By Lisa Clark
Tony Martin is a legend in Australian comedy with a huge loyal fanbase of punters and comedians alike. There are not many performers with fan websites lovingly devoted to previous work such as The Late Show (www.champagnecomedy.com), Martin/Molloy (www.martin-molloy.org) or Get This (http://www.rampantstupidity.net/) to name a few, years after the programs stopped airing. Tony is the dream guest for most podcasters and the dream interviewee for this Squirrel. He was kind enough to find one and a half hours for an interview during this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival.
If this were an old media article, the interview would be, no doubt, significantly edited, but as space isn’t an issue here I’ve only edited it for grammar and the occasional potentially libelous content. He made me laugh throughout and mimicked most of the voices that he quotes.
Tony has been very busy recently working on Upper Middle Bogan on the ABC and is looking forward to the release in the UK of Ross Noble’s new series Freewheeling for which he was a Creative Producer. When I interviewed him Tony was in the middle of the Melbourne Fringe Festival run of The Yeti (in which he performs a whole chapter from his autobiographical book Lollyscramble) his first Solo Festival show in thirteen years, at the adorably kitschy Butterfly Club. His last solo festival show was A Quiet Word with Tony Martin in 2000. Though he did read out some stories from Lollyscramble in Tony Martin Reads Stuff Out at The Bella Union Bar in 2011 and has popped up in literary festivals and comedy rooms occasionally, such as his regular appearances at The Shelf over the last couple of years which always sets off waves of excitement around Melbourne. He gives some insight here of what may have shied him away from comedy festivals and sounds positive if a little nervous about his return.
Tony also gives us a lot of fabulous information about early live performances by him and comedy friends in Melbourne, for those out there keen to update Wikipedia or fan pages. He kindly offers up an idea for a government grant, documentary or possible PHD study, and confides in us his secret to a long career in comedy.
He also reveals that Ross Noble is actually a Superhero.
Lisa: How has the run of The Yeti been?
Tony: It’s been good, what I’ve learnt is, it’s the sort of show I should’ve done earlier in the evening. I’ve done eight O’Clock shows and nine O’Clock shows & it goes considerably better at eight O’Clock and I’ve realised that in the nine O’Clock shows people have had a lot more to drink and I think they are expecting it to just be normal standup. I have noticed in the later shows that there are a lot of drinks on the stage and as I’m essentially performing a play I can’t really refer to too many things. The first two were at eight O’Clock and they went really well. The next three went OK but they were really only laughing at the big jokes. Then I went back to eight O’Clock last night and it was the best it’s ever gone. So I thought ‘Note to Self: only do things like this early’.
Lisa: What is it like saying the same thing over and over? At least stand up can be tweaked but The Yeti is a form of verbatim theatre.
Tony: I’ve snuck in two extra jokes, but apart from that, it is actually word for word.
Well the reason I did it really is because I had so many people asking me to do the story, whenever I do book festivals and things. You can’t really read it out, because it’s got all those character voices, so it demands to be acted. One idea was to turn it into stand up. Although I remember, years before I wrote Lollyscramble, I did actually do a version of The Yeti in standup and it absolutely died in the arse. I realised later that in order to get the story down a standup length of about three minutes I had to sort of accelerate it and smooth it out and I don’t think anyone believed it. People were looking at me like ‘No way that happened.’ Whereas, when you’ve got fifty minutes you can leave in all the messy real life stuff. I was thinking of actually converting it to standup but so many of the laughs are in the narration, in the way the narration is so sort of flowerily worded as opposed to the rather blunt things the characters are saying… you just learn. Franklin Ajay was in the audience last night and he was saying to me afterwards (Tony doing an impression of Franklin) “You could turn that into a kind of a sitcom like Fawlty Towers, you know all those characters living in that house” And I’m thinking, Yeah, but what he hadn’t noticed is that so many of the laughs actually come from the reaction of the narrator to the things that are said. If you stripped away the narration it’d be quite ordinary actually. So in the end I thought yeah; I’ll just perform it exactly the way it’s written and because so much work had gone into editing that story for the book, I remember thinking, well, the work’s been done. I could spend two months trying to turn it into a more standuppy show but at the end of that there’d be as much work as went into the actual writing of that story or the whittling down really of that material. They’re very hard stories to…
When you write you basically take everything you can remember and then you just throw it on the floor and go “Right, is there a story in all of this or is just a bunch of anecdotes? What is the difference between an anecdote and a story?” And of course because it is something that was said twenty years ago, your memory only remembers odd things. It’s funny but when you ask someone to describe ‘OK you lived in a house twenty years ago, what do you remember of that year?’ you won’t remember everything in order, you’ll remember really odd, particular things, you will have forgotten months of mundane activity. So it’s a very odd series of building blocks to try to construct a story from, as opposed to if you were writing a fictional story about some people living in a house. You’d go ‘Well I need a bit so I can get from there to there, I need a proper ending. Whereas those biographical stories are ones where you’ve got to make a story from the only available parts which are the bits you can remember.
