Peter Helliar - Nautical but Nice

It's been a pleasure seeing and hearing him regularly on Rove and radio, (not to mention his regular turn as Strauchanie), but it's been a few years since Peter Helliar has properly graced a stand-up stage - although the 2007 Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala is a nice gig to have remembered as your last before taking a break to make a feature film. Back, if not with a vengeance, then at least with a new bunch of stand-up, Pete's playing the Sydney Opera House from Jan 5th with his Dreamboat Tour. In the meantime, here's an interview from a Sydney visit ages ago. It is from a time when Merrick & Rosso ruled drivetime radio with their shift on Triple J, and if it's too long ago for you to remember, rest assured, it seems like a life time ago for me, too. But even at the time, it felt like a particularly golden age of Oz comedy - Tripod appearing regularly with Peter on Merrick & Rosso's Triple J show. I know one day people will look back at a golden period just ended, when Ben Ellwood and Dave Jory would appear regularly on Dools's drivetime show. As it happens, Dools is now hosting Breakfast at Nova with Merrick Watts, all of which deserve a whole other bunch of blogs... for now, here's an early interview with Peter Helliar.


For Pete's Sake

“I saw Greg Fleet at the Comedy Club in Melbourne when I was 15 and I thought that that would be a kind of cool thing to do,” Peter Helliar offers as explanation of his comedic inspiration. “That, of course, was when I thought everyone was making huge amounts of money doing comedy.”

A deep desire to perform, too many beers, boisterous mates and the refusal to “get a proper job” actually led Helliar to adopt this ‘cool’ way of life. Eventually.

“It took me a good seven years to get off to it,” he admits, having opted for travel after finishing school. In fact, Helliar almost worked up enough nerve to have a go at comedy overseas: “I was in London and thought, ‘maybe I’ll try here, where I won’t be humiliated in front of people I know.” The London debut never eventuated. Helliar instead returned to Australia where he finally got up on stage to start telling jokes at Melbourne’s legendary Espy comedy club (in St Kilda's Esplanade Hotel). “The rest,” Peter assures me, “is history. Not an awfully interesting history, but a history nonetheless.” Helliar finishes his story by revealing just how huge the amounts of money to be made in comedy are: “The harsh reality is that it’s only a couple of million a year.”

Only a couple, Peter?

“Um. Slightly less.”

Although he’s only been joking for the last two and a half years, Peter has been to Sydney about six or seven times. However, if you have yet to see him live, you may be more familiar with the contributions he regularly makes to Merrick and Rosso’s Triple J drivetime slot as Peter Helliar, PI. Merrick Watts and Peter Helliar were already familiar with each other by the time Helliar had started making with the funny business; they’d been introduced by a mutual friend. However, a “mutual admiration society” quickly developed between Helliar and the grouse duo, Merrick and Rosso soon inviting Peter along to fill the support slot at their Christmas and grand final shows in Melbourne.

“They were the first people who could give me a real break,” Peter acknowledges.

Recognising, no doubt, a kindred spirit as well as talent, Merrick and Rosso continued to send breaks in Peter’s direction. Last year they asked him to contribute to Hair of the Dog, the Triple J Sunday slot they were then filling while Roy and HG were overseas. When they had landed the drivetime shift, they likewise brought him on board.

Merrick and Rosso left Pete's exact role on the show pretty much up to him; their first question was, ‘do you have any ideas?’ Peter confessed to harbouring only the one and it involved him being “a ‘PI’ kind of guy,” mainly because the idea of ‘a race against time’ appealed. Thus, each week, Peter pits his wits against all manner of challenges within certain time constraints, for the entertainment of the Triple J-listening masses.

“It opens itself up to so many different possibilities,” he explains, “from tracking various people down to professing my love to certain people to singing songs like the one I did with Steven Gates from Tripod recently.” Part of the attraction that such a role held was that it would be so different; it would not require Helliar to either pen ten minutes of new material or use up dependable chunks of his stage show each week.

In his capacity as ‘Peter Helliar, PI’ Peter has established a very good track record, having ‘failed his mission’ only once, and even then, under “reasonably dubious” circumstances.

“I had to write a poem about the town of Orange, NSW, to the tune of ‘The Man from Snowy River’. ‘Orange’ had to rhyme four times within that poem. For those who don’t know, ‘Orange’ is one of few English words that has no rhyme.”

Geez, I offer, if that’s the only time you’ve failed, don’t be too hard on yourself. It was a pretty hard ask to begin with.

“Oh, thanks mate,” Peter replies, “but I do strive for a one hundred percent record.”

It appears that the “other hiccup” Peter Helliar, PI encountered involved Olympics commentator Bruce McAvaney. “We wanted Bruce to sing ‘Islands in the Stream’ because I’m a big fan of Bruce’s work. He refused. But Matthew White from Sports Tonight was great enough to step in and take over the mantle and he loved it.”

According to Peter, Sydney crowds often emanate “the right kind of vibes” for comedians who would otherwise avoid trying out fresh material. Thus, Helliar’s Sydney shows will be an amalgam of his recent Melbourne Comedy Festival show, This Much is True, and what will eventually become next year’s Comedy Festival piece.

“Just on the topic of this year’s show, This Much is True, Peter,” I ask. “How much of it was actually true?”

“Three percent,” Peter answers without pausing.

“That’s pretty good,” I acknowledge. “There are reconstituted  orange fruit drinks that cannot boast as high a content of actual orange juice." And it's certainly greater than the comic's - or, let's face it, anyone's - hit rate at rhyming the town Orange in a parody of 'Man From Snowy River'...

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But you can read these interviews any time, if you’re interested:

Tripod on Lady Robots and Fegh Maha

This interview with Tripod lasted about half an hour and was most enjoyable. I’d forgotten how much fun it could be to interview someone you genuinely admire when they are happy to be interviewed.

The finished interview conveyed the fun we were having, even if most of the laughter and silliness was removed. However, for the purposes of this blog, a vanity project if ever there was one, I reinstate the unmitigated praise and some of the other questions and answers that had to be cut. They appear struck through.

This interview was broadcast on ABC NewsRadio on June 5 2004, a week before Tripod’s run of Lady Robots ended at Brisbane’s Powerhouse. Tripod’s new album Fegh Maha is so good that it has me hanging out for the opportunity to see them live on stage again.

If you want to hear the broadcast version, an MP3 of it resides here.

Soundbite: ‘Ghost Ship’ - from the albumFegh Maha

The murderers, the thieves and the fraudulent.
The overweight, the working class, and the foreigners –
They all must beware for, what’s that looming there?
An evil spectre on the sea…

Ghost ship!
Ghost ship!
Ghost ship – coming to get them.
Ghost ship – sinners beware!
Ghost ship – ain’t no escaping
The ghost ship coming there…

Demetrius Romeo: Yon, Scod, Gatesy, I’ve got to be honest with you. I find it difficult to tell you guys apart. In the first place you have funny names. In the second place I only know you as the ‘gorgeous one’, the ‘nerd’ and the ‘weird one’, and I’m not naming names here, ’cause what I consider gorgeous might be totally different to what you think people consider gorgeous.

GATESY: Oh no, I’m gorgeous; I’m really gorgeous.

SCOD: He is.

YON: He’s hot.

Demetrius Romeo: Can I just get you guys to introduce yourselves?

SCOD: Sure. I’m starting. This is me. I’ve got glasses on, I’ve got a slightly receding hairline. My name’s Scod. I play guitar most of the time in Tripod.

YON: This is Yon. I’m the one with the big eyes. I’m told I have a ‘biscuit voice’ so just think ‘biscuit voice’, ‘big eyes’.

GATESY: And I’m Gatesy – obscenely talented.

Soundbite: ‘Apparently’ from the album Open Slather (and Open Slather Special Christmas Edition)

Apparently (apparently, pparently, pparently)
They have the technology (technology, nology, nology)
To track any stolen mobile
All you have to do
Is get the police to go out and arrest
Everyone with a stolen mobile phone.
And that is too much of a sacrifice!

Demetrius Romeo: When I first encountered Tripod some time ago, I was told that you guys were essentially yourselves, taken out of the shower, clothed and put on stage. Does this description still hold true?

YON: Well, it does, but sometimes we don’t shower before the show.

GATESY: Rarely, do we shower before the show, actually. We shower after the show. We have to cleans ourselves.

SCOD: Yeah, it’s true. We’re still ourselves. Big versions thereof.

YON: We have to wash the ‘funny’ off, because we’re just too funny in real life. It becomes too much.

GATESY: That’s true.

Demetrius Romeo: How, essentially, did the three of you get together?

SCOD: Well we were in music theatre and bad bands around Melbourne for a long time.

I was in a band called ‘Heck’ but I got kicked out for suggesting a jazz song. It was a pub band, and I wanted to do ‘Dream a Little Dream of You’. I got a phone call the next day.

And then I met Yon at university music theatre. Yon had already been kicking around with Gatesy before that.

GATESY: We had been kicking out the jams. We were rockin’ on the sidewalks, Yon and I.

YON: We were playing in a pub called ‘Cheers’. You know the TV show? It was sort of a theme pub based on that. The clients weren’t as funny as they are on the TV show.

Soundbite: ‘Cuckold’ from the album Open Slather (and Open Slather Special Christmas Edition)

I am now a cuckold.
She cuckolded me.
Yeah, when your love is loving someone else,
A cuckold will you be.

Her cuckoldastic tendencies
Have brought me to my knees.
Oh please, I reminisce on my
Pre-cuckicious period.

And these cuckolditory things
That make me post-cuckoldic…

Demetrius Romeo: From playing with each other in different bands and knowing each other from different places, how did the trio get together?

YON: We sort of started informally, mucking around in intervals in shows and stuff, and then we started busking, and slowly developed out of that. And then, as we each came to a loose end in our other human pursuits, we ended up making more of a go of it in Tripod.

SCOD: Yeah, we sort of drifted up onto the shores of comedy, didn’t we.

YON: Sometimes I think a job finds you; it certainly has in our case.

Soundbite: ‘I Always Get Into Stuff’ from the album Fegh Maha

I’m never too far behind;
I follow the trends
But I never take any risks.
I’m not ahead of the pack,
I’m just with the pack
Towards the back.

I’m not the middle-of-the-road,
But it’s a safe distance from where I stand.
I’ve got the ‘Greatest Hits’
Of some very cutting-edge bands…

Demetrius Romeo: Now, in a lot of ways you reached the broader audience when you started doing the ‘song in an hour challenge’, a little while ago now. How did the ‘song in an hour challenge’ begin?

GATESY: It sort of didn’t have anything to do with Tripod in the beginning. Merrick & Rosso asked a guy called Peter Hellier to put together this challenge; his challenges were to find these celebrities, these people who don’t really exist in the world anymore. One of them was Bevan Addinsall, and his challenge was to write a musical about Bevan Adinsall’s life, and he asked me if I could help him with it. We knocked this thing up very quickly…

Soundbite: ‘Knockin’ on Bevan’s Door’ section of Bevan the Musical

Take Debbie Byrne away from me.
’Cause I can’t use her anymore.
She’s gettin’ too old for Y.T.T.
Now I’m knockin’ on Bevan’s door.
I, hi-aye-aye – I’m knock, knock, knockin’
On Bevan’s door…

GATESY: I just used ‘Bevan’; rhymed his name with ‘heaven’.

Soundbite: ‘Bevan (Must Be There)’ section of Bevan the Musical

Ooooooh, I’m searchin’ for a better guy
Whoooooo’d look good in a pink jacket with a skinny tie.
Must be there.
You know he’s got to be there.
Yeah, Bevan

GATESY: I got all the songs I could possibly do…

SCOD: Genius!

Soundbite: ‘Slice of Bevan’ section of Bevan the Musical

A shinin’ star is rising, get your
Slice of Bevan!

GATESY: … and it’s one joke. One joke!

Soundbite: ‘Stairway to Bevan’ section of Bevan the Musical

And they’re buying a stairway to Bevan!

Demetrius Romeo: Initially, topical stuff was your weakness. Is that still the case?

YON: Yeah. We like to see that weakness as a strength, but you are right. Topicality is still our weakness. We’re probably slightly better informed, but only through the topics we get given. We’ve sort of made a picture of world events based on what has been told to us on a Tuesday morning by Adam and Wil.

SCOD We sort of get our information of what’s going on in the world from the ‘Song in an Hour’ topics. And adds.

GATESY: Ignorance is bliss, and we want to be the happiest people alive, basically.

Demetrius Romeo: In your actual stage shows, fantasy plays a big role, particularly in your current show Lady Robots. Tell me what role fantasy plays in putting a show together.

GATESY: Whoah!

SCOD: Good question.

YON: Boy!

SCOD: I think, to do anything well, you have to have a lose grip on what is and isn’t possible. You’ve just got to be ambitious about what you can do, so being unrealistic and living in a bit of a fantasy world can tend to help you along, I think.

YON: Yeah. I think, in this show, the most outlandish ideas of what we want to portray – for example, a battle on a planet between a huge ATST Walker from Return of the Jedi and three guys – we do pull it off! So it’s giving yourself those challenges and then somehow trying to enact them. And it ends up being funny.

Demetrius Romeo: Now, the Star Wars figures are a recurring theme in your shows, I notice. They make an appearance in… oh, I’ll try to get it right: Tripod Tells The Tale Of The Adventures of Tosswinkle The Pirate (Not Very Well)

YON: Yep, that’s it.

SCOD: You’re very familiar with our oeuvre.

GATESY: I like this guy!

YON: He’s all over our oeuvre!

SCOD: He’s my favourite so far!

Demetrius Romeo: So why the Star Wars figures?

SCOD: It’s just a very powerful image; it really places who we are and where we come from, I think. It’s not even that thought out, it’s just,

‘I’ve got this thing at home that might be cool; shall I bring it in?’

‘It’s another Star Wars figure, isn’t it?’


YON: Yep!

Demetrius Romeo: Now that’s interesting: ‘where you come from’, and ‘whether or not the Star Wars figure is cool’; the ‘coolification’ of ‘nerdiness’ plays a big role in what you guys do.

YON: Well, you know, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got, and if you do it with enough confidence, people believe you. That’s where we come from. There’s no point in trying to pretend that we were in the footy team.

Soundbite: ‘Science Facts Are Useful’ from the album About An Hour Of Song-In-An-Hour… Again

Well you may not see a scientist do rock ’n’ roll,
But they understand the mineral properties of ‘rock’,
As well as the physics of ‘roll’.

‘Oh, Mr Scientist, I’ve burnt my hand bone on a boiling water.

‘How do you know it was boiling? Was it bubbling?’

‘Ah, no.’

‘Then it wasn’t really boiling.’

‘I feel better already.’

‘Go Science!’

Demetrius Romeo: Now I notice with more recent work, and I’m trying hard not to give anything away, there are different fall guys. Each time you put on a new show, a different nerd becomes the hero. Is that fair comment?

SCOD: Without getting too ‘nuts and bolts’ about things, the status changes all the time in what we do.

YOD: The thing is, we’re all mongs. You can try and set the roles as the idiot, the stupid one and the smart one who has nothing wrong one but we just couldn’t carry it off.

SCOD: It’s not realistic.


Demetrius Romeo: So it was never a fixed thing?

YON: That’s the first thing that people probably see when we step on stage, but you can’t really maintain it for too long.

GATESY: It is really strange, people really do want to know who we are, what our characters are in a nutshell at the beginning, and they just take it as read. They just look at us and they judge us, basically.

YON: It’s a good starting point, though, because then you can play against their expectations.

GATESY: And that’s the fun bit.

Soundbite: ‘Everyone’s A Tosser’ from Tripod Tells The Tale of the Adventures of Tosswinkle the Pirate (Not Very Well)

Everybody’s a tosser,
Everyone’s a shmo,
From Robert Louis Stevenson,
To Edgar Allen Poe.

We're all bloody cockspanks,
The experts all agree.
The experts, they’re all tossers too.
Just like you and me! Ha ha ha!


The louder that you say you’re not,
The louder that you are.
You’re a bonehead!
You’re a franger!
You’re a spazmo!
You’re a shwanger!
You’re a tosser! It’s a fact you can’t ignore.
’Cause everyone's a tosser.
But you, slightly more.

Demetrius Romeo: You’ve got a new album out, ‘Fegh Maha’, and it’s a double CD. So much material; what’s the story?

SCOD: It’s our ‘White Album’.

YON: Yep, it is. You just put all the crap in it with the good stuff.

GATESY: And also, we haven’t had time; we just haven’t had time. I think our last one was in 2001.

SCOD: 2000. So all these recordings have been cropping up.

GATESY: Yeah, and we try to record wherever we are. Like on that CD there’s some moments at Brisbane Powerhouse, where we’re playing at the moment, and at the Hifi in Melbourne, and at another place called the Prince Pat; I mean, it’s all over the shop.

SCOD: We started off the year this year by listening literally, to three full days’ worth of tapes of our own material, which is the strangest experience.

GATESY: It’s a nightmare!

SCOD: It really is a nightmare.

YON: We had a good, hard, look at ourselves.

SCOD: Yeah. And we sort of forgot all the lessons that we learnt.

SCOD: If we were more ruthless than we wanted to be with cutting stuff, we could have fitted it on one album, but because it was recorded in a bunch of venues, it kind of just did feel like two things, so we put it together as two units.

Demetrius Romeo: Are there any songs that stick out as your favourite, or the night you really nailed that particular one?

SCOD: There’s this sort of ‘swingy’ one that we do, called – I always say ‘swing’; it’s hardly swing, it’s an acoustic guitar – but it’s called ‘Let’s Take A Walk’ and I think the version we did on the night at the Hifi was good.

YON: Yeah, yeah, I like that.

Soundbite: ‘Let’s Take A Walk’ from the album Fegh Maha

Let’s take a walk, my love,
Down by the river, my baby,
Down where we used to go
Until the day when we found that body.

Let’s not forget, my love,
It was our favourite spot once.
Please don’t let one bloated corpse
Ruin all our memories.

YON: There’s also a spiritual one called ‘Some Day The Lord’, which is in ‘Lady Robots’ as well, which I think is probably the only time we’ve ever sung it in tune, so thankfully that’s the one that got committed to tape.

Soundbite: ‘Someday The Lord’ from the album Fegh Maha

Someday the Lord’s gonna find me a loving girl.
He’ll set us up with a mansion and a trust fund.
And we won’t have to do anything all day.
We won’t have to work or even have to play.

We’ll be completely free of cares,
We’ll be suspended in a tank,
And he will feed us through a tube
’Cause he’s the Lord.

Demetrius Romeo: What does the title of the album Fegh Maha actually mean?

YON: Well, it’s the name of a tennis player from Morocco that we like.

SCOD: Yeah. He’s not a great tennis player, and he doesn’t really ‘go in’ that much…

YON: No, he’s not huge.

SCOD: Let me paint you a picture: he’s about six foot-seven, he’s bald, he’s got a temper, so he always puts on a show for the crowd, and he doesn’t really know the rules of tennis.

YON: He’s sort of like a black John McEnroe, without the talent.

GATESY: Very, very emotional individual.

SCOD: He’s all heart, Fegh Maha. That’s what we love about him.

GATESY: He’s all heart.

SCOD: He’s a triumph of heart over skill.

GATESY: I think he’s playing for the wrong reason. There, I said it.

SCOD: The wrong reasons? How d’you figure?

GATESY: I think it’s all about the fame, the money, and his heart…

YON: I think he’s just being himself.

GATESY: Yeah, anyway…

Demetrius Romeo: So why did you seek to immortalise Fegh Maha?

SCOD: His name’s fun to say: ‘Fegh Maha’!

GATESY: And he has brought us a lot of happiness over the last few tennis seasons.

Demetrius Romeo Now I’ve got to take issue with the statement that it’s your first album since 2000, but that suggests that you’re not taking into account your ‘Song in an Hour’ compilations.

YON: They sort of make themselves. We don’t count them, in a sense.

GATESY: We don’t take something that we’ve written in an hour very seriously, for some reason.

SCOD: It’s like this party trick that’s grown out of all proportion.

GATESY: Exactly!

YON: If it’s possible to say, that’s our novelty CD.

GATESY: It takes a lot more effort, heart and soul and arguments and hate and love into what we do usually.

SCOD: We’re working on another CD at the moment actually, which is the most exciting thing.

