we did the bare minimum and got through it and pretty much did two or three shows a year. So you’re probably right, we probably got more out of it in terms of it being a varsity experience than a scholastic experience.

Demetrius Romeo: When you were actually practicing law, were you able to put the comedy out of your mind and give your full attention to the law, or was it a struggle because part of you knew that you should have been doing something else?

SHAUN MICALLEF: Even when I was practicing, I was still doing cabaret shows with Francis Greenslade, I was writing for radio – for SAFM in Adelaide, which was part of the Austereo set-up – and I also started writing for Glynn Nicholas on The Big Gig. So I hadn’t really gotten out of it completely; it was only after nine years that I thought that I wanted to see if I could do this comedy thing full time – but as as a writer; I never intended to perform again. That was pretty much over and done with. At thirty-one, I thought, ‘I can’t play the juvenile lead anymore, I’d just better stick to being a writer’. So it was sort of an accident, really, that within a couple of years I ended up doing stuff in that dreadful show Full Frontal.

Demetrius Romeo: You say ‘dreadful’, but, at the time, there was nothing else.

SHAUN MICALLEF: Yeah, I don’t think that anywhere else can you go on and make some mistakes and have them forgiven before the next commercial break.

Demetrius Romeo: But in addition to that – your stuff stands out. You clearly knew what you were doing.

SHAUN MICALLEF: Well… thank you… after a few years we got to the stage where I could do my own material. That DVD that was released – there was a whole lot of stuff we left out – it was really an exercise in ‘damage control’, my involvement with that DVD. I certainly had no control in them releasing it because they were going to do it anyway, I just pointed them gently in the right direction – I hope – picking material that wouldn’t sully me too much.

Demetrius Romeo: From a comedy nerd’s point of view, it’s so important that that earlier material is released…

SHAUN MICALLEF: I’m of two minds. I don’t think I’ve really decided what my attitude is to it, because when we were making it, we were making these things every week, sometimes for twenty-six weeks in a row each year. It was very disposable, and I was under the impression that no-one would ever see it again – maybe a repeat halfway through the next year and that would be pretty much it. Given that we did this in 1994/95, not really knowing that it would have a life – it seems that everything is getting released on DVD, certainly with the Kaleidoscope – I think I come down on the side of I’d rather it not have been released simply because it’s not being seen the way it was originally intended, which is in a disposable one-hour format. It’s a bit hard to sit there and watch the whole thing, in other words – it’s not really a show, it is a ‘dip into’ DVD.

Demetrius Romeo: That’s fair enough, but I’m still of the opinion that I’m glad I was able to hear the Beatles’ Hamburg tapes, even though they preferred that no-one ever heard them.

SHAUN MICALLEF: I know what you mean. And there are a number of people who still today come up to me and say, ‘oh, you know, Milo Kerrigan, when are you gonna bring him back’, and the fact is, I won’t, but it’s sort of nice for them, if they enjoyed it, to have a version of that if they want to. It’s probably better served if people just remember it, but if people want to watch it, I guess it’s interesting.

Demetrius Romeo: On your forthcoming DVD there’s a sketch in which you take the mickey out of SeaChange by having Dracula move to the sleepy little seaside village. And then in the subsequent season of SeaChange, you start appearing as a different sort of blood-sucking vampire, a lawyer!

SHAUN MICALLEF: Well, you could draw a very close parallel, suppose. That’s weird, because we did that in 1999, and by 2000, I was in the series, so it was quite strange for Kevin Harrington, who guested as his SeaChange character, Kevin Findlay, on our show, when he ended up playing a scene with me for real. It was a case of art imitating art, maybe.

Demetrius Romeo: In the third season there was something that was actually censored by the ABC – is that correct?

SHAUN MICALLEF: That was a sketch about a documentary about Weary Dunlop being a transsexual. It wasn’t really a documentary about Weary Dunlop being a transsexual, it was just about the idea of it – what happens is I introduce this doco, we see about ten seconds of the opening title segment, and then we cut to the ABC switchboard lighting up with people complaining. I was asked during the publicity for the show, whether there was anything controversial in it, and jokingly, I suggested that sketch. It ended up with that sketch being pulled, which is funny, because that’s what the sketch was about – that sort of overreaction is exactly what happened. So if you watch that third series, we put in a new sketch, but there’s actually a gap of about two seconds where there’s just colour bars with sketch number – it says ‘sketch 0365 removed’ – just so people know where it was going to be.