Lisa: There is so much information in your stories, we get some evidence of your hoarding of keepsakes at the end of The Yeti, but do you keep a diary at all?
Tony: I don’t now, it’s a pain in the arse. I just did this big tour around England with Ross Noble and we’re working 12 – 16 hour days and the last thing you want to do at the end of the day is write a diary, but because I was in England, I actually made myself write a diary every night, sometimes for two and a half hours
Tony: So I’ve only started doing that lately, but I don’t really keep a diary but I’ve always kept notes of things people say, because what I’ve discovered is that someone says something funny in a conversation, even if it’s hilarious, when you come to tell someone three days later, you’ve usually changed the wording, you’ve usually forgotten the wording or you’ve often tidied it up and it’s not as funny. So when I hear someone say something funny I try and write it down exactly the way they said it. Like in that story from The Yeti when Gunter say’s ‘SO BLARDY FLARSH DEM TURTS!’ he doesn’t say ‘So flush them bloody turds’ the way you would say it, he says ‘So Blardy Flarsh dem Turts!’ The bloody is in the wrong place in the sentence and but it’s more like something someone would say. So I do try with phrases and things, I’ve always kept quite detailed notes. It’s not so much keeping notes, it’s just that when something funny happens….like all the stories in those books involving my family when I was growing up, they’re stories that’ve been going round for years in our family. We’ve all told those stories. Like when Skippy came to our town and fireworks night. They are quite well known in my circle.
Lisa: I loved your show at The Shelf, Do you think you could turn your slide night into a show?
Tony: Laughs ‘I’ve had a few people say that to me and I’ve never considered it. It’s been so long since I did a standup show and I do want to do another one at some point that it sort of feels like cheating to have pictures. It feels lazy almost. But I notice that a lot of standups now have Dave Gorman style PowerPoint presentations. That was fun because a lot of the jokes had already been written on Twitter. In fact I think pretty much all of those photos I’d already shown on my twitter. So I had a lot of material already and I remember driving in thinking “Gee, if everyone there follows me on Twitter…but it seems like no one there did”
Lisa: Well we were laughing! Because it was funny anyway and it was a bit different and more detailed
Tony: I think you could make a show out of it, I liked the way that Adam Richard was just moving onto the next one real quick and you could have one picture and one joke and then go straight on to the next one. I thought, that’s interesting, I’d love to do a show like that where you flip through a lot of pictures really quickly. I dunno, Hammo’s (Justin Hamilton) keen for me to a bit more of that. I try and do something every time he does a series and I try to make most of them. It’s often not planned he just says (starts to do Justin’s voice) ‘Why don’t you come down?’ and it depends if I’m working or not, or if I’ve got something to do. I like the way he tries never to repeat anything on those nights. So I don’t think I’ve ever done the same thing twice, I’ve done standup spots, I’ve read out articles of mine. I did one where I read out a lot of phoney, angry letters to the editor I’d written and I’ve done a slide show. So I try and do something different every time. What I really wanted to do and Damnit, Paul F Tompkins beat me to it. I wanted to spend a lot of money and have a costume made of that bloke in Boardwalk Empire with half his face missing. Richard Harrow (played by Jack Huston) lost half his face in WW1, so he wears a tin mask over half his face and it’s a really fun voice to do. It would cost a fortune but I was thinking of having a full Richard Harrow costume made for just a one off appearance at The Shelf and then Damnit Tompkins beat me to it. He started doing it on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast and then he’s done a thing for Funny or Die where he’s wearing the full gear. So, can’t really do that now. Damn you Tompkins!
Lisa: I wanted to ask you about you’re early live Standup experience because there is nothing much online, it’s really hard to find out about old live comedy performances. There are no old records kept.
Tony: I remember the first I ever heard about the Internet was on the front cover of Time magazine in 1994 and then I think I got the Internet in 1996. Already there was comedy nerd stuff on there, but there’s a real gap. You get comedians now who’ve done five gigs and already all of them are on You Tube. Whereas there’s this incredible gap of Melbourne comedy that’s not been preserved. I’ve been trying for years for somebody to do something with all the Espy Comedy videos. I started doing comedy there, (at The Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda) it rather notoriously ran for one month shy of ten years when Trev Hoare, the man that ran it was ousted in a rather ugly coup. There should be a documentary about it. Peter Grace, who produced Martin/Molloy, used to be the kind of tech at the Espy and he had a camera set up. I don’t think it was recording the proper sound, like through the microphone or anything. Trev Hoare used to sit in his office and behind him was a huge wall of VHS tapes. It was just thousands and thousands of hours. They ran a camera across everything for years. I think someone told me they didn’t get the first two or three years but Gracie told me it was something like two thousand video tapes and it would require a huge effort for someone to transfer them and go through them all. It’s like a government grant should be given for someone to try and corral all that material. There could well be a great documentary in it and I know there are quite a lot of legendary Anthony Morgan and Greg Fleet things there; it’s just too big a job. I see Trev Hoare every five years I go “What’s happened to all those tapes?” and he goes (Does the voice) “Aw I’ve still got the tapes Tone” but that would fill in a gap if someone could get into all that material.
I started out doing standup at The Gershwin Room (in the Esplanade Hotel) when they did this brilliant thing called The Delivery Room. It started as weekly and only ran for five months. No-one can actually pin down the date, but I know I was on at the third one. I’ve got it written down somewhere, it was early December 1990. It must’ve started around November 1990 and it went through to Comedy Festival 1991, when they did a great show called Gift from the Gobs. Which there’s actually an album of. That was the famous Delivery Room, with The Rope, where they had the rope hanging from the ceiling and you couldn’t do old material, you’d have to go over and hold the rope. People would yell out ‘Rope’ if they recognised an old joke.
Lisa: I remember that and I saw a show in Edinburgh a few years ago that did that too.
Tony: Yeah, because that’s become quite famous and often overseas comedians that would come on Get This would say ‘I’ve heard about the rope thing you used to do here’. So I think the rope thing they did in Edinburgh is probably copied from the Espy Comedy one.
What was great about those five months is I just remember so much material was generated. It was a new three and a half hour show every week. People weren’t just writing standup, they were writing sketches and there was a dance troupe that did this terrible choreography and Anthony Morgan wrote this brilliant news report every week. Pretty much The Melbourne comedy scene, which was of course much, much smaller in the 90s was fuelled for about four years by the material that was created in those five months. Then, after that Espy Comedy continued through the 90s but they didn’t have the Rope policy after that.
Lisa: There is nothing on Wikipedia about all of this.
Tony: Wikipedia is great in general but once a year I’ll go have a look at my page and it’s riddled with inaccuracies. Not that I care, ‘cause I know that if someone fixes it, a week later my name will be Penis again.
Lisa: So did you do any Festival shows as such?
Tony: Gosh… I’ve done four Comedy Festival shows but I’ve only done one on my own. The first one I did was with the D-Generation in 1991. We did a show at Le Joke called Midnight Shenanigans. That was quite a famous show at the time. Have you ever been to Le Joke?
Lisa: Yes, but I didn’t see that, I actually saw The D-gen’s very first show downstairs at The Last Laugh in 1984
Tony: Would that have been “Let’s Talk Backwards”?
Lisa: Yes, I think so!
Tony: Yes that’s the one that most of them came from, then Magda and others were in the next years one called Too Cool for Sandals. We did a show, that was with everyone from The Late Show series one, so not Judith, and then John Harrison, who was in Let’s Talk Backwards, we dragged him away from his proper job and we did a show at Le Joke. Le Joke was upstairs at the Last Laugh. I think it held about 120 people but it was really small. It was the most expensive show, I think we were paid about $500 a week to do the show and we spent thousands on really elaborate props and we had a cart system in the days before laptops and we had TV monitors and we had Santo the Magnificent. His disappearing cabinet had to be dragged up the back steps. People would come along and couldn’t believe how elaborate it was in this tiny room. So that was the first Comedy Festival show I did. Then I did one the following year in ’92, I did one with Mick Molloy, Greg Fleet and Matt Quattermaine, called The Show with No Name at Le Joke. I can’t remember a lot about that but it opened with a musical version of Cape Fear and it closed with us singing the Daniel Boon theme song but we changed the words to Jesus Christ. So it was ‘Jesus Christ was a man’. There was occasionally boos for that.
Then we did The Late Show and in 1994 I did a Comedy Festival show at the National Theatre, ‘cause that was when we were quite huge. Me and Mick & Judith Lucy did a show called Martin, Molloy & Lucy in fact. I didn’t do standup when we did Martin/Molloy and then I went all the way back.
What happens with me is that I don’t do standup for a few of years and then it’s like going back to being a tryout all over again, so I went to Edinburgh with Judith. I probably would never have done standup again after Martin/Molloy ‘cause, four years is a long time in Standup. While I was doing Martin/Molloy all these new people like Dave Hughes had come along and suddenly there was massive amounts of comics around so I was a bit intimidated. Then Judith Lucy did this great thing, she was going to Edinburgh to do her show called ‘The Show’ and I think she had a one and a half hour slot but the show was only seventy minutes, so she said to me ‘Why don’t you do twenty minutes at the top, I won’t put you on the poster’. It was quite rare for someone to have a support act in their festival show in Edinburgh. So I got to go up and do twenty minutes every night supporting her and it wasn’t advertised and no-one knew who I was which was great, it meant that the material was judged on the material and I started to build up a completely new act.
Then I did a show called A Quiet Word with Tony Martin which is nothing to do with the TV show that I did. That was in the year 2000 and that was the first solo Comedy Festival show that I did and that was actually nominated for The Barry Award. I remember Fleety (Greg Fleet) and Alan Brough were nominated as well that year for something called Interrogation but The Boosh won as well they should. But I haven’t done a show since then really which was fourteen years ago.
I did standup for about four or five years in the early nineties and then didn’t do it again ‘til what I just described. I remember there was quite an ugly…It was quite interesting when I did that Quiet Word show because there was a notorious rock journalist from Britain, I think he wrote a book about Nirvana. He reviewed comedy festival shows for The Age that year and he wrote a really nasty review claiming my show was racist. I had to actually phone him up and ask him ‘What was the racist bit?’ and it was a fraction of a quote, an innocuous bit where I quoted word for word a conversation I’d had with this Scotsman (and in fact I’m technically Scottish, because my family are from Scotland) but it got into the papers that I was doing this racist show, although it didn’t explain what.
I always remember going to see my blood specialist who was Egyptian and he was coming into the room with my file to basically tell me if I was going to die or not, so you’re waiting for that information, and without looking up from his clipboard he just goes ‘My ahhh, my receptionist tells me you’re doing a racist show’.
He’s doing the Egyptian accent and we laugh despite ourselves.
So it was quite ugly, because the reviewer was writing for both The Age and Inpress, so I had The Age and the Inpress calling me racist and yet at the same time I was also nominated for The Barry Award, so it was an odd experience and I didn’t do standup for a few years after that.
I’ve mentioned Trev Hoare before, cause I’m such a fan of his, but he started up a room in Milano’s Tavern Sandringham do you remember that?
Tony: Every now and then he’ll just start a comedy room in a bizarre place. He was the one who did comedy at Young & Jacksons a few years ago on Monday nights.
Lisa: I remember that, I went to that
Tony: I used to go there and do spots. What was great about Milanos was that it was just out of town enough that there were never any comics in the audience. There would often be only twenty five people in the audience but it was a really good place to try out new material and if it went badly no-one would ever hear about it. So I think I went there every night for months and that was again like going all the way back to the beginning and starting all over again.
Lisa: I’ve heard this from another comedian; do you find it a bit intimidating sometimes having the comedians in the room, like they used to be up the back at The Prince Pat?
Tony: Well, it depends how many there are. Up the back of The Prince Pat was fine, because then you’d have, maybe 200 punters as well, but I remember (I’m not going to name any rooms) but I remember there was a couple of rooms that I used to go to in the early noughties where there would be forty people in the room and twenty of them would be comedians. Of course there’s no tougher audience than comedians for comedy. So I’d go ‘I don’t want to go try out new stuff with twenty comedians there’.
Lisa: I heard that you put up Internet Movie Data Base pages for obscure Aussie TV comedies that didn’t have their own page?
Tony: Well mainly New Zealand movies. I think Karl Chandler, seems obsessed with this, but in fact most of my IMBD work has been New Zealand movies. When the Internet started the IMDB only had two New Zealand movies in it and I had a project in the nineties when I first got the Internet to try and get every single New Zealand movie on it, which is something like four hundred and fifty, so it took me three and a half years and I did it.
Tony: So when I finished I started adding obscure Australian comedy shows like Brass Monkey and things like that.
Lisa: It’s obvious that you love movies but I suspect you have a particular, possibly goulish love for really bad/trashy films. Is that true, or do you just love movies in general?
Tony: Yeah, well, I like good and bad movies. I remember that when I was in Edinburgh, I was watching so much comedy and so much great comedy that eventually you go ‘Let’s go and see some BAD comedy’.
Lisa: I was impressed that you spent your money from Martin/Molloy to make your own films.
Tony: It was always something we used to talk about. It was something we used to do on the breakfast show. It all came about because we did these pilots for The Late Show in 1990 and we went out to the car park with home video equipment, which no-one ever did, and shot sketches. We shot test sketches, we thought, we’ll film it on home video and if they’re any good and the show gets up we’ll re-film them again properly. But there was just some kind of quality to these crappily low budget, shot on home video in a car park sketches, they looked like shit, but they had this life to them! What we found is that, when we were doing sketches on the D-Generation they would spend so long lighting them and they would do eight or nine takes and they’d use take nine because that was the one where the camera moves were perfect but it was probably the one where the actors were exhausted and not funny. Whereas when we shot the stuff on home video we went aw well let’s just use the takes where it’s funny. Who cares if it looks like shit.
That was such a lesson to us, so when we did The Late Show on TV we spent literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of our own money shooting our own sketches and films and post producing them ourselves. That’s how Frontline came about, that’s how they ended up being able to direct Frontline themselves on really small cameras.
Lisa: Some of those Late Show sketches still stand up today on line
Tony: So I thought well that’s a really good lesson, investing in yourself. You know, we were young, we didn’t have any children. Occasionally I’ll go, maybe I should’ve hung onto some of that money. With the film Bad Eggs, if I hadn’t invested my own money I don’t think I would’ve been allowed to direct that myself. I didn’t have any directing credits up to that point, apart from doing sketches on The Late Show and the Mick Molloy Show. Yeah, I put three hundred grand into that film and it sort of opened doors. I think the head of Village Roadshow said ‘Woah we’ve never had someone offering to put their own money into their film’. It’s a cliché but it’s one you hear all the time, “The first rule of the film industry is never put your own money in because you’ll never see it again”. Although Bad Eggs has actually slowly but surely finally recouped all its money. Of that three hundred grand I think I’ve made about fifty grand of it back and I wasn’t expecting to see any of it, so that’s been a bonus.
Lisa: Well I liked it
Tony: It’s not for everybody, that film, but it does have a following. It was very popular in Germany, like David Hasselhoff’s music. It got rave reviews in Germany where it was known as Mit vollem Einsatz! which means ‘With Extreme Force’. [though literally translates as With Full Use]
Lisa: I read how hard you worked on Martin Molloy – basically from the moment you woke til going to bed, was it the same with Get This?
Tony: It was and possibly Get This even more so. Well we don’t have writers or anything. With Get This because I was paying everyone, (my company was making that show), I felt I wasn’t paying Richard and Ed enough to demand that they give their entire lives over to the show. So I was the one writing the sketches for that show…oh no no, that’s not fair! Because Richard and Ed would often write their own sketches, but not everyday. Martin/Molloy was very scripted, although now, ‘cause we’ve said that so much in interviews, I think people think that everything was scripted. Obviously when we were talking to callers or interviewing people that wasn’t scripted, and some of the mucking around in the second hour obviously wasn’t scripted. That whole first hour where we would do those long rants and things; that was all written.