YON: Yeah, it should bring a lot more love and hate into the equation.

SCOD: Yeah, because it’s a full studio project with a band and everything. It’s songs from the sketch show that we’ve just finished doing and it’s going to be fully orchestrated versions, a la what we hear in our heads.

Demetrius Romeo: When you were first a bunch a singers, you didn’t do sketches between songs, you just kind of talked to each other and were silly. How has doing sketches on SkitHOUSE changed what you do as a trio of humorous musicians?

SCOD: Geez, that’s a good question!

GATESY: It is funny; from the beginning, especially when we started doing comedy, I reckon the second year we were at the Comedy Festival, we were actually starting to write ‘bits’ for in between songs. They were sort of character-driven, mini sketches, and even on the side, we used to do live shows and present video presentations and have little filmed little sketches that we played in between brackets, so it’s always been a direction we wanted to go in.

YON: But a lot of the ideas we would have, we would try to do them on stage, and sometimes they’d be a bit contrived because people watch us like they are watching a band that – hopefully – is funny and so if we start going into this thing of ‘let’s play charades’, sometimes…

SCOD: It’s a slightly long bow, sometimes…

GATESY: Massive!

SCOD: Thanks to SkitHOUSE, it puts you in the situation. There’s no translating to be done. And also, it’s really helped. Especially here in Brisbane, because we’re doing this narrative show and people key into straight away. They don’t come along expecting it to be a bunch of songs like usual. Because they’ve seen SkitHOUSE, they can buy into us as three characters in a story.

GATESY: In fact, we get audiences that have never even seen us perform live, so Lady Robots is what we do live, to them, which is, tell stories and sing crap.

Demetrius Romeo: But you were doing shows that consisted of stories with songs before.

YON: The Tosswinkle one, you mean? That’s the only one. And we’ve only done that in Melbourne and Adelaide. So for places like Brisbane, that’s the first time we’ve done anything like that.

Demetrius Romeo: Well then I’d better ask some specific questions that deal with that!

Yon, Scod and Gatesy all laugh.

Demetrius Romeo: No, I’m really professional, hang on…

GATESY: I know, this is great.

SCOD: I’m enjoying this.

YON: Yeah.

Demetrius Romeo: With Lady Robots, did you find that you had a bunch of songs that you happened to have written that fit together, and therefore suggested a story, or did you go, ‘let’s write a science fiction story’?

YON: No, I’ll tell you, at the start we really tried to shoe-horn as many pre-existing songs as we could into the show, but one by one, they just dropped off. Although, thankfully, there was one song we wrote since doing the first season of Lady Robots, which fit in really well, which we hadn’t written purposely for it.

SCOD: The show Lady Robots started with an e-mail going around saying, ‘maybe we should do a post-apocalyptic nightmare vision of the future… comedy… with songs’… it comes back to that stupid ambition I was talking about before. But then it all got pared away and became this other thing.

Demetrius Romeo: Did it become pared away? Because in a lot of ways, I see Lady Robots as ‘Tripod go prog’, because you’ve got your send up of Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’ with the Richard Burton narrative thrown in.

SCOD: Yeah. I think you may be our target audience, actually, if I’m not mistaken.

GATESY: Can you come again? That’d be good.

YON: Can you write our reviews?

SCOD: It has got a lot in it in terms of references to stuff we’re into and it’s certainly rich with that sort of material if people are looking for it. There are always little quotes and stuff in there that I’m hoping people will get that they don’t always.

Demetrius Romeo: But then you’ve got things like ’The Nachos Brothers’ which is just funny.

YON: ‘The Nachos Brothers’!

Demetrius Romeo: Have I got it wrong?

YON: They’re called ‘The Guitar Kings’.

GATESY: But your favourite ‘Guitar King’ was Nachos, wasn’t he? Yes. That was my character. Yes.

SCOD: Yes, a lot of it’s just silly, but that example, ‘The Guitar Kings’, is kind of a piss-take on ourselves, really, on the kind of novelty act that people think we are.

GATESY: My favourite part of the Guitar Kings is we tell a joke, which, you know, rule of three, there are two set-ups and a tag. We don’t have that tag anymore, so all you’ve got are the two set-ups, and we panic and go, ‘uh, um… guitar!’ and start playing guitar.

SCOD: It’s our support structure, having a guitar there. We got accused of it being quite a cheap ploy, having a guitar in our act.

YON: People have always said it’s a six-stringed applause machine.

GATESY: Which it is, by the way.

SCOD: But it’s all a question of what your priorities are. I’m there to sing songs, to be honest, so you kind of need a guitar, really.

Demetrius Romeo: Now, when you guys were first coming up, you unfortunately were always compared to a previous trio with a guitar. Now that you’ve been around for a while and there are other musical acts starting to get a name, they get compared to you. How do you feel about that.

YON: I think it’s really nice, but anyone starting in anything, it’s very rare that someone starts out with their own unique thing, you know? You start out and you’ve seen other stuff and they loom big in your mind, the other acts you’ve seen, and it takes a while to get your own thing going, I reckon.

GATESY: Especially to change people’s minds, as we were saying before: one look at us, three voices and a guitar, they’ll immediately go, ‘oh, the Dougs’ or whatever. It’s just a matter of doing your stuff and showing people that that’s not what you do. In fact, we were the antithesis; we would go out of our way – or I would, personally – using the Dougs as a starting point and doing the absolute opposite…

SCOD: Which is also probably a bit of a trap too.

GATESY: Absolutely, because you’re not being yourself, or you’re not playing it truthfully.

SCOD: So many great, bizarre acts, certainly in music, have come out of people trying to do someone else’s material in their own weird way, and it’s become some whole other thing. Freddie Mercury was a… what was he? A huge Hendrix fan?

YON: Well, yeah, he was a Hendrix fan, he’s an opera fan, and him trying to do both is the Queen sound. It’s your failure to be able to copy someone that often gives you a style.

Demetrius Romeo: So what are you feelings on the multitude of music acts that are around now?

GATESY: Good luck to them, I reckon!

SCOD: I think it’s a good thing for – I don’t want to get wanky – theatre in general, that people are playing with forms and trying to see what’s possible in terms of elements they can bring to their act, be it music or costume or puppets… I’m waiting for another puppet comedian! The time is nigh…

Demetrius Romeo: Tripod, thank you very much.

SCOD & GATESY: Thank you.

YON: Thanks Dom.

Soundbite: ‘Jammin’ – from the album Fegh Maha

Day of the Tripods

In the lead-up to a radio interview with Tripod, I publish a couple of print interviews I did with them for Revolver all those years ago. The more recent one was with Yon, in honour of the re-packaging of their album Open Slather which was being tarted up with new artwork and the inclusion of a Christmas song, for Festive Season re-release. For some reason, Yon didn’t trust me, despite my having been for some years a ‘dedicated comedy journalist’ – the description with which Wil Anderson used to like to introduce me to other comics, relieved that I wasn’t yet another incarnation of the ‘fishing editor’ sent by most publications that a) didn’t have anyone who really knew about comedy on the staff and b) thought that anybody could handle banging out an article about comedy. Yon wanted to look at the article before it went to print, and I think it was because I had admitted that I would do my best to place Tripod and their album into the bigger context (after all, I was a ‘dedicated comedy journalist’). I think he thought that by ‘bigger context’, I meant that I’d merely compare Tripod to the Doug Anthony Allstars – something that used to happen a lot when Tripod were starting out, and happens a lot less now that every man and his musical mutt is compared to Tripod. All I meant was that I’d be comedy train-spotter when I came across familiar names like Craig Harnath (friend to the D-Generation who wrote music for things like Funky Squad and Ross Cockle (who had, admittedly, worked with the Allstars on their album DAAS Ikon, but had also worked with many Melbourne musical acts, both comedic and serious).
I can’t quite remember what year this came out originally, but when I find out I’ll change this last line of introduction (and may even add a title!) I should also add that since
Revolver was a Sydney-based publication, I was writing from a Sydney-centric (and, at the time, Tripod-deprived) position.

Open Slather on Tripod and their Open Slather

Yon, Scod and Gatesy – the trio of jovial jongleurs known collectively as ‘Tripod’ – have been doing the three-part vocal harmony-and-a-guitar comedy thing for a few years now. However, ignorance of this fact, though unforgivable, would be understandable: the odd special appearance on Good News Week notwithstanding, Tripod just haven’t spent much stage time Sydney-side. In more recent times, the band has been brought forward in our comedic consciousness through their almost live album, Open Slather and their regular Tuesday arvo ‘musical challenges’ for Merrick & Rosso.

“Merrick & Rosso used to get Peter Helliar to do challenges,” Yon explains. “He’d have to run around South Bank in his undies, things like that.” It’s fair to say that Tripod does the musical equivalent of running around in their undies for Merrick & Rosso: given a contentious topic, they come up with a song about it in an hour. How difficult is it to do? “There’s been a couple of shit ones,” Yon admits. “I guess that’s the best way to describe the hardest ones.”

It isn’t the music that proves so challenging: the difficulty for Tripod lies in the subject matter. “We’re pretty crap at the topical stuff,” Yon explains. “We have a lot of material that basically reinforces how little we know about the world.” By the end of Tripod’s stint on Triple J this year, Merrick & Rosso realised that they needed to explain the context of the topical references within the challenges set in order for the songs to eventuate. To illustrate his point, Yon references Tripod’s last appearance on the show. Their challenge was to sing about “Ping Ping the panda… or polar bear… or something…”

While Triple J has been great for giving Tripod a profile above and beyond their regular stomping ground, it has also proved to be a bit of an unfair tease for interstate fans. Thus, the new-ish album, Open Slather, comes as a treat, since the next best thing to seeing Tripod live is listening to recordings of the same. According to Yon, Open Slather came about purely because it had been so long since Tripod had ‘released’ their one and only previous CD. Recorded “years and years ago”, prior to Tripod evolving into a comedy act, this first disc had a limited pressing of five hundred copies that eventually sold out, purely through flogging at gigs. “It had some serious songs and some wacky songs on it,” Yon explains, “but not songs that were trying to be ‘comedy’, necessarily.” It will not see re-release because, according to Yon, it is “so unrepresentative” of what Tripod are about. Despite containing the “cute” song about the Ponds Institute, Yon reckons that anyone hearing the disc now would think, “what the f***?!”

When it was decided, earlier this year, that it was high time for the band to commit some of its material to posterity, the initial idea was to “do justice” to the songs by recording them in a studio. Additional instrumentation would be used to parody whichever genres the songs happened to be taking off. However, faced with “far too big an undertaking” that such a project would entail, and also with the realisation that the songs “almost stop being funny when they sound too good,” it was instead decided to tape four performances over a series of Saturdays in April. The result: “heaps and heaps” of material, the selection of which was made easier by limiting choice to only the songs that were performed “well enough”. “If you listen to it with musical ears,” Yon confesses, “you’ll find it pretty imperfect.” Because ‘Open Slather’ represents a ‘greatest hits live’, the recordings are very ‘balls-and-all’. “Even if we did a really crap version of some songs, they had to go on.”

By August, Tripod was selling the CD at gigs and via their website. However, desiring a suitable single for Festive Season release, it was decided to re-package the album with a specially recorded studio version of ‘I Hate Your Family’, a song that suitably laments spending Christmas with your partner’s family. “It’s a full, Meatloaf-sounding production,” Yon reports, listing an all-star cast of collaborators that includes Ross Cockle (responsible for, amongst many other things, the Doug Anthony Allstars’ DAAS Icon – nuff said!), and Craig Harnath (friend of the D-Gen and hence soundtrack provider for Bargearse and Funky Squad). Session musicians also included “the drummer from Boom Crash Opera” and “the keyboardist from… it escapes me, but someone famous from the 80s.”

Poking fun at the CD format, the refurbished Open Slather album (now subtitled Special Christmas Edition and bearing a reindeer on the cover) opens with ‘I Hate Your Family’. The original Open Slather material follows as ‘secret bonus tracks’. After the ‘live album’, which easily contains the funniest material on the disc – songs like ‘Cuckold’ , ‘Stalk’, ‘2nd Drawer Down’ and ‘Apparently’ – the disc closes with ‘extra-secret bonus bonus tracks’: a DVD-style ‘composers’ commentary’ audio track of the studio-recorded song, as well as a censored version of the same. “It’s good to be in shops around the country,” Yon says, “because when we tour people ask us if we have a CD. So next time we tour, we’ll have it with us as well.”

Excellent. Got the CD. Now just tour here, dammit!

This earlier piece was written for the 1998 Sydney Comedy Festival (yep, there was a time when Sydney actually had comedy festivals – twice.) 1998 was a time when you could still talk to Tripod about the Doug Anthony Allstars and their appearance on Hey Hey, It’s Saturday, two topics now not so much forbidden but just terminally uncool. Which is ironic, not because of the obviousness of the three-part-harmony-and-guitar comparison, but the fact that SkitHouse is produced by Rove McManus, whom, for want of a genuine media patsy, is the person most often dubbed today’s Daryl Somers because Rove [Live] most resembles Hey Hey It’s Saturday. Sigh. There’s just no pleasing some critics. In my defence I would like to point out that I brought up both topics in a way that took the mickey out of trainspotters like myself, and that dreaded Hey Hey It’s Saturday. Because at that time, Hey Hey It’s Saturday was a lumbering behemoth of an out-dated show, taking up valuable broadcasting space that could have been dedicated to fresher, more vital talent. Little did we know that Australian broadcasting was soon to be overtaken by the scourge of taste and talent, ‘reality’ television. Mark my words, the time will come when Hey Hey It’s Saturday will be looked back upon fondly and favourably, exonerated as ground-breaking, filling a void, providing a valuable service and, at the very least, much less crap than any ‘reality’ program you care to mention. Just wait and see.

Standing on their own Three Feet

“Basically, Tripod is the three of us taken out of our showers, clothed and put on stage, if that makes any sense at all,” explains Scod, the guitar-playing third of this musical comedy act that, two weeks ago, I’d never heard of. One telephone interview and a Hey Hey It’s Saturday Gonged But Not Forgotten special later and I’m prepared to tip them as the ‘find’ of the Sydney Comedy Festival. Although Hey Hey It’s Saturday would probably claim that they discovered Tripod. Perhaps that line in the film The Castle is true: perhaps the only thing better than Hey Hey It’s Saturday is The Best Of Hey Hey It’s Saturday. Although I doubt it. One thing’s for sure, it probably won’t be very long before everyone who ever impinged upon Tripod, even only slightly, will want to be known for playing a part in their success. So consider this my contribution because I know I’ll be referring back to it in the not-too-distant future.

Scod, Yon and Gatesy. Their names say it all. Melbourne’s piss-take equivalent of a hard-rockin’ inner-city punk band, is what I’m thinking: the Hard-Ons inverted. Which would make them the Soft-Ons. Fair comment, too, considering Tripod’s origins. According to Scod, Tripod came together some three years ago through “– oh, what’s the best way to put it? ‘A mutual love of music’ would be a really dodgy way.”

Before they became Tripod, indeed, before all three of them had met, they all managed, in Scod’s words, to “not pass degrees together”. Scod failed to pass his Graphic Design course at Monash Caulfield (a newly-amalgamated campus which, according to Scod, “was just getting over being called ‘Chisholm Tech’”), Yon went the way of many an Arts Undergraduate, at Monash, and Gatesy, likewise, at La Trobe. Gatesy, “a local pop star, at least within his own loungeroom”, played in a band with Yon. Scod and Yon encountered one another thereafter in a Theatre Production course at the Victorian College of Arts (which they both went on to successfully complete).

“Yonnie and I were in Man of La Mancha together,” Scod says, “which was pretty exiting at the time: I had one line and kept forgetting what it was. And Yonnie played an old innkeeper, a role which he is very famous for among certain circles.”

Scod will maintain the Tripod was purely a covers band to begin with. They went busking with a clutch of pop songs by the likes of Queen, David Bowie, Beach Boys, Joe Jackson and Michael Jackson, as well as James Bond themes, and delivered them in three-part harmony with Scod on guitar and Yon “getting out the trumpet every now and again – but you’d always see it on the front page of the papers the next day so now we kind of try and avoid it”. Naturally, Scod reports, “people laughed at us more than danced to us, just because we had a certain sort fun way of doing those songs. People weren’t really used to hearing pop done as three-part vocal harmony.”

Tripod’s philosophy, from the beginning, has been to “just have fun playing music”. It is as a result of that fun, according to Scod, that has led to this covers band being considered a comedy act. That, and the fact that they’re funny.

When developing material for the show, Scod claims that the “hard bit” is being able to “come up with something funny”. The arranging of the harmonies, something Tripod has been doing for ages, is in comparison, a piece of piss. I take issue with this. I mean, consider a Beach Boys classic, for example. A wall of sound that took a room full of musicians about a million edits over a month in order to arrive at a decent few minutes of musical masterpiece. The harmonies have been overdubbed several hundred times. Converting this into a vehicle for three voices, a guitar and an occasional trumpet is a mere doddle? Surely not! But Scod has the answer:

“Imagine if you were singing, say, ‘Good Vibrations’ in the shower. You would manage to translate it into a way of singing that was fun for you and kind of worked for the song. It’s a matter of ‘what’s the first bit? What’s the thing you most remember about the song? What’s the thing that strikes you about it that you’d want to translate and get across?’ That’s the starting point. You can sing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ to yourself cooking your dinner; you hear the wall of sound in that final produced single but you are able to translate it vocally. That’s the thing that we humans can do because that’s how we relate to music. Or something.”

I can see what he’s getting at: when you sing along to a song, you sing along to the bits that stand out for you, like that scene in Wayne’s World, where they sing along to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in the car. Sometimes you may even choose to sing along with the lead guitar riff.

“Which is something we often do in our show,” Scod concurs. “We love singing a good air guitar part.”

Apart from the actual songs, humour is present in the between-song banter. These sketches – “well, not quite ‘sketches’; it’s just the way we relate to each other when we’re not singing” – have developed over the last two years to now be a big part of the show and of the group. “We are really developing a rapport with each other and the audience. People sort of get to see our relationships with each other and so forth. Sounds a bit Sons and Daughters doesn’t it? That’s not the right way to put it. Yeah, we certainly ‘play’ in ways other than playing music. For sure.”

The word ‘inspirations’, while not exactly being offensive, does have the potential of causing discomfort. I look at a three-piece comedy act with three-part harmonies and a guitar and my mind runs through the entire gamut of comparisons, from A to B. While Tripod should be allowed to stand alone, or at least on their own – ahem – three legs, comparisons to the Doug Anthony Allstars (who similarly, began as purely a musical group, the punk band Forbidden Mule), the Three Canadians and Corky and the Juicepigs are all too easy to make.

However, because Tripod began as a band, Scod claims that they were never really “driven” by seeing comedy acts. “For inspirations,” he admits, “I’d have to say Chris DeBurgh, Freddy Mercury, Brian May, Brian Wilson. Those are the main inspirations, Prince being another huge one. And people who come and see us will of course realise that the sexual energy is from any Prince live show. It’s stunning!”

Talk of the Prince song, ‘Sexy MF’, ensues, with Scod concluding that, in his opinion, Prince is not only one of the greatest musicians but also “one of the greatest comedy writers” of all time.

There are of course comedy acts that Tripod “absolutely love”, and the list does include Lano and Woodley as well as “the obvious one”, the Doug Anthony Allstars. But Scod maintains that Tripod were never “directly inspired” by the Allstars. However, he does add that “if the Allstars and the Wiggles had an illicit tryst, Tripod would be their offspring.”

“Oh, what a revolting thought,” I offer.

“Isn’t it though,” Scod agrees.

As well as heavenly harmonies of pure pop and the creative comedy of between-song banter, Tripod offer a vein of nostalgia within their material: “A lot of stuff about when we were growing up, our childhood and our school experiences and the fun we used to have”. Scod notes that people “really relate” to that kind of thing, although he’s not sure why. “I guess we’re all just children of the 80s and missing those knickerbockers and hairdos,” he suggests.

“And the lycra,” I offer.

“And the lycra,” Scod concurs. “Yeah well, you know, when the Duran Duran world tour comes back I think we’re gonna go for a support slot on that one.”

“And if Prince comes back?”

“We thought we’d be his dancers, if Prince comes back. He doesn’t need that ‘Diamonds and Pearls’ business, he can just get Tripod.”

Tripod dancing for Prince begs the important question, “can you guys dance?”

Scod’s answer: “We do dance. A big part of our show is the ‘movement’ dimension of it. But ‘dancing’ is a very generous term; some people call it ‘choreography’ but a better word for it is… ‘actions’.”

Scared Weird Little Guys

The Scared Weird Little Guys have a special position in the pantheon of musical comedy outfits. Tripod have garnered a popular following through their presence initially on Triple J (with their ‘song in an hour’ challenge and subsequent CD releases) and then on SkitHOUSE. Yet they have to contend with comparisons to other pre-existing trio-and-guitar combos – the Three Canadians, Corky and the Juice Pigs and the Doug Anthony Allstars to name but several. Then there’s the Dodge, who began as Freefall but had to change their name for copyright reasons. I recall accosting members of the Dodge, while they were still Freefall, at a Melbourne Comedy Festival some years back. “I know you must get this all the time, but you know who you guys remind me of?” I began. “Yeah, yeah, we know,” they said. “Tripod.” Which was cute. They reminded me of early Allstars. But it was nice that everyone else who would have once been comparing Tripod to the Allstars was now comparing Freefall to Tripod. Then, of course, there’s Gud – the band that are most like the Allstars, having, like the Allstars, Paul McDermott as their central character.

The Scared Weird Little Guys are the ones who get compared to others least of all, mostly because they are a duo (and partly because I can’t be bothered bringing Lano & Woodley into this introduction, even though they began as a trio, became a duo, and also dabble in music).

Beginning as half of a barbershop quartet, the Scaredies have made much of being able to utilise many musical genres. Of late, they have taken to doing their own version of a musical challenge. Whereas Tripod are given a topic and an hour to turn it into a song, the Scared Weird Little Guys take a leaf out of Andrew Denton’s book – since the ‘musical challenge’ dates back not to Denton’s Channel Seven tonight show of 1994, for which musical guests would have to render standards in their own style, but to an earlier show, The Money or the Gun, which featured ‘Stairway to Heaven’ performed in various ways by a multitude of artists. The Scared Weird Little Guys invite musical challenges of that nature: in addition writing satirical songs, sometimes to the tune of familiar songs, the Scaredies like to perform familiar songs in vary unusual genres, and invite fans to submit suggestions for such songs in a prcess referred to as ‘Stump the Scaredies’.

Thus, the Scared Weird Little Guys' new album Bits and Pieces – the excuse upon which this interview is hung – contains a bunch of satirical ditties and a sampling of Scaredy-stumpings.

Having previously interviewed the Scared Weird Little Guys, I already knew the answers to a few of the questions. But they were worth hearing again in the context of the story, rather than trying to bung ’em into an introduction – look how cumbersome this one is without them! Besides which, the answers sound even better when illustrated with soundbites.

The Scaredies have a clutch of shows coming up over the next little while, and they’re a lot of fun live. Check ’em out.

The interview went to air Saturday 15 May, an MP3 of which may be heard here.

Music: ‘Rock n Roll All Night’ in the style of a barbershop quartet – The Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Bits and Pieces

Demetrius Romeo: Before you became the Scared Weird Little Guys, you were both in a number of a cappella quartets. What led you both to comedy and to being in a duo? Rusty?

RUSTY BERTHER: We did start out, when we first met, in a barbershop quartet. In fact I was in this barbershop quartet for a year. It was called Four Chairs No Waiting and I was in that group for a year in Melbourne and then John auditioned and joined that group. That’s how we met. It was a bit of a ‘wacky, zany’ kind of a group, which was a lot of fun and a good thing to be doing at that time. Then we were in another five-part a cappella group called the Phones, which was a little more serious on the music side, with heavy doses of comedy, but we’d decided when we started the Scared Weird Little Guys, ‘let’s write original comedy songs’. So we kind of fell into it that way.

JOHN FLEMING: When Rusty and I met each other there was a bit of a bond that happened there, I guess. It was a business relationship but we were both into similar sort of stuff, so by the time three years had gone past, it seemed logical that we might go on to write some songs and I was playing guitar, we were both singing so we went for it.

Music: ’30 Seconds’ – Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Live at 42 Walnut Crescent

There’s only thirty seconds left in this song.
If you got a stopwatch and tried to work it out
Then you’d find around now that the time remaining
Would equal twenty seconds, yeah.

Now it’s down to eighteen.

Seventeen seconds: no time to rest.
If this was an ad you’d be impressed.
If you’re in a hurry you won’t be late,
’Cause if for the end of this song you wait

There’s only four seconds left.
How long?
There’s only one second le…

Demetrius Romeo: Rusty, the name ‘The Scared Weird Little Guys’ was indirectly bestowed upon you by Al Pacino; is that correct?

RUSTY BERTHER: That is correct. It’s a line from Al Pacino’s movie called Cruisin’. He’s an undercover cop in the serious, gay world of New York at the time, and there’s murders going on. Anyway, regardless of what the film’s about, the line ‘scared, weird, little guys’ was in it, and we thought, “scared, weird, little guys; that’s a weird grouping of adjectives – with ‘guys’ at the end – let’s call our group that!” We were searching for a name at that point.

JOHN FLEMING: Yeah, that’s right. And we have a fear that maybe in New York ‘scared, weird, little guys’ means something different, so we haven’t played in New York ever.

Music: ‘Staying Alive’ in the style of a Welsh Male Choir – the Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Bits and Pieces.

Demetrius Romeo: Your new album Bits and Pieces is album number three. John, tell me where the title comes from.

JOHN FLEMING: Well it’s pretty simple, really. It’s a whole collection of things from different places, all chopped up and not really contiguous, so Rusty suggested that we might call it Bits and Pieces because that’s the kind of thing that it is, so that’s what we did.

Demetrius Romeo: One of the highpoints of your live routine is where you’d do a version of Prince’s song ‘Kiss’…

Music: ‘Kiss’ done in reggae style – the Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Live at 42 Walnut Crescent

Demetrius Romeo: …You did it even more distinctively by inviting various different genres…

Music: ‘Kiss’ done in Indian style– the Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Live at 42 Walnut Crescent

RUSTY BERTHER: We don’t really do the ‘Kiss’ routine anymore, but we’ve kind of morphed that idea into a thing called ‘Stump the Scaredies’: people write in and ask for a certain song to be performed in a very different style than it’s originally performed in, or even in the style of another song.

Music: ‘Born in the USA’ in the style of Austrian Tyroler music – Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Bits and Pieces

Demetrius Romeo: I notice one of the tracks on the CD, ‘Cleaning Out My Tucker Bag’, seems to tip its backward cap at Eminem. Tell me a bit about that song.

JOHN FLEMING: Well that was a kind of ‘Stump the Scaredies’ thing again – the song ‘Waltzing Matilda’, what can we do with it? We said, “let’s do it in an ‘Eminem’ style”.

Music: ‘Cleaning Out My Tucker Bag’– Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Bits and Pieces

Waltzing Matilda:
She came from St Kilda,
Her middle name was Hilda
And her dad was a builder.

When he could see the steam on his tea
He said, “You’ll come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me!”

Waltzing Matilda

Yo, come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me!

Down came a jumbuck (baaa!)
And he was dumbstruck
He jumped up…

Demetrius Romeo: There are a number of musical comedy acts on the scene at the moment. Do you see a reason for the rise of the musical comedy act?

JOHN FLEMING: Well I guess, in the most narcissistic way it’s because we’ve been around for so long, we’ve spawned a lot of acts. But seriously, we’ve observed a rise of variety act over the stand-up comic for a while, and while there’s always going to be more stand-ups than variety acts that are successful and successfully performing, there seem to be more variety acts coming up now.

Music: ‘World Leaders’ – Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Bits and Pieces

I beg your pardon, have you forgotten
One Osama Bin Laden?
Oh behave! He didn’t shave –
He’s been hiding in a cave

The US Army couldn’t find that man
So they bombed the crap out of Afghanistan,
That crazy al-Keida Kookball
Called ‘Osama’!

Demetrius Romeo: What’s the secret of being a musical comedy act, and successful?

RUSTY BERTHER: I think, don’t take yourself too serious, number one; enjoy what you do; and I think, personally, we just try and be really good at what we’re doing.

Music: ‘Whistle Pops’ – Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Bits and Pieces

John: Tonight we’re going to use some of the most rare and difficult of the hand-crafted instruments: ladies and gentlemen…
John & Rusty [in unison]: The whistle-pop!

Demetrius Romeo: Scared Weird Little Guys, that you very much!


RUSTY BERTHER: Thank you Dom.

Music: ‘Whistle Pops’ – Scared Weird Little Guys, from the album Bits and Pieces

I played out on the street.
From far around they came.
The crowd, they clapped and cheered.
I won fortune and fame.

Good God, It’s Gud!


Using the [then-upcoming, he added some time in October 2004] season at the Sydney Opera House as an excuse, I present here an interview with Mick Moriarty, erstwhile plankspanker of both The Gadflys and Gud. Paul McDermott claims loftier etymology for the derivation of the name ‘Gud’, and who can blame him when, coincidentally, it happens to be an acronym for a medical condition. However, since McDermott was once a member of The Doug Anthony Allstars, it is a fair observation to make that phonetically, ‘Gud’ is in fact ‘Doug’ backwards. And Gud is going to have to live with comparisons to McDermott’s earlier comedy combo, whether he likes it or not. Longtime fans will note, and no doubt relish, the similarities between Gud and The Doug Anthony Allstars, particularly in songs that bear similar gag-structure. Case in point: ‘Peace Opus’, which works the same way as ‘What Is It You Can’t Face’. But if all you see are parallels between Gud and the Allstars, you’re missing out on a lot of fun. (And you clearly can’t have been enjoying Tripod very much, either, can you? What with the put-upon guitarist whose one chance at singing lead is drowned out by the gorgeous one and the funny-looking one singing the backing vocals way too loud, the inability to sufficiently distinguish between a boat and a girl, and… well, I’ll save it for another blog entry.)

Apart from a Parramatta Riverside Theatre season during the Big Laugh Festival a couple of years back, Gud was, for a time, under-appreciated in Sydney. There was one year that two gigs were scheduled in the same evening but as the earlier one undersold, it was cancelled, and as a result, elements of the band were more-or-less rat-arsed by the time the later one commenced. It was still funny, and not merely for the wrong reasons – sometimes the between-song-patter went nowhere, at other times it went where it shouldn’t and occasionally it seemed to go on forever, while the music remained as gorgeous as ever. It was a pity, though, that a larger Sydney audience just didn’t seem towant to know or appreciate a combo that can play brilliantly and have you cacking one minute and getting all misty-eyed and sentimental the next. And then laughing even harder again thereafter because of the presence of the seemingly nice, gooey bits.

A fine 2003 Melbourne International Comedy Festival run was followed by a fantastic sell-out season at the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe Festival which, upon their return to Australia, led to sell-out seasons in Melbourne and Sydney in the so-called ‘Famous Spiegeltent’. Back from another great Melbourne International Comedy Festival season, they hit Sydney tight and triumphant, so you should probably be booking tickets now. (The season opens April 23 – a Radiohead gig precludes my attendance on opening night.)

This interview with Mick Moriarty took place and was broadcast on ABC NewsRadio during The Gadflys’ Sydney residency at the Spiegeltent in December 2003, which, if not concurrent, must have been contiguous with Gud’s own. My inability – at that time – to structure directed interviews that dealt with one topic instead of rambling through many (a bad habit learnt through years of self-tutored print journalism, still being painfully un-learnt through tutelage in radio journalism) necessitated the use of narration to tie the edited bits together. But it hangs together pretty well, as the MP3 sound file will attest.

Music: ‘ Long Time Gone’ – The Gadflys (from the album Out of the Bag)

Narrative: The Gadflys began in the 1980s as a three-piece punk band founded by brothers Mick and Phil Moriarty. Normally, ‘punk’ means distorted guitars and loud drums playing as fast as possible. For The Gadflys, it meant a double bass, guitar and clarinet playing an eclectic mix of pop, rock, country and ballads.

The trio made its mark first as distinctive buskers, then as a popular pub band. Over the years the Gadflys have grown from the basic trio to a big band with horns, keyboards and backing vocalists. Now they’re touring again as a trio, each playing several instruments.

When I caught up with guitarist and vocalist Mick Moriarty, I wanted to know how having a double bass and a clarinet in your band affects the sort of songs you can play live.

MICK MORIARTY: Some songs over the years on Gadflys albums have just never really gone live because they’re probably a bit more rock. They’re hard to pin down with the sort of instrumentation that we have and the acoustic ethic that we use. But it’s really exciting, often, to ‘adjust’ a piece to that. It’s kind of fun for me, and hopefully, for the audience. Hopefully they’re not just going to go, “hang on, that’s not like it is on the record! Whaddaya mean? Whaddaya doing? I want five bucks back!”

Demetrius Romeo: It’s been a little while since the Gaddies released an album. Are you doing any studio work at the moment?

MICK MORIARTY: After the last album, that was a really tragic album as it turned out – not that it seemed that way while we were recording it – …

Demetrius Romeo: Why was that?

MICK MORIARTY: Because Andy Lewis, our bass player, killed himself shortly after recording was finished and before we’d even mixed it. And as it turned out, the engineer killed himself. It was appalling. It was so sad to lose friends, but just to contemplate these poor buggers so sad that they can’t see a place for themselves in the world. It was last year in Edinburgh that we got back to this three piece and found the enjoyment again. Since that time, I’ve been writing a lot, Phil’s been writing a lot, and now we’re talking about a new album.

Demetrius Romeo: When Andy Lewis died, he was your original double bass player. You’re now playing double bass. Was it hard to make the transition from guitar?

MICK MORIARTY: After Andy died, we had another guy, an old friend of mine called Elmo who’d played with us in years past, play double bass. Then we were going to Edinburgh and he couldn’t come because he had family commitments. So Pete Kelly and I decided that we would learn to play double bass. When I picked it up I just went, “hang on, why have I left this alone so long?” I really loved playing it and so I started playing with the Gadflys and by the end of that Edinburgh season I was going, “this is fantastic!”

Narrative: The Gadflys became well-known when they started appearing on the television show Good News Week in the late 90s. Paul McDermott, who hosted Good News Week, had been a member of the comedy troupe the Doug Anthony Allstars. Like the Gadflys, the Doug Anthony Allstars began as a punk group in Canberra in the 80s. Mick Moriarty and Paul McDermott began writing comedy songs together, which they then performed in their new band, Gud.

Music: ‘Wrong Number’ – Gud (from the mini-album Gud – Official Bootleg)

Narrative: Mick Moriarty says that playing in Gud came as a welcome change from playing in the Gadflys.

MICK MORIARTY: It was great fun because it was just so away from everything I had been doing and writing comedy songs is such a different kettle of fish to trying to say what you think about yet another broken relationship or something. It was just a really enjoyable chance to apply myself to the things that I could do and learn about the things I hadn’t done.

Demetrius Romeo: There was material earlier in your career that did lend itself to a bit of a comic edge. For example, very early on you were doing a cover of ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway’.

MICK MORIARTY: I was quite fond of Petula Clark, and ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway’ I think is a fantastic song. It was not so much ‘looking for the comedic edge’ as not taking yourself too seriously, and taking the piss, but not ‘here’s the laugh bit’ or ‘this is a funny song’ but ‘this is a novel approach to a song’. I still think it’s a great song. Tony and Jackie, if you’re listening, congratulations on your early work.

Music: ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway’ – The Gadflys (from an ever-so-slightly crackly 7" single!)


And just in case you need to know more, here is a Gud interview with Paul McDermott, from a few years back, that first appeared in an issue of Revolver. Can’t remember the title, and can’t be bothered digging out the yellowing, dog-eared hard copy. Oh, I know what I’ll substitute it with…

Egad, It’s Gud!

“One of the best things about working with people is gaining that awareness of how someone else is thinking: knowing what they’re about to do,” Paul McDermott explains. “Sometimes that doesn’t happen for a long time, people gaining that understanding and knowledge of each other.”

In the case of ‘Gud’, the band and show consisting of Paul McDermott, Cameron Bruce and Mick Moriarty, the trio seems to have gained that awareness in no time at all, and the proof is in the way they each take it in turn to lead and follow the often improvised shenanigans that punctuate and interrupt songs ranging from silly to satirical to sweet. By the last night of a very short preview season at Parramatta, Gud was slick, and the Melbourne run has garnered full houses and rave reviews. Paul concurs that the three “seem to have clicked straight away”. However, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

Mick Moriarty, looking – and sometimes sounding – like the resultant offspring of a union between Keith Richards and Jeff Beck, is a member of The Gadflys, who served as the house band on Good News Week. He and Paul both hail from Canberra, where, during his Doug Anthony Allstars days, McDermott “more or less knew” of Mick. Paul had seen The Gadflys in all of their incarnations, and recalls “sharing pints” with them at past Edinburgh Festivals. Gud developed out of Paul and Mick hanging out and writing songs, initially with Paul Mac. After Good News Week ended, McDermott spent the ensuing year trying to devise a show for the Festival, and Mick suggested they take their songs on the road.

Prior to joining Karma County, his most recent gig before Gud, Cameron Bruce was no stranger to the world of musical comedy. He played with the feel-good fun band ‘The Fantastic Leslie’ and his keyboard stylings have accompanied many a Theatresports stoush. McDermott got to see Cameron a couple of times in his capacity as the Club Luna house band’s keyboardist on Sunday nights at the Basement. Bruce’d tickle the ivories on outré, funked up covers of songs like ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ and ‘Islands in the Stream’, looking like some hatless cross between the Muppets’ Dr Teeth and the musician he was based on, Dr John.

The title ‘Gud’ was derived from McDermott’s realisation, while watching the Grammy Awards ceremony, that “every single person who came up on stage was going, ‘…and Ah’d lahk t’ thank Gud…’”. Thus, he decided, he’d better put a band together called ‘Gud’.

There is a point in the show where McDermott invites requests from the audience, and without fail, an Allstars fan will request a DAAS song. “I don’t really mind,” Paul says. “They can request whatever they want. We won’t do any of the old songs, but I don’t mind them requesting them.” Paul can’t blame them, really: there are some songs that bear an unmistakable similarity to Allstars’ material, particularly in gag structure, so those inclined towards sentimentality are more than likely to want to reminisce.

“Gud’s the same sort of thing as the Allstars,” Paul acknowledges. “It’s musical comedy, and it’s quite aggressive musical comedy. I like that form of expression. I feel comfortable doing it. But there are also massive differences.” Rather than closely analyse the differences and similarities, it’s probably better to note that, at least from McDermott’s point of view, Gud is as much fun as the Allstars and Good News Week were to do. “I loved working with Tim and Rich, and I loved working with Julie and Mikey, and I really am enjoying working with the boys,” he says. However, Gud seems to have covered more ground in a shorter time than its comedic predecessors. “It’s exceeded my expectations,” Paul says. “It’s gone extraordinarily well on its first outing, so I’m really, really happy. Gud is a great outfit and great fun to work with. The combination of the three is greater than the individuals and what we’re doing now is growing at an exponential rate. It’s like a Nimbin crop, out of control.”

And like that Nimbin crop, Gud will make you laugh uncontrollably for hours on end. See for yourself when Gud performs.

Adam Hills: Go You Big Red Fire Engine. Again.

Oh woe is me! Having had the utter joy of blowing all my savings (and a fair whack of those of other family members) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year, I’m kind of distraught that I can’t be at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. Despite this, it’s still nice to do the odd interview. However, as my only outlet is ABC NewsRadio at the moment, it’s a matter of choosing someone who’ll appeal to a demographic of adult professionals, who is available – while the studio’s being refurbished – for a face-to-face chat, with (until I can do this fulltime for money) flexibility. The choice came down to Charlie Pickering, late of Triple J, and Adam Hills, an ex-pat Aussie who tends to return from the UK come Festival time. Hillsy, who is presenting his new show Go You Big Red Fire Engine II, was the perfect choice.

Adam came and met me at Egg Records on a Saturday, and was as happy as a kid in a toyshop: marveling at the badges, the Japanese pressings of Kiss CDs in miniature album-replica sleeves, the other various collectible knick-knacks. Before we got down to business, I put on James Taylor’s first and self-titled album (released by Apple Records all those years ago), preceding it with a suitable lecture – (“note the song ‘Something in the Way She Moves’, the inspiration, as well as the first line, to George Harrison’s ‘Something’”) – to whet the man’s cultural appetite. Then I left him to listen, and browse, while I went about my business closing the shop.

We still couldn’t get down to the business of doing an interview until I’d played Adam a bit of the Grey Album (a remix of the Beatles’ so-called White Album and Jay-Z’s Black Album, perpetrated by one ‘Danger Mouse’) and a couple of tracks from Dsico that No-Talent Hack’s album of mash-ups, Booty of Choice. The interview itself flowed easily.

I’ve been accused of ‘liking’ the comic Adam Hills – by someone who has never actually gotten around to seeing him live, of course. See Adam Hills and tell me whether or not you also like him: Hills has a broad appeal without pandering to the lowest common denominator; he entertains whole families without being innocuous. His observations are mostly spot-on, and when they aren’t the generalisations lead to such good laughs that you don’t nitpick. That’s the most important thing, of course: Adam Hills is funny. This is not merely the best, but the only reason, really, to ‘like’ any comic.

This interview was broadcast on ABC NewsRadio on Saturday 27 March 2004 (the first weekend of the 2004 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, at which Adam Hills is performing his latest show, Go You Big Red Fire Engine II) and is podcast right here.

Soundbite: ‘Feed the World’ – Adam Hills (from the CD single Working Class Anthem)

I grew up in the 80s. I grew up in an era when you could take a positive message to the world. I grew up in Australia wearing a shirt that said, ‘Relax’. ‘Choose life’. ‘Don't worry, be happy’. I grew up in an era when you were told that you could not only ‘feed the world’, but you could ‘let them know it’s Christmas time’. And I have a slight theory as to why there's such a high percentage of obesity in America as compared to the rest of the world. I think it’s because in 1985, a group of English musicians got together and put out a song that told us to ‘feed the world’. And then a year later, a group of American singers told us, ‘we are the world!’

C Adam Hills

Demetrius Romeo: Adam, you’re one of several Australian comics who base their careers in the UK. Why is this?

ADAM HILLS: There’s just so much work over there. There are at least 120 different comedy nights in London alone and I’ve done four or five gigs a night in London. You turn up at the first venue, you go on stage, and as you walk on, the club owner calls a taxi. It arrives as you walk offstage, you get in the taxi, you go to your next venue, you arrive and the MC sees you and says, “right, I'm gonna do five minutes and put you straight on”.

Demetrius Romeo: So how does that compare to Australia?

ADAM HILLS: There isn’t really a comedy club circuit here. For someone who loves doing stand-up, which I do, to be able to work five or six nights a week and in those five or six nights, maybe do up to ten gigs... that’s why I’m there. I mean, you can spend two weeks doing club gigs in Sydney. You can actually spend three weeks now, and pretty much gig every night, but then you don’t do those clubs for another six months or something because the audiences see you doing the same gear. So basically, I come back now to do the Adelaide Fringe, the Melbourne Comedy Festival and then maybe three or four weeks of the year, touring around Australia.

Demetrius Romeo: Surely when you come back, you notice differences in the comedy industry. For example, at the moment there are more comedians and locally produced comedy shows on television than there have been for possibly a decade-and-a-half. Do you ever feel that you should have been here to get one of those gigs?

ADAM HILLS: [Laughs] Well, yeah, but to be fair, I’ve been offered a lot of those gigs as well. I’ve had a fair few offers to do various bits and pieces in Australia, one of which was, the host of a re-vamped version of Sale of the Century. Oh yes, I could have been the new Glenn Ridge. But also, with a lot of the other TV shows that are on at the moment, I was approached to be on a fair few, and I kind of went, “well, no, because then that just ties me to Australia”, and at that stage I was starting to get a bit of a career going in the UK. Now I just want global domination, basically.

Demetrius Romeo: Now, you do very well in the UK: for the last three years, you’ve been nominated for a Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival, which is for the best show of the Festival. Unfortunately, you haven’t quite cracked it – ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’. How do you feel about it?

ADAM HILLS: You know what, after being nominated twice, a lot of people in interviews said, “do you think you’ll be nominated for the third time?” and each time, my stock answer was, “You know what? I’d love to be nominated for the third time and still not win it ’cause I reckon that would be really funny”. And then when it actually happened, I thought, “you know what, I really shouldn’t have said that!”

The thing about being nominated for an award in something like the Edinburgh Festival is that suddenly there’s a lot of pressure on you; every night that I’ve been nominated, I’ve had a terrible show, just through nerves, and through the audience being weird but mainly through me. I’ve just panicked and walked out on stage and gone, “um, I’m supposed to be really funny… and now… I don’t know… ahhh” and just completely capitulated. I’ve since found out that every comic goes through that. It’s all par for the course. And to be nominated for anything three times is a pretty big compliment.

Demetrius Romeo: Okay. The hard question: would you prefer to be nominated a fourth time, or would you prefer that they just leave you alone next time?

ADAM HILLS: Oooh, that’s the big question, and I don’t know the answer to it. It’s a weird one.

Soundbite: ‘Oh Yeah’ [excerpt] – Adam Hills (from the album Go You Big Red Fire Engine)

You go anywhere in Australia and you ask an Aussie to do something, and he’ll do it. Doesn’t matter where you are. You go,
“Mate, you wanna go backpacking through Europe?”
“Oh yeah. Yeah, I’ll give it a shot.”
“Do you want to bungee jump off a bridge in New Zealand?”
“Yeah, that sounds all right.”
“Do you wanna fly a paraglider into Buckingham Palace?”
“Yeah! Come on! Let’s go!”
In fact, I reckon the Australian motto on the coat of arms should just say, “Australia – Oh Yeah!”
I think this positivity came about because we were sent there as convicts. White Australians were sent there as convicts. On the worst ships you could find. The whole way, there must have been blokes in manacles going [with English accent] “It’s gonna be horrible. It’s gonna be awful. I’m gonna hate it.” And then the boats docked at Bondi Beach. Every convict looked up and went, [in Aussie accent] “Oh yeah!” And a nation was born!

C Adam Hills

Demetrius Romeo: ‘Go you big red fire engine’ has been a catchphrase for you for a few years now. How did that all begin?

ADAM HILLS: I was doing this thing where I would get an audience member up on stage and turn them into a rock star, and get them to yell their name to the audience. The audience would yell it back and they’d get a big round of applause. I was playing a thirty-seat venue, so I was trying to get some energy into the room. And this guy, instead of yelling his name, told me that he was a fireman. And I said, “come up here and we’ll do the whole thing”, and when I said, “right, yell you're name”, for no reason he yelled, “Go, you big red fire engine!” And then the crowd yelled it back, and he kept going for five minutes and I just said, “that’s the most up-lifting and pointless thing I’ve seen in my whole life”. There's no reason for it, it’s completely stupid, and yet everyone in the room had a smile on their face. And I said, “that’s it; I’m gonna name my next show Go, You Big Red Fire Engine”, partly because in Edinburgh in 2000 I was long listed for the Perrier Award and I was getting really stressed out. I decided then that I was gonna call the next show Go, You Big Red Fire Engine because there’s no way that I could get that stressed about a show with a name that stupid. And then what happened was it was nominated for a Perrier Award. But then it became a catch-phrase. Natasha Stott Despoja yelled it in Parliament at one point when she was Leader of the Democrats, as my crowning achievement. And I was gonna leave it at that, but audience members kept coming up to me after the show saying, “we were hoping you were gonna say, ‘go, you big red fire engine!’ again. We really like it when you yell that”. And I just thought, I really have to reprise it because people seem to want me to say it. And being that it came about from a mad audience member, I figured that if audience members want me to say it again, I’ll say it again.

Demetrius Romeo: Now, that title also appears on a CD!

ADAM HILLS: Yes, yes, I released a CD version of the original show, Go You Big Red Fire Engine.

Demetrius Romeo: You’ve also had another CD, which was a fundraiser for the fire brigade. It was the Australian National Anthem done in a very particular way. Tell us a bit about that single.

ADAM HILLS: When I went to Edinburgh I had an idea to play around with the Australian National Anthem and I had seen a band in Sydney do… I think it was the music of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and the lyrics of ‘Gilligan’s Island’. They combined the two, and that really stuck in my head. ‘Gilligan’s Island’ was playing around in my head and then I went, “what if you put ‘Advance Australia Fair’ in there?” And then came up with [sings ‘Advance Australia Fair’ to tune of the theme to Gilligan’s Island]

Australian’s all, let us rejoice
For we are young and free,
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea.
Our home is girt by sea.

And then I kind of played around with more. ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ worked as well. [sings ‘Advance Australia Fair’ to the tune of the theme to Beverly Hillbillies]. All of these started coming together and then they just rattled around in my head. I was actually in a shopping centre one day, listening to ‘Working Class Man’. As it was playing, over the top of the music I was just going [sings ‘Advance Australia Fair’ to the tune of ‘Working Class Man’] and started going, “Oh my God, it works for ‘Working Class Man’!”

Music: ‘Working Class Anthem’ (‘Advance Australia Fair’ to the tune of ‘Working Class Man’) - Adam Hills and the Comedy Brig-Aid (from the CD single)

ADAM HILLS: So then I got permission and put this single out with myself, the Scared Weird Little Guys, Mark Trevorrow, Paul McDermott, Libbi Gore, Tripod and then a whole chorus of people including Greg Fleet and Steady Eddie bangin’ it out like a ‘Band Aid’-type thing.

Music: ‘Working Class Anthem’

Demetrius Romeo: Adam, what can I say but ‘Go, you big red fire engine!’

ADAM HILLS: ‘Go, you big red fire engine!’ indeed.

Demetrius Romeo: Thanks very much.

ADAM HILLS: Pleasure.

Music: ‘Working Class Anthem’

Like to know a bit more about Adam Hills? Here's a bunch of other interviews – although, in hindsight, they really are three variations of the same story, more-or-less.

The following article originally appeared in the May 6 2002 issue of Revolver.

Burning Down the House: Adam Hills gives it up for the fireys.