Demetrius Romeo: There was something I read about the first season, in which an item from the first season was replaced between its initial broadcast and subsequent repeat. It was an interview between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish political leader Gerry Adams, in which you play both characters.

SHAUN MICALLEF: We cut that out when it got repeated just because we felt it had dated. It was about eight months later. We just removed it and stuck in another sketch. If the sales of this DVD is sufficient that Kaleidoscope want to release the other stuff, we will include all that material that was cut out. There were a few topical sketches that were cut out of the first series, and we didn’t include the Weary Dunlop sketch in the third series. There are always alternate versions of these things.

Enough (Money for old) Rope(?)

Shortly after I wrote the rant that follows, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Denton and was able to put my criticisms to him directly. He accepted them with an open mind and answered them honestly, in the process making me realise just how much prejudice I was carrying. After you read this, do check out the interview.

I’m not always home in time on a Monday night to catch Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope, and it’s a pity. I grew up – or failed to grow up – at just the right time to have Denton as a hero: someone who somehow fooled the powers that be to land a job that he clearly could do well, and that he clearly deserved  – the sort of job that traditionally would go to some half wit rather than the geeky, cheeky, clever, funny guy.

That show was Blah Blah Blah, and I mention it only to point out that before Denton left radio – the Breakfast shift on Triple M, which he claimed to leave because, amongst other reasons, he got sick of having to promote things like Big Brother – his advertising catchphrase seemed to be the Jewish equivalent of ‘blah blah blah’: ‘yadda yadda yadda’. The phrase came to the fore with comic overtones thanks to the likes of Seinfeld. But enough of the diversion. Back to Enough Rope.

One of the things I notice about Enough Rope when I do catch it is that it sits a little uneasily, and I’m not sure why. One of the reasons might be because it gives television commentators in newspapers reason to allow their senses to leave them long enough to make foolish generalisations like ‘finally we now have someone on par with Michael Parkinson here in Australia’. This is clearly a foolish thing to say, not because Denton isn’t ‘on par’ (which I take to mean ‘as good an interviewer’) with Michael Parkinson. Sure, Denton appears less subjective and tends to direct the interview with a slightly heavier hand, but he’s also funnier, and will pull out the comic armoury to corner his quarry when he feels it necessary. That’s pretty much ‘on par’ with Parky. But there’s no ‘finally’ about it; Denton always has been a great interviewer. Cast your mind back, if you will, to that fantastic yet sadly undervalued tonight show he had on the Seven network about a decade ago, and recall how good his interviews were.

Admittedly, those interviews were set up to be ‘events’ where the medium was also the message: when interviewing Peter Greenaway, the director responsible for such striking cinema as The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover and A Zed And Two Noughts, Denton chose to match the filmmaker’s style, having him brought onto the interview set between hanging slabs of meat. The proceedings were shot at weird angles, the cameras shooting between flickering candle flames. It was a hoot. Similarly, when interviewing the world’s greatest model (whoever it was that year), Denton did so while photographing her at weird angles. In a sense, Denton, as an interviewer, was coming at them from different angles. The show really subverted the expectations and the established norms of the ‘tonight’ show format. It also gave rise to the ‘musical challenge’ – itself an overhang from Denton’s sophomore show for the ABC, The Money or the Gun, on which a different band delivered ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in a different style each episode.

So back to Denton’s new chat show, Enough Rope. It has few frills, and part of its thing is to include interviews with interesting people who aren’t celebrities (something he pioneered, again, on his earlier shows). Naturally, we only get to see the interesting ones – who knows how many dull ones never made it to the screen? But often they are utterly engaging, showing a side to a person or a profession that you would not expect. On the other hand, sometimes the celebrity interviews just fail to deliver. Other commentators have probably taken Denton to task for going a little easy on disgraced stockbroker Rene Rivkin. If they haven’t, heaps of ‘men on the street’ certainly have. But then, Rivkin has something that makes him special. He must have; he was featured on Australian Story recently as well. But whatever that something is, I can’t for the life of me work it out. If a poor person had benign brain cancer and was convicted for insider trading, he’d probably just go to gaol without getting on prime time television. Twice. Without his wife telling the nation that she resents him for losing her children’s inheritance. Heck. There’s probably been heaps of such poor people, and we just haven’t heard about it – because they’re poor!

