Re-publishing old interviews always runs the risk of bringing back to light topics that have long been done and dusted. But while discussion of the Shannon Noll feud appears in this 2006 interview, conducted as Wil undertook his Wil Communication tour, so too does the fact that Wil was just leaving radio – something he did again quite recently. I present it here on the eve of the Sydney run of this year’s show Wilosophy – virtually totally sold out at the Opera House before it begins. (There was a[nother] late show added that still had seats available as I typed this introduction – try your luck!)
This interview originally appeared as part of Episode 35 of Radio Ha Ha, a podcast I used to present/produce/edit for a Sydney radio station when they thought that digital radio was going to explode. They jumped the gun, but should have stuck at it, as should have I – now everyon’s podcasting. This stuff was pretty good for its time. Don’t believe me? Listen to the episode – it was co-hosted by Judith Lucy, who was in town for her show of the time, I FAILED! (It’s worth mentioning that she’s about to undertake a return Sydney season of her latest show, Judith Lucy’s Not Getting Any Younger.)
I have, of course, interviewed Wil Anderson before, and since – the more recent one was about The Gruen Transfer, for FilmInk. I may bung it on this blogsite if I find it. Apart from that, I suppose, before we begin, I should offer some new element so that you can walk away with something new. Some new insight. I have nothing insightful – but I do have a ‘cute’ anecdote.
I love watching Wil in action – live on stage, and on the telly, and I’ve been doing it for years. We get on quite well. Wil used to introduce me to people as ‘Australia’s only dedicated comedy journalist’ which at the time was true. He really enjoyed being interviewed by someone who understood how comedy worked, rather than by, say, “the fishing writer” (that is, whoever the newspaper could be bothered sending, because they didn’t consider comedy so ‘important’; read: ‘lucrative’). For a time, his website linked to my blog with this lovely blurb:
“Dom Romeo is the best comedy writer in Australia. He is the perfect combination of fan and critic and his knowledge and honesty is legendary. The one critic I will always pay attention to.”
Thanks Wil. Knowing that Wil was aware of my honesty, early this year I made a little suggestion to him on the quiet, after beginning with a couple of disclaimers along the lines of ‘I was thinking’ and ‘just an idea…’. My idea was, maybe it was time for Wil to try something different in his delivery style. Instead of the break-neck speed, cram every possible gag in, make the audience laugh so hard they risk missing the next gag, perhaps it was time to slow down. I couched it in a cumbersome metaphor: ‘play the audience laughter like an orchestra, instead of like an electric guitar delivering the fastest solo…’.
Wil was very nice about it, respecting my opinion. Did he agree with it? Well, the poster for Wilosophy at the 2009 Melbourne International Comedy Festival carried this blurb:
“A higher laugh-per-minute rate than anyone I've ever seen before...‘Ando’ is a comic gem.” ThreeWeeks (UK)
Clearly, if it ain’t broke, there’s no reason to fix it. There are other outlets for which Wil delivers his comedy differently: radio, print, television… On stage, he’s still ‘Ando the Comedy Commando’.
Saw the show. Hilarious, clever as always, but more mature and measured, it seems to me. And he’s slowed down a bit!
Dom Romeo: Wil, your comedy clearly has become edgier since you haven’t been doing radio; some people have described it in terms of being ‘like Rod Quantock, but for a younger demographic’. That you’re still getting the kids in, but actually giving them a message under all the comedy. What do you think of that?
WIL ANDERSON: I like to think that it’s like Rod Quantock, but that you’re talking to people who don‘t already agree with everything that you agree with. I love Rod, and I think Rod could work to any sort of audience, but you go to a Rod Quantock gig, and it’s preaching to the choir. Do you know what I mean? Everyone in there already agrees with everything you’re saying.
I would like to think that someone who voted for John Howard, and to be honest with you, listens to Shannon Noll’s music, could still come to my show and laugh for seventy minutes. I think all the jokes are there. Then I think there's that whole different layer to it, hopefully, that gives people an accessible way to get into things that they would normally tune out for.
Normally if you say the words ‘Australian Wheat Board’, people go, “it’s wheat; I’m bored”. What I try to do is get people interested in things, through comedy, that they wouldn't normally be interested in. And sometimes people go, “oh, you just did an ‘Amanda Vanstone’s fat’ joke”. Yeah well, sometimes you’ve got to do a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, you know? Occasionally, if you’re talking about immigration or whatever, chuck in another joke to keep it going. I don’t see any shame in that. In fact, I think, as an entertainer, it’s your job to be entertaining, foremost.
I always like to think that good comedy is like a Kinder Surprise: you can just eat the chocolate, and you can enjoy the chocolate. But there’s a little toy in there if you want that as well. I think I’m getting better at that. I’ve always tried to do that, but now that I have the time to think about that, and I’m getting better as a comedian, I’m getting better at making that work together.
Soundbite: A routine that begins with the Corby girls Schapelle and Mercedes, in order to construct an argument as to why bogans should think twice about what they name their kids, likewise, recorded at the Comedy Store
Dom Romeo: What I love is that there are people who are far too young to vote for John Howard, who like Shannon Knoll, who come to your show and laugh.
WIL ANDERSON: Yeah, well, that‘s nice too. I was talking to Andrew Denton about this one day, and I was saying that comedy was most important to me, in opening my eyes to how the world worked, when I was about thirteen or fourteen. When I was growing up in the country, we had two TV stations: we had the ABC, and we had one of those composite TV stations — you know, where they take the worst stuff of every channel, and combine it into one channel. It’s like The Young Divas of television.
So I used to watch the ABC all the time, and I came from a very conservative up-bringing, a very narrow point-of-view. When my world got open to issues, it was through comedy. It was through watching shows like The Big Gig, and watching Andrew Denton do shows like The Money or the Gun and Blah, Blah, Blah and shows like that. And I said, “It‘s really important,” because I was thirteen or fourteen years old, and I was looking at how I would view the world — on social issues, on political issues… you know? And it was comedy that brought me to that. So I love that my comedy goes to people of that age. That‘s really important to me. In fact, I’m much more interesting in appealing to someone who’s starting to make their mind up about things, than people who have already made their mind up about things. So it‘s really exciting to me that the kids are there.
Soundbite: Wil spots a kid in the audience who turns out to be only ten, and warns him that he’ll be encountering new words — and presents him with one pertaining to anatomy. Recorded at the Mic in Hand.
WIL ANDERSON: Andrew Denton said it to me when I was doing Triple J, and I suppose it’s less so now, but his great quote was — and I love this; he goes — “you know, you probably talk to more young people in this country than anyone other than Delta Goodrem” and young people do, in some ways, come to my work. So if they’re coming to you, you have a responsibility to… firstly, to entertain them. I’ve always said this, Dom, and you know this. If you’re a comedian, number one, it’s got to be about the jokes. If you’re doing a seventy-minute show, it’s got to be seventy minutes of laughs. If you ever lose a joke to make a point, then you’re a public speaker, not a comedian.
Dom Romeo: One thing that happened this year that I really loved, I really enjoyed it playing out, was the whole Today Tonight ‘going you’ for your Shannon Noll material.
WIL ANDERSON: Yeah, it was nice, because I always wanted to be on Today Tonight and I thought I was going to have to start a dodgy washing machine repair business to get on there. I actually haven’t seen the report yet, but I do believe the words “when comedy goes to far” were used, which I enjoyed quite a great deal.
WIL ANDERSON: The joke in question — I did a joke about Shannon Noll’s dad’s name. And it was in the context of a routine I used to do about funny names, like Apple Martin and, you know, I had a girl at my school called Rachel Kuminmeyer and I had a whole routine about kids named after brand names that were all in last year’s show. And in that context, there was also a joke — someone had told me that Shannon Knoll’s father’s name was Noel — so I did a joke about ‘Noel Noll’; I thought it was a funny name. Turns out his name wasn’t Noel Noll; it’s Neal Noll, and we all know there’s nothing funny about that. But I’d been doing the joke for twelve months in my stage show, and I did it at the Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala. I had done this joke everywhere, you know what I mean? I’d even done it in front of Dicko, who’d said to me, “Shannon would think that was funny, blah-blah-blah…”
WIL ANDERSON: So I’ve done it at the Gala, which happened to coincide with the week that Shannon was releasing his single dedicated to his dad, and so it all blew up in the media. I should have got the name right; I’m always big on, if you’re going to talk about something, you should get it right. So I apologised and I said I should have got it right, I hoped the family weren’t offended by it and I kicked in some money to charity to show that I was genuine about that. But now he wants to punch me in the head. So now I have ten minutes in my show all about that. So it’s had the opposite effect. You know, he was on the TV saying he’d like to challenge me to a game of Scrabble just to get me in the same room, and I was like, “I’d like to play Shannon Knoll at Scrabble, seeing that none of the words he uses have vowels.” This is a man who named his album Lift. It’s lift music. Surely he has a sense of humour! What’s his next album going to be called? Mobile Phone Ring Tones?
I enjoyed it being played out in the media because it was kind of funny. I mean, I never intentionally go out there — and you’ve known me for years, Dom, you know this to be true — I never intentionally go out there to really hurt somebody. I like to rough things up, make some trouble, make sure people are still alive, keep it all fun-and-games, say something I should say — that sort of stuff. Because I think that’s fun. I think that’s what comedy should be about. But sometimes in comedy you know where the line is only when you look back over your shoulder and go, “Oops! It was back there. I should have stopped.” So, you know, I wouldn’t make any jokes about Shannon Knoll’s dead dad in the future; that was probably a mistake. But, will I make jokes about Shannon Knoll? Bloody oath I will!
Dom Romeo: Wil, thank you very much.
WIL ANDERSON: No worries, Dom, always a pleasure.