Sunday, September 13, 2009
Iâve interviewed Greg Fleet â Oz comedy legend for comics and comedy lovers alike â a number of times and each occasion has been fun. The first time, dating back about a decade ago to the days of the original Harold Park Hotel, was in support of his show Scary â which would culminate in the courtyard where the audience, led there by Fleety, would watch him attempt to boot a roast chicken over the fence (successfully, more often than not). I canât for the life of me remember why; like so many other details of the show, the reason has faded into the abyss. Although I do remember Fleety was selling t-shirts after the performance, and I tried to score a freeby from him â being the keenbean comedy nerd who had interviewed him, and all â though sadly to no avail. I duly purchased one, and although I haveât seen it for the better part of the intervening decade, I recall it bore the caption ââVengeance is mine,â sayeth the nailgun,â attributed, mock Biblically, to âThe Book of Ianâ (although I canât recall the chapter or verse ).
I present this first interview in anticipation of Fleetyâs up-coming appearances at Local Laughs (Darlinghurst), BBs (Bondi Beach), Cabana Bar (St Leonards) and Mic in Hand (Glebe). Although, as he wonât be performing Scary at these venues, donât expect roast chook bootage.
âMy ultimate horror is to fall out of a 40-storey building â to my death, obviously â but to land teeth-first on a drinking fountain. Before I die Iâd have a half-second to go âow, my teeth!â Thinking about things that can happen to teeth is a spin-out. Putting a fork or something between them and bending it really quicklyâ¦âThe man talking to me on the other end of the line is Greg Fleet, and the fact that he is discussing horrific, spin-out topics is fitting, for the next show he is to embark upon in Sydney is Scary. Five seconds on the phone with him and you know that he is the man for the job. For example, the first thing he does when he picks up the receiver is to make me jump by emitting a loud and unexpected squawk down the line. I cannot reproduce it here in words, but imagine a chook that has been impinged upon unbearably, taken within inches of its life without actually being allowed to die. The sound it would make is the noise Fleet assaults me with. After I introduce myself, he makes it again before clearing his throat and announcing that heâs âjust eating a bowl of cerealâ. Interesting news, considering it is 6:30pm.
When I call again later, having given him sufficient time to complete his breakfast, Fleet explains that the squawk is his âfavourite noise at the moment,â something he and a friend in England made up as their contribution to the English language:
âIf something is really sh*t â you know, I went into this rap one day, sitting around the house, and it was SO SH*T that it was embarrassing, not only for me but for those having heard it, just hearing someone be so sh*t. So we came up with this thing where, if something was bad, we said it was âloggyâ. You know, we say, âoh man, that was so... loggy.ââ Fleet luxuriates in the syllables, lingering on the double-g without actually pronouncing them properly. âWeâre trying to say it in the most humiliating, embarrassing, fey way. And then âextra loggyâ becomes âcloggyâ. Itâs âlogâ, âloggyâ, âcloggyâ, âclowkyâ, âclowlâ¦ââ By this stage itâs the now-familiar squawk of the tortured chook that first answered the phone. See, Fleetyâs English friends phone from overseas just to announce to him that he is âso clowkyâ, followed by the squawk. So when I phoned him out of the blue, he assumed it was an international â rather than merely interstate â call, and just wanted to get in first.
Glad we sorted that out.
Onto more important topics. Like his dinner of breakfast cereal. Having seen earlier Greg Fleet shows in which the comic makes full admission of his drug use, and knowing him as a veteran of many an Edinburgh Festival, I wonder if while in Scotland he might have become acquainted with that countryâs most vile and addictive substance: porridge. Fleet clucks at me some more before breaking into a foreign accent:âOh, no, no, no. Porridge for bad man; porridge make kill; porridge make murder. Me so sorry for kill stranger. Eat porridge make me kill again. Now me feel clean. Me have blood of stranger in mouth so deep.â
I laugh with insecure trepidation. Fleet joins in, cackling dementedly. âI reckon murder is hilarious,â he says. He outlines a new method that he recently devised, which he calls âmystery-baggingâ or âcarpet-baggingâ. What you do is âkill someone or knock them unconscious and make a small incision in their back â about four inches across â and then just poke natural oysters in there. Fill them up with oysters. So the police find them and theyâve got two dozen oysters inside them, like a carpetbagger steak. THE SEAFOOD KILLER STRIKES AGAIN! Itâs something pointless. Really time-consuming and indulgent.â
Will this stuff feature in Scary, I wonder.
âMaybe," Fleety says. "I donât know. Iâll mention it the night you come. And Iâll give you a bit of âclowkâ as well.â I can hardly wait. Meanwhile, Fleetâs strange mind elaborates on his âclowkyâ movement. âWe drew these drawings. You know how sometimes you can curl your feet up when youâre in a car accident or whatever? You curl your feet?â
âLike when the house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz?â, I suggest. When the ruby slippers are removed, her feet, protruding from beneath the farm house, wither and roll up.
âYeah, that sort of thing. If you see anything clowky it makes your feet curl. We ended up curling our feet and creating a character who went with Loggy. Loggy was a rapper, but he had this DJ called Curve Foot. âCurve Foot appears courtesy of WEA records.â Then we came up with âloop footâ, which is when you get curve foot so badly that your toenails grow into your heels, and youâve got a circular foot. So thereâs Loggy, Curve Foot, Loop Foot and then... what else?â Greg loses his train of thought as he tries to complete the list of characters, and before I can offer âFleet Footâ â (as in the Dylan lyric: âMaggie comes Fleet Foot/Face full of black sootâ¦â) â he gives me a despairing âclowkâ.