For Martin/Molloy we’d get in at 10am and work all day ‘til 4 and then the show would go from 4 – 6pm then I’d go home and write ‘til, midnight and you’d be up first thing reading the papers. You’d have to read all the papers, there wasn’t the online aggregate, where the whittling was done for you. It was just a huge amount of work and the production was… now you can build an elaborate sketch quite quickly on a computer, but computers where much more primitive in the 1990s. So Vicki Marr who was the Matt Dower of Martin/Molloy would spend hours on it, I remember being there ‘til midnight some times. Mick putting down a sketch that probably only went for two minutes fifteen and was probably only ever played twice. That was all kind of part of what we were trying to do.
We weren’t interested in being ‘radio personalities’, that’s not why we were doing the show. We just wanted to do a comedy show. We wanted to do a radio show that was like a TV show where you wouldn’t want to miss any of it. As opposed to a radio show that goes for three hours but you know ‘I hear about twenty minutes of it’. We’re going No No, we want people to listen to the whole thing like they would watch a TV show. So that was our rather pompous sort of declaration. The standard we set for ourselves.
Some of it sounded a bit stilted because we were sitting there reading off spirax books, but because there was nothing else like it, the novelty got us through a lot of the time. Whereas by the time we got round to Get This that style, that read out style had become a bit out of fashion, so I would write things, but I would try to do them from memory or use point form lists so that it wouldn’t sound as stilted. There was still just as much, or even more work that went into Get This as Martin/Molloy.
Lisa: Do you think you’re a bit of a workaholic?
Tony: Oh, not really. I think of myself as quite lazy. I’ll try and get out of work whenever I can. It’s just fear, with radio it’s just this beast that eats up every idea that you’ve ever had. So you put in a really big day’s work then you go home and you’re back to zero and you go, right what’ve we got for tomorrow? You want it to be good, sooo…. but it’s not through any desire to be a workaholic. It’s just that, this is how much work you have to do to make a show like that any good.
Lisa: Not everybody would say that.
Tony: Well I’m not saying it’s the only way to do a radio show. I mean someone like Marty Sheargold, (now I’m sure Marty does a lot of preparation) he’s got the genius of sounding like it’s all coming off the top of his head. A show that’s had a lot of work put into it can often sound like that and it’s hard to listen to, whereas radio, especially FM radio is at its best when it’s relaxed casual and you just go ‘Well here’s something I found in the paper’. The problem is that the radio year is a long year and by August most people are fucked. So if you can think of a way to do a show where you don’t have to kill yourself every day, well Done!
Lisa: Do you think you might do another stint on radio one day, maybe even the ABC?
Tony: I don’t know if I really fit in on The ABC. They have a bizarre rule where they only have one host and so they have a man or woman in a room talking to themselves. Whereas the kind of radio I’ve always done is talking to an actual person.
How has working on 3RRR been?
It’s great! Obviously you’re not being paid, it’s volunteer radio, but I remember after the sort of quite unpleasant last few months of Get This, I remember going and doing shifts with Tony Wilson and talking quite uninhibitedly for long amounts of time about obscure things. He’d go to a song and the door would burst open and Mick James the station manager would come in and I’d think ‘aww… we’re going to cop it!’ and he’d go ‘GREAT! Do more of THAT!’ So that was great, but you can’t make a living, although that’s not fair, I think the Breakfasters get paid a very small amount of money to do that show but really it’s all volunteer radio and I love doing it but I can’t do it full time.
Lisa: Is there any chance you might do some more episodes of ‘A Quite Word With’ on the ABC? Are there more people you’d like to interview?
Tony: We did pitch a third series, there were budget cuts at the ABC and they didn’t want to do another series of that. There were hundreds of people I would’ve liked to talk to but we did two series of it and for the second series I got to go to England which was quite exciting, though we were only there for four days. We got Rob Brydon and Richard E Grant and a few people who we wouldn’t have got if we’d just waited here for people to come. You don’t get as many people coming out here anymore, unless there’s a festival on and obviously you’ll get some comedians. It was a very cheap show really, it was mostly just shot in a bar. I’d love to do some more. I’ve often thought of bringing it back just as a podcast, but finding the time…
Lisa: I don’t know if you can make much money out of podcasts either
Tony: There are so many podcasts and people are always saying ‘Why don’t you have a podcast’ but it would be like a radio show. It would take up so much of my time. I have to say, we already have some good ones, I mean Justin Hamilton does a great one [three in fact, but I think Tony is referring to Can You Take This Photo Please?] and The Little Dum Dum Club and I love Green Guide Letters. We have some really good comedy podcasts in this town. I’m not sure if we need another one. I ran this website called The Scriveners Fancy for just over two years and that started out as a hobby while I was out of work. It was only one day a week but by the end of it, it was three days, sometimes four days a week work because I was having to be like an editor of a newspaper and try and call up people and beg them to write me something for free. That was great when I had time to do it, but eventually I just couldn’t keep going because I had to go and do some actual work. I do quite like the idea of doing a podcast at some point but trying not to just do… It’s like every single comedian in the world has a podcast where they interview every single other comedian in the world. It’s what I feel like the world’s podcasting is and I think, do I really need to add to that? I don’t know, if I think I can think of a slightly different way of doing it, may be.
