Who's the Cheeky Monkey: TIM FERGUSON


Who’s the Cheeky Monkey TIM FERGUSON

By Ian Browne Shamrock News

Not so long ago you suggested I write comedy. I find comedy very easy, I just leap out of bed, open the door onto life and the world laughs back at me! However, writing comedy is not such an easy task.

In your book ‘the Cheeky Monkey’, you state that: “The blueprint to comedy is in your DNA.” Can someone comically challenged, let’s say ‘Idi Amin’- learn to write comedy?

Laughter is universal. The principles of poking laughter are ancient and operate outside of the bounds of subject matter. A play on words is a play on words, no matter what the words may be. A comic situation operates under the same principles (pressure, inflexible characters, increasing stakes etc) no matter who is involved. Do I really have to point this out?

What do you like most about our wee neck of the woods?

The hippies, homeopaths and anti-vaxxers run wild. Their flimsy hypocrisies are hilarious.

Vegans gather in public unobstructed. Quinoa is freely available to all citizens! Fluoride is banned in Byron Bay because it numbs our thinking faculties and makes us pliable to manipulation by unseen overlords? I eat fluoride for breakfast and wait to feel the pliability buzz. Still waiting.

A one-time political giant of our region, why did you choose Doug Anthony as the torch bearer of your title for the ‘ ‘ All Star’s?

Because he is a giant. As Acting PM, he ran the nation from a caravan. A brave, honest and proud Aussie from a tougher generation than our pack of kiss-asses.

Even today I still shake my head in wonderment at the intensity of energy the Doug Anthony All Stars released on an audience. How did the three of you even begin to conjure up such mayhem? Where and how did it all begin?

We started busking as kids in Geneva, 1974. Our parents were connected to, or reporting on the UN. Busking in Switzerland required noisy, bouncy activity (just to stay warm). One by one, we each followed our parents and returned to Canberra. Eventually, we reformed. The violins and recorders went. The noise and bounce remained.

Not only is ‘the Cheeky Monkey’ full of clever gags and boisterous laughs, you also teach the principles and function of humour. You suggest: “Absurd and nonsense humour pushes excepted norms to nonsense extremes, presenting the audience with a fresh perspective.”

Your brand of comedy does verge on madness but there was a message. As a statement of the tyranny of the times communicated within social-political-satire, what was the main aim of the Doug Anthony All Stars?

All art verges on madness.

We attack. Our favourite targets are the people who are rarely mocked: the Left, the self-satisfied university-educated fine arts lovers, anyone who assumes there are rules to life. Anyone who surrounds themselves with people who agree with them.

We recognise no conventions. We favour no end of the spectrum. They are all hypocrites, liars and scoundrels – and so are we.

There is no point in writing comedy that comforts the audience. Comedy should confound, dismay and unnerve.

Comedy is Truth. There should be no comfort in it.

Does this transcend nowadays? With your live shows today with three of the four original team members, do the younger audience’s faces suggest they understand what you are saying?

Our new, younger fans get it. We’re on their side. Our message of embracing total freedom in all things is simple and attractive to youth.

The fans of our older generation are our primary targets. How dare they have adopted the absurd and contradictory values of their parents? They correct each other’s harsh language. They claim moderation is good. They’ve stopped fucking like animals.

It used to be about the music.

I love Flacco, he used to completely intrigue and crack me up! Is Paul Livingston as a curious a creature in real-life as he is an actor?

We call him The Enigma for good reason. Paul McDermott and I have no idea what goes on in Livingston’s head.

He keeps to himself before, during and after the shows.

We love him.

Last year you were teaching comedy at New York University. Did you show your students a file tape of the Doug Anthony All Stars? And if so, did they:

  1. Immediately have you deported?

  2. “Get it” and like us deranged Aussies- enjoyed the experience?

A New York student (based in Sydney) unearthed a Youtube link. I denied having anything to do with it, told them it was my twin brother. He said to tell my brother he loves the act. Young people don’t fear our messages. They will one day, but not yet.

What did you like most about your time in New York?

I love that New Yorkers, and Americans in general, are superior to Australians. Your Australian readers may find this fact confounding, until they remember that by disparaging the US, they’re disparaging millions of black, Hispanic, Chinese, disabled, homeless, activist, environmentally aware or creative people. Aussies basically dislike American success because modern Australia began as a prison colony.

New Yorkers have created some of the Western world’s most powerful and enduring art, comedy, movies and music. They drove the Sexual Revolution. They deserve respect for this.

Best of all, New Yorkers, despite their bluntness, are highly optimistic. They believe there is good in all people. Australians believe there is nothing trustworthy in anyone.

See who gets results.

In terms of drivers and influences, if you had to put your finger on it- what would be the main difference between comedy in New York and that which derives from the streets of Sydney?

New York comedy is a generous and lively industry based in a variety of close-knit venues with opportunities for all. The comedians are brave and bold. Sarah Silverman is a fine example. Tina Fey is even finer.

Sydney comedy has less tolerance for genius and expansion, due to its snipping of tall-poppies.

You have lectured at the Victorian College of the Arts and have lived in both Sydney and Canberra. Is there much difference between the three cities in terms of comedy culture and the way one makes a quid from within the industry?

Melbourne is the centre of comedy because it has crap weather. Melbournites need indoor entertainment. Bad acts (like DAAS) are given venues and time to better themselves.

Sydney comedy lacks a strong and cohesive hub. The venues are scattered, they rarely collude. Comedy needs venues and a community with patience for new work. For that to grow, you need a plethora of venues. It’s fine for old bastards like DAAS. Much harder for beginners. That’s why I wrote the book – it shows how to get funny faster.

Canberra is a country town. So, very supportive of imperfection and lacking options for diversification. The audiences have no choice but to support you.

You describe comedy as “creative, challenging and rewarding”. A friend of mine quit a career in international journalism due to the onset of MS. You seem to be working as hard and as creatively as ever.

How has MS changed the way you approach comedy, and has teaching and writing comedy itself helped you maintain positivity, while keeping you engaged?

Your friend should become a comedian. There is total creative freedom and financial autonomy. Actors have to queue and beg for work.

As for MS, I remain consciously optimistic.

I just made a movie (the romcom ‘Spin Out’) and tour the world with difficult party people.

MS can bite me.

You can put your pants back on now. Nurse will see you out.

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