âOh I donât know,â he says, answering his own question. âSomething about eating human poo? No, thatâs not true, I just made it up! Oh, I so want to stab a prostitute to death and try and get away with it. Ah fuck! I shouldnâtâve told you, now Iâm gonna get done.â
Dear me. Where to from here? Fleet tells me of the Great God Clokus, a chicken figure whose fathers have been plucked entirely, except on the neck, by his mother. I start praying to the God of Interviewers for a crossover to a live feed of... well, just about anything else. Fleet obviously recognises the misgivings in my pause.
âAsk me anything, I donât care,â he assures me.
I begin to discuss Scary with Fleety, realising that âFleetyâ and âscaryâ are interchangeable concepts. âWhat is Scary about?â I ask.
âNothing yet. Thatâs why itâs scary!â
Greg Fleet can tell me this much: the show will probably feature the Old Man character that was in Underwater World, his last Sydney show. Fleet has broken with his usual tradition of putting a show on for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, developing it in time for Edinburgh, wowing all and sundry in Scotland and then bringing the final version to Sydney. This time he has deemed his most recent Melbourne Festival show, Bridge Over the River Me, not good enough, and instead of going to Edinburgh with it, remained in Australia to appear as Feste in a Bell Shakespeare production of Twelfth Night.
âI like the discipline of doing Shakespeare,â Greg Fleet admits. âIâd love to do more; drama stretches me in a different directionâ. Fleet is not unfamiliar with the straight theatre work. He has spent time at NIDA and claims his theatrical leanings stem from a desire to âknow what it feels like in somebody elseâs clothesâ. That his comedy is becoming more character-based shows a development of both his comic and dramatic skills. Although he states the case a little differently: âThe characters are usually people that Iâve killed. Iâm the last person to see them and I want to keep their memory alive a little bit. Drop a few hints to the cops. But theyâll never catch me.â
âHow long does it take you to come up with a show?â I politely change the subject.
âIâm gay,â he replies, also politely changing the subject. âSorry, no, what was that? Thatâs not true. I just wanted to say something inappropriate. Uhm Itâs kind of hard to say. From the time you come up with a title to the time you actually come up with the show, for me, can be anywhere from a year to a week. But I generally kind of fuck around with ideas a little bit, and then wait until about the last week and just panic and chuck it together.â
Fleet explains his arrival at a comedy festival as a matter of looking around the room to âsee all the other comics who are there, work out that theyâve probably written their show two months before, but know that youâre probably three times better than them so itâs all right.â He cracks up. âWhat an arrogant f*cking c*nt!â
Perhaps the arrogance is justified. The man has been known to come away from Edinburgh with five-star reviews, his performances, in his words, âvery non-clowkyâ. He considers himself vindicated, in a way, âbecause so many good Australian comics go to Edinburgh that the local comics go âfuckenâ hell, whenâs it gonna end?ââ But of course, it wonât end, since âcomics over here are having a hard time getting paid for a gig. Theyâre making a hundred and fifty bucks a year or something. And they would be making a minimum of a grand a week in the UK. And thatâs pounds, too: itâs something like a million bucks Australian.â
This takes Fleet off on another tangent, this time about âthe funniest personâ he has ever heard, who in fact isnât a comic earning a million dollars Australian, but âjust a guy in England.â
âYou know how I was saying that if something is sh*thouse, itâs loggy and clowky,â Fleet begins, âif someone offers him an extra mild cigarette instead of a strong one, he says, âAh, no, I wonât accept an extra mild cigarette because Iâm not actually gayâ. He equates this whole âgayâ thing with softness and weakness. I know itâs really wrong and a clichÃ©, but Iâve started doing it too and we canât stop, and now Iâll go to cross the road and the lights will change and Iâll go âHow gay! How faggotianââ (pronounced âfuhg-oceanâ, but with more sibilance). He lists a couple of other adapted words in the clowky lexicon, like âhuh-MOCK-shulâ (derived from âhomsexualâ), âhuh-TROCK- shulâ (âheterosexualâ). And as for âbuh-SOCK-shulâ (âbisexualâ), heâs used the term âin front of a few gay friends and got away with it. One of them thought it was really funny. The other one didnât hear me. Thank god, because it was Sue-Ann Post and she probably would have picked me up and snapped my spine.â
Fleetyâs not serious in his mocking attitude of the variously-sexualled â or âshuledâ, in this case â nor in his fear of fellow comic, the six-foot-plus Sue-Ann Post. He and Postie are great mates. He describes her as âf*ckinâ greatâ and âso much funâ and âable to beat my head in, easy,â which sparks another memory: the time she was a topless sumo wrestler in the Jim Rose Circus. According to Fleet, âPostieâ rose to the challenge, âpissed one night at the Festival Clubâ. Vowing to âfucken smackâ her soon-to-be opponentsâ âheads inâ, she approached Jim Rose with the words âyeah, Iâm up for it.â Fleet puts on an American accent for Roseâs reply: âYeah, wow, great, wow, yer big, thatâs great.â
Sue-Ann Post actually had slides made of the event and used them in her subsequent show Sex and Sumo. Fleet sums up the bout:
âThereâs nothing like the sound of four massive titties just THWAPPING together. Itâs the funniest noise Postieâs ever heard, four tits, and each one of themâs about the size of me. A big THWAP!â
Thatâs also kind o scary.
Getting back to the topic briefly, Greg Fleet explains that a show can alter between conception and actual performance.
âRadically?â I ask.
âOh, f*ck yeah," he replies. Then pauses before asking, âYou said âradicallyâ, didnât you? Because I thought you said âradishlyâ. Does it resemble a salad vegetable? No, because itâs been changed so much. I keep telling you things that arenât true. I hope that youâre managing to pick them.â
Greg Fleet: a bit silly, but still, quite a scary guy.
I have another Greg Fleet interview â from one of his (many) appearances in The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged).