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On the phone with Paul McDermott

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This month we called up Paul McDermott from the Doug Anthony Allstars.  McDermott chatted to Graeme Watson about the troupe’s new show, getting picked for jury duty, Latin American authors and why Paul will probably never sign up for Breakfast radio again.

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I heard you’ve been trying to get out of doing jury duty?

How do you know that!

I have good sources.

It’s not that I don’t believe in jury duty, it’s just that at the moment I’m working on a number of projects on at the moment that would make it very unfeasible for me to do my duty to the Australian people and the courts, so I had to wriggle out of it.

I can’t help but think of someone being in the dock and looking across and seeing you at the head of the jury and thinking, “Nah, now I’m screwed”.

I’d wondered about that, in my daily life I’m quite unrecognisable from the fella on telly, and that’s how most people know me. I find if I wear a suit it gives it away, but as long as I don’t wear a suit nobody recognises me.

It goes back to the old days with All Stars. The three of us were sitting at a table in Paris having an early morning coffee, enjoying nobody recognizing us, when an Australian woman came running over, she’d spotted us and was saying “Oh My God, the All Stars, here in Paris”. She got down on one knee and talked to Tim and Richard for ten or fifteen minutes, and then looked around the table, looked me straight in the eyes and said “Where’s Paul?” That used to happen a lot.

I don’t know what it is about me but I seem to just blend into the scenery, it’s a blessing and a curse.

When it comes to performing political comedy, how do the politicians of today compare to those of twenty years ago?

It seems like politicians now are just careerists. It doesn’t really matter what they say or do, just as long as they stay in power. It seems in the past when people agreed or disagreed it wasn’t just about having the reins of power. It was important, but people didn’t just pursue things on a statistical basis. The nature of politics has changed dramatically in the last twenty years.

Does that change the nature of comedy?

It doesn’t change the nature of comedy, but maybe the way you approach things. It seems that part of the faith of politics has gone. I don’t think a lot of the people of Australia have a lot of faith in the two piles of ratbags who are just tearing at each other’s throats all the time. I think both parties have proven themselves to be deceitful, self-satisfying veracious scumbags.

What’s the name of your new tour?

This one’s called ‘Life and Death’, somehow it’s become about a near death experience, I prefer the term ‘near-life experience’ but we’re talking about Mister Ferguson and the shortness of breath that we’re all experiencing at this point in our existence. We’re dealing with adult concepts in a very juvenile way. Articulate idiocy.

Tim’s been a great advocate for people living with Multiple Sclerosis.

Yes, he wants everyone to have it. He’s become a lightning rod for MS sufferers and people with other disabilities, but he rises to the challenge. Get out there and live your life. Damn the consequences, damn the naysayers and damn the people who say you don’t have control of your own destiny. Get out there and do it.

When you started off did you ever think you be standing on stage with the same guys thirty years later?

No! I didn’t think at this point in my life I’d be standing on stage with a cripple and a pensioner [laughs] That’s for sure, I was hoping that my life would have gone a little bit better. No seriously, it’s been great, it’s been extraordinary. The reunion tour, we didn’t know what we were doing, but it just came together naturally.

We’ve always ad-libbed and improvised and the shows have come out of that, we’ve always been organic and that’s continued. It’s never a static show, it’s always changing and moving. People who come one night, might not recognise the show further down the track, or even the next night.

Also with Tim with the MS, there’s another couple of elements that can lead to uncertainly, haphazardness and ultra-weird moments. Sometime we’re not sure where he is, sometimes I think he’s not sure where he is, but he’s on a regime of extraordinary heavy drugs, so his perception of the world changes pretty dramatically.

I think once you know you have MS, it impacts pretty heavily on your life, it makes re-evaluate a lot of aspects of your existence. That aspect of self-scrutiny is good for comedy.

I was talking to some younger recently about you, and it dawned on me that they only know of your career from ‘Good News Week’ onward, do you find your attracting more of that younger audience who don’t know the Doug Anthony Allstars?

I never talk to young people. Generally I don’t see the point of them myself. Unless they’re going to become an underclass that feeds our fossil fuel desires for the next hundred years. Young people have nothing to look forward to, the machines will be taking over everything ,very shortly.

It’s be leisure time for the children all the time, they’ll live to 150, it’s not too far away. Once they crack this genome and get rid off all of our disorders. They’ll just start sculpting beautiful people. Eugenics, it was out of fashion after Hitler, but it’s coming back into vogue again. Lets just make the most beautiful people we can make.

But I don’t care, you are what you are, you travel linearly through time like an arrow and eventually you come to rest somewhere. People before you die, and people behind you are born – that seems to be the great circle of life, the wheel that we’re on.

So if some fellow only knows me from GNW, that’s fine, I don;t mind, or you could fucking Google me.

Have you ever read your own Wikipedia entry?

No, No…

My experience is that they are usually very incorrect.

Isn’t it great that this new world that we’ve created for ourselves, our major journal of record is prone to extraordinary acts of deception, so it could all be wrong.

There’s a book by Jorge Luis Borges, Latin American chap, there a tale in it called ‘Labyrinth’ which is about this library where all the books on the shelves are filled with minimalist symbols, drivel or empty pages. All the books in the world are there, but there’s no way of finding what you want, ever – it’s just the chaotic and hideous world of information but there’s no way of understanding it or correlating it.

It seems to be what we are inhabiting now.

I look at television, ad really now and all the programs have got now, after finding cheaper and cheaper ways of making television, so generally its made up of people sitting behind a desk talking about stuff they don’t know.  Nobody has a comprehensive understanding of the world that they can talk about any topic, but we expect that from breakfast TV hosts, and now the breakfast shows have moved to the afternoons so the you have the breakfast afternoon shows, and the The Project is like a breakfast show in the evening, so the breakfast shows are now dominant.

Basically I’ve been trying to get a show up for a while now called ‘Idiots Talking Shit’ because it seems to be a more honest way of approaching it.

Would you do radio again?

To me it’s a bit of a dead medium, but only because I don’t listen to it, I’m not engaged with it.

I loved doing radio with Mikey and Steve, the Sandman… but it just put me in  a weird world. I found that after years of touring I couldn’t really sleep before twelve at night and then I’d have to get up at five in the morning to get to Triple J by six, and I found myself in this wierd world where I couldn’t sleep. I became an insomniac, I found myself weeping at the strangest moments.

The high point was winter in Sydney, the same year I was doing that show there was a Rosella ad on TV with a jingle about how Rosella care and I was weeping. I was a puddle on the floor, crying and beating my breast, telling my friends that it was true Rosella really do care.

There’s an advertising copywriter who you’ve just made very happy. 

After that I thought, ‘I’ve got to stop doing radio’. If the right people came along and it was the right show, then maybe – but I’m not going to go and listen to shit music on a bad radio station.

At least Triple J had a good playlist and we could just play what we wanted sometimes, that gave it some brightness. But man, sitting in a little room and hearing some of those bands go round and round – I mean commercial radio has just discovered the late ’80s and the ’90s. The music commercial radio is playing is what we were playing back in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s just very funny.

There are people who can do it, but it wasn’t for me at the time.

Thank for chatting Paul, we look forward to seeing you on tour. 

The Doug Anthony All Stars: Near Death Experience is at the Regal Theatre on 23-24 October. Tickets are available at Ticketek.

 

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