Some time in the late ’60s, the Beach Boys’ in-house acid casualty and resident genius, Brian Wilson, chose to abandon the now legendary concept album Smile. Ever the perfectionist, Wilson had been ensconced in the studio recording infinite takes of various parts of songs, with the ‘Fire’ section of the so-called ‘Elements Suite’ proving particularly elusive. It was this section that broke him: a particularly intense recording session happened to coincide with a devastating blaze that destroyed a fair chunk of (depending which myth you choose to believe) either California, or his studio. Convinced that the Fire sessions had been responsible for invoking the flames, Wilson apparently aborted the album and binned the mastertapes, the odd song from sessions cropping up in simpler form on subsequent Beach Boys releases.

Aussie comic Adam Hills may be able to identify somewhat with Brian Wilson. On the night that he first unveiled his show Go You Big Red Fire Engine, Hills and his mates decided to adjourn for a couple of post-show bevies at a local watering hole known as Q Bar. They got there just in time to see it go up in flames. In fact, it was Adam and his mates who first spotted the fire. “We grabbed as many people as we could and went straight out the door,” he explains. “The whole place was evacuated and three people were taken to hospital with smoke inhalation. The building was completely gutted.”

Watching those big, red fire engines come and go was all too much of a coincidence, and Adam’s agent agreed. It turned out that Adam’s next gig, at the Fringe Bar, would most likely also be cancelled because that venue caught fire on the same night. “Two different clubs in one night,” Adam acknowledges, laughing off my suggestion of a ‘curse’. “It was only two; I don’t think it’s technically a ‘curse’ until there’s three.”

Ah, but there was a third. Well, almost. When Sydney’s Comedy Store relocated to Fox Studios, Adam Hills was acting as MC at its gala opening. He happened to be on stage when the smoke alarm went off. Thankfully, that time at least, it was a false alarm: a combination of too many cigarette smokers in the audience and not enough ventilation in the venue had set off the smoke alarms. So it doesn’t really count.

Despite the freakish coincidence of two fires, the show certainly went on for ‘Go You Big Red Fire Engine’: in addition to being recorded and released as a comedy CD, the show earned a Perrier Nomination for Adam at the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. As is the custom, nominated shows get to play at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London.

“That was about mid-October,” Adam explains, “so I decided to donate all funds from that performance to the New York Fire Department.” That should have dissipated any remnants of a curse.

But if it didn’t, Adam’s next project will. He has just recorded ‘Working Class Anthem’, a song consisting of the words of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ sung to the tune of Jimmy Barnes’s ‘Working Class Man’. It has been in Hills’s repertoire for a while and Adam has wanted to release it for almost as long, but has been unable to obtain permission to do so until now.

“When I got back to Australia this year, Triple M asked me to sing ‘Working Class Anthem’ at the Fire Fighters concert and I thought it’d be great if we could release the single for them. Without a word of a lie, that day I got the call saying, ‘guess what, we’ve got permission!’”

Joining Adam on the song is the Comedy Brig-Aid – a horde of comedians featuring, amongst its ranks, the likes of the Scared Weird Little Guys, Bob Downe, Paul McDermott and Tripod. In addition to the single being very funny, all proceeds will be donated to the Australian Fire Authority Council. “On a selfish note,” Adam admits, “I’d love a number one song. But on an altruistic note, I’d like it to raise lots of money.”

The following interview originally appeared in Revolver in the first week of February 2002.

Adam Hills’s Happy Feet

“At the risk of sounding cheesy, September 11 made me question what I do for a living and whether I really help people,” explains comedian Adam Hills. “Three days after the attacks I was gigging in Paris, and there was an American guy in the audience. I started to do some material about how Americans are an optimistic people, and that if any country could get through this it would be America. He laughed harder than anyone in the room and I realised that he really needed to laugh about America again. Since then I’ve been doing a lot of material about the ‘War on Terror’ and how it affects us all, especially ’cos I’ve been spending time in the UK. I was on a flight five weeks ago when someone stood up and yelled that there was a bomb on board and we were all going to die. He was bluffing, and was eventually offloaded, but it was very scary. The more I talk about that flight, and laugh about it, the less scary it becomes.”

Although he should be packing for his flight back to Australia, Adam has taken time out for an e-mail interview to discuss what, at this stage, will be his next show, tentatively entitled Happy Feet. It takes its name from a song that was popular during the Great Depression. “It was a very tough time, and yet some really up-lifting songs were written to buoy the spirits,” Adam explains. “In fact, entertainment was about the only business that improved during the ’30s. When people are down or scared, they want to laugh, and that’s where I come in.”

Adam Hills is not only one of the most optimistic, happy people you will ever meet, he is also quite possibly the ‘nicest’ comic this side of Michael Palin “I love comedy, and I love comics,” he insists when pressed. “We are a breed apart, and I think we should support each other whenever we can, ’cos it can be a harsh industry. But I’ve met so many brilliant and supportive people along the way that I don’t really know why I’m supposedly the ‘nice guy’ of comedy. I don’t mind it, as long as I’m also considered to be one of the funniest.”

Hills is one of the funniest. He is utterly and irrefutably hilarious, as his 2001 Edinburgh Festival show Go You Big Red Fire Engine proved: it received a Perrier nomination for ‘most outstanding up-and-coming stand-up comedy or comedy cabaret’. Not that this has changed Adam: such an accolade “does more for your self-belief” than anything else, he says. “You’re still only as good as your next gig, and an audience will heckle you regardless of what you’ve been nominated for.”

Despite a bunch of television offers that came after the nomination, Hills is adamantly dedicated to developing his stand-up rather than using it as a stepping-stone to other show-biz gigs. “I believe that stand-up is a legitimate art form,” he says. “Television can’t really capture it; there is something magical about the live experience”

A live CD, however, is not out of the question. For those who missed last year’s Australian run of Go You Big Red Fire Engine the show was recorded for posterity. “The idea of Go You Big Red Fire Engine is to take the phrase as far as I can, so if it makes it onto the charts I’ve achieved another goal. Plus, I grew up listening to Bill Cosby, Billy Connolly and Robin Williams albums, and I love the idea of being in the same category of the record store as them.”

Although, like everyone, Hills does have “a few ideas” for film and television, and even a book, kicking around in the back of his mind, he can’t “give away too many secrets” just yet. The next big project is a “major world tour” for later this year. After that, Adam is “very keen” to break into the US circuit. In short, he sums up his plan as “world domination, my friend, and nothing less!”

The following interview originally appeared in the 2 October 2000 issue of Revolver.

Dream a Little Dream

“I wanted to be doing something in Sydney during the Olympics,” nice-guy comic Adam Hills offers as the reason for his current spate of appearances on the Sydney comedy circuit. He claims that the week of Comedy Store gigs he recently completed was “partly an excuse to be here for the Olympics, and partly to enable me to do my little bit for Sydney.” That, of course, is only partly true. Following his success at the Edinburgh Festival last month, Adam is breaking out of his standard Sydney mode – serving as MC or the twenty-minute feature act – by road-testing an hour-long show he calls My Own Little World. If ever a successful Edinburgh act would go down a treat it would be this one; providing, as it does, a kind of international humour, it can’t help but appeal to a multicultural metropolis undergoing ‘welcome, valued guest’ mode as Sydney is at present. And if ever a traveled comic felt happy to be back home, it is Adam. After four months of international success, he returned triumphant to play his first gig – in a beer garden in Bundaberg – and was chuffed. Looking skyward from the stage of the partially covered garden and being able to see the Southern Cross, he says, forced “pangs of Australian nationalism” to flood over Hills. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! And furthermore, oi, oi, oi!

Adam Hills has been dedicated to comedy for most of his life. As a kid, he listened to Bill Cosby and Billy Connolly albums while his mates were listening to music. A high school career as a debater, public speaker and valedictorian taught him that being able to make a speech that “purely existed just to be funny” constituted just about “the best feeling ever”. After beginning a journalism degree, Hills got wise to his true vocation after a mate dragged him down to the Comedy Store’s open mic night. “As soon as I saw that,” Adam confesses, “I thought, ‘oh yeah, I have to do this for the rest of my life’.” It wasn’t very long at all before he found himself writing gags for 2Day FM’s then-breakfast shift hosts, Wendy Harmer and Agro. A year and a bit later, Adam found himself heading interstate to host the breakfast shift on Adelaide’s equivalent of 2Day.

“I did that for four years,” Adam says, “until I decided I was sick of getting up at four o’clock in the morning and wanted to do stand-up again.” Adam is grateful to have made the discovery this early in his career that he doesn’t enjoy broadcasting as much as he does live stand-up. Adam thus differs from many other comics, for whom stand-up is merely the first step towards television or radio. “All I have to worry about,” he says, “is how to make a better show on stage, rather than ‘How am I gonna be more famous?’” As far as he’s concerned, the audience can tell when comics are doing stand-up “just as a step along the way” as opposed to doing it “for the art of stand-up”.

Does the fact that Hills has just returned from the Edinburgh Festival prove that he is interested in perfecting the art of stand-up? “My bank balance would reflect that,” Adam offers, laughing. “I’m certainly not doing it for the money.” The first time you go to Edinburgh, Adam claims, “you know that you’re going to lose a lot of money”. You look upon it as a business investment that “may pay off” some time down the track. It wasn’t until his third Edinburgh Festival that Adam broke even – which meant that, through contacts made and the work that followed thereafter, he finished that year ahead of the game. This recent visit, Adam’s fourth, was the best. Adam received five-star reviews and sell-out crowds, as well as the best comic training. “I ended up doing something like fifty-six shows in twenty-three days,” he says. “I learnt what you’d normally learn in a year of doing stand-up comedy.”

It’s not hard to see why Adam was so successful in Edinburgh. Not merely because of the universal appeal of My Own Little World, incorporating, as it does, national anthems and recognisable caricatures. Hills offers a distinctly happier world view than many fellow comics on the world stage. “A lot of comics are very cynical and very world-weary,” he observes. “If you’re watching that for an hour at the end of the day, it can be quite draining.” Adam’s own attitude is to have fun and to “play” with the audience. Besides, he says, when you’re doing shows in places like the Gold Coast, it’s hard to be grumpy on stage. “Everyone’s spent the day on the beach; imagine me walking out and going, ‘well, isn’t life shit!’ It just doesn’t sit right.” In Adam’s Own Little World, life is frequently filled with joyous song – each one a loving piss-take, of course.