Lisa: So what about this show you are doing with Ross Noble in the UK Called Freewheeling? (starting on Oct 29th on Dave). How did it come about?
Tony: I just got an email from him. I’ve known Ross for quite a while, well, I’ve been a fan of his since 1999 when I saw him in Edinburgh and he was the talk of Edinburgh in that year. I don’t think he was even nominated for the Perrier, but he was all everyone was talking about everywhere you went ‘Have you seen this amazing guy’. Then he started coming on Get This and he was a huge fan of Get This
Lisa: He was brilliant on it.
Tony: When you watch that show he made in Australia in 2007, though it didn’t get shown ‘til a few years later, Ross Noble’s Australian Trip. He said whenever you see him riding his motorbike through the outback, he’s listening to Get This on his headphones. So he was quite the fan. He was almost like a fourth cast member, in a way, sometimes. Then he did A Quiet Word with me, then I had a really good reaction from a podcast I did with him on the ABC’s website. Then earlier this year I got an email from him out of nowhere (in Ross’s voice) ‘Do you want to come and spend Summer chasing me ‘round England?’ It sounded great. I was picturing Brideshead Revisited. Then a week before I went over I’m calling up the production office and they’re telling me that it’s the coldest recorded Summer since records began in 1813. It was pretty full on, it was a great thing to do but it was really strange because there were no other Australians there. It was just me and all these English crew members chasing Ross around the country for a few months in a van. In three vans in fact. He was on a motorbike and there were fourteen of us in three vans. My official role was called Creative Producer and I had to think up… well it was whittling down the tweets more than anything. Ross would tweet ‘What should I do here?’ and there would literally be about 200 tweets in thirty seconds. So I would go through them and say ‘What if we did this?’ and ‘You could go there’ and ‘We could do something like that.’
Ross and I wrote a huge amount of material, because one of the original ideas for the show was that in addition to us following him around England, the format of the show would be like a send up of travel shows, because there are so many of them. So we wrote all these sketches and phony history reports and these scenes where the narrator version of Ross was arguing with the real Ross. So we wrote a huge amount of material but in the end we didn’t use any of it because the stuff with him just following the tweets was so great and there was so much of it. It’s only a six hour series and we probably shot enough material for three times that. So in the end all the written stuff has been stockpiled and Ross is talking about doing another series, where we just use the written stuff. So I’m possibly going back to do another show which will be quite different.
Lisa: That’s cool.
Tony: He’s brilliant to work with. I spent all day and night with him, ‘cause he doesn’t sleep, there’s no off switch. I would see him every day and you get to see how he operates up close. He’s not cheating, he is literally making it up as he goes along!
Lisa: Wow, so after all that time together you kept enjoying working with him and want to work with him again?
Tony: Oh yeah, he’s like a kind of a superhero really, what he can actually do. We would have had two hours sleep and we’d be in some dreary, depressing carpark in Manchester. It’s pissing with rain and no-one’s turned up and there’s just a sign in the corner and Noble would go over and somehow turn that sign into five minutes of comedy gold. Every time I thought ‘we are just going to get nothing out of this’, he would just pull it out of his mind. We were in a Services, they call it a Services, it was like a 7/11 / service station and it’s freezing cold and we didn’t have anything to do and there was a sign up for some charity that Terry Wogan does to help children in need and the logo is a teddy bear with an eye missing and he’s got a bandage over one eye and I remember Ross doing a three minute monologue about that picture. He was saying (does Ross’s voice) “You’d think after twenty years Terry Wogan would’ve done something about that poor little bear’s eye”. The crew was just crying with laughter. So that was just potentially three minutes of a forty-five minute episode, just belted off there.