Denton’s recent interview with Rachel Griffiths was mostly good, but there a few moments that, once again, sat a little uneasily. The introduction of Toni Collette in the audience was a little bit cheesy and stage-managed, not least of all because her (and Rachel’s?) publicist was sitting right next to her in the audience. Fair enough, the publicist has to be present at official functions featuring his or her clients, but that’s the thing: since the publicist was present, it was an official function. Collette didn’t ‘just happen’ to be in the audience. She wasn’t even ‘just a friend showing support’. This was a marketing opportunity. So a mutual admiration session, a back-slap-a-thon, ensued and though it was not overly long, and it was even quite touching, it was still a bit much. Thankfully, Denton was able to debase it a little with a partner-swapping gag.

I guess by this stage the glass was now half empty rather than half full, and it was a bit easier to not so much misinterpret, but interpret in less favourable light, some of Rachel Griffith’s less thoughtful comments. Admittedly, it is only through a good chat show that the interview subject will relax enough to let the unrehearsed answers slip rather than continuing to utter the glib, stock responses – but as the host didn’t pick up on them, and in some instances, set the context up for them, again, it brings about that uneasy feeling that something isn’t quite right.

For instance, when Denton pointed out that Griffiths has described herself as ‘gawky’, and asked her how much the way she looked impacted upon her career in Hollywood, she replied,

I think if I looked like Charlize Theron and had my acting ability, I’d be making thirty million a year. … If I’d been offered all the Charlize Theron roles of the last ten years I probably would have just died of boredom.

I know Griffiths is saying ‘I realise I’m not universally considered to be eye-candy the way Charlize Theron is’ – which is true enough because while I wouldn’t kick Rachel Griffiths out of bed if she farted, if Charlize Theron farted, I’d try to bottle it to auction it online – but it sounds as if she’s saying ‘Charlize Theron can’t really act as good as I can but gets away with it ’cause she’s built the way she is’. And I suppose the imputation that may be extrapolated is that Charlize is none too smart either – otherwise she would have died of that boredom, what with all of those ornamental, non-draining Charlize Theron roles that Charlize Theron has had. (Look at the other side of the coin, Rachel – if you had Charlize Theron’s body, you would have had to use it to rub uglies with Geoffrey Rush in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers!)

Later, Denton gave Griffiths the opportunity to explain, ‘in layman’s terms’ why exactly the Free Trade Agreement recently signed by Australia and the United States is going to be such an awful thing for Australian arts and media. The problem is that it will mean that there will be no protection of Australian product on the telly or radio – no ‘minimum amount of local content’ quota, which will mean that what we produce locally will have to compete with what’s produced in the US, and we don’t have the same budget or experience or know-how to create the same quality, or as big a market to be able to sell it for a pittance and so compete, in our limited market place, with US-produced programs. Or at least, that’s what I think it means. In a way, though, since I don’t really have a media job, what do I care that a bunch of people will be out of work? Some of them can join me in retail, or flipping burgers, where they belong!

In layman’s terms, according to Rachel Griffiths, the problem with the Free Trade Agreement with regards to Australian culture and media, is a loss of Australia’s cultural identity. She referred to that awful, harrowing past, when, to have a media job, you had to sound like you were from the BBC. Nobody heard an Australian accent on the wireless. “Everyone spoke posh” she said, putting on those posh, crisp, BBC tones as she said it, “And there was this great shame about ourselves.” According to Rachel, in the media dystopia, the cultural nadir that will ensue should the Free Trade Agreement go ahead (and it looks as though it shall), “we could very well be looking to a future where all the voices we hear or most of the voices we hear are likely to be American voices.”

Hello! Rachel, honey, the only way we’ve heard your voice on Australian television these last few years, your appearance on Enough Rope notwithstanding, is with an American accent. You’re the freaky, gawky, grave, token Aussie chick in the cast of Six Feet Under, don’t forget. Only, you wouldn’t know it, to listen to you on that show. Where was the Aussie accent then?

Besides which, we’ve lived through the shame of having to sound English on the air, we’ll live through the shame of having to sound American, if it comes to that. Rachel certainly has.

I guess I didn’t really expect Denton to make something of those things. Not now, anyway – although he might have fifteen-odd years ago when he had big hair (a mullet, in fact) and nothing to lose. I don’t know if he has mellowed or lost a bit of his bite or is just playing it a little safer. If he is still ‘hard-hitting’, his hard hits are softer than they used to be when he was young and hungry, and the industry was still mostly in the control of a stodgier, older guard in most dire need of a shake-up. Yet even if this were the case, we can at least relax knowing that he is passing on the flame to angrier and younger angry young men.

You see, the company that makes Enough Rope is Denton’s company. It’s called Zapruder’s Other Films. (Great name, isn’t it? Abraham Zapruder’s the amateur filmmaker who captured footage of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s head exploding all over his good lady wife Jacqueline that fateful day in Dallas). Amongst Zapruder’s Other Films’ other films is the show CNNN which does take issue with a lot of the stuff that an older, wiser, seasoned Andrew Denton would, on his own show, possibly let pass.

Whether you agree or disagree with the opinions I’ve expressed, there is another side of the story worth reading.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rock, Paper, Saddam

Saddam: TIGER HAND! RAWR!!!!! RAWRR! rar. Hahaaa, hi. Tiger Hand. Come on! You Know! ... You don't know Tiger Hand? Tiger Hand beats paper. Like totally beats paper. Always.

Fumetti, traditionally, are what we call comic strips that use photos with captions or voice bubbles rather than drawn or painted images with captions (although, in Italian, the word refers to all kinds of comic strips). A pre-Python John Cleese famously (for comedy nerds) ‘starred’ in a fumetto for Harvey Kurtzman’s magazine Help! in the mid-60s, having landed in the US on a Cambridge Circus tour. Why is this important? Because amongst the staff of Help! magazine was a pre-Python Terrance Vance Gilliam, that’s why!

The reason I bring it up is because my buddy Emma Driver sent me the link to just about the funniest fumetto I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It lives on a site called ‘Rock, Paper, Saddam!’ and is the work of Jay Barnes. It made me laugh so hard that I was nearly physically ill. I’ve excerpted one panel and caption, which, on their own, don’t convey the extreme mirth of the entire story – so you’re gonna have to go straight to Jay’s site and see for yourself.

Unsolicited E-mail

This so very cute e-mail arrived for me this evening:


Is there any way to  get a message to Julie Dawn Cole?
My 4-yr.-old grand son is obsessed with her, as veruca Salt, and believes that if he could write to her he could make her "turn nice".
Is any contact information available?

Thank you

Veruca Salt clearly is a universal obsession amongst boys.

I hope I get a facsimile of the letter to post on this site!

The Dissociatives


I’ve been accused of being a silverchair fan, and believe me, there are many worse things to be accused of. My infatuation with silverchair stems from the fact that they began as teenagers with that very teenage ambition of being in a band. The difference is, they pursued that dream and turned it into a reality. Furthermore, beginning essentially as a grunge band (earning the ridiculous epithet, way back when, of ‘Nirvana in pyjamas’), they showed a credible development from each album to the next. Now Daniel Johns has stepped away from carrying the responsibility of the band, to collaborate with Paul Mac. When silverchair were thrashing noisy, distorted guitars, Paul Mac was twiddling knobs to create a distinct electronic sound with Andy Rantzen in the musical entity Itch-E and Scratch-E. Who’da thunkit, some ten years ago, that in a decade’s time two very different musicians would meet somewhere in the middle? As The Dissociatives, an association of two distinctly different musical entities, Daniel Johns and Paul Mac create a very futuristic and yet retro sound. Sure, a fair amount of knob twiddlege takes place (on the synth, I mean; I’m not accusing anyone of self-indulgence) but a lot of the time the synth is a mellotron making flutey sounds, along with the odd cello or brass sound, not unlike classic ‘summer of love’ Beatlesque pop. Mac admits that this is mostly because Johns has this classic early-model synthesizer in his basement, so when melodies were being written for this album, they were usually worked out on the mellotron (while Johns strummed his ‘weird chords’, no doubt). However, truth be told, there has always been a lot more to Paul Mac than merely generating electronic sound; he has worked with Daniel Johns on a couple of silverchair albums, and he also served as the musical director of the comedy/current affairs quiz show Good News Week (the Aussie equivalent of Have I Got News For You). An interesting coincidence is that Mac’s real name is the same as that of the host of Good News Week: Paul McDermott!

The interview went to air on Saturday June 19 2004 on ABC NewsRadio. Here’s the MP3, if you’d prefer.


Soundbite: ‘Young Man Old Man’ from the album The Dissociatives.

Demetrius Romeo: Daniel, Paul, how did the collaboration that became The Dissociatives come about?

DANIEL JOHNS: Me and Paul were just friends for a while and really liked working with each other, because Paul had worked on some silverchair demos with me and played piano on some tracks. We really liked what each other did so we wanted to work together in a band together and write an album together and make something really enjoyable.

PAUL MAC I had admired Dan’s stuff for years and we had a similar sense of what we liked about music, I think, and when we were doing the Diorama demos, it was such a fun process of Dan showing me his weird chords and song structures and me mapping it out and fleshing it out on the piano; it was just so much fun, that whole process, that we started writing stuff together – one track – at night while we were doing that. It felt like so much fun that we wanted to do more.

Demetrius Romeo: Daniel, this feels like the natural progression; why isn’t the Dissociatives album a silverchair album?

DANIEL JOHNS: Um… because it’s me and Paul! It’s like, I don’t know, it’s good to… I just wanted to write with someone else for a while, have some fun collaborating, because usually, with silverchair, I’m doing it on my own. I just wanted to find someone that I felt confident writing with and really like Paul as a person as well, so we could write together comfortably.

Soundbite: ‘Young Man Old Man’ from the album The Dissociatives.

Demetrius Romeo: Paul, did you ever imagine that you’d be collaborating with Daniel Johns?

PAUL MAC I didn’t really imagine it, but it kinda still makes sense because I’ve always loved music in all forms; I love rock music, I love classical music, I love electronic music – just anything that is interesting and takes you to a more interesting kind of headspace. And even when we started working together on this, it wasn’t trying to bring rock and dance together or anything, it was just more finding what we had in common musically that we loved and exploring that.

Demetrius Romeo: Well, you did start at totally opposite ends of the spectrum when you began your careers. Daniel, when did you have any idea that you might be moving closer towards the centre and collaborating with your diametrical opposite?

DANIEL JOHNS: I think when I heard Itch-E and Scratch-E for the first time, I really wanted to work with Paul. I really wanted to work with whoever was responsible for whatever made you feel like ecstasy was coming on even when it wasn’t. Paul’s bleeps and tweeps always did that for me. I’d be in my car just driving somewhere to work and next thing I know, I’d feel like a pill was coming on. That was pretty gear! So I wanted to work with him.

Demetrius Romeo: Paul, one of the things your credited with in the sleeve notes of the album is ‘freak dub atmosphere’. How do you conjure that up on stage?

PAUL MAC It’s a different approach on stage than it was on record. On the record it’s like painting with lots of different sounds and reverb and changing the source of the sound and turning it into something new. In the live show it’s a different approach: it’s trying to get the same feeling, but not trying to replicate the sound.

DANIEL JOHNS: Yeah, I think it’s more organic, live. It’s the same with guitar effects and drums and bass; everything’s straight through the instrument, but you’ve got to figure out some way to make it not sound natural. You don’t have effects pedals that you have in the studio and things that you can EQ. You can’t fiddle as much. It’s just really kind of… I don’t know how to say it, but you’ve just got to be really strict in how you use your limited effects to make everything sound different.

Demetrius Romeo: Would you see a time when you’d release a live Dissociatives album if what you’re doing on stage is different enough to what you do in the studio?


PAUL MAC I always find live albums somewhat disappointing, but occasionally one will come through that sheds new light on the songs that makes it worth it. Most of the time it just feels like a slightly out-of-tune version of the album with crowd in the background going ‘aaaaaaaaaaah’.

DANIEL JOHNS: That’s what I think! I don’t really like live albums either. But sometimes they’re really amazing.

Soundbite: from the album The Dissociatives.

Demetrius Romeo: Is the Dissociatives a side project, the first stage of the next phase, or a destination you intend to stay at for a while.

DANIEL JOHNS: I think it’s the first stage of the next phase, really. It’s like a turning point – me and Paul wanted to clear our respective heads and to do something fresh. It’s also somewhere we’re going to come back to, because it feels really good to be here, so we’re going to keep reverting back to it whenever we need a sanctuary from our respective projects.

Demetrius Romeo: So that doesn’t rule out the continuation of silverchair as an ongoing project.

DANIEL JOHNS: No, that doesn’t rule anything out. The idea is never to rule anything out.

PAUL MAC Exactly. It’s a healthy, collaborative thing. I think that music is unfortunately set up where you have your one band and your one idea and you milk it endlessly, whereas I think, with this approach, it’s more like a continuing musical friendship. You still go off and do your other things, but you come back to it and it’s cool; it’s a freshening up of musical ideas.

Soundbite: from the album The Dissociatives.