We used to call it ‘Golden Minutes’. When we started, the production company was quite nervous wondering ‘What if you don’t get any Tweets? Or what if you get there and we can’t think of anything funny? We’ve got to do an episode a week and how are you going to fill the time?’ And of course Noble would just go up to a sign and rant on and we’d all look at each other and someone would say ‘Golden Minutes!’ The aim was we had to get something like nine minutes of finished show a day. On the first day we were worried about how much usable footage we had, because there was a lot of driving, we’d be driving to Cardiff for four hours and so there’s four hours we’re not filming. Then on the second day we got something like fifty-eight minutes of usable footage in one day. So yeah, his golden minutes.
I don’t know what the end result will be, I haven’t seen the final shows and I don’t know… I assume there’ll be a DVD and I assume they’ll have time to edit some of that extra stuff for the DVD, ‘cause Ross always does really chockers DVDs.
Lisa: Like yourself
Tony: Yeah, but he’s got one out called Headspace Cowboy, it’s got six separate shows on it! Some people haven’t done six DVDs ever! He’s done six shows on one DVD, so I’m hoping there will be a good DVD of this series.
Lisa: Do you think it’ll come to Australia at all?
Tony: You’d think so, he’s really popular here, people almost think of him as Australian.
Lisa: He lived here
Tony: Yeah, he lived here until the bushfires.
Lisa: Yeah that was awful
Tony: I know. Ross Noble’s Australian Trip was on TEN, although that’s got nothing to do with this, I don’t know if that means they’ll show it. It was shown kind of rather late at night if I remember. The thing about that show, by the way, is that it was never going to be a TV show.
Tony: It wasn’t actually a series when they were making it. Ross was just on a Tour and Pete Callow, his brilliant director who goes everywhere with Ross, said ‘Why don’t we just film some stuff to put on the DVD?’ They were only filming for about twenty minutes a day, Ross told me, on that Australian trip, because he had shows to do and to get to. Then they got to the end and said, maybe we’ve got enough here for a TV series. I love that show, but it was not intended to be a show when they made it. The main difference between that one and Freewheeling is that about a quarter of Ross Noble’s Australian Trip was footage from his live shows, whereas there’s none of that in Freewheeling, because we weren’t on a tour. That was probably the main reason I was brought over, because I think Ross thought well hang on, I’ve got to do this and I’m not going to be able to cut to me doing jokes on stage, so what are we going to have instead? So we were going to write all these sketches which we did but in the end there wasn’t a great deal of need for them.
Lisa: About The Yeti, do you think you’ll tour it?
Tony: Well you can do a fifty minute show during a Festival but outside of a Festival it’s a bit of a rip-off. Do know what I mean? If you are on tour you really should do ninety minutes.
Lisa: Yeah I interviewed Alan Davies recently and he said you need a good ninety minutes
Tony: Yeah well, if you’re playing big theatres like he does, well, maybe two hours or something. But I wouldn’t do this in big theatres, I couldn’t fill big theatres but also it’s not really a show that…
Lisa: It’s an intimate show
Tony: Yeah, it’s a small show, and up until opening night I had no idea if this would even work at all, so I’m doing extra shows at the Lithuanian club which holds 220 people and I’m actually a bit skeptical as to whether it will work in a room that size but it’ll be a good experiment and if it works [according to those who were there it did work] maybe I’ll do the same thing with a second story and maybe I’ll tour that. That’s one idea. I also want to get back to just doing standup, and get back on the road doing that.
But because I’ve been working on Upper Middle Bogan…
Lisa: Which is great!
Tony: We’re waiting to see if we’ll get a second series of that, so I’m in this weird limbo where I’m waiting to hear if I’m doing another show with Ross and I’m waiting to hear whether there’s going to be any more Bogan so I can’t really make any plans at this point.
It’s good to be working, that’s what I say.
Lisa: That’s what Squirrel Comedy is all about, we love to see comedians in work, it’s good.
Tony: Well the secret is…I turn fifty next year and to keep working at this age, the key is… the only bit of advice I ever give young comedians is…. just learn to do as many different things as you can, because when one thing ends I’ve always got another different thing I can do.
You can buy Tony Martin’s books at his minimalist website
Here’s the Freewheeling trailer from the comedy channel called ‘Dave’ in the UK. Freewheeling premiers in the UK on Tuesday 29th October at 10pm
Pic thanks to smh